Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship!
No doubt many of you have heard this saying, often flouted within Evangelical circles to illustrate that Christianity is not like those religions which serve an impersonal God, or in some cases Gods, or adhere to a belief of self-divinity.
It is also possible that this “religion -vs- relationship” dichotomy was taken up to appeal to those who dislike organised religion, and thus sought to get rid of the religion part and it’s meaning which is loaded with apparent negative implications. However to argue that Christianity is not a religion is absurd. Let us look at what the definition of Religion is according to the Oxford Dictionary:
Religion /rɪˈlɪdʒ(ə)n/ noun: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power , especially a personal God or gods
I don’t see anything particularly negative. I certainly have a belief in the God outlined in the Bible, I also worship this God. Don’t you? Evidently, we would err to think that Christianity is not a religion. Perhaps, we shun the term religion because we think of the showy yet empty rituals and hypocritical, and self-righteous, religious leaders. If this is so, however, we would be confusing the term religiosity with religion. Religiosity is by all means a sin as Christ himself condemned this exact sort of behaviour (Matthew 23).
However the other issue with the usage of this saying is that it promotes something which is often neglected by those who frequently use it. What is that you ask? Well, it elevates the personal experience of each individual at the expense of the public and corporate aspects mentioned within the Bible. This is something we need to be wary of as by placing personal revelations, or experience, above, or even on par with, the Bible, we start moving towards Gnosticism and away from actual Christianity.
Historically, Gnosticism has been a rival of the early Christians since the church’s inception. At its core is the belief that knowledge (Gnosis) is gleamed by its adherents through the direct, personal, religious experience of divine presence. Does this sound familiar? It ought to, because this is what is possibly being articulated by this “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship!” adage.
The Danger of Elevating Personal Experience
Before I go into why this is not a good thing, let me clarify that personal experiences, or revelations, aren’t unbiblical. Far from it, personal revelations occur throughout the Bible, and the great evangelist Paul is an important example of this. Indeed, as the theologian James Dunn states:
we should recall how fundamental to Paul’s theology was the experience of his conversion. For Paul remembered it as an experience of revelation. The Gospel came to him “through revelation,” when God chose “to reveal his son in (or to) me” (Galatians 1:12,16) 
However, Paul ensured that his own teachings were grounded in the creeds and Scripture which existed concerning Christ, as to ascertain that he was faithfully preaching the Word. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) It should also be noted that Paul was also a former Pharisee, an individual who took the old testament Scriptures seriously albeit incredibly legalistically. Paul knew his creeds and his Scriptures, and drew heavily from them in his preaching and evangelizing, a fact evident throughout his letters.
Going back to the issue at hand though, the problem with elevating private experiences above the Bible, is that it loses the same accountability which is to be found within Scripture. How simple is it for us to ignore Bible verses, particularly the bits we don’t like, in the name of personal revelation? How easy would it be for us to also stipulate that God agrees with everything we do, despite our actions contradicting the Bible? The fact of the matter is that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, nowhere else in the Bible does it indicate that God has given us other infallible sources of revelation besides what is stipulated within the Word.
Undoubtedly, Scripture is the most important avenue to knowing God, and any revelation has to be tested by Scriptures (1 John 4:1-3 cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22) . Furthermore, we are commanded to test everything we hear against what is mentioned in the Bible to ensure that it is correct and we are not being lead astray, an action which, as seen in Acts 17:11-12, is highly lauded. Thus, private revelations do have a place within Christianity. But, as can be seen through the example of Paul, they must be consistent with the Bible. This is due to the fact that God, in His nature, cannot be inconsistent with His character and would not command someone to commit an action which is clearly at odds with what He commands us to do within the Bible.
Evidently, Christianity is not either a religion or a relationship. It is most assuredly both a religion and a relationship with God through Christ! The main reason on why we must be wary of the “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship!” saying, is that it can be taken as a rather self-centred Christianity. A “just Christ and me” flavour of Christianity. This is clearly not God’s plan, as we are not alone, but part of a giant, and great, family which is the Church. After all, Christ “gave Himself [up] for” for the church (Ephesians 5:25-27), and by extension, us.
Furthermore, whilst there is a place within Christianity for personal experiences and revelations, it takes second fiddle to the infallibility of God’s word. All revelations must be tested and held accountable to Scripture, as to ensure that it is wholly consistent with what it is to be found there. After all, Scripture is inspired by God, and it is what we, as Christians, should foremost be equipped with, so we can effectively minister to both Christians and non-Christians alike . (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
 Tau Malachi, Living Gnosis: A Practical Guide to Gnostic Christianity (Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications, 2005), 22; Stephan A. Hoeller, Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Wheaton: Quest Books, 2002), 82.
 James Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006), 47.