"Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship with God." Let me share with you why we need to stop saying this.
For several decades now, it has been a growing trend among Christian influencers to believe and to contrast "religion" and "relationship." Jerry Jenkins, Tim Keller, Jefferson Bethke, the list can go on but those are just a few examples. Originally the purpose of this line of thinking was to put a sexy spin on speaking against the legalistic and moralistic culture that had (and still does) infected the Church, generally speaking.
However, while this may have been a creative way to communicate against key issues in the Church at the time, I fear that if we continue to carry these phrases or contrasts, it will spell disaster for future generations.
Organized Religion Is A Demonic Spirit?
In an interview on the podcast "Cultish," Lindsay Davis talks about her testimony and defecting from Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Lindsay Davis explains that at Bethel, students are taught (whether explicitly or implicitly was not stated) that if someone is acting in a where they want to check everything by the Scriptures, or if they may be acting in a way which may resemble what we would culturally draw parallels with Pharisees during 1st Century Israel, or they disagree with the teachings of Bethel Church, students are taught that this person has a "religious spirit." What this literally means is that students are being taught that adherence to organized religion is a demonic spirit that has spiritually latched on to someone and holds them captive.
Why is this dangerous (aside from having no biblical support)? This is dangerous because organized religion is not the problem.
In his documentary titled The Heretic, Rob Bell, says "Jesus would have been absolutely mortified if He knew people started a religion in His name."
Why is this dangerous (aside from ignoring that worshipping Him is what Jesus wanted and what the Prophets 800+ years before foretold)? This is dangerous because organized religion is not the problem.
If we continue to encourage statements such as, "Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship with God." Then people will believe exactly what we are saying: That if we want an authentic relationship with God, organized religion should be done away with. When this happens, we will no longer have the local church, the Scriptures will no longer be considered authoritative, and we will have effectively removed ourselves from living out our mission as God's children.
God Wants Christians To Be An Organized Religion
Around 2,000 B.C. the father and original patriarch of the Jewish people, Abraham, made a covenant with God. This covenant is recorded and preserved for us in the book of Genesis:
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.
And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”Genesis 12:2-3; 22:18 (NLT)
Do you know what God did not say? "Hey, Abraham. You know all these nations around the world? You're not going to be like that. You're not going to be a nation, you are going to be a family. We're going to sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya—"
No, God said that Abraham and his descendants would become a nation. Do you know why? God set apart the Jewish people to become a nation in the Promised Land because God wanted to appoint them as an example of the greatest nation. They were to be an example of what the best nation can look like: A people who lead by trusting in the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom that is rooted in the selfish nature of their hearts.
While God was not speaking about religion in this covenant, the same principle applies. God wants us to show the world that He is the best. Whether it be how a nation is governed, how religion is organized, how we interact with the people around us, or how we live our personal lives. God desires for you and me to point back to Him as the source of the greatest hope, love, and all things good.
How To Take Back Religion
1. Understand why people push back against organized religion.
God commands us to be patient, kind, gentle, and loving towards others. (Gal. 5:22-23.) And if we want to show others that Christianity is truly the greatest religion, we need to understand the slow progression to how we got here in the first place.
- Throughout religious history, there has been a consistent pattern that we can observe. This pattern is an oppressed, underdog people group, who endures and rises above oppression, who then after settling in their comfort will eventually become the top dog and oppress those who do not conform to their legalistic desires.
Example: The Christians were once a small group of Jews (and eventually Gentiles) who were persecuted by Judaic leaders and Roman Emperors. After 325 AD they received relief from persecution by becoming the official religion of Rome, and slowly they progressed into the top dog religion as the Roman Catholic Church. When the Protestant Reformation occurred in 1517 AD, the Catholic Church persecuted and oppressed the Protestant Reformers. Protestants endured persecution until roughly 1555 AD with the Peace of Augsburg.
By the 1730's AD, Protestant Christianity became the dominant religion of America. When church attendance began to decline and faith became stagnant, the First Great Awakening swept across America. The pinnacle sermon during this time was Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God by Jonathan Edwards. Mass conversion swept across the nation through the predominantly fiery and passionate sermons delivered by preachers which used fear as a primary motivator to inspire religious conversions.
Due to these "Great Awakenings," Evangelicalism is the primary influencer of American Culture. We are the "top dog" here. So when this culture begins to shift away from these Christian values, many people (even subconsciously) attempt to copycat the fear tactics utilized in the "Great Awakenings."
Have you seen the pattern play out? I speak frequently with people who do not believe in God and who oppose organized religion. And when I hear why they do not like religion or Christianity, the parallels to this pattern are plainly obvious.
2. Use correct word association.
If you are tempted to say something such as "Christianity is not a religion—" stop yourself and ask what you are thinking of when you say that. When you say, "religion," do you picture legalism? Then say that you don't like legalism. If someone says "I don't like religion." Ask, "What about religion do you not like?" And if they respond with something along the lines of, "Religion is hateful." Then say that they do not like hateful people, not religion.
Generation Z is the most biblically illiterate generation, currently in America. We need to start saying things for what they are and forget trying to use creative alternatives. Because if we just use creative alternatives, this generation will begin to hate the wrong thing.
Jesus desires Christianity to be the greatest organized religion. According to the Scriptures, it is not a religion which utilizes prejudice or inspires hate. It inspires love and relationship, selflessness and generosity. It is because of our beautiful religion that people can enter into a family, centered around a relationship with God Himself; who desires to liberate us from the selfish nature within us and the evil in this world!
3. Understand that organized religion is not the problem.
Sin is. All of us have fallen short and chosen to listen to our selfishness instead of the wisdom of God. But one day, the Kingdom of God will be complete and there will no longer be any evil in this world or selfishness which enslaves the hearts of people. Instead, Humanity and our dwelling place (earth) will live in perfect harmony with God and His dwelling place (heaven.) (Rev. 22:4.)
But sin infects the hearts of people and this earth to tempt us into following our selfishness and choosing to be legalistic and desire to control and dominate others. It tempts us to be racist or prejudice, to be hateful and evil towards one another. But the way of the Kingdom of God is to love God with all of your everything so that you can love your neighbor as yourself. (Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18.)
When we choose to focus on just how much Jesus loves us, how He chose to die for us and rise from the grave so we can be forgiven of our wrong, how through Him we can be empowered by God to shape this world and prepare it for Jesus' return when all will be made right, God's love for us influences our love for Him.
And when we overflow with His love, our desire is to bring people together to share in this love and to reflect His image to the world around us; inviting others into this family, being the children to a perfect Father.
Together, we are fixated on our purpose and move forward to prepare this world for Jesus' return. In order to bring about the Kingdom of God, we have to be organized. Not led by a single fallible person, but instead led by a perfect, infallible God. This is why it is not just our responsibility to take back religion, but to display Christianity to the world as the greatest religion.
If you would are encouraged by this blog post, consider sharing it with one other person so they too can be encouraged. If you would like to listen to more in-depth conversation about this blog post, listen to the podcast series "Taking Back Religion" by the Simply Love Jesus podcast. To quickly get to the podcast, click HERE, or hit the "Podcast" tab on this website.