The Christian faith is relational by nature. When we are converted, we are brought into union with Christ. We are sons of God in Him and His Father is our Father. Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother,” (Mark 3:35). We are also joined relationally to fellow believers. The apostle Paul likens the church to a body through which we are woven together like limbs and organs. He refers to church members as ‘brethren’ – brothers and sisters, meaning we share spiritual and organic connection.
For this reason people often say that Christianity is not about religious observance it is about relationship. On one level, there is truth to this. God frequently rebuked Israel for being religious yet failing to relate to Him as they should and failing to care for the needy. The Pharisees were religious zealots yet had no spiritual life within. Paul speaks of casting away his religious ideals – “that I may know Him – Christ” (Phil 3:1-11). The bare bones of religiosity have no value whatsoever. God does not save people to merely make them religious, if He did, the Pharisees would be commended not condemned.
On another level however, relationship without religion is a rudderless ship. I use the word religion to mean the structure, practices and accountability that comes in an ecclesiastical context. It is common to hear people say they are spiritual but not religious, or they want Christ but not the church. In other words, they like the idea of something deeper than this material world, something which truly enriches life, but they want it on their terms. They don’t want to be encumbered with restrictions and commitments.
The reality is – we need to relate to God individually in devotion, obedience, piety, and love. At the same time we also need the oversight, camaraderie, and liturgy that the church brings. Religion without relationship is to have the form without the life. Relationship without religion is to reject the God appointed means in which our faith is expressed and developed. In fact, those who suppose they have relationship with God and discount the place of the church are fooling themselves.
Christianity has two complimentary elements which overlap and feed into one another. There is our personal walk with God when we are alone, at work, at home, and in the community. And there is the life of the church in which we engage with God corporately – many individual members connected to form one body. The two elements go together. Take one away and we fall short of God’s purposes for us.
Christianity is relational by nature. God does not save us to mere religiosity. But neither does God save us to be irreligious. Relationship can only exist and thrive as it is watered in the soil of ecclesiastical religion.