Have you heard the following sentence, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” I’m sure we all have. I want to talk about the first part. “Christianity is not a religion”.
My definition for religion is basically this: It is what men/women do in order to get to God and please Him in order to get His blessing. That means that
1)we know we are separated from Him and have to find a way to Him
2)we want to stay on His good side and please Him
3)in return for being good or doing what He wants us to do, we expect Him to return the favor and to spare us the unfairness of life.
Religion is full of rules of stuff that you have to do to please the gods. Do this, Don’t do that. Do that. The Bible is full of rules and a lot of people are very pleased about it, because now they can get on God’s good side. The rules are not always clear-cut, but generally the rule of thumb is, “The more rules you keep, the better God will like you, or the stricter you follow the rules, the better God will like you.” Religion also has a harsh conformity about it. People are required to believe the same as I do. If they do not, they are the enemy. The enemy is then also of course, my god’s enemy, because they are not following the rules like I do. In religion, people are dispensable. Religion also has a measuring stick. Some people are more religious than others. Some people are christians. Others are “good” christians.
What ticks me off is that it is people, very much busy with religion, that utters the words, “Christianity is not a religion”. They read the Bible. They follow the rules. They believe that if they work hard at it, God will come through for them. They also believe that when they say someting like “Christianity is not a religion”, it places them above the other religions out there. The phrase is not being used to describe their reality, but to show their superiority. You might say to me, “But in order to be a good christian, you have to read the Bible.” I differ from you. You assume that everybody can read. You assume that literacy has always been present. You assume the disciples could read. You exclude the billion people who cannot read. I assume that they cannot be “good” christians? Oh well, luckily us, we can read. Let me ask you this “What will happen to your faith when you do not read the Bible and do not have fellowship? What will happen to your faith when you are free to do what you want? What will happen to your faith when there are no rules to follow?
As Real live preacher said:
What we have are religions that clamor after The Word and talk about The Word and market The Word and brand themselves as keepers of The Word. It’s all best guesses and hearsay, and if you can’t own up to that and still keep faith with your brothers and sisters, you’re just fooling yourself and maybe that’s okay with you. That’s all some people want – to be nicely and gently and comfortably fooled. I know the Bible, for I have spent half a lifetime looking there, but it cannot give you The Word. And if you treat those words as if they were The Word, then the Bible will be dead to you. The stories will turn their faces away from you, fold their robes over their shoulders, and go to sleep. So you won’t have the Bible to cling to. I’m sorry.
In the late 1980’s we came to know God as a Father. Some of us could literally feel His arms around us. The experience was tangible. He broke our defenses and it changed a bunch of us forever. His love came and healed our hidden wounds. The kind of wounds that you don’t share with others. God came and revealed Himself as a Father!! Unexpectedly we knew that the false image we created of Him was founded upon our earthly fathers and authority figures. He was not as fickle as they were.
It did not take long for the church to start preaching along the same lines. In the preaching lay the correct words, but the transforming power wasn’t there. People were told that He was not like their earthly fathers and authority figures, but it remained knowledge. The knowledge did not transform the hearers. What was alive was co-opted into religion. Religion incorporates the good with the hope it will get us to God or move Him to respond. The same happened to “Christianity is not a religion.” If you want to utter that phrase, then you can say it after a year of not fellowshipping, not reading your Bible and not feeling very christian like. You had to be in a place where you were alone mostly spent in anger or depression. You had to be in a place where nothing made sense. You had to be in a place where your good works were not rewarded. All that you believed before were in question. The crutches of religion that kept you standing fell away. This can sometimes be brutal. And after this happens, you will never “just” say “Christianity is not a religion” in a congregation, because you know that behind the statement lies an experience that cannot be manufactured by human hands.
Real live preacher again
“You must lay your religion down. Lay it down hard. Drop it. Leave it on the trail and walk away from it. And you have to mean it. You can’t fake this. You have to renounce religion and leave it for good. As far as you know, you’ll never pick it up again.
Start with what you can see and feel and touch. Start with what makes you cry. And if you do not cry, ask yourself why not. Start with what brings you joy. And if you feel no joy, ask yourself why not. Start with what draws your eye and your attention and your obsessions. And if you do not see or notice or obsess, ask yourself why not.
After that you can walk freely in the wild places where faith can still be found.
(p.s. these sentences come from different paragraphs. I pasted them this way to tell the story.)
We have to come to a place where we separate from the principal and join the Person. That process is called the end of religion. Then, and only then, can we say “Christianity is not a religion.”