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Is Christianity a religion or a relationship?
Posted By Eric Sammons On October 7, 2010 @ 7:30 am In Jesus Christ,Pope Benedict,Protestantism | Comments Disabled
One of the most common refrains of modern Evangelical preaching is that “Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.” By this, Evangelicals emphasize that following Christ is not simply following a set of rules and rituals, but is a deep personal relationship – even friendship – with Jesus Christ.
And Pope Benedict agrees with them – to a point. Speaking recently about St. Gertrude, the pope said that “the center of a happy life, a true life, is friendship with Jesus .” In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict wrote that friendship with Jesus is that “on which everything depends.” Someone who claims to be Christian yet does not have a deep friendship with the Lord is either lying or self-deceived.
Yet many Evangelicals take this concept too far. For example, a pastor of a megachurch in California is currently preaching a series of sermons called “Why Jesus Hates Religion .” This pastor states that Jesus believed religion to be worthless and that it “contaminates everything with hypocrisy”. Using the common example of the Pharisees, he preached that Jesus rejected religious practices completely.
So is Christianity a relationship and not a religion? The Catholic answer, in typical Catholic fashion, is “it is both”. If we look at the actions of Christ and his first disciples, we’ll see that there is no dichotomy between religion and relationship – they in fact each strengthen the other.
First we should note that Jesus himself followed the rituals of the Jewish religion. He was circumscribed, he was raised in a practicing Jewish home, and he attended synagogue services and made pilgrimages to the Temple – all “religious” activities. After his Ascension, his followers continued to follow the rituals of the Jewish faith. Over time, these followers did abandon those rituals, but only because they had replaced them with new rituals of Christianity, first and foremost among them the Eucharistic liturgy.
If Christ “hated religion”, then surely he and his closest followers would not have continued to follow religious ceremonies, would they?
But it is also important to remember that Christ emphasized the importance of keeping himself as the center of the Christian faith. When he declared himself as “Lord of the Sabbath”, for example, he was declaring that he was greater than the Sabbath regulations of the time and that they all must be subservient to him. His constant condemnation of the Pharisees were for being hypocritical, and the only way to be hypocritical is to live in a way that you proclaim is false – thus the problem is not in the proclamation, but in the life attached to it.
Man is essentially a religious creature – we are homo religiosus. We were created to be religious, and to deny that is to deny our very nature. The rituals and practices of the Catholic religion are wonderfully suited to lead us into a deep relationship with Christ, and a deep relationship with Christ strengthens our practice of those rituals. As just one example, take the practice of receiving communion. This is, after all, a religious ritual. But by receiving our Lord in the Eucharist, one can be more intimate with Christ than is possible any other way on this side of heaven. Yet if we receive the Eucharist coldly and without love, then we are in danger of making it a means of our condemnation. So again, religion and a loving relationship work together to foster a true devotion to our Lord.
Is Christianity a religion? You bet. Is it a relationship? Absolutely. Let’s move away from the false dichotomy put between them and love and serve our Lord faithfully in the Catholic Church!
Article printed from Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons: http://ericsammons.com/blog
URL to article: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2010/10/07/is-christianity-a-religion-or-a-relationship/
URLs in this post:
 the center of a happy life, a true life, is friendship with Jesus: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-as-in-medieval-times-happy-lives-are-centered-on-friendship-with-jesus/
 Why Jesus Hates Religion: http://www.christianpost.com/article/20101005/calif-pastor-preaches-why-jesus-hates-religion/
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