Friday, July 08, 2005

"Religion" vs. "Relationship"?

Growing up in the Pentecostal Church, I was sold a line that said "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a Relationship." This was basically an excuse to not have much to do with traditional things, because we thought that traditions were evil and distracted us from God. I've seen that this is common thinking among many evangelical protestants. Somehow, "religion" is associated with dead, useless faith.

I must say, I no longer agree. In fact, I disagree with that opinion quite strongly. When I see that opinion expressed, it frustrates me. Recently, I converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Sure, it's got it's problems (all churches and denominations do), but contrary to what I was taught growing up, its problem is not "religion". In fact, I believe that the religion is its strongest asset.

Religion is the embodiment and the organisation of our faith. It is the associated practices and customs that are demanded of our faith.

There is an adage, along these lines, that is touted to express the difference between "Christianity" and "religion", and that is, "Religion is man's search for God. Christianity is God's search for man." The second half of this sentence is true, but the first is inspecific and inaccurate. All the other religions in the world could rightly be said to be man's search for God (except Judaism, in which God revealed Himself to them--out of which, Christianity springs, when God further and fully revealed Himself to us!). But "religion" is not antithetical to Christianity. It is our response to God for His revelation to us. It is, in fact, how we live that relationship out!

This is in fact evidenced by Judaism. It is the religion that God founded, through Moses. It was not primarily the Hebrews' search for God, but God's miraculous intervention in their lives. His Covenant that He made with them, that He would be their God and they would be His people, was the relationship. The 10 Commandments that He gave them, as well as the rest of the Law, was the religion, which He expected them to live out in response to that Covenental Relationship!

I was reading a blog the other day, www.getoutoftheboat.blogspot.com, where the claim was made that "we know that the Old Testiment was what was before. A Religious system designed to Separate God from Man." I could not believe that the author had made such an incredibly ridiculous statement! The Covenant that God made with Israel, that He would be their God, and they would be His people, was separating them from God?! I seriously have to wonder whether this author has in fact read the Old Testament!

Yes, Jesus came to bring a New and Better Covenant! That's the theme of the book of Hebrews. But that New Covenant is not a different kind of covenant, in that the purpose has been changed. It is the fulfilment of the Old Covenant--a covenant which proclaimed and promised the New Covenant. Jesus Himself said, "Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them" (Matthew 5:17). Jesus came to complete the Law--to give us the missing piece of the puzzle. St. Paul tells us that the Law was an instructor, to teach us that by ourselves we could never complete the requirement. So God promised to make it possible--by replacing our hearts of stone, and giving us hearts of flesh, alive in His Spirit.

Jesus doesn't take away the requirements of the Law--He gives us the Grace and strength to live it!

Christianity is indeed a religion--but the religion conveys grace to us from God that all other religions fail to do. Why? Because our religion brings us into a relationship with God--the Creator and Saviour of the Universe!

Why would you want to deny that?

7 Comments:

Blogger Gregory said...

Further to the discussion of the Old Covenant as something allegedly "separating" man from God, the ludicrousity of that sentiment is easily determined by an examination of the very word, "Covenant", which comes to us from the Middle English, rooted in Old French, "convenir", meaning "agreement".

French hasn't changed that much over the centuries, and anyone with a smattering of it should see immediately what "convenir" literally translates as: "con"--together, alongside, as in a partnership; and "venir"--to come. Thus, a Covenant is a "Coming Together" of two parties. In the case of the Old Covenant, God was coming together with the Hebrews, coming alongside them and partnering with them. The New Covenant magnififies that Coming Together in the Person of Jesus Christ, who became one of us, lived among us, died for us, and makes us able to Come Together with God as His adopted Children!

All that is to say, the Covenant with the Israelites was not to separate them from God, but literally just the opposite--to covenant them, or bring them together with God!

11:36 PM  
Blogger Mark 1:17 said...

The old covenant is a coming together of which only one party can complete what is required. The Hebrew people could not do and obey all that God had required in the covenant. That is why we see throughout the whole Old Testiment that God will let His people be taken off into captivity, untill they repent, then He will come back to them.
Jesus is a One Sided Covenant between two. God made a Covenant with all Mankind, and He holds up both ends of the Covenant!
One, He paid the price, created the bridge to span the gap of our sin.
Two, Chirst in us, is what allows us to believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Personally, when asked, "So, what religion are you?"
I would reply, "I am a disciple of Jesus Christ." Rather than say, "Oh, I go to suchandsuch a church or I am whatever denomination."

Question for you about the Old Testiment.
Why was Moses found Righteous in the sight of the LORD? Was it because he kept everything that God had commanded? Or was it because like David, he was a sinner, but a man after God's own heart?
What does God want of us? Us to obey the law to a tee? Or, To earnestly seek after His will and Glorify His name in everything?

9:01 AM  
Blogger Gregory said...

First off, I would have to reassert that the Hebrew Religion was not a separation from God. Yeah, there were an abundance of Laws, which were meant to be followed, but these Laws were not there in order to keep people from being able to come to God at all! They were there to demonstrate a) their sin, b) God's ultimate holiness, and c) their utter dependence upon Him. Remember, the Law did not separate them from God, rather, as St. Paul points out, it showed them plainly just how far they were separated by their sin.

"All those who have sinned without the Law will perish without the Law; and those under the Law who have sinned will be judged by the Law. For the ones that God will justify are not those who have heard the Law, but those who have kept the Law." -Romans 2:12-13

"What should we say, then? That the Law itself is sin? Out of the question! All the same, if it had not been for the Law, I should not have known what sin was...Once, when there was no Law, I used to be alive; but when the commandment came, sin came to life and I died. The commandment was meant to bring life but I found it brought death, because sin, finding its opportunity by means of the commandment, beguiled [Gen 3:13] me and, by means of it, killed me.
"So then, the Law is holy, and what it commands is holy and upright and good. Does this mean that something good resulted in my dying? Out of the question! But sin, in order to be identified as sin, caused my death through that good thing, and so it is by means of the commandment that sin shows its unbounding sinful power." -Romans 7:7a, 9-13

So we see that The Law, the Old Covenant is not an evil thing, which it would need to be if indeed it caused us to be separated from God, as you assert! However, St. Paul strongly denies that assertion: "Out of the question!" But through the Law, we are shown our weakness and the true extent of our sinful nature.

It is for this reason that Jesus was sent--to pay for our sins as our ultimate sacrificial Lamb and to give us eternal life--which, according to John 17:3, is to know God and Jesus Christ. But more than that, Jesus came to enable us to have faith in God, and to live for God--because Faith is more than merely giving mental credence to God's existence (James 2:19-20), but actually walking in obedience to that faith:

"But whowever does the truth comes out into the light, so that what he is doing may plainly appear as done in God." -John 3:21, Jesus' words, my emphasis. It echoes a couple similar sentiments in St. Paul:

"For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim credit. We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated make up our way of life." -Ephesians 2:8-9

"So, my dear friends, you have always been obedient; your obedience must not be limited to times when I am present. Now when I am absent, it must be even more in evidence, so work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who, for His own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the powers to act." -Philippians 2:12-13

Let's not forget St. James, either, who not only reminds us that "in the same way faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead" (James 2:17), tells us plainly what true religion actually is, in 1:19-27. He also demonstrates that Abraham was "justified by his deed, because he offered his son Isaac on the altar" (2:21 [Gn 22:9]).

St. James' description of True Religion has many parallels to such notable Scripture passages as Isaiah 58 and Hosea 6:6, and Micah 6:8--which are, I might remind you, all fully contained within the Old Covenant.

All that is to say that both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant involve obedience to the Faith that is demonstrated in keeping a Law and being religious. Or as Jesus Himself said, "You are my friends, if you do what I command you" (John 15:14).

Christ does so much more than merely forgive our sins and give us the ability to have faith. He comes to us, allows us to be partakers in His Divinity, infusing us with His righteousness, making it our own, and giving us the ability through His Grace to actually do all that He commands us!

Personally, when asked, "So, what religion are you?"
I would reply, "I am a disciple of Jesus Christ." Rather than say, "Oh, I go to suchandsuch a church or I am whatever denomination."


But being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be religious. It is to discipline ourselves to follow His teachings and to stay in step with His leadings. If that isn't a perfect paraphrase of Micah 6:8, the only thing I can think of that would be better is DC Talk's "Day by Day"!

Question for you about the Old Testiment.
Why was Moses found Righteous in the sight of the LORD? Was it because he kept everything that God had commanded? Or was it because like David, he was a sinner, but a man after God's own heart?


I would say that Moses, just like Abraham and David, were found righteous for being men after God's heart. But what does that mean? To be His friends? Well, as Jesus reminds us, His friends are such because they keep His commands! They were righteous because they combined faith and works in their love of God, and were sincere and repentant with a true, contrite heart when they sinned. Read up on James 2:21-23, Romans 4:18-25, Hebrews 11:1-12:1, James 5:17-18, and I'd recommend Ecclesiasticus chapters 44-50, but I don't think you'd have that book.

What does God want of us? Us to obey the law to a tee? Or, To earnestly seek after His will and Glorify His name in everything?

Can you glorify God in everything, and not keep His Laws?

Simply put, without the Grace of Christ, given through His atoning death on the Cross, and Resurrection to Glory, we would not be able to fulfil God's requirements. However, through His Grace, we indeed can fulfil our obligation to holiness. As St. Peter exhorts us:

Your minds, then, must be sober and ready for action; put all your hope in the grace brought to you by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Do not allow yourselves to be shaped by the passions of your old ignorance, but as obedient children, be yourselves holy in all your activity, after the model of the Holy One who calls us, since scripture says, 'Be holy, for I am holy.' And if you address as Father Him who judges without favouritism according to each individual's deeds, live out the time of your exile here in reverent awe. For you know that the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood as of a blameless and spotless lamb, Christ. He was marked out before the world was made, and was revealed at the final point of time for your sake. Through Him you now have faith in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory for this very purpose--that your faith and hope should be in God. -1 Peter 1:13-21 [Lv 19:2]

8:20 PM  
Blogger Gregory said...

I just wanted to clarify my position, and make it abundantly clear that I am not some kind of Judaizer, believing that we must follow the OT Laws to be saved as Christians!

I referenced the OT to demonstrate that it was a religion that could properly be called God's reaching down to man, contrary to evangelicalism's typical assertion that "religion" is ipso facto man trying to reach God.

As Christians, my point is that our faith is not devoid of moral and legal obligations--to follow Christ's commandments. Repeatedly the NT says that God will judge us by our deeds, as well as by our faith in Christ. The two aren't separated, nor are they antithetical, but must be joined together (James 2:17).

Too often, much of Protestant Christianity (following Luther, as it supposes) denies the validity of works to contribute to our sanctification, and embracing the mantra, "Sola Scriptura"--which is not a biblical idea. Sola Gratia is the motto and means of our salvation--but that Grace alone which saves us, does so by giving us both the faith and the ability to do the works which God requires of us.

Because the faith-alone aspect is so forcefully argued on the one side, the other can often react very vigorously in defence of works--often overemphasising them and losing the necessary balance. When I reread my last post, I was worried that I might have done that, which is the reason for this clarification.

But my initial assertions stand:
a) Christianity is a religion--an ordered system of rules and practices designed to aid in the worship of God.
b) Religion is not inherently evil, bad, or man-made. Only the man-made religions which deny the True God are in any way bad or evil.

Personally, when asked, "So, what religion are you?" I would reply, "I am a member of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Christ, promised the guiding of the Holy Spirit protecting it from error, and called the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth." But since that's an incredibly long reply, I usually just sum it up by saying I'm a Roman Catholic.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Mark 1:17 said...

Gregory,
I have gone back and clarified my position. The Religious system that God created was perfect! The Covenant that was the Old Testiment and the Covenant that is the New Testiment are both perfect. But, what makes the Old Covenant imperfect is OUR Imperfection -- SIN! The Coenant God created was Perfect but when we got our filthy hands on it, we twisted it and deformed it.
I believe that God's purpose for the Court of Gentiles was not to keep them out, but a place to welcome them into the temple. However, that through the sin of the people got twisted and changed and turned into a place of exclusion.
You are right in what you have said and I should have been more clear as to what I meant. But, because of our sin, the laws have become a point of separation.

The point I am getting to is:
1. Not everything can be said in one post.
2. I want to keep my posts as short as possible, so things must be addressed in other posts.
3. (This goes back to point 1.) If I were to write on the person of Jesus Christ, I would never be able to stop, I could never write everything about Him especially in one post, things will be left out.
4. When lifting one comment off the page it is easy to misrepresent what is actually meant. Each comment or phrase should be taken in the context of the entire post as well as the entire blog itself.

The law is there to Yes, show us God's Holiness, our sin and dependence upon Him. But through sin -- not keeping the law we are separated from God. Once that happens even one time...there is only one way to get back into a right relationship with God. That is not keeping the law from then on out, it is a change of our heart attitude toward God, once again placing God at the center of our lives and on the thrown where He belongs.
I also just want to say...and I think you said this in your clarification...Works do not get us to heaven, they do not get us into a right relationship with Jesus Christ, However they are prepared for us to do. But, they have nothing to do with our salvation. That is before we are saved. After Christ is in His rightful place in our lives, we have works prepared for us to do, but by not doing them we do not loose our salvation, by doing them we do store up treasure in heaven.

I think that we are on the same page, just taking a little different look at it. Ex.
I could look at a F-18 Hornet and say, "Wow, that is a large jet!" And you could look at it and say, "What, that is tiny compared to a Boeing 747!"
Both are right, compared to a person the F-18 is massive, but compared to a 747 is is dwarfd.
I could also look at the sun and think, "Man am I tiny, that thing is so huge!" And an Astronomer could look at it and say, "That is just one of the smaller stars, there are many that are larger!"
Again both are correct, just coming at it from a little different perspective.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not promoting alternate and unbiblical readings of the text. I should have been a little more clear on my stance. But, God and His Word are so complex that there are many different facets of the same subject that can be taken into account. We can look at everything through God's eyes (that is a task and a half), we can look at everything through human eyes (ummm gee I think I have that one down), or we can do it both ways.
Anywho, I refine my statement to say that sin is the separation, not the initial system. However through sin, the human part of the covenant was corrupted and failed. That is why a new covenant was created by God, through the person of Jesus Christ! A two sided covenant that is fullilled by God on both sides.
Christ is the payment and bridge as well as living in us to fullfill the other half of Loving God and trusting in Christ for Salvation.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Gregory said...

Works for me! Thanks for the clarification! I've enjoyed this discussion immensely.

However, I do have one small point of disagreement, and maybe that was due to my own unclarity.

We are saved by God's Grace alone, through Jesus Christ's atoning, expiating death on the Cross. Nothing (and I mean nothing we do up until God gives us His grace can save us! Our works are useless when not activated by His grace, and our faith is well, pretty much non-existent without Grace!

But God's Grace gives us faith, and energises our works, so that through our faith and our works we can respond to God's sanctifying grace and work out His saving grace in our lives.

My disagreement is here: If we fail to do the works that God has laid out for us, then we will indeed jeopardise our salvation, and possibly even lose it, in the same way that if I do not live my role as a loving, caring, providing husband, I may just lose my wife!

The thing is, that God works in us to do the works that He wants. This is why St. Augustine says that in crowning our merits, God is in fact crowing His gifts to us! But we get the crown!

That we can lose our salvation is abundantly clear in Scripture from the warnings that we persevere in the Faith! Even St. Paul said that he was still striving lest, on that day, he found he had fallen short. This is why Jesus, in the Revelation to St. John, told the Seven Churches that they must persevere, or they would lose their place.

The once-saved-always-saved is not a biblical teaching. Salvation isn't a guarantee until that Great White Judgement. That is why we must continue to strive, to press on, in our Christian life, lest we grow lazy and apathetic and forfeit the prize. There are two kinds of sin: Sins of commission--actively breaking God's laws, and sins of omission--failing to do what God wants. Not doing the things God has told us to is just as sinful as doing the things God has told us not to.

Does that mean we can't be certain of our salvation? Of course not! God has promised that nothing could snatch us out of His Hand! However, He did not tell us that we ourselves couldn't just walk out of His Hand. We are certain of our salvation because we know that God will never condemn us if we continue to follow Him. But we can be equally certain that if we fail to continue following Him, that there will come a point where we will have left His Hand.

That is not to say that there is no forgiveness! But that forgiveness can only follow Repentance--and repentance is much, much more than saying "I'm sorry." Repentance involves action--it involves turning 180 degrees from our sin and following after God. Through the Grace given in Christ Jesus, our sins are blotted out and destroyed--but only when we respond to that and do the things He wants.

God knows we can't save ourselves, and He doesn't expect us to! He's done all that we cannot do--but we must not expect Him to do the parts that we can! He cannot respond in obedience for us--He will only give us the power to respond.

I hope that was clear enough. It was longer than I intended.
God bless
Gregory

10:38 AM  
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