Christianity. Jesus. The Christian Faith.
How do you explain it? Is it a religion? Technically, it is a religion, isn't it? The dictionary definition basically fits, and the etymology of the word (from Latin) certain fits, as well.
"No! It's not a religion -it's a relationship" many Christians will say. And they are right, too, in some ways.
You know... while there is major truth about it being a relationship, I really think the statement as a whole is cheesy and lame.
But even if we don't use those words, exactly, I think the distinction is important to make, though. I personally think the use of the word "relationship" is cheesy. "Relationship" in this context has become another word in the book of Christian jargon. And the phrase has, itself, become "religionized." And regardles of the etymology of the word "religion" or what the dictionary definition is, I have found it true in talking to people that "religion" generally means some kind of theism or spiritual truth that is coupled with a moral code, rituals, and rules. It is about doing, making the grade, trying to approach God or climb some kind of moral or spiritual ladder.
But Jesus didn't even come to get us "up the ladder". He came to show that there is no ladder, just a dead-end, and to die under that dead-end system and create something new when He rose. I find it almost a sign of God's sense of humor that He destroyed our "ladder" systems by coming down to us in an "eathen vessel."
So, however we want to distinguish it, I think it is important that if we are in a situation where we are explaining what it means to be a Christian that we differentiate our faith (which may technically, according to the dictionary, be a religion, and which most definitely is a relationship, an ulra-close, vulnerable, relational soul-union with a relational, tri-personal God) from "religion". Although, with how over-used "relationship" is and all the baggage that carries with it, maybe we want to differentiate ourselves from *that*, too! :)
My point is that language is tricky within the context of culture. Words and phrases have one meaning one moment and then, some years later, that meaning is slightly (or largely) different. Words gather dust. They get heavier with time with all kinds of baggage and connotation. It is just the way it is. Take the phrase "It's not a religion, it's a relationship." Many people have heard that a lot -I know I have. It has lost its appeal. It sounds empty and cheesy to me. I don't want to describe the faith by presenting with something that I find empty and hollow and shallow. Do you?
The tendency toward using jargon and buzz-words is understandable. We generally assume that people in our culture are either too busy to listen to long explanations or have the attention-span of a small bunny -and we are usually right. But one thing that is great about the Christian faith is that it transcends culture, and therefore the way it is communicated into culture should be fluid and able to meet with the culture like it has in ages past. I think fancy people call that "contextualization." We should be able to communicate our faith in the culture by knowing how the culture sees things and sees us. We should be able to communiate our faith in such a way that we don't have to rely on buzz-words -at least not for more than a moment.
God Bless those info-mercial folks like the now-gone Billy Mays, but that is not how I want my faith presented to people. I believe my faith is worth more than a few slogans and buzz-words. I believe it is deeper, I believe it is more personal, and I believe it is more life-encompassing than a product to be sold.
Religion or relationship? It depends who I am talking to. But for most people I meet, I would take the time to differentiate myself from religion.