Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Christianity: Religion or Relationship?

"Christianity is not about religion, it's about relationship." Probably one of the evangelical church's most famous lines. Right up there with WWJD, FROG, etc, etc, (insert your favorite bumper sticker slogan here). Last week, I counted at least 5-10 times that I heard that statement come out of someone's mouth at church (and the person that I know to say it the most was out of town).

The problem with that statement is that I don't exactly find it in the Bible. In fact, some passages seem to contradict that. Take James 1:26-27, for example. It speaks of pure religion. Wait a second - religion can be pure? Pure, as in, holy?

My friend Chris (who hates blogs and will never read this) pointed out that Christianity is not about religion or relationship - it's about Jesus. Very true point - totally accurate. So, the real argument is probably about whether we classify how we follow Jesus as a religion or a relationship.

I recently came across an article online called Is Christianity a Religion? It was written by a Catholic person (still can't find their name) as they were examining the evangelical church's fascination with "it's all about relationship!" theology. The article is a really good perspective from a non-evangelical voice. I don't agree with everything in the article, but some excellent points are raised:
'Yes, God established a rather complex religion, complete with ceremonies, clergy, heirarchy and plenty of "do's and dont's". But He never intended it as a substitute for a relationship with Him. Rather, the ancient Israelite religion was meant to be an expression of their covenant relationship with God. The Lord does not seem to see an innate conflict between "religion" and "relationship".'
An interesting thought - even if it is hard for us in the evangelical church to read through that without the "Gospel of Works!" flag going off in our mind. Let's not forget for a second that legalism is not just works but doing works to gain favor with God. If you do the works out of obedience and love - it's not legalism. In fact, I would submit that you can never observe a person and determine from the outside whether or not they are being legalistic. Whether you are doing some works to gain favor with God, or because you love Him and want to be obedient to Him - you are probably going to do the same actions on the outside. You might grumble and be miserable in your heart if you are just trying to gain favor - but that is easy enough to hide from others.


Bird said...

Good points, Crossbow. I've never been hip with the "relgion vs. relationship" argument.

Matt C. said...

Well, there are some people that use the argument from a sincere heart to communicate the relational desire of Jesus to people that have a negative view of organized religion. Even if they get a little off theologically to go it, at least they are sincere about it. I don't have a huge problem with that.

It seems like recently I have been around a large number of people that use the statement as a "badge of spirituality." And even so far as a be-all end-all answer to everything. How to pray for my Mother-and-law's cancer? "It's all about relationship, not religion!" Huh?