“It’s not a religion. It’s a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

I understand the sincerity of people (like me until recently) who make this comment (12,980 in one Facebook group, nearly 4,000 in another, 21 million on a YouTube video, Justin Bieber). Unfortunately it implies that those who identity with “religion” neglect a relationship with Jesus Christ. Catholics certainly promote a relationship with Jesus Christ. As Pope Benedict XVI said,

“Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more. May this happen to each one of us.”

But is that all Christianity is? Should 2,000 years of dying for the faith, feeding hundreds of millions, fighting for justice for the orphan, casting out demons, educating all, building the most beautiful structures in the world, and contributing to scientific advancement be reduced to, “It’s a relationship?” Or has an American individualism perhaps permeated evangelicalism’s thought, a sort of “me and my Jesus” that isn’t Biblical or have much historical precedent before the early 1700s? I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and I also have a personal relationship with my friends from middle school and my dog. My relationship to Christ as part of His Church and His Kingdom is far richer than what I believed as an evangelical.

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12 thoughts on ““It’s not a religion. It’s a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

  1. I also don’t like the way many evangelicals make “religion” a dirty word when Scripture itself expresses it so positively:

    Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world – James 1:27

    http://restlesspilgrim.net/blog/2012/01/13/religion/

  2. True post. On numerous occasions, I have witnessed “proud” announcements of non-denominationality (is that a word?). My main problem with it is the tinge of implication it carries with respect to those who declare membership in a denomination.

  3. I would even go further: Should 2,000 years of discrimination and killing non-christians, slavery and crusades, inquisition and anti-semitism, child abuse, feeding hundreds of millions to let them have even more starving children, fighting against humanism and religious tolerance, witch hunts (or, as you said, “casting out demons”), educating only the rich, forcing the masses to build the most useless structures in the world, and hindering scientific advancement be reduced to, “It’s a relationship?”

    • I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, kfermion… It seems that you’re implying religion is responsible for those evils you’ve cited – in which case you’re either sadly misinformed or willfully ignorant – but that might lead one to think there’s some “better way.” Please, enlighten us, what is this better way?

      • Being self-critical is the way! Ever asked yourselves where all the riches in Vatican City come from and whether Jesus would approve it? Never heard of Giordano Bruno? Galileo Galilei? Apologies of Pope John Paul II? The Ustashe? The sex abuse scandal since 2008?
        If I misunderstood anything about it, please tell me.

      • You’re actually using a propaganda technique called card stacking, which makes what you’re saying (at first) appear somewhat persuasive. All of the issues you’ve brought up (including your reply, below) are reasonable, but only on the surface. If you really ascribe discrimination, ignorance, warfare, and slavery to religion, you’re either oblivious to history (in which case refuting each claim in kind – taking one second to make and on hour to refute – would be prohibitively difficult for any single person to do, though the literature is out there) or willfully ignorant (in which case you’d ignore refutation). On the same token, if you’re willing to speak for Jesus (who said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me”) regarding the temples of worship or vestments of priests (read 1 Kings 6:16-30, Exodus 28; pretty fancy), who could possibly change your mind?

    • The thing that I pretty clearly understand is your hate and fundamental misunderstanding of what the Church is and teaches. We are all imperfect sinners that make mistakes all the time. How’s that for being self-critical? But the Church teaches us we must not stop at accepting that fact but strive for moral and spiritual perfection. Every Church member including all of it’s leaders throughout history and myself are sinners. We hate when we should love. We use violence when we should use kindness. We seek vengeance when we should forgive. That has always been the message of a few to the many. Try reading about the prophet Isaiah, or I don’t know, Jesus Christ who was tortured and executed by his own people. Has Christianity made progress in the hearts, minds, and souls of human beings over the last 2000 years? It sure has.

      I recommend you pick up a book and do a little reading. If you want to understand what Christianity is all about start with this: The Catechism (which means teaching) of the Catholic Church available for free in its entirety here:
      http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

      and for your inevitable questions about its contents should you follow through, I would direct you here:
      http://www.catholic.com/

  4. Really good post. Well said.
    I’ve exprienced this a lot. Oftentimes under the scorned “religion” category, “religionless” Christians will place things like Judaism, Catholocism, or anything that is highly structured or uses creeds written by dead guys. And of course, the “relationship” category consists of what that person is personally advocating for. “Religious” becomes a curse word, just like “pharisee” or “legalist.”
    Regardless of one’s political affiliation, I think it’s true that in the United States we value libertarian principles… American individualism as you’ve said. We own stuff, we think for ourselves, and we seem to be feeling a lot of the effects of the Enlightenment. Spiritually, this can lead to viewing the Gospel as simply concerned with “me and my relationship with Jesus.” It is here that I should absolutely refence NT Wright’s challenge to people like John Piper. Is the message of Jesus confined to what happens to a soul? Or does it carry revolutionary implications for everything in all creation (from personal finances, marriage, to social justice)?
    I’m United Methodist and have talked with several pastors and leaders in my denomination about this “anti-religion” movement within evangelicalism. I’m not sure of who exactly did this study, but I was informed that church attendance peaked in the US during the 4-5 weeks following the 9/11 tragedy. It’s been on a steady decline since as people continually become skeptical of religion. “After all, those extremists responsible for 9/11 were RELIGIOUS extremists,” we might subconsciously think to ourselves. Also, in the years following 9/11, we have many cases of horrendous child abuse in many religious institutions.
    In this case, it appears as though evangelicalism is attempting to rise above the dark chapters in religious history. And it seems as though a major side-effect of all this is that soteriology takes a drastic change… aguably becoming completely different than what people in the early church would ever have thought of.

  5. Very well said. I saw this link on reddit.com I am with you, it is a personal relationship with Christ. Our pastor says that all the time. I go to a Baptist Church. So we believe in it being a personal relationship. WE can go to Him, talk to Him, share with Him our troubles, problems. He can fill the void in our lives. God Bless. I also maintain a Christian blog (www.cardeologist.com) I call it A Blog of a Courageous Father. Keep positing great content like this. God Bless you!

  6. Pingback: An Open Letter to Robert Griffin III | Evangelical to Catholic

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