There are many T-Shirts in this world that annoy the heck outta me. They quote stupid things that celebrities have said like “Winning”. They have supposedly witty sayings like “How many vegetables had to die for your stupid salad?” or “I used to have an open mind, but my brains kept falling out” (I’m ashamed to admit that I once owned said T-shirt). Still, there is one particular shirt that really irritates me, and I want to prove the individual wearing it wrong every time I see it (yes, I can be that petty sometimes). This is said shirt:
There are many variants of this shirt. All of them frustrate me equally.
There are a couple reasons why this whole mindset bothers me. I’m not sure where this started at, but I can imagine why. Religion turns people off. They see religion as a set of rules and doctrines that must be adhered to in order to be judged good in the afterlife and be rewarded. Christianity has done very little in certain areas of history to change this mindset, so those who have adopted the relationship theology do so with good intentions. I am concerned, however, about what this does for people’s mindset who come to Christ in our churches. I feel that we are misleading them, only showing them a casual acquaintance with God rather than the holistic absorption in the grace and glory of God that is offered to those who are in Christ.
Essentially, there are two things I want to say to anyone who has seen these shirts and/or bought them and adopted this mindset: 1) The definition we have adopted of relationship does NOT fit the context of how humans relate to God in Scripture, and 2) it is okay to call Christianity a religion, as it fits the tenets of the definition. To do this, I want to show where we’ve gotten off track in our efforts to make Christianity “relevant” and “relational” and come to misunderstand what this “relationship” with God actually means.
In effect, we’ve attempted to shy away from the word “religion” in Christian circles because of the negative connotations it has in our culture. I understand this. Just as we don’t like calling certain evangelical tent meetings “crusades” anymore, we don’t like calling Christianity a “religion” because people aren’t huge fans of being “religious” (they are fine with being “spiritual,” however). Religion carries connotations of rules, doctrines, and those can cramp a person’s style. They also carry connotations of legalism (or salvation by works) in Christian circles, so the overall move away from defining Christianity as a religion by church leaders is well understood.
Being relevant isn’t a terrible thing, but what we’ve done in doing so is set up a Christianity where people see God as a friend. Not the kind of friend they spend a lot of time with, but one they’ll call up if they’re bored and want to go out and have a drink and everyone else is busy. This sort of thinking might make someone feel good about God and be a little more interested in Jesus, but ultimately makes their faith a casual thing. We’re missing out on a more holistic and multi-faceted view of relationship, of which friendship is indeed a part. God is our Father, our Mother (yes, maternal language in reference to God is present throughout multiple portions of Scripture), our Counselor, our Judge, our King, and our Master, amongst a host of other titles we as humans have given him (and that he has claimed in Godhood).
The casualness of our relating to God must go, for to only view God as friend (acquaintance, really) cheapens our faith and our grace. We’ll talk to God when we need something, or when times get hard (as we should), but never when considering the decisions that might put us on those hard times, or to thank Him for his providence, or to even consider who he is. When was the last time you sat down during prayer and considered the sovereignty of God, how it spreads through the entirety of the earth and how his very command causes the oceans to rise and fall? Or his omnipresence, how he is everywhere at the same time, and how he is all things, but not all things are him? We cannot continue in such a shallow faith and believe that we are truly living what God has given us.
My second point I wanted to make was that calling Christianity a religion is not a bad thing. How do we as humans define religion?
re·li·gion [ri-lij-uhn] Show IPA
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.
So, is Christianity a religion? We have a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe. We have devotional and ritual observances (don’t try to hide it; your church has an order of service like everyone else). We have a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs (the ten commandments, sermon on the mount, etc.).
To answer my own question: yes. Christianity is a religion. It’s OK. You can relax now.
Anyway, that’s my rant for today. I leave you with the following thought to consider: is your walk with God, your following of his commands, your communal time with him, as holistic and multifaceted as it could be? Or is God a casual acquaintance, an occasional drinking buddy?