“It’s not a Religion, it’s a Relationship”

theology

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“The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.”

– Joseph Joubert

No, I am not contending that this statement is heresy. No, I am not trying to argue that people who say this do not know Christ, or that they are intentionally leading people astray. Rather, I am simply intending to provoke more thought to such a bold statement. When something new and daring is said such as this, it is sometimes healthy to take a step back and critically think about something so profound.

First, I will start with a story. About a week ago, I heard an orator use an analogy of a fence. This fence was put in place long ago to prevent people from blindly walking beyond the fence into dangerous territories. Over time, people began to simply grow accustomed to this fence, and this eventually lead to them forgetting the very purpose of said boundary.  Along one day came someone who saw the space beyond the fence and desired it deeply. Without a second question, this same person tore down the fence, only to walk into a minefield.

Yes, I understand that it is a bit morbid, but this analogy will serve me well. In this metaphor, the term “religion” serves as the fence, preventing people from wandering outside into the minefield. The dangerous field showcases the danger of false teaching that comes with abandoning a word such as “religion.” The dictionary defines religion as thus: “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.” It goes further to discuss that religion is a devotion to a higher being or God, and this supernatural force prescribes moral code amongst other things.

Now, let me highlight the uniqueness and difference of Christianity amidst other world religions. To begin, Christianity does not require moral righteousness in order to be accepted. Rather, as Tim Keller rightly contended, “Other religions say you must obey to be accepted. Christianity says I am accepted, therefore I will obey.” The outflow of moral goodness is opposite of other legalistic religions, and this is a beautiful aspect of Christianity. Moreover, Christianity has a deeply personal facet to it unrivaled in other religions. Not only is spiritual comfort provided, but it is provided by a real and clearly presented God in three persons: Father, Spirit, and Son. It is not spiritual comfort according to an androgynous, vague, spiritual being. It is deep. It is personal, and it is something to be in awe of.

“Not only is spiritual comfort provided, but it is provided by a real and clearly presented God in three persons: Father, Spirit, and Son. It is not spiritual comfort according to an androgynous, vague, spiritual being. It is deep. It is personal, and it is something to be in awe of.”

Now that we have highlighted that Christianity stands apart from the all other religions, we must realize the danger of declaring it merely a relationship without religion. Firstly, it is religion that establishes orthodoxy, or a set guidelines of faith and beliefs as it relates to God. Amongst these set beliefs include the deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, etc. To denounce Christianity as a religion rips up the proverbial fence, leaving humanity free to roam the dangerous realms outside of orthodoxy. The point of Christianity is not to firstly force dogma, but if one believes the authority of Scripture, then there are certain concepts found in the Bible that are undeniably true. Along with this, there are some ideas those apply to the Scriptures that are undeniably false according to the Bible.

“To denounce Christianity as a religion rips up the proverbial fence, leaving humanity free to roam the dangerous realms outside of orthodoxy.”

One may contend that this statement is also used for evangelistic purposes, but this may seem to fail in the long run. If somebody steps into Christianity completely ignorant to Christianity and hears that it is areligious and based on relationship alone, then that person might create a Gospel according to them. However, this twisted Gospel is actually based on their own feelings. Confirmation of the heart’s desires can be reconciled with only relationship because this person is able to argue that the idea is from God and the relationship. Perhaps someone has a conversation with God that confirms the truth universalism. He or she who declares the truth of universalism also cites her proof as a personal revelation from God. Naturally, the response would be “You are wrong; here is Scripture to back this up.” Basing our beliefs and communication with God in the Bible is innately religious, and this person who had what seemed to be an epiphany is now said to be outside of orthodoxy. The reaction? This man or woman will most likely become angry because he or she feels duped. They were under the assumption that there are not religious qualities about Christianity, but we come to find out that this is simply not true. I have seen such instances, and they have resulted in the abandonment of Christianity because what they perceived as purely relational turns out to have religious qualities after all.

It is clear the danger outweighs the pros of this approach. Not only have people come to leave the faith once they found out that there are guidelines to belief, but also have people used this statement to wield lies. I have close friends whom I love and whom say this and have an authentic faith. They do not say this to undermine the Bible, but there are other famous preachers who use this statement to put forth heresy. When all we think about is the emotional aspect of the faith, even the best of people can wander into heresy because our emotions betray us. Worse yet, our emotions will confirm our wicked desires. When these desires feel confirmed within us, there is a euphoria, and people take advantage of certain pithy sayings such as this to wield their ‘revelation.’

“When all we think about is the emotional aspect of the faith, even the best of people can wander into heresy because our emotions betray us. Worse yet, our emotions will confirm our wicked desires.”

So, what are we left with? We are left with truth. Yes, Christianity is a religion. Truer yet, it is unlike any religion on this earth. The solution? Be honest- do not be vague or impractical about what you believe and the reason for such. If someone walks into the faith knowing there is an authority but that authority wants a deep and personal relationship, then that can open eyes to realizing not all forms of religion are an unconscious worship of a deity or deities. We need to appeal the best we can, but we must not abandon what is obviously true. In an ideal state without depravity, this statement could work. However, our nature gets in the way of what the Bible would otherwise correct. Let us be willing to live in a tension this creates, knowing that nothing we can grapple with can compare to the willingness of Christ to go to the cross. To him be all honor and praise forever.

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