Relationship, Religion or Both?

Wedding ring, Byzantium, 7th c. AD, nielloed gold.
Wedding ring, Byzantium, 7th c. AD, nielloed gold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This was published as a guest editorial in Christian Courier, Jan. 28, 2013 issue, p.4.)

As a young Christian, I grew up with the ever popular mantra that Christianity is not a religion but rather a personal relationship with God. But I am now strongly opposed to this dichotomy. Why?

It’s a False Dichotomy. To say that Christianity is only a relationship and not a religion is like saying marriage is only a relationship and not an institution! It’s simply false. Yes, I understand the desire to get back to the authentic love for God rather than simply religious ritualism. But a marriage based only on a loving relationship without the rings, legalities or blessings of families and friends that mark it a social institution would be called “living in sin”! At least, we used to call it that. It was God’s idea in the Old Testament to set up the priesthood with its offerings and sacrifices, as well as the covenant laws and the ritual of circumcision as more formal (yes, religious) ways of expressing His relationship with Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus came not to abolish these OT Laws or the Prophets but to more deeply fulfill them. (Matt. 5:17) And Jesus also gave us at least two rituals – the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. And the apostle James did not throw out religion but defined what true religion is all about: “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

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