How many times have you heard the phrase, ‘Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship’. The following paragraphs do not explicitly refer to this phrase, but it is common among our culture to describe Christianity in two very distinct ways.
We understand what they are getting at – following Christ requires committed discipleship that is personal, affectionate (involving the emotions), and real. But, one does not exclude the other; saying that Christianity is ‘not’ a religion sets up a false dichotomy. Consider Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions.He too, after Calvin, would have no problem referring to Christianity as a religion.
I now quote two different individuals here, Reformed Reader blog and Richard Mueller.
“I realize many evangelicals do not like the term “religion” and even use it primarily in a negative way. However, we have to remember that the word is found in Scripture (e.g. James 1:26). Granted, we do have to define it properly, but we shouldn’t by default think of “religion” as a bad thing. For example, John Calvin called his now famous work the Institutes of the Christian Religion. In his work on the history of Reformed doctrine, Richard Muller spends some time discussing “religion” and its use/definition among Reformers and Reformed scholastics. Here’s his section on Calvin and the term “religion”:”
This systematic approach to religion as the pattern of knowledge and worship directly related to faith and foundational to the elaboration of theology is profoundly evident in the successive editions of Calvin’s Institutes.
In 1536 Calvin identified his work as an “institute” or instruction “of the Christian religion embracing almost the whole sum of piety and whatever it is necessary to know in the doctrine of salvation.”
What is more, Calvin’s expansion of the Institutes, in which five chapters on the knowledge of God were added or developed as a kind of prologue, only serves to underscore in those introductory sections the primary emphasis on religion, piety and instruction in them.1
Therefore, do not hesitate to use the word ‘religion’. But, in the company of modern culture, which has learned to despise the term, you may have to preface it.