It’s Not Religion, It’s a Relationship!!!! (Or is it?)


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My wife and I were over at the house of some friends of ours playing Apples to Apples one night. It’s an incredibly entertaining game and it’s very simple. There are two types of cards, red and green. Green cards have an adjective on them and red cards have a noun. One person in the game gets to be the “chooser.” The chooser controls a green card, then everyone else places a red card he/she thinks fits the adjective the best. The chooser picks which of the red cards he/she likes the most. A small description/definition is included on each card as well, just in case anyone is unsure of what the card means.

It’s a great game because it forces you to learn the tendencies of the people playing, because a chooser might like a more literalistic approach, or ironic, or funny etc. You learn a lot about people from playing Apples to Apples with them.

Well I grabbed a green card because I had just won a hand and the card said, “Worldly.”

I thought to myself, “HA! NOW THIS IS GONNA BE GOOD!” I was expecting something really trite to be laid down. Like TV, drug dealers, Jersey Shore, sex- y’know, something really bad. Because that’s how Christians think of the word. “Worldly” always has a negative connotation for Christians.

Then I read the definition of the word. I was shocked.

“Worldly- experienced, sophisticated, materialistic.” I let out a sigh of relief that at LEAST the writers included materialistic!

It really got me thinking, though. Christians use words in ways that nobody else uses them ALL the time! We have our own little jargon to separate us from “the world.” We are supposed to be “Not Of This World” as one particular brand of Christian apparel so constantly reminds us. This Christianese is ridiculous. It doesn’t really get us anywhere, does it?

When people use the same words to describe different things, it leads to confusion. There are brilliant philosophers who’ve written scores of books about this. In argumentation, the power to define almost always gives you the advantage. Christians don’t seem to mind too much though, we still keep using words differently!

My favorite Christian slogan is an extremely common one. It’s all too common, but doesn’t really mean anything. One time, I had somebody ask me if I was religious. I didn’t even have time to think about my response. No, I had seen too many strong Christians handle this in a brilliant way before me, so my response was automatic. Perhaps you’ve said it too?

“Nah man, I’m not religious. I’m a Christian. It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!!” Man… That TOTALLY worked. My friend, judging by the look on his face, was speechless. He must have accepted Jesus because he finally realized that it’s not about religion, but about relationship. In reality, maybe not so much.

Most likely he thought, “whatever floats your boat man. Last time I checked, Christianity was the biggest ‘relationship’ on the planet.”

A powerful video was just released on YouTube by a guy named bball1989. It’s a video entitled “Why I hate Religion, but love Jesus.” It’s been passed around Facebook by a TON of my friends. When I took a screenshot of it, 25 people had already posted it, but now it’s over 35. The video is fantastic, and I don’t want to dog it. But it still falls into that trap of using words differently than everybody else uses them.

Even some of my favorite preachers use this phrase. They say, religion is about rules but Jesus isn’t. Really? Jesus doesn’t give us guidelines to follow? Seems like Matthew 5 piles on even stricter rules than the Old Testament had given… And what dictionary in the world actually says that religion is about rules?

Now, I get that we aren’t saved by rules. The fact of the matter, however, is that when it comes to defining what religion is, the rest of the world tacks on “rules” almost as an afterthought.

Here’s how dictionary.com defines religion, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Huh, sounds like Christianity fits ALL of those criterion.

Maybe, when somebody asks us if we are religious in the future, instead of highjacking the question we should just answer them straight. “Yeah, yeah I am. Are you?”

Maybe, instead of trying to reeducate people about the Christian definition of religion we can just use our faith as a springboard for having a conversation. Maybe we can say, “hey Christianity might not be what you think it is.” Or “yeah I’m religious, could you tell? I’m glad you could- let me tell you what Jesus has done in my life to make me believe in him.”

Just say anything other than, “no man, I’m in a relationship with Jesus!” All religions claim to be in a relationship with their gods, we just need to show that ours cared so much about being in a relationship with us, He left his home and came to ours so He could be in relationship and community with us and to point us back to God.

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12 thoughts on “It’s Not Religion, It’s a Relationship!!!! (Or is it?)

  1. Interesting thoughts Max. I agree to some extent with most everything you say in here. My only point of contention actually comes in your final paragraph. In my stint at NU I was an INCS major, meaning I was required to study the major world religions. I disagree on this for one reason that varies from religion to religion. For example fundamental Buddhism does not preach of any kind of personal deity at all, their path to enlightenment is ultimately to be assimilated into the “all-soul” (the actual name escapes me at the moment). There is no sense of a relationship here and the concept is very similar in Hinduism. In Islam they do not have a relationship with Allah they live in a constant fear of not knowing. But I am done with this for now because I am so tired I’m having trouble forming a coherent thought

  2. I think the whole point behind the “Christianity is not religious” saying is that the world has such a screwed version of the real meaning of religion. they think that religion is what makes people go door to door and force others into their religion. they think that religion makes people crash planes into buildings for their god. they think that religion is a set of rules that if broken send you straight to hell. and while yes God did give us rules to follow and we are definitely a religion, he gave us the choice on whether to believe in him or not, and thats what gets us into heaven. I think you have some very valid points, but i also think that some people are just ignorant to what they are saying. we should be saying, yes i follow a religion but more importantly i believe in a God who doesn’t need religion he needs belief. God gave us laws so that if we truly loved him we would follow them and obey him, but he knows that we can’t be perfect, that’s why he sent Christ. So even the person who hasn’t been “religious” but still believes that Jesus dies for him can enter into the Kingdom of God. This by no means is an attack toward you ,but merely an explanation for the ignorant. Though the video people are posting may not be fully true, it has some valid points that set Christianity apart from any other religion.

  3. I wanted to write a response to the video as well. But I didn’t because I couldn’t decide how I felt about it. I agree with about 80.5% of what you say here 🙂

  4. Absolutely Kevin! Great thought. Appreciate the comment. I agree that religion has a bad rap in contemporary culture, but instead of trying to just run away from the word, we need to live our lives in such a way that redeems people’s perceptions of Christians.

    Kyle, you’re right. Hinduism and Buddhism teach things a little bit differently, but I simply meant that the point of all religions is to be in some sort of conversation with God, whether it is Brahmin, the Absolute, Aliens, Allah, or what have you. Everyone is trying to figure out where we stand in relation to the divine, which is what I mean by “relationship.”

    I don’t think Christians should have a “Jesus is my homie” mentality. The all-powerful creator of the universe isn’t your bro. He does expect a life change with our belief, look to James 2. This is part of my point. My biggest point is that we are too busy being stuck in our own little side-culture that we are missing out on speaking to the culture we live in.

    People can’t even understand half of what we talk about. I remember saying in high school once that I had to go to “worship practice” and somebody looked at me and asked, “you have to practice how to worship?!?!”

    Our language doesn’t make sense. If our words don’t make sense, then neither will Jesus. 🙂

    Brookes, thanks man. Don’t have to agree with me! What do you disagree with, if I may ask? I always love and value your input. You’ve always pushed me to think more critically about what I say, so comment away!

  5. In your last paragraph you write,
    “we just need to show that ours cared so much about being in a relationship with us, He left his home and came to ours so He could be in relationship and community with us and to point us back to God.”

    I think the Kid in the video addressed that by saying Religion is Man searching for God while Christianity is God searching for man.

    Remember this is a poem. It’s not something to base your life on. It’s simply the authors feelings about religion and his experiences with it.
    That said, I do agree with him for the majority. Religion has it’s place, but it’s easily corrupted and “hijacked” by our humanity. As humans, we like legalistics. However; if you get legalistic with religion it turns into a monster in a way.

    • I agree. This wasn’t meant as a critique of the video. I agree with most of the video, I just think we need to stop misusing this word, “religion.”

      It’s quite an awesome word actually. Another blogger pointed our that it’s fomed by the combination of the Latin ‘re’ and ‘ligio’ which means to “re-connect” which is precisely what Christianity aims to do.

      I understand that it is a poem, but poems don’t just communicate subjective truth, they communicate transcendent principles, which is why the Psalms are such a valuable part of our canon. They communicate truth through beauty. 🙂

      Once again, just want to clear up- I like the video. Just tired of Christians using words in such a way that it actually hinders talking with others.

  6. “we just need to show that ours cared so much about being in a relationship with us, He left his home and came to ours so He could be in relationship and community with us and to point us back to God.”

    WHY? Why do you “NEED” to show?

    My biggest problem with Christianity is the NEED to convince others…I don’t “NEED” or care to push (share) my beliefs on others. Just keep it to yourself…PLEASE.

    • Hey Doug,

      Thank you so much for your response! I appreciate that you took time to read my silly little blog.

      I think where you are finding the hang up is this- if you live in a Western-liberal-democracy you’ve likely encountered the idea of “separation of church and state.” In the West, we seem to emphasize the individual nature of something like faith.

      We are told that faith is simply “what you believe” because, like the guy in the video says, wars have been fought over people waving the banner of religion and claiming that their God is more powerful or more important than another countries/religions.

      So, our thought is, as a society, that all religion is thus bad if it isn’t simply a personal choice.

      But therein lies the problem. Religion isn’t the cause of these wars-people are! Wars are waged in the name of progress, science, greed, democracy, God, you name it.

      So, for me, faith is not simply a “belief” in some cognitive sense of the word. The problem is, society has neutered faith, because it has essentially said that all faith is total B.S. so it’s all just personal belief and only personal belief.

      For me, my faith in Jesus is very existential. It has impacted my life in a very real, experiential, and even intellectual way. It’s not just my “belief” it’s the very fibre and core of who I am as a person.

      Would you tell a gay that their sexuality is just a belief, and so they shouldn’t share with others? No. You would likely recognize that their sexuality permeates who they are. Much more so does my faith affect my very view of the world. In every single issue that I encounter, my response and actions are filtered through the lens of faith- because it has been very real.

      Not only is it very real for just me subjectively, but it is a faith that makes universal claims to truth. Jesus claimed to be God, the creator of all things, the sustainer of all life, and the sacrifice for all so that they can be in a relationship with a God they’ve sinned against. I believe him because of plenty of intellectual reasons but also for a lot of personal reasons. Because I believe him, I want to tell everyone about him.

      Do you think it was wrong for Newton to tell everyone about gravity? What if people said, “hey Newton, gravity doesn’t actually exist. We can’t see it, so it can’t exist, so it’s just your personal belief. Why do you have to tell everyone about it?” Most likely, they could have lived their lives having never known or cared that gravity existed, but they still would have been affected by it. Even more so, if nobody had listened to him, we couldn’t have made the advances in science we have made. Just because Newton believed it personally didn’t make it any less true.

      I appreciate your willingness to read my stuff and I hope you find my posts challenging. Please, feel free to comment again! 🙂

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