Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Have a Relationship with Jesus- Sorry, It's Still a Religion

Greg Koukl ( from Stand to Reason was talking about the statement that many folks make:

"Christianity is not a religion. It's a relationship."

I will try and paraphrase some of his thoughts. Sorry if it is a little unclear. There were some good nuggets of wisdom. This is what he stated was a "pastorism". Where it sounds nice, but does not always add much to the actual discussion. That it is true as far as it goes. Kind of like the idea of bumper sticker religion.

Here is part of the problem. Christianity is a religion. There is an aspect of having a right relationship and various descriptors of the relationship we have with God, but it is still a religion. It has a set of beliefs, there is talk in how to deal with others outside and inside the church. There are other things that seem to indicate that it is a religion, albeit, one that is different than many others.

Now, where this is true, as far as it goes, illustrates the problem we have today with this thinking; that Christianity is a relationship.

Many times, especially in the US where individualism reigns supreme, this is simply an excuse for doing whatever we want and call it "relationship with God.

Koukl warns that because we can have a relationship with God, this does NOT give us license to make it mean whatever we want. Many folks consider themselves to be in a relationship with God because of their experience, not because of what and how Scripture describes our relationship. The danger in this is that folks from other religions have experiences; but it does not automatically mean a relationship with God is there.

The other difficulty is that we often look at our human relationships and infer from them how we think our relationship with God is. Instead, we should see what Scripture teaches and make any connection with human relationships that we can. We should not go further than what Scripture seems to indicate.

This is why "hearing the voice of God" is problematic. When we look at our human relationships we talk back and forth. When we look at Scripture we do not see that in the same way. We do not have to develop an ear for listening for the voice of God before we can make decisions. This is not a discipline we, as believers, need to develop to have a meaningful, mature relationship with God. That is not the teaching of the Bible and it should not be something we are concerned about.

The way we hear from God looks different than our human relationships and therefore we must be careful to not confuse the two. We must always look at life through the Christian worldview-using the Bible as our authority. We should not look to our experiences and somehow try and import Biblical meaning into them unless it is clear.

I think too often, it is not clear and be careful if you actually try and point that out. You will not be popular, especially if you are in a church that encourages experience over solid teaching of what the Bible actually says (and not just what it means for me).

I have not covered everything, but I hope I was clear enough in what I did write. What are your thoughts?


Kwame E. said...

Amen to the first part. I think Greg has also stated in the past that the “Christianity is not a religion; it's a relationship” line has pretty well outlived its usefulness. And I would either second or add to that point the message that this phrase has also more or less been hijacked by people who for all appearances are unrepentant sinners anyhow. I’ve seen and heard the evidence with my own eyes and ears.

This ties in with another thing Koukl is saying: that you have to have a religion along with your relationship. I know one guy who says he’s a Christian--and who also acts like some of the worst of unbelievers--yet who, unsurprisingly, also shows signs of being ignorant of many basic and uncontroversial points of biblical morality. If he would only read the Bible as he should, theoretically he should know these things by now.

(Parenthetically though, I have noticed that the combination of similar behavior and assocations with Christianity is rampant among other people in the place where this guy lives--this can’t entirely be the fault of these church-going sinners. It must be that the sermons that these people do attend on Sundays are going light on expository preaching, the preaching of the Gospel, moral instruction and pep talks, whatever. You can’t not know certain things if you are around in a truly healthy, Christian environment on a regular basis.)

Anyway, one would be correct to suggest that relationships do not by definition or by necessity involve a constant interchange of speaking and hearing between two parties. Rough example: relationships between husband and wives do not suddenly cease to exist if the man marches off to war or some area behind enemy lines and is not permitted or able to communicate with people at home for some protracted period of time. If the woman does not hear her husband’s voice for a time, there is still a relationship. And if the greater good calls for her waiting a while to hear from the other party, so be it. The point, of course, is that even if you want to take the relationship-not-religion route, that is no good reason to automatically assume that you should be hearing God’s voice.

D.B. said...

You:"And I would either second or add to that point the message that this phrase has also more or less been hijacked by people who for all appearances are unrepentant sinners anyhow."

----That is true that many folks say they are not perfect, just forgiven as an excuse for all sorts of behavior. Like Paul said, should we keep sinning so that grace may abound. Of course not. But I also know my own falleness and am thankful that God's grace can indeed cover a multitude of sins. It is when we stop "struggling" with sin that it becomes a little scary for you.

You: "that you have to have a religion along with your relationship."

---People sometimes think it's enough to get their fire insurance and that's it. No more than that. And I would be afraid if that is all Christ saved us for...just to get by... I think also many churches are responsible because of the garbage they are preaching, as you allude to.

It is very me-centered and many times, it seems, Jesus is not even preached. It's a shame. Like Dr. Horton often says, People are asking WWJD, but most have no idea what He actually did.

I loved your thoughts on the husband/wife thing in terms of communication and relationship. Thanks for your thoughts, my friend.