Christians, We Have A Religion. Deal With It.

Do you know what’s going to happen to the next person who tells me – or implies, insinuates or otherwise intimates – that real Christianity is a relationship, not a religion, and that ergo, Catholicism sucks?

No?

Well, neither do I. Because by that time, my eyes will have glazed over, I will have started hearing voices and I will definitely not be responsible for my actions.

So to prevent my ending up in court, I just need to get on my high horse and say it. In fact, you should repeat it after me:

Royalty-Free-Images-Anatomy-Heart--GraphicsFairy-redCHRISTIANITY IS A RELATIONSHIP AND A RELIGION.

Sure, in this very anti-religious age, we like to emphasis the relationship. And that’s only right. It is the heart of Christianity: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the soul and spirit, the very essence of Christianity.

But here’s the thing. We are still human, and we still live in a material, created universe (which just happens to be AWESOME.)

Our heart needs a rib-cage. Our souls need flesh, and the relationship that is Christianity’s core also needs an external, supporting structure. We call this structure the Church.

And yes, it looks like a religion. It has a rituals and ceremonies. It has bells and smells. It even has a centralised bureaucracy. Because we need them. We are not disembodied spirits floating around with this invisible “relationship” with God. We are human.

We do human stuff like make meaning in rituals, we need human stuff like systems and codes, and we like human stuff like smells and sounds and the beauty of Michelangelo’s Pieta, or a Carthusian chapel, or gold-leafed icons of Christ Pantocrator.

Wherever two or three Christians are gathered, Christ is there. (Mt 18:20) But wherever eight or nine Christians are gathered, then you’re going to start needing formulas, and rites, and agreements, and a supper roster. Now, expand that out to over a billion (just in the visible Catholic Church alone), and you are going to have something that looks suspiciously like a religion.

A religion that is the largest charitable institution in the world.

A religion that created the greatest artworks of Western Civilisation.

A religion that founded universities, hospitals, schools, and the scientific method, a religion that created the very idea of Europe, and without which, you actually could not have the modern, secular state with all the rights and welfare cheques you take for granted. (Sometimes, a mixed blessing, I’ll grant you.)

Yes, Catholicism is unashamedly religious because it is part of a religion, Christianity.We’re proud of it. So proud in fact, that I’m going to say it again. Christianity is a religion. Christians are religious.

Deal with it.

La-Sainte-Chapelle-1152x720-wide-wallpapers.net

La Sainte Chapelle, Paris

Now, of course, religion without a relationship is horrid and unnatural thing. It is “holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” (2 Tim 3:5) It’s a soulless body, it’s dead. It’s a freaking zombie. But a body with its soul, a body truly alive, is a beautiful and good thing. And “religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)

It’s not a choice between relationship and religion. We need both. We get both. 

Ok Laura, deep breaths.

I think I’ll finish with the words of St Paul to St Timothy. No one knew better the dangers of religion gone bad, but neither do I think anyone quite knew the power of religion got right. Toward the end of his life, he wrote,

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

To which I can only say, God, I love my religion.

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25 responses to “Christians, We Have A Religion. Deal With It.

    • It really is. I’ve been to Sainte Chapelle and it’s just as beautiful, even with the crowds and without the candles. It is just one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, in my opinion at least! 🙂

  1. Yes, no need for us to apologize for belonging to the Church started by Jesus Himself and whose birthday we celebrate today! (Pentecost) 🙂

  2. Pingback: The Sunday Bulletin | nebraskaenergyobserver·

  3. This was nicely written. But the real questions are, “Does being religious get me to heaven?” “Does being religious assure me of a relationship with Jesus?” Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 7:21). The Pharisees were the most religious people on earth during Jesus’ time and they thought they have a relationship with God because of their religiosity but what did Jesus say to them citing Isaiah 29. Matthew 15:8-9 “This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
    9 in vain do they worship me,
    TEACHING HUMAN PRECEPTS as doctrines.”
    How are we sure that the rituals being performed are not human precepts when they actually are?
    The basic problem about being religious is because we think we get right with God because of what we do. St. Paul says, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one. There is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11). All the religions of the world include Catholicism (which I am formerly one…a staunch one at that and who studied it) believe that they can be right with God because of what we do. The only way we can get right with God is because of what Jesus did on the cross. He paid for our sins which no amount of ritual could ever pay. It is human pride that tells God I can get right with you on my own terms. We have to come to him on HIS terms and that is only through the saving blood of Jesus.
    I know Christianity is not perfect. It’s the Christians who are not perfect BUT GOD’S WORD is perfect. And if the Bible records Jesus saying as “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, NO ONE CAN COME to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:16) then I will believe that. It is precisely God knows we are not perfect (Christians and Catholics alike) that we have to trust only in the PERFECT sacrifice of HIS PERFECT Son in order to have a relationship with Him. No amount of religion could ever establish a relationship with God…only THROUGH JESUS.
    Thanks for allowing me to comment on your piece. I admire your boldness. You have a blessed day. God bless you.

    • Hi Jerry, thanks for commenting! I completely agree with you. As I said in the post, religion alone is not real Christianity at all, and it’s certainly not going to make us ok with God. Only Jesus can do that. It’s something both Catholics and Protestants agree on: Jesus Christ is the only way. Thanks again for stopping by and may God bless you and keep you in His love always. 🙂

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