The phrase “the church” is used a lot. Most people think of a building, but that’s just a convenient meeting place. Sometimes the building was built as an expression of worship: especally older stone church buildings and cathedrals with magnificent steeples and intricate carving. It’s still just a building though.

One of our congregations doesn’t even have a dedicated building, meeting in a school hall. Many house churches (whose main focus is smaller mid-week meetings in members’ houses, as the early Christian church did) also hold their Sunday meetings in such premises. But they are still churches.

The best definition of the Christian church would be something along the lines of “the body of believers in Jesus Christ”. This group is well over 1.5 billion people worldwide made up of many small groups meeting together, such as Billericay Baptist Church and the other Christian churches in our area.

What about “religion”?

“I’m not religious”: you hear the phrase a lot, but what does it mean? The dictionary defines “religion” as the practical outworkings of a belief system—that is, the things you do because of what you believe. Many Christians don’t like the word “religious”, but prefer “faith”. Religion suggests doing things, whereas the basis of Christianity is faith, a belief.

Christians believe that “all this God and Jesus stuff” is literally true: it’s not just a cute concept. This is why the phrase “are you religious?” doesn’t have much meaning. An atheist could go to church every week because he believes it is “the right thing to do” (this is less common nowadays)—that is religion; he could wash his car religiously every week because he believes it looks better as a result. Neither action has anything to do with faith in God, though.

So while Christians may be religious—behaving differently as a result of what they believe—that is not their distinguishing characteristic. Faith is: the belief in the core principles of Christianity.