Mind if I rant a little. Actually I left off writing so long ago there probably isn't anyone checking on anything new. So I can rant if I want to. Here it goes.
I'm listening to a radio preacher talk about the sin and the 10 commandments. And eventually he gets around to talking about Jesus Christ being our salvation. Then he throws out the phrase that Jesus died to offer a relationship, not a religion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the letter of that statement. But the spirit is all wrong.
The implication when I hear statements to that effect (and it has really been a rallying cry the last 10 years or so) is that religion is a less meaningful connection that we have to Christ. Relationship is the better connection that we have with the living Christ. And I suppose that works. But the implication is that the old covenant was a religion, not a relationship. That the code of conduct was the means and the end. The relationship was just doing what God said.
And that is where I take a huge amount of exception. I may have made that statement in the past (Christianity is about relationship and not religion) but that was before I understood what God has been about. Did Jesus do anything during his ministry, through his death and resurrection, or after his ascension that was contrary to what God had been doing? Did Christ do something completely out of the box that was revelation? No and no. Christ came to make what God had been doing for centuries a more present reality.
Go back to Genesis. Not the apple and the snake and the naked parts. Look what it says about God. God came to walk in the garden. Why did God come to the Garden? For religion. Management by walk around. NOT!!! Why else would God come into the garden but to find the man and the woman. To commune with them. To have a relationship.
Then fast forward to Abram. God tells this good son to leave his family and walk before God wherever God shows Abram to go. And what does God offer him in return? The satisfaction of a job well done? No, God says, "I will give you greatness, blessing, children, and land." Does this sound like a dry, "do as I say" kind of agreement? It sounds like God cares about what Abram/Abraham cares about, needs, wants. It sounds like a relationship.
What about those silly, immature Hebrew children? The ones that God sits down and says, "Do these 10 things or else?" Listen to what God says at the beginning of this little experiment in religion:
5 "Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. 6 "Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ' I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7'Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God ; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8'I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.'" (New American Standard Updated)
This sounds a lot like someone who cares about what happens to the Hebrews. God knows their suffering. God desires to bring them out of that experience and make them aware that it was God who did this for them. It wasn't Moses. It wasn't Pharaoh out of the goodness of his heart. God did this for them. And all God wanted was for them to realize that they were God's people and God was their God. It wasn't about a religion or doing the right thing or even about the 10 commandments. It was about a relationship.
God did everything throughout the Old Testament to make it clear that God wanted a relationship with humanity. When Christ came in flesh, it was to show God's love for humanity. The Word made flesh was not a change in operational procedure. It was clarification of purpose.
And here is a question for you. What was the first thing that those disciples expected of new converts to this "relationship" with Jesus Christ? Religion.
What did Peter and James and John (the relational trio) fuss with Paul about? Things like circumcision, food that should or shouldn't be eaten, holy days, etc. The disciples who experienced the most real form of relationship with Jesus Christ turned that experience into religion. And how long did that take? Half the book of Acts.
So can we say that the religion vs relationship debate has been played? Can we get beyond trying to draw out a forced dichotomy between the two? Can we begin to admit that God has worked at getting us to realize that God has wanted a relationship from the very beginning and that Christians ARE religious people, too?