I am sure that a lot of Christians out there have heard of this:
Christianity is not religion but a relationship with God.
This is a statement that we have heard many times. And this is the statement that I hear when people give excuses why they choose not to go to church. Unfortunately, as nice as this sounds, there are many problems with this “relationship with God” mindset in Christianity. In this post, I will try to dissect some of these problems and examine why Christianity is not just a relationship with God.
It starts with the definition of what Christianity is
The statement that Christianity is not a religion tries to define Christianity. However, it does too much and creates a false dichotomy. I have previously written about false dichotomy here. And this is one classic example. But shouldn’t we want to first really define what Christianity is?
First thing to note for a definition of Christianity is that we need to step away from the religion term. We need to see Christianity as really a religion. How so? A simple search in the Scripture will show that the NT authors see Christianity as a religion. James 1:26-27 says it this way:
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
The bible translators translate the Greek word “threskeia” as religion. The Greek word appears four times in the New Testament and was translated as religion in 75% of the time. Moreover, the word “religion” is defined as the worship of a transcendental being in the English language. This does suggest that Christians cannot simply dismiss the word “religion” away from our language.
Then why this statement? I do believe that such statement reflects our attitude towards liturgical practices and rituals in Christianity. In my own observation, there are people who are adverse to traditions and rules in the religion. And they associate religion with these rules and rituals. Most will even quote the NT pharisees to justify their case. And so, as people try to uncover the true meaning of Christianity, they found that our practices should stem from a real relationship with God. But then they throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Christianity does not end with a relationship with God
But I do need to clarify that Christianity is firstly a relationship with God. The heart of the story is that God loves the world so much that He sent Jesus to die for our sins. This reeks everything about a relationship that God yearns to have with us. However, our Christian faith does not stop with a relationship with God. To think so is to be too narrow in our understanding of what a Christian life should be like.
If we think about relationships in the Bible, we need to understand that relationships have two dimensions. The first dimension is a personal relationship with God. This is an understanding that we are addressing. And it is not a wrong one. This is in fact how most evangelical Christians will understand their faith. Nevertheless, Christianity is also a corporate relationship with the body of Christ, both universally and locally. We know this because the NT authors never address to individual Christians unless in the personal epistles. In all the epistles that are addressed to groups of people, the NT authors always address the congregation as a whole.
Take for example, the classic passage of Ephesians 6 on spiritual warfare. I have talk about this passage before in this blog. Most will want to read this as a passage for the individual to fight the spiritual warfare. But the ‘you’ whom Paul is addressing actually is a plural second person pronoun. This means that we are to fight spiritual warfare as a corporate body of Christ. The same idea that we are to live corporately can be found in other Pauline and General epistles.
And because there is a corporate aspect to our Christian faith, this means that we are not lone rangers in Christ. We do not just enjoy an individual relationship with God. There is a corporate relationship that we need to think about.
It is time to think about our relationship with God
To end off this reflection, I will say that we need to rethink then about our relationship with God and our Christian faith. Firstly, if Christianity is really a religion, then we will want to consider how the liturgies and rituals we do in church help to build our spirituality. This calls for a deeper theological contemplation than this post allows. But we do need to contemplate deeper into these issues.
Secondly, if Christianity is also about a corporate relationship with other believers, then we need to stop our lone ranger Christianity. Probably a vigilante Christianity is not God’s will for us as Christians. This calls for us to think about how we settle and belong in a local church. Church is not simply then a place where we go for weekly services but a place where we go and contribute our time and resources for the Kingdom of God.
So how are you thinking about your relationship with God? Does your relationship with God show in your relationship with the church? Share with me your thoughts.