In recent years, a phenomenon has cropped up in Christianity that’s defined through the following, oft-heard phrase:
Christianity is not about religion, it’s about relationship.
This phrase indicates a split between Christianity as a religion and the relationship with Jesus that all Christians have. The youth pastor, Reid, who trained my husband and me gets really irritated by the phrase above–let me explain why.
The dictionary defines religion as:
- The belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God entitled to obedience and worship.
- The expression of this in worship.
- A particular system of faith and worship.
- A thing that one is devoted to.
So religion is a system of faith in God who is entitled to our worship and obedience. Add to that definition the pursuit of a relationship with Jesus Christ and isn’t that the foundation of Christianity?
James 1:27 says this:
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
What James is saying is that the expression of worship (definition #2 above) that God finds acceptable is to visit orphans and widows and keep ourselves unstained by the world. Pastor Reid wrote once that focusing on the “relationship” only discounts the importance of the church in Christianity.
When we talk about the “relationship” as the primary entity in Christianity, what we’re saying is that as long as you believe in Jesus, there’s no need to meet with other believers or listen to someone teach on the word of God. If that were the case, then there never would have been home churches like the ones Peter and Paul visited in Acts and wrote to in the Epistles.
Meeting with other believers in fellowship is important. Other believers provide us with support and encouragement when we’re going through difficult times. We can provide support and encouragement for others. We become a blessing to both believers and unbelievers, and we learn new things about God and His word through the teachings of pastors.
I’m not discounting the importance of a relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m simply saying that support of other believers and expression of our worship and obedience to God is equally important as a relationship with Jesus Christ.
James tells us that faith without works is dead. A relationship with Jesus Christ is the faith part and religion is the works part. To be healthy and whole Christians, we need both.
What do you girls think about the Christian religion vs. relationship debate? Do you think Christianity is just one, or both?
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works’ (James 2:17-18).