What’s Wrong With “Relationship Vs. Religion”

Our Christian culture today is saturated with this idea, or at least with the quip, “relationship not religion.”

Unfortunately, the quip is wrong. In fact, it is so misleading it needs correction before we can start undoing much of the damage it has done. And boy has it done some damage. A large percentage of the failure of modern evangelicalism (and other parts of the church) can be blamed on the fallout of this mentality.

Here’s the bottom line, and then I’ll explain: “Religion vs. Relationship” is a false choice, and is always necessarily a false choice. By erecting this false dichotomy, people display that they understand neither what religion is nor what a relationship is. As a result, they denigrate both.


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Why We Want Religious Systems More Than The Gospel

It was easy to speak boldly that my ministry was all about faithfulness to God and His Word. But when humility gave birth to brutal honesty, I freely began to admit that there was undoubtedly this constant undercurrent of concern about my future. If someone else in leadership began to be at odds with me, it could go sour and I could end up looking for another church. If a long-standing and prominent congregant took issue with me, they had the power to influence others against me, and I could end up looking for another church.  At almost every point in pastoring, I constantly stood a chance of losing something.

Reminiscing about this brought me to an important reality followed by an important question. The reality is this: people crave religious systems. The question is obvious: why?

Fear drives this inward compulsion to conform. You are afraid of not belonging any longer. So you behave the way you need to in order to stay with the group. When this translates into churchianity, you come to believe that staying with your local church is tantamount to staying with God. And to not conform to the church is to be marginalized or expelled by both church and God. 


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‘The Nones’ Are The New Religious Elite

Christianity still dominates American religious identity (70%), but the survey shows dramatic shifts as more people move out the doors of denominations, shedding spiritual connections along the way.

Atheists and agnostics have nearly doubled their share of the religious marketplace, and overall indifference to religion of any sort is rising as well.

The “nones” — Americans who are unaffiliated with brand-name religion — are the new major force in American faith. And they are more secular in outlook — and “more comfortable admitting it” than ever before, said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.


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Seeing Yourself In The Parable Of The Two Sons

Religion is an invisible prison. It makes us think we are okay with God, when we may actually be further from Him than the greatest of sinners. Sinners typically know they are sinning. Religious people never do.

And that’s the deal with the older son. He thinks he is better than his brother because he stuck around with dad. But he’s not better necessarily, for he is judging and condemning his brother, whom the father has accepted and forgiven! The older son is a lost son as well, and he too has turned away from his father.

Both the older son and the younger son need to see how God has graciously forgiven and accepted each of them, one for his many sins and the other for his religious hypocrisy, and both can thank the father for His love, and then show each other the same love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness in return.


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Just So You Know: EVERYONE Is Religious

Many in this age of secularism will go about claiming that they are not “religious.” It seems that many believe that a person is not religious as long as they keep their distance from one of the major faith traditions of the world (e.g. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.). This clever web comic exposes the faulty assumption that subscribing to a major world religion is what makes one religious. In reality, every person who believes something, anything at all, is religious…


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Being Anti-Establishment About Church Is Cool But It’s Nothing If It Lacks Christ

Christless religion can always permeate and dominate, wherever the self-righteous ego (whether in the leadership or my own own) has bumped Jesus from the throne. Switching from robes to suits to jeans and back again (as I have done a few times) is not a spiritual journey … it’s just a fashion statement. Wherever the big “I” reigns as Lord instead of Jesus, you’ll find the kind of religiosity that can co-opt literally any style or form.


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Jesus Is Better Than Religion

Jefferson Bethke released video a few years ago that went viral. In the video, he ranted about how he loves Jesus but hates religion. There is a story behind those statements. Jeff shares his story in this magazine article.

“People lamented that they had tried Christianity, and it didn’t work. But last time I checked, you don’t try Christianity; either your heart has been transformed by Jesus or it hasn’t. But you can try religion. You can try to follow the rules. You can try to climb up to heaven. But all you’ll do is white knuckle your way to religious despair. It won’t work. It never does.”



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