We’ve all heard the catchphrases:
Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s a relationship.
We wear t-shirts with the moniker, “Not religion. Relationship!”
We sing songs glorifying the relational aspect of Christianity.
We preach sermons on the relationship aspects of God.
We emphasize social ministry, imitating God’s own relationship with humanity.
And, as in most good-things-gone-bad, there is an element of truth, a jeweled nugget of wisdom buried within the motivating mindset behind such sentiments.
Yes, God is a relational God.
Yes, we were created to have fellowship with Him.
Yes, we are to reach out to our fellow man with compassion and love.
But let me just say it:
The sentiment that Christianity is Not a Religion, but a Relationship, presents a flawed and heretical view of Christianity that is dangerous to espouse and will ultimately destroy the foundations of those who adhere to it.
Don’t throw those tomatoes yet. Let me explain myself.
The sentiment “not religion, but relationship,” rests upon a faulty premise that “religion” and “relationship” are mutually exclusive of one another.
This is an assumption that the Bible does not teach.
In the Bible we see definite elements of “relationship”:
Adam & Eve walked in fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden.
Moses spoke to God face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.
David musically reveled in his relationship with God.
Jesus came to restore right relationship between God & man.
But there are also definite elements of “religion”:
The entire Old Testament hinges on Mosaic Law and sacrificial rituals.
Jesus Himself observed the Jewish religious rituals of His day.
The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the importance of religious actions: prayer, fellowship, doctrine, worship, generosity.
Perhaps it becomes more clear when provided with the definitions of these words. Modern day Internet provided definitions provide some light on the subject.
Relationship is defined as,
“The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people, are connected, or the state of being connected.”
Religion is defined as,
“The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God.”
Both definitions – though perhaps not theologically sound (a topic for another day) – undoubtedly apply to what we call “Christianity.”
We are connected with God on multiple levels, and with one another on multiple levels. That is relationship.
We believe in and worship a personal God.
That is religion.
The moniker, “Not religion, relationship” is undoubtedly false. But if so, why is it so popular?
Because we, as a society, have a flawed view of religion and a flawed view of relationship.
It’s one thing to look up the definitions to these words in a dictionary (or on the Internet), and another thing to get the man-on-the-street definition.
Relationship in today’s culture means much more than simple connectedness. The invention of the Internet has radically changed what the term “connectedness” even means; indeed, it is possible to be “connected” with myriads of people with whom we have no real “relationship.”
Rather, relationships center on intimacy, enjoyment, trust, and camaraderie. All these things translate into our “relationship” with God. Therefore, it becomes easy to call Christianity nothing more than a relationship. And in many ways, this is right.
But there is also a negative side to 21st-century connotations of “relationship.”
They have become convenience-based. If your marriage doesn’t work, there’s always divorce.
They have become self-centered. This relationship doesn’t fulfill all of my needs.
They have become based on emotion rather than commitment.
And these elements, too, have crept into Christianity.
We chase emotional highs in our worship and service, rather than tenacious commitment.
We seek fulfillment of our desires, rather than sacrifice for God’s desires.
We obey God’s Word as it’s convenient, rather than as it is commanded.
The result? A watered-down, emotionally-driven Christianity that is unstable in all its ways. That is why it is so important to include the “religion” element in Christianity.
Religion gets a bad connotation from today’s society because it is portrayed as archaic, antiquated, and rigid. Rules and regulations stifle our freedom of expression. Millennia-year-old rules cannot possibly apply in our post-modern, technologically driven culture.
Or can they?
The rigidity of religion provides a counterbalance to the fluidity of relationship.
We can have laws and love.
We can have rituals and relationship.
We can have discipline and desire.
Religion and relationship are not mutually exclusive. In Christianity, they are two sides of the same coin.
And when we pair them together, as they are properly designed to be, it results in a third element of Christianity often, if not always, overlooked in today’s culture:
Christianity is not just religion, and not just relationship. It is a philosophy.
Philosophy, in this context, means worldview. It provides a lens through which we see the entire world around us: its culture, government, ethics, society, education, and everything else.
Our treatment of Christianity as a religion, a relationship, or both, will vitally impact how we see the world around us.
And how we see the world around us will influence every action, word, and thought that you and I have about ourselves, others, God, and every other facet of life.
Every moment of every day, we are honing, creating, tweaking, revising our philosophy – our worldview – of this life. It is the most important thing you will ever do.
And at the root of it all is how you view Christianity.
What could be better than that?