Tag Archives: relationship with God

Religion/Ritual bad, Relationship good? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 2]

26 Mar

Is religion automatically bad?  Some Christians are very anti-religion because they feel it goes against the concept of relationship.  But does it? 

Read James 1:26-27, and you’ll see James suggest that religion is not only a viable way to view our connection with God, but that God approves of religion that has a heart for social justice and righteousness. 

Before we study this further, it could be helpful to define the term that James uses. What is religion? The word “religion” is defined as:  appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers.”[1] That definition is somewhat different from what we normally think of when we view religion negatively. We think of a ritualistic approach to worshiping God, an approach that is called “dead” or “rote” or “empty.”

Have people ever said to you, “you are very religious”?  In our society, the people who say that usually don’t mean “you are practicing empty rituals”.  They usually mean that you are pious, and maybe even that you have a close relationship with God, or that they wish they could live that way, and that is a good thing.

When we hear someone say to us, “you are very religious,” we might inwardly (or also outwardly) bristle at this suggestion because we evangelicals have made such a big deal of emphasizing that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.  We can react quickly back, “I do not have a religion, I have a relationship!”  But I would suggest that we hold our tongue.  The people we are talking to might have very little idea of what we are taking about: a religion vs. relationship.  They almost certainly didn’t mean to suggest that we are practicing an empty, dead ritualistic approach to God. 

Instead they probably observed our relationship with God, assumed that it is religion because that is how they conceive of Christianity, and thus they were actually complementing us.  So a proper response on our part, when someone says, “you are very religious” would be to say, “Thank you.”  That kind of gracious response is much more likely to open the door to a conversation about faith in Christ, than if we were to respond curtly, “UH…NO!  I do not have a religion.  I have a relationship.” 

Instead, allow yourself to live with their viewpoint, and take their words as a complement, say “Thank you,” and pursue a line of discussion that is gracious and generous and kind, talking about how Jesus has been so meaningful and life-changing and that you have a real friendship with him. 

The other side of the coin is that a ritualistic approach to Christianity is not necessarily wrong.  That is what James is referring to back in James 1.  As Christians we actually do have a religion.  A religion is simply a word that refers to the set of practices that we engage in.  Think about what you do when you gather for worship with your church family. You sit in a room, practicing gathered corporate worship together.  Jesus even commissioned his disciples to regularly practice rituals like gathering for prayer, teaching, communion and baptism.

Many people in protestant evangelical churches might respond, “But we are not at all like the liturgical churches and all their rituals.” 

That is the impression that we have of ourselves.  That we are completely different, and we are right, and they are wrong.  I totally disagree.  Let me explain.  Yes, our liturgy is different than their liturgy. 

I remember when I was on sabbatical and went to the Orthodox church, and it felt like I was a on a different Christian planet. Nearly every surfaced is covered with religious art called icons, and their worship service could be described as highly ritualistic.  But you know what?  Every church that I visited on sabbatical had their own liturgy.  We do too. 

Liturgy is a term that pops up in the Bible here and there, and it simply means “the work or service of the people.”  This is why we call our gatherings “services”.  Used in relation to worship services, “liturgy” carries the idea of what Christian people do, the work we do, of worshiping God.  When it comes to liturgy, there is no one right way.  High liturgy, which features lots of rituals, can minister deeply to people, enhancing their relationship to God.  No doubt, Faith Church is much more on the side of what is called low church, involving less ritual.  But we still have plenty of ritual too.  We don’t print it in a bulletin, but when I preached this sermon, I asked everyone present to describe the order of service we typically use, and they were able to list it out. That order describes our liturgy, our ritual.

But here’s the important thing to remember about our ritual, our liturgy: it is designed to enhance relationship with God!  So both are true, Christianity is a religion, and a relationship. 


[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 530.

Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 1]

25 Mar
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

What are God’s desires for Christians?  He just wants us to pray and read the Bible, right? 

Well, actually there are a lot of ideas about what God wants his people to do.   Unfortunately not all the ideas are based in Scripture. In fact, some of the ideas that Christians use to guide their lives, or to assure themselves that God is honored by their lives, are downright false.  Sometimes we create alternate Christian realities that insulate us from truly knowing and following what God wants for us.  What does God actually want for us?  In this series we’re going to find out that it might be surprising. God’s desire for us is sometimes in direct conflict with what Christians desire for ourselves.  Because that can be very hard to take, we can create false ideas about what God wants us to do, or how he wants us to live.  So let’s do some fact-checking about ideas that Christians believe about what God wants for us. 

Have you heard any of these phrases?

  • Christianity is not a religion it is a relationship.
  • God isn’t interested in making you happy; he’s interested in making you holy.
  • OR it’s opposite: God always wants me to be happy.
  • God’s love for me is determined by my behavior.
  • God is not OK with doubt and anger.
  • God does not expect that much from me.

Each week as I have displayed these lists of phrases, I’ve thought, “Whew…what are you all going to think?  There are some phrases each time that seem like they absolutely should not be on a fact-checking list, as they are phrases that are obviously true.”  Same goes for this week. 

Right off the bat, that first one is one that Christians say so frequently that it can’t possibly need to be on this list, right? 

Actually, last week, I had one of those strange moments when I was writing one line of thinking, while at the same time considering another thought to myself.  I wrote that, “God gives us free will because he does not want us to be robots, but wants us to be in a real relationship with him,” and at the same time as I was writing, the thought hit me, “next week you’re going to be fact-checking this!”

Am I now disagreeing with myself? I’ve probably said this phrase thousands of times: “Christianity is not a religion it is a relationship.”

So what is Christianity?  A religion or a relationship? When we think of religion we think of harsh rules and dead rituals, and in our evangelical tradition, we have reacted quite strongly against that, saying that Christianity is not a religion, instead it is a vibrant relationship with God. 

Let me start this fact-checking by saying, I agree with that!  Take John 15:12-17, for example. There Jesus says to his disciples, “I call you friends.”  He says that he so deeply wants to be in friendship with us that he lays down his life for us.   It’s not just an acquaintance; Jesus says he wants to be in close friendship with us.

He is describing real give and take. 

Think about relationships with me.  How does a relationship start?  And how is relationship maintained?  It takes lots of communication.  Real time spent together.  That’s what God desires to have with us!

As a result, some Christians are very anti-religion because they feel it goes against the concept of relationship.  But does it?  Is religion automatically bad?  In our next post in this series, we’ll look at the concept of religion more closely. For now, let’s take time to dwell on the words on Jesus in John 15:12-17. He wants to have a close friendship with us! In fact, he did lay down his life for us to make that friendship possible. Consider your own relationship with Jesus. Would you call it a friendship? How does it compare to your human friendships? What would it look like for you to pursue closer friendship with Jesus?

What is the status of your relationship?

2 May

relationshipstatus

Facebook has made relationship status a big deal in our culture.  What is your status?  Single, Dating, Engaged, Married, Separated, Divorced?  Sometimes that status changes, and sometimes it is painful.

So how is your relationship going?  Is your marriage thriving?  How are you and your spouse doing?  Are you struggling?  Are you single?  Wondering if you’ll ever get married?  This series of sermons is for you!

It’s relationship month at Faith Church, and each of the four weeks will focus on the various relationship stages in our lives: marriage, divorce, our relationship with God, and singleness.

When I plan out a sermon series, I usually plot it out months in advance.  I felt that 1st Corinthians chapter 7 needed to be broken down into four sermons, and it just so happened to fall into the four weeks of the month of May!

Paul has received some relationship questions from the disciples of Jesus in Corinth, and in this chapter, he attempts to give them answers.  The Corinthian disciples’ questions might sound very familiar to you.  My guess is that whether married, divorced, separated or single, you have asked at least some of these questions about your life and relationships.  While the Corinthian disciples didn’t ask all of the questions below, they did ask quite a few.  I’ve expanded the list because the questions they ask often lead to others that people wonder about in our culture.

  1. How often should a married couple have sex?  Is it okay to take a break from sex?
  2. What is the key to a happy marriage?
  3. I’m married to someone of a different religion, or to someone with no religion.  Is God mad at me?  What should I do about this?
  4. What about roles in marriage?  The traditional understanding of the Bible is that of male headship.  What does that mean?  Doesn’t the Bible also teach that men and women are equal partners?  What if my husband is not the spiritual leader?
  5. Is it okay to be separated?  What should I do if my spouse is abusing me?
  6. We know God hates divorce, but isn’t it okay sometimes?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy rather than be in an awful marriage?
  7. What about single people?  How much should they seek to be married?  What does it mean that God might give someone the gift of singleness?  What if I suspect I have the gift of singleness, but I really want to be married?
  8. What does it mean to be in a relationship with the Lord?  What does it mean to be satisfied in him, when I really want to have a spouse too?

We could go on and on.  These are the major questions we’ll be looking at. I can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to answer them all.  In fact, I really doubt that we will.  Four 30-35 minutes sermons will likely only scratch the surface.  So maybe you’ll join us for sermon discussion on Sunday morning after the sermon.  Worship begins at 9:30, and sermon discussion, along with other classes, begins at 11am. You can also feel free to discuss the sermons further on the blog site.

So as we enter into relationship month, what questions do you have?  Do you have some that are not on the list?  Feel free to ask them in the comment section below.

The first sermon is going to be all about marriage: It is a good thing!!!  You can prep for it by reading 1 Corinthians 7:1-9.