Last night at Taproot, the Harmony men studied one of Jonathan Edward’s resolutions in which he resolved to grow in the exercise of religion and grace on a regular basis (that’s a paraphrase; it’s #30, if you want to check it out).
It seems peculiar that the words “religion” and “grace” should appear side-by-side in the same sentence without opposing each other. At least, it seems peculiar to us, because we’ve developed this nifty little saying in the Christian sphere:
“It’s not about religion; it’s about relationship.”
This phrase is really a reaction to a brand of Christianity that taught you were saved because you went to church, because your parents believed, etc. (As such, this “brand of Christianity” really ceased to be Christian at all.)
It’s a distinction that some people put a good amount of time and energy in making, and I can’t stand it. To me, it’s a superficial distinction, at best.
At Appalachian State, I attended Christian campus groups that used this phrase until they were blue in the face, but many of the people there were not welcoming to outsiders. Some of them were jerks. All the talk about “relationship vs. religion” often could be little more than that: Talk with no action.
(It’s also unfortunate that we’ve ceded the word “religion,” which, when broken down to its roots, is about reconnecting. Jesus is very much in the business of reconnecting humanity with God. My friend Brad also pointed out that, by acting like jerks while using the word “relationship,” we’re ruining that word for people as well.)
I sense I’m not the only one who views this as a superficial distinction.
Many of the complaints regarding Christians today is that we can be too political and too anti-science (those are just two of the many, many criticisms). There’s also the plethora of people who were burned by churches in the past and still have some affection for Jesus even as they can’t stand his wife.
These issues aren’t going to disappear because we ditched the word “religion.” Things will start to heal when we worship and follow the One who saved us.
If we love God and love our neighbors and enemies, people will see that.
If we’re involved in our city, fighting for justice in social issues and helping those in need, people will see that.
If we overcome our addictions, heal our marriages, and stop complaining about how much money we don’t have, people will see that.
The glory of God, the beauty of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit are most clearly seen in our actions, not our titles.