I realize how trendy it has become to be hard on religion. I know that many of my friends have read, and enjoyed, The End Of Religion (I have not read the book). I’m not sure how realistic it is to altogether avoid religion. Here is one definition I came across: “a specific set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons.”
I think that’s a fair definition.
I also think that it is interesting (and somewhat amusing) how this definition ropes in, both, Christians wanting to shed the ‘religious tag’ and die-hard atheists.
As much as I want to distance myself from the aspects of religion which I find distasteful, I doubt that I can altogether deny that I am in some sense ‘religious’. The central issue, probably for most of us, is the manner in which religion is expressed. I would contend that it is here where the divide occurs. In terms of manner, and emphasis, there is a spectrum between highly organized, duty-oriented, religion on the one hand and highly informal, relationship-oriented, religion on the other hand.
The reason I entitled my Sunday message from Sept. 21, ‘The Alternative To Religion’ wasn’t so I could join the fray of those wishing extinguish every hint of religion; it was, rather, to clearly align myself with the highly relational side of Christianity.
The Christian life involves duty, no doubt. There are rules, parameters and boundaries to guide my personal conduct. But this, in my opinion, is not where we begin as Christians. We begin as followers of Jesus Christ. The entry point to Christianity is not by way of a morality exam. We enter by positively responding to the invitation, “Follow Me” (Mk. 1:17), “Come to Me” (Mt. 11:28).
Christianity begins as a relationship with Jesus. The relational aspect is central. The relational aspect comes first. That doesn’t mean we disregard issues relating to our moral conduct, it just means that one comes before the other. For example, there are many boundaries and parameters which exist to safeguard my marriage. I also have so pretty clear duties and obligations to fulfill as a husband. However, my marriage does not centre around these duties and parameters; my marriage centres around my wife. She is my focus. Accordingly, it is my love for her and my desire for her well-being which motivates the fulfillment of these obligations of duties.
Imagine that I take my wife out for a nice dinner and she asks me, ‘Why are you doing this?’
Which answer is more honouring:
‘I’m doing this because it’s my duty as a husband to do nice things for you.’
‘I’m doing this because I love you and want to spend time with you.’ ?
The first answer may be technically true, but it’s not the honouring answer. The second answer honours by prioritizing the relationship above over duty.
This is what I see in the New Testament. The transformation of our passions, our worldview, and our conduct does not occur because we devote ourselves to a new moral code. The transformation occurs as the natural fruit of being singularly devoted to Jesus Christ.
This is where our focus should lie. The alternative to devoting oneself to religion is devoting oneself to Jesus in a highly relational way.
What do you think?
Have a listen to the audio below. I’d love to read your feedback.