My oldest son and I went to a men’s conference this last weekend. There were three primary speakers who delivered five different sermons. During those sermons I heard them say about a dozen times an expression that I have heard at least a thousand times altogether. They said something to the effect that following Jesus is not about a religion it’s about a relationship. If you have been in Church for very long I am sure you have probably heard this type of statement.
First, let me say that I am tired of hearing it. The first time I heard it was meaningful but the thousandth time just makes it trite.
Second, upon reflection I am not sure it is even accurate. Religion is defined as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” If I read that correctly then I agree with it. I do believe in a personal God and worship him. I do have a form of religion and it doesn’t really matter what I call it personally.
Third, I am concerned about how men are hearing this in the Church. Let me ask you, If you told your husband that you were going to a conference about relationships, would he be excited? It is not that men do not care about others and how we get along. It is more about the fact that relationships sound like emotionally driven, touchy-feeling and even feminine experiences. At least they do to me and many men that I talk too. I am not sure preachers making this statement are having the impact they desire.
Fourth, I understand the desire to explain Christianity in a different way. Christianity worships a very personal God. The fact that He loves us and cares about us are important aspects of our faith. Christians want people to know that our God is not just all-powerful but also all loving. Describing it as a relationship makes it sound much more personal. Religion can sound cold and stuffy while a relationship sounds more alive and meaningful.
My conclusion is that Christianity is a religion. There are a set of beliefs about a God who came, who died, who rose again and saves us from our sins that we affirm. We do meet for worship each week as a body of believers following certain rituals. There are also the deeply personal characteristics of a relationship. The reason God saved us was because He loves us and wants us to love Him in return.
For me it is not an either/or prospect – Either religion or a relationship. Christians have a religion that is lived as a relationship. It is similar to saying “I am in a marriage to my loving wife.” Marriage may sound like a formal word but it is true that I am married. While some marriages are cold and empty experiences, mine is not. To me the question is not do I have religion or a relationship but do I live out my religion as an empty, dead experience or as a vibrant, living one? Maybe it is better asked, “Is your religion lived out as a relationship?”