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It's a relationship, not a religion

By Tim Wolf ~

“Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”

I’m guessing you have heard this said many times. Neil Carter of Godless in Dixie wrote anice blog aboutthis subject. Neil nicely presents the fallacy of this statement. What I recently realized and want to discuss, it how this slogan for Jesus began a long process of deconversion for me. I previously posted my extimony and talked about how reading the entire bible was instrumental in leading me to atheism. But I have had time since then to think about what happened before reading the entire bible that planted that first significant seed of doubt. That seed was a phrase I repeated many times: “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”

One reason this phrase was so important to me was that unlike many other Christians who gave lip service to ideas like this, I really believed it. I was an evangelical, so our relationship with Christ was all-important. To me, “religion” was a dirty word. Religion applied to things like Islam or Hinduism, etc. I didn’t have one of those, I had a relationship. I would even correct people if they referred to me as “religious”. Not me! I was on fire for Jesus, but I didn’t want anything to do with being religious. Since I lived in an evangelical bubble, this worked out just fine.

But one day I decided to joina bible study that met at work on our lunch hour. We would get together in a conference room and eat our sandwiches and talk about Christianity and the Bible and offer prayer requests. The “problem” for me though was that not all of these Christians understood true Christianity like I was sure that I did. The guy who really got under my skin was a Catholic guy who was not afraid to voice his opinion in a room of mixed Protestants. The two things that he did that bothered me the most was his constant use of the word “religious” (as if it’s a good thing) and his insistence on quoting from James and seemingly ignoring the rest of the New Testament. He and I butted heads enough thaton occasion one or both of raised our voices in anger. This was also a new experience for me in a Bible study.

So one evening after work, I was thinking about an argument wehad had in Bible study and I set out to prove him wrong. I got out my Bible and was ready to formulate an argument against his works-driven religion and show him the true faith-driven relationship that I knew to be right. The first thing I did was get out my concordance (this was pre-google) in order to show him that Christianity is not referred to as a “religion” in the New Testament. So lo and behold I find the term used in that pesky book of James. OK, I thought, maybe it’s just a poor translation of the original Greek. But anyway, I knew that James wasn’t really saying that people are saved by works. James was simply saying that faith without works is dead. Long story short, after a lot of time poring over the book of James, I realized I had perpetuated a lie. Yes, the expression “faith without works is dead” appears in the book of James. But I found no way that an honest, critical thinking person could argue that James is not saying people are saved by works. While everything that Paul wrote states just the opposite. In fact, I was so disillusioned by what I found when reading James honestly, that I started pointing out to people that Martin Luther thought the whole book shouldn’t even be in the canon.

So why had everyone been saying it’s not a religion when the New Testament itself says Christianity is a religion? My extimony tells the rest of the story of how I went on from this point to non-belief. I guess I should be thankful. This erroneous phrase began my long journey out of delusion into a life based on reason.