Religion vs. Relationship? Do I have to choose?

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If you’re a regular reader around The Provision Room, you may have noticed something in the last year or two.  We have become more and more unabashedly religious.  Maybe it started subtle, but now you can hardly miss it.  We talk about liturgical living, the Church calendar, feast days, fasts, rituals and traditions a lot.  And maybe you’re cool with that.  And maybe you think we have gone off the deep end.  ~Because we love and value you, our sweet and faithful readers, we feel like we need to break that down and make it plain.  Yes, we are religious.  We are not afraid to say so.

Religion vs Spirituality

How often have you heard the following: Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.  We have heard it more times than we can count. Truth be told, we have probably said it our share of times in our Christian journey.

It has several variations.  But the gist is the same.  Religion = bad.  And everything gets lumped in there.  If it is liturgical, ritual, sacramental, well…..that’s just legalistic, man-made and…religious.  Because we are supposed to be in a love relationship with Jesus and that cannot be defined in terms of dos and don’ts.

But, if it is as simple as that, what do we do with this:

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.  (James 1:27)

Saying you are a Christian but against religion is sort of like saying you are in love but against marriage.  Oh, I love him. He’s great.  He’s my everything.  But, I won’t actually marry him.  I don’t need that stifling piece of paper.  I don’t need the restrictions that marriage would bring.  Marriage is too narrow and too defined. I need a free relationship, one that won’t tie me down.

Is that love? Really?

Latin religiōn- (stem of religiō) conscientiousness, piety, equivalent to relig(āre) to tie, fasten ( re- re- + ligāre to bind, tie; cf. ligament )[source]

Religion, at its root, means to bind something back together that is broken or that has come undone. “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.”  (Ezekiel 34:16)

So, you’re not religious you say?  Have you never been wounded?  Have you never been brokenhearted?  Do you never ache for the redemption of this world?  Wendon’t know about you, but we could use some religion–some binding up, some re-fastening.  Bind us to you, Jesus.

We’ve started writing about marriage.  It seems like pondering religion is a natural reaction to pondering marriage.  After all, one is our earthly image of the heavenly other.

What keeps you in relationship with your spouse?  Do your feelings of infatuation keep you there when the going gets tough?  On the days when you find it difficult to love your spouse, do the warm fuzzy feelings you got when you first started dating keep you there?  We think not.  What keeps you there is that you are bound.  You are committed.  You wear the proof.  You live the proof.  You stood up “before God and these witnesses” and bound yourself, uniting yourself forever as one flesh.  That’s called marriage.  It is beautiful and sanctifying.

What keeps a person in relationship with God? Is it that glowing feeling you get at Midnight Mass at Christmas?  Is it the feeling of joyful exuberance you get when you’re in a Worship Service?  We don’t think so.  Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s difficult to love and serve God.  So, what keeps a person loving and serving God?  We are bound.  We are committed.  We live the proof.  We take the indelible mark of Baptism, binding ourselves forever in Christ’s death and resurrection.  That’s called religion.  It is beautiful and sanctifying.

cathedral

It’s not that we reject the premise that Christianity is a relationship with a very real Savior who loves us passionately.  It’s that we have come to believe that relationship and passion needs to progress to oneness.  It is that process of oneness, that participating in the very life of Christ through the Sacraments and heartbeat of His Church that leads us beyond experience to embracing all the obligations of the Covenant.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.
(Come, Thou Fount. Methodist Hymn. Robert Robinson, 1735-1790)

If someone tells you that you have to choose a relationship instead of religion, we hope you will respond as we are learning to, that you are embracing the full expression of your relationship through the gifts of true religion.

 


  1. I really like this – I too have very often said this – Christianity – a relationship not religion – even had a button on my purse in High School that said that. But I really appreciate what you wrote – thanks.

  2. Wonderful write up.  I get the “I’m spiritual, not religious” speech frequently.  When I ask exactly what that means no one has an answer except that they believe in God.  

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