“It’s a relationship, not a religion.”
This line of reasoning seems to be fairly pervasive in what calls itself Christianity in our day (be it nominal, heretical, or authentic). I say pervasive because it seems to me that the mindset that wants to use this phrase of their “faith” – another word used to avoid and/or mask “religion” – is generally also somewhat or VERY reluctant to touch such terms as “doctrine” or “theology” . . . Perhaps this is just within the range of my experience, but there seems to be a connection to me.
Allow me to first debunk the juvenile “it is a relationship” phrase.
1) I saw a quote on Instagram by Jeff Durbin on this very phrase that has a pungent point to it – it goes something like this: ‘…here’s the problem, according to Romans, everybody is already IN a relationship with God! And that relationship is either in hostility with God or at peace with God…’ I’ll leave that thought alone for now to let you chew on it and just move on to my main problem – which is the etymology/semantic of the phrase.
2) has several points to it – a: Christianity, by definition, is a religion. Just because there are many nominals and legalists that try to claim the religion as their own does not mean true followers of Jesus need to remove the word as if it were inherently bad. If you must, make the distinction between “false religion” and the “One True Religion of God.” b: “relationship” at least in our day and country, could mean anything, and thus has no meaningful usefulness in trying to describe Christianity as a whole (although ONE aspect of it IS a relationship of peace with God instead of the original hostility). Also, a relationship – at least what is viewed as a good one in our day – generally does not demand things of you(on the level of personal being). Religions, in many ways, demand your very life(on the level of very thought patterns and attitudes/beliefs).
There’s plenty more merely within those two areas that could be discussed as to the appropriateness and/or accuracy of the phrase, but I would like to move into the other consideration I mentioned above; the thinking that produces this phrase, in my experience, is pervasive and dangerous because it reinforces and flows from(often times, not always) those individuals and groups or movements that view doctrine and theology as nothing but dry, dead portions of “religion”(the terms always being negative and incapable of carrying a positive connotation).
Obviously it’ll be hard here for me to write anything novel, because many great theologians have addressed these ideas – so I gladly acknowledge those men of God that I will mostly be parroting here.
THEOLOGY: a simple quip which I believe I first heard from R C Sproul, will be an easy way to get across the point that those who reject the word(let alone it’s meaning) “theology,” are not only being silly, but inconsistent: “Everyone is a theologian.”
The idea of the quip is to point out that no one can make a statement about God without making a “theological” statement, for the very reason that the meaning of the word “theology” is “the study of God.” Thus, especially when speaking of those who profess to be Christian, their is no sense to be had in those people trying to reject “the theology of religion.”
DOCTRINE: the same can be said of doctrine – though the subject is not quite as simple as theology – so I’ll go ahead and place the Webster’s 1828 definition here for consideration:
1. In a general sense, whatever is taught. Hence, a principle or position in any science; whatever is laid down as true by an instructor or master. The doctrines of the gospel are the principles or truths taught by Christ and his apostles. The doctrines of Plato are the principles which he taught. Hence a doctrine may be true or false; it may be a mere tenet or opinion.
2. The act of teaching. “He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in his doctrine Mark 4:2.”
3. Learning; knowledge. “Whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Isaiah 28:9.”
4. The truths of the gospel in general. “That they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things. Titus 2:1.”
5. Instruction and confirmation in the truths of the gospel. 2 Timothy 3:10.
Note: I appreciate the 1828 dictionary by Webster because he often uses Scripture as a help to the definitions.
As we can see from the definition above, there is not much reason for serious Christians to continue the the degradation of the word into a constant negative.
Now, I am aware that this degradation primarily STARTED as a pushback against false or “dead” religion. But I do not believe that where it has come is a very tenable place for Christians to be in their thinking.
James 1:27 (HCSB)
Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
I put out this quote to point out that even the writers of Scripture understood that, as followers of Jesus, we are participants in the one True religion of God. (To those of you who read Greek – I do not just yet – I would love to hear any thoughts on this passage that you may have.)
What am I getting at? I’ve heard too many people (including those in positions of leadership) who say things like “I don’t want any of your doctrine, I just want Jesus” who then go on to talk about a “Jesus” that is nowhere to be found in Scripture and preach about a god of their own making… And I believe part of that problem is fed by the ignorance and false assumptions that come with the mindset that I have tried to address above.
Thank you for your time. I hope this post has been interesting if not thought provoking for you.
May the LORD bless you.