Religion or Relationship?
Reading: Romans 12
This past Monday I went to get my oil changed. It’s early, I’ve got my coffee, Bible, and a couple other books just in case this takes longer than expected. As I sit in the waiting room, and accidentally spill some coffee onto the seat next to me, a conversation begins with the only other person in the waiting room—a woman in her late 50’s. Somehow the Bible gets brought into the conversation and I ask if she has a church.
“Not right now; I did all that for a long time, going to church, tithing, being involved, but I traded religion for relationship.” Now, I know that according to current cultural protocol, she has just trumped everything. I’m supposed to be awed by the sheer superiority of such a comment. It is code for, “I’ve reached a level of understanding that has allowed me to rise above such inauthentic practices as organized religion to a new plane of authentic religion which is just me and the Lord.” Those words she used, “I’ve traded religion for relationship.” What do they mean? What did she mean?
Turns out, as I inquired, that several years back she and her now late husband were inspired by a movie, “Bucket List”. And that is when she turned her religion in for this so-called relationship. They began traveling the world and seeing places they always wanted to see. Don’t get me wrong, I rejoice that they had some extended time together before his passing. I would want that for them and anyone else. However, I would never recommend the trade that was made.
What was this trade? “Religion for relationship.” She left being committed to a group of people outside of herself to which she was joined by a common belief, for which she sacrificed for the common good both financially and with her time, which involved working through conflicts, disagreements, and differences in order to accomplish something bigger than just ourselves, and traded that for merely doing what she wants on the weekends, traveling where she wants, and not being encumbered by such archaic things such as financial sacrifice for something from which I get no direct benefit, or time commitments. The first one she called religion, the second one she called relationship. Can you see the obvious contradiction?
You may object saying, “But she meant relationship with God, not others.” True; that wasn’t missed on me. However, since love of God and love of neighbor are intricately tied together, and since she had already acknowledged an immense respect for the Bible as a Divinely inspired book, I heard her through its grid. And the scriptures tell us plainly that we cannot love God whom we cannot see while not loving our neighbor, brother or sister in Christ, whom we can see. (1 John 4:20-21) Love is never merely a feeling I have toward people while I am completely uninvolved in their lives.
Romans 12 describes what “relationship” looks like. It describes what authentic religion looks like. Here is a sampling of how this is described:
(1) Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship…(5) so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (6) We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; (7) if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; (8) if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (9) Love must be sincere….(10) Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (11) Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (12) Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (13) Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality….(15) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (16) Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
It turns out, she has recently moved to the area and moved about a mile away from the church in which I am involved. I was able to invite her and I do pray she comes. I pray this that she might discover something authentic, something outside any one of us, something of relationship in a community which bears with each other, forgives one another, prays through dark times together, helps people in need that we know and do life together with. I can’t speak to what she had before that she traded for this “relationship” (more accurately called self-life). I can say that I know a kind of relationship, a kind of authentic worship of God that cannot be lived apart from a believing community. And that is the kind of worship to which the Bible calls us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,