From blogger Allston Dee.
Most people understand the word religion to mean a set of supposed truth claims about God and life after death; which are united with a way of life informed by those very truth claims. If this is how religion is defined, then Christianity surely is a “religion.”
Think of it this way—without proper doctrine, beliefs and sacraments (visible religious acts to symbolize God’s grace), how could one know they are in right relationship with God in the first place? If there was no religion (as defined above) at all, how does one know they are in relationship with God?
[…]Take for example the Christians and the Jews. An essential doctrine of the Christian faith is that Jesus is God and is the promised Messiah. Conversely, Jews believe that Jesus is not the promised Messiah and that he is not God. The law of non-contradiction (this is the second of the three basic laws of logic) attests that both of these statements cannot be true at the same time and in the same way. Either the Christians are right, or the Jews are right, or they are both wrong.
[…]It’s worth noting that most religions have a sense of a relationship with God. Given that Mormons, Jews, Muslims and Christians all claim to have a relationship with God—and that we know contradicting views on the nature of God cannot be true at the same time and in the same way—there must be something that defines the true nature of God and how we come into relationship with Him.
He writes that you need to know who God is before you can have a relationship with him. I agree.
And Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason also had something interesting to add to this:
First, we don’t know about Christianity by faith. Everyone knows about the claims of Christianity and the Bible in the same ways other things are known. Faith isn’t a way of knowing. It’s trusting in what we have come to know to be true. Faith is laying hold personally of what is true in the Bible. Knowledge is the first step and it’s no different than coming to know about anything else. So it can be discussed between those who have faith and those who don’t because they’re both operating in the same way to evaluate truth claims. Faith comes after knowing.
Second, Christianity isn’t a private topic. This is a way to subjectivize Christianity – to relativize what Christians believe. But essential to the what the Bible teaches is that it’s not subjective or relative. It’s true for all people. Things happened in history that were witnessed and reported. And what the Bible teaches is for all people. So engage in consideration of the truth claims of Christianity, but don’t dismiss them as private, subjective beliefs.
I agree with her, too. My concern with the notion of Christianity as a relationship is that people will cash it out as a subjective thing that they do for fun privately and that it is never the basis of public actions or words. And my fear is that without theology, people just project their own character onto God and discern his character through their feelings and intuitions, instead of through a study of the Bible and theology.
A relationship is not projecting your needs and desires onto the other person. A relationship is when you get to know the other person by studying him, and you start to incorporate his values and goals into your behavior. You re-prioritize to take his needs into account when you act. And when you act on his interests, it may be the case that other people won’t like you, and that might make you feel bad. But when you are the other person’s friend, you do what’s right for them and you just live with the fact that not everyone is going to like that. The Christian life is not about a private relationship and private feelings. It’s about the public actions you take because of your knowledge and convictions about God’s character. It’s not private. It’s not meant to make you feel good. It’s public.
Consider Matthew 10:32-33:
32“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.
33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
And her’s another like it 1 Corinthians 4:1-4:
1So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.
2Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
3I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.
4My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
And 2 Timothy 2:4:
4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
And 2 Corinthians 5:20:
20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
A good ambassador doesn’t represent himself – he doesn’t project his character onto his sovereign. A good ambassador represents his sovereign, and that requires knowing about him, as well as experiencing him. When you have a relationship, you have a responsibility to know who that other person is and to act on their interests – which may be quite different from your interests. And it really doesn’t matter what the people around you, who are not friends with your friend, think about you for doing that.