Saturday, January 9, 2010
It's a Religion AND a Relationship
'Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship.'
Thus goes a common evangelical saying.
But is it true?
From my experience, especially because the word is contraposed with "relationship", by "religion" people often mean a system of rituals, pre-written prayers, and theology.
And it seems as though "relationship" refers to an exclusively personal, often internal, encounter with God.
If this is the case, then this saying is completely unbiblical.
Now, Christianity does indeed involve a personal relationship. In John 15.15, Jesus calls us his friends.
But Jesus himself instituted rituals, the most obvious being baptism and the Eucharist (Matthew 28.19; Matthew 26.26-29. et. al.). And these rituals are commanded by Jesus, not something to do if it 'works for you'.
In Matthew 6.9, Jesus says: "This, then, is how you should pray..." What follows is a pre-written prayer, commonly referred to as the Lord's Prayer. (Scripture does teach that other forms of prayer are acceptable, e.g. Romans 1.10, John 17, Psalms, etc.)
And regarding theology, Jesus taught that God's "worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4.24) Truth matters.
Just as internal faith without external works is dead (James 2.26), external works without internal faith is useless. This is one of Jesus' primary problems with the Pharisees, calling them "whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." (Matthew 23.27)
Christianity is a religion and a relationship.