I have been flooded with notices in my Facebook news feed that say "Christianity is a Relationship not a Religion click if you agree" or some other variation on that theme. I think at least 3 people a day of my modest number of Facebook friends click on of these "likes". At first I just shook my head and thought how trite the whole idea seemed. Then I started to get a little concerned. Then it happened again today and I decided it was time to say something. I have been thinking about what I wanted to say about this for awhile now.
Christianity is not a relationship with Jesus Christ. Period. Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is an important part of Christianity, but if that is where it ends, then you have a relationship with a figment of your imagination. A true relationship with Jesus Christ compels you to do as he commands. He commands you to take part in Baptism and Holy Communion. Whatever your particular theology says the significance of these things are, all orthodox theologies, and even most heterodox theologies acknowledge that there is no salvation outside of The Church. The Church is defined as the body of believers. Baptism is the point you are grafted into that body. Communion is the point where the central vine feeds the branches. Without being part of the vine, or being fed from the vine you will turn brown, whither, and eventually fall off.
A relationship is not enough. Just like, I have a relationship with my husband, we had one for about 18 months before our wedding, that did not make me his wife. If I loved him, if I wanted to be a part of him, I had to DO something. Loving him was enough of a reason to marry him, but the act of loving him was not enough to be married to him. I had to say vows in front of our clergyman, in our church, surrounded by the important people in our lives. The place people say those vows, and who is there to hear them is different for different couples, but the basic vows remain the same.
Our relationship with Christ is the same, we are either taught from infancy to love him or we come to love him later in life and that brings us into the Church, but we must be baptized and make a public profession in order to be called a Christian. Every Christian tradition has this, if it is a pedobaptist tradition then the child is baptized shortly after birth and then is confirmed when they are old enough to make a profession, or, in an anabaptist tradition the baptism itself serves both purposes.
If I'm married to my husband but I move out and I never see him, maybe we talk on the phone or exchange emails every once in awhile, then is my marriage healthy? No. We still have a relationship, we know what's going on in each other's lives, we may even still truly and deeply care for one another, but its' not enough and eventually that relationship will fall apart. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is the intimacy in the relationship. I'm not trying to be too graphic here, but it is the time where we take the body of Christ into ourselves. Whether you believe in the literal transubstantiation of the elements or are at the other extreme and believe we are remembering it as the body and blood, we still all believe that it is the time that our souls are fed in a way they are not at any other time.
Now I've heard other people say that "religious" people just go through motions and there is nothing behind the motions. Well anyone who has been married for more than a month or two will tell you, sometimes you go through the motions in marriage. Not because you don't love the other person, or because you aren't really married, but because we are human beings. We are emotional creatures and emotions ebb and flow, some days we FEEL a lot of love for our spouse, and sometimes we FEEL like our spouse is a pain in the ass. I can think of plenty of Sundays when I went to church and I felt drained, exhausted, and wanted to be home in my jammies. So why did I go to church? Because I was going through the motions. My tradition makes that easier than some others, the prayer book tells me what to say and do every step of the way. Does that mean that when I leave I still feel drained and like I should have stayed home in bed? Sometimes, if I'm being honest, yes. But most of the time I am glad I went, most of the time I realized why I went, because it was the right thing to do for the one I love and pleasing him is a reward in and of itself. Even if I am still exhausted, and since I work the night-shift on Saturdays that is most weeks, I at least get to leave with the knowledge that I was obedient and that I've pleased The Lord.
Brian works nights as well, and more nights of the week than I do, plus he is in school during the week. On nights he is working and I am at home I stay awake until his "lunch" break at 2am. We both log onto Google Talk and we chat about our days, what needs to be done around the house, what is going on with the people I see versus the people he sees. There are a lot of days I need to be awake in the late morning and it would be nice to get that extra hour or two of sleep, but that is something I do to feed my relationship with my husband. Because having a relationship with him is not enough, there are things we have to do because of the relationship.
I am not the one who compares Christ and his Church to a Man and his Wife, God is. And I am not the one who defines the offices of the Church as religion, the definition of the English word religion is. Religion is not a dirty word, it is "a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects" So why are we trying to seperate ourselves from God's plan for us? Why do we let the world tell us that being "religious" is bad or ugly.
Every time someone says "I'm not religious, I just love Jesus" I feel the same as when a couple is living together and they say "We love each other and getting married won't change anything". As a religious married woman both of those statements make me sad, because you are missing the point of loving Christ and loving another person if you don't take that love and put it in the context it was designed to be in. Everything is better in context.