As I write this blog entry, the YouTube video below has earned over 3.2 million clicks.
You’ve heard this before. It’s one of the most well known, evangelical Christian sayings:
Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.
I’ve seen quite a few comments on Facebook about the video. For the most part, the responses I’ve seen are quite positive. I think it’s great that the gentleman in the video shares the Gospel and implies that Christians ought to take the claims of Jesus seriously.
He contends Jesus should infiltrate every part of the Christian life.
Yet, as I reflected on the video a bit more, I believe it’s important that Christians consider not discounting religion altogether. I think religion (properly defined) is essential for a right relationship with God.
From the context of the video, it seems what he means by “religion” is empty, thoughtless and fake attempts at self-salvation. And as far as that goes, I suppose he is right. If Christians simply go to church buildings, learn doctrine and theology—without any of it infiltrating into everyday life—then that is empty religion and I don’t see much need for it.
However, I do not think that is what most people think of when they hear the word religion.
Most people understand the word religion to mean a set of supposed truth claims about God and life after death; which are united with a way of life informed by those very truth claims. If this is how religion is defined, then Christianity surely is a “religion.”
If Christians simply dismiss religion altogether, how can one even know the basics of the faith?
Think of it this way—without proper doctrine, beliefs and sacraments (visible religious acts to symbolize God’s grace), how could one know they are in right relationship with God in the first place? If there was no religion (as defined above) at all, how does one know they are in relationship with God?
Of course, one can read the Bible to understand what Jesus was all about. But the same Bible is littered with all kinds of religious acts. Jesus commanded sacraments be taken part in. For example, the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23-26), baptism (Matt. 28:19), prayer (Matt. 6:5-13), fasting (Matt. 6:16-18).
[Moreover, I suggest Christians be very careful in condemning the Mosaic Law (Old Testament Law). Remember, this was God’s revelation to Moses and the Jews at that time. It was God’s Law and He chose to institute it as part of His salvation history. Regardless of your view of how the Mosaic Law interacts with new covenant, we ought to be careful not to demean it. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it—see Matt. 5:17-20]
Without theology and doctrine (both which are ascertained from the Bible) how could one know the true nature of God or the way he intended to save sinners?
Knowing the true nature of God and how grace is found is essential. As much as our pluralistic culture would like us to believe, all belief systems cannot all be true at the same time and in the same way. It is possible all belief systems are all wrong. But certainly this cannot be true, since we have good reasons to believe that God exists.
I am saying it is impossible for all religions to be true. Before you think that I’m being narrow-minded and intolerant, think about it.
Take for example the Christians and the Jews. An essential doctrine of the Christian faith is that Jesus is God and is the promised Messiah. Conversely, Jews believe that Jesus is not the promised Messiah and that he is not God. The law of non-contradiction (this is the second of the three basic laws of logic) attests that both of these statements cannot be true at the same time and in the same way. Either the Christians are right, or the Jews are right, or they are both wrong.
This matters because if we take the message of this video too far, it becomes apparent that one needs to know who God is before he/she can be in “relationship” with Him.
It’s worth noting that most religions have a sense of a relationship with God. Given that Mormons, Jews, Muslims and Christians all claim to have a relationship with God—and that we know contradicting views on the nature of God cannot be true at the same time and in the same way—there must be something that defines the true nature of God and how we come into relationship with Him.
Enter proper doctrine, beliefs, sacraments and theology.
We must be careful about moving from one extreme to the other. Certainly Christianity is more than just a set of truth claims, rules and dos and don’ts. Still, we must not let the pendulum swing to the opposite extreme that all truth claims, rules and sacraments are bad, and the only thing that matters is “my relationship with God.”
Christianity DOES have essential doctrines, beliefs, rules and dos and don’ts. These things Matter. However, Christianity was never intended to just be information—and that is where the video rings true.
Remember, there is a ditch on both sides of the road.