Is Church and Religion the Same?
When someone mentions the word religion to you, what comes to mind? For many, the word religion conjures up images of processions of robed priests, groups of men kneeling down on the floor together or maybe even armored men with steel spears crusading into villages on horseback.
Similarly, the word church likely brings up images of things like cathedrals, magnificent stone edifices, statues and pulpits.
We often associate words and their meanings with the actions and accouterments used in expressing those words. For example, to practice religion, one may use a Bible, nice clothing, holy water, candles and such. To practice the concept of church, one may use a Bible, nice clothing, holy water, candles and such. But wait! The same or similar things can be used to practice both church and religion? Does that mean that church and religion are the same? Not necessarily.
Religion as an Identity
The word religion carries different meanings for everyone. For some, it’s as much a part of their identity as other basic facts about them. Ask some people to describe themselves in just four words, and they may answer something similar to:
- Architect (their job)
- Protestant (their religion)
- Mother (their relationship to immediate family)
- Energetic (their personality)
Religion, for many, is a core part of their identity; a defining aspect that informs how they think of themselves, the background with which they interact with the world and even the means by which they interconnect with other members of that same religion.
Religion as a Belief
Technically, religion is not an aspect of who we are, but an aspect of what we believe. It’s an ideology, but it’s much more than that, too. Religion typically involves some kind of faith; faith in a greater entity, faith in something that may not be seen but can be sensed or felt.
Religion also incorporates the accoutrements and practices associated with it, as mentioned above. Certain items are heavily identified with specific religions. The Yamulke (or Yamaka) is worn by male members of the Jewish religion. Similarly, a beanie, or alternate light head covering is worn by female members of the Catholic religion who adhere to traditional practices. These material, man-made items are nearly exclusively connected to their respective religions.
How Church Differs From Religion
Thre are other differences between church and religion. The word church is differentiated from the word religion in many ways. Church can reference a physical structure, such as the cathedrals mentioned earlier, or any physical place where people come together to engage in worship of a higher being.
In different countries, churches take different shapes. European countries have magnificent, awe-inspiring churches that people come to see both for worshipping purposes and to admire the architectural craftsmanship of ancient times. In many poorer areas of Latin American countries, such as Mexico, a church may be a lean-to with a corrugated metal roof and no walls. On the agreed-upon day of worship—often Sunday—the members of the community will gather in their humble church. All over the world, churches vary from austere structures to veritable monuments to humankind’s construction capabilities.
Church Services in Church
The word church also refers to the services that take place within a church. If one goes “to” church rather than “to the” church, it is implied that the person partook in church services. Just as churches vary from place to place and religion to religion, so do church services.
Church services can consist of a wide range of activities, including:
- First communions
- Bar Mitzvahs
- Prayer Rituals
- Bible readings
- And more
Church services often involve the use of items associated with religion, like holy water, incense, special garments, ashes, statues, goblets and more.
Church as a Concept
The word church also refers to a concept. You might hear people say, this or that is my “church.” However, in most cases, they’re talking about something that is far removed from the high, spiritual entity that is truly associated with church. They’re using the word like slang, to mean that something is important to them. This is just a cultural trend that, hopefully, will soon pass.
The true meaning of church is something much more ethereal. Church is a communing of people with a shared belief. It’s a gathering of like-minded souls who wish to worship shoulder to shoulder with their neighbors. “Going to church” or “attending church” has a deeper meaning. It means that you choose to spend time in your life in union with others who share your belief. That belief may not even be an organized religion. It might be a shared belief that “someone” is listening to your prayers.
Church and religion are not the same. Church gives people something that religion alone does not inherently provide. Church offers a sense of community, a swelling of feeling that makes each individual know that they are never alone.