February 2008


To Love and Cherish

Doing Apologetics

Christianity: The Basics

What is Wrong with Social Justice

Christianity and Secularism

Evidence for the Bible

Archive for February 22nd, 2008

Is Christianity A Religion

Friday, February 22nd, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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Make reference to the “Christian Religion” around other Christians and you are likely to be told something to the effect that ‘Christianity is not a religion is it a relationship.” Now there is some truth in such statements as a key element of Christianity is one’s personal relationship with God. But I believe there is a lot of error, and even some danger as well with such views.

Often the claim that Christianity is not a religion is said in an attempt to avoid some of the problems that people have with religions. These problems generally fall into two main areas, historical such as with the Inquisition or more personal reasons such as a bad experience. But attempts to avoid these problems rather than confront them are not only misguided, the chance of their working is at best slim.

Like it or not, it is just a fact that evil has been done by Christians. Whether acting as a result of a relationship, or as a religion, Christians have at times done evil in the name of God. To say otherwise is simply not being truthful and it is well to remember that along with saying that he was the way, and the life, Jesus said he was also the truth. (John 14:6)

This is also a sobering reminder that as Christians we are representing God and people are watching. We often think of witnessing as something we do occasionally, and probably should do more. The fact is that we are always witnessing. If you are a Christian, unless you hide your Christianity very well, you will be witnessing. So the real question is not will you witness, but rather what kind of witness will you have. Will you live your life in such a way as to draw people towards Christ, or will you live your life in such a way as to push people away.

But back to people’s problems with religion, rather than trying to avoid the historical problems, a much better strategy is to acknowledge the failings, put them in perspective, and point to the great good that Christians have done, and continue to do, from big things like the abolition of slavery, to small things like helping people in their neighborhood. For example, how many people know about Mission Aviation Fellowship? MAF is a Christian ministry that flies 2.9 million miles a year to serve remote areas that are otherwise unreachable. MAF not only file missionaries, but also supports critical needs such as transporting doctors and medical supplies.

The danger in these attempts to restrict Christianity to a relationship is in the implied rejection of rituals which is often at the core of such statements. Rituals are out of fashion at the moment as the formalized structure of ritual does not fit in well with our current causal approach to God. Rituals are seen as dry, meaningless, formalize, the epitome of all that is wrong with religion. Yet it is important to note that God must have thought that ritual were important to have included so much of it in the Bible. It is certainly true that ritual by itself is hollow, but it hardly then follows that ritual is the problem.

Rituals serve many important functions. When rituals are imbued with meaning, they can focus and magnified belief. Rituals also serve as a teaching function. In fact a very good case can be made that it was the central role of ritual in Jewish life that help preserved the Jews for nearly 2000 years without a homeland.

Perhaps one reason people find ritual so dry and meaningless, is that they were never taught the meaning and significance behind them. This is critically important today, as it is becoming increasingly common that when children leave home, they leave the Church as well. As I have cited before Josh McDowell has documented in his book, “The Last Christian Generation” how many young people see church as just a series of events with little impact on their spiritual life. (pg 59 – 61)

Ritual teaches a habit of worship, a worship that is not based on feelings or mood. We all have ups and downs in our spiritual life. During the good times rituals amplify and focus our worship to make it even better. During the lows ritual can carry us through to return to the good times.

One other benefit of ritual is that it can help maintain the view of the Holiness of God. Much of our understanding of God is a balancing of seemingly conflicting views. We cannot understand how God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet God is one. We cannot understand how Jesus could be God incarnate. We do not always understand how God’s Love lines up with God’s justice. Currently the idea of God as our Father and friend is dominated, and he is. But at times this attitude about becomes so casual as to conflict with another truth, the truth that God is God almighty.

Here is a quick test, what does the Bible mean when it says that “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8)? What does the Apostle Paul mean when he says “we know what it is to fear the Lord?” (2 Cor 5:11) If these verses don’t have much meaning or even seem to conflict with your view of God, perhaps you could use some more ritual in your worship.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.