Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Please Don't Call Me Religious

{by Hailey Sadler}

I was examining the many different hairstyles belonging to the heads in front of me. And listening to the speaker. But mostly examining the hair. I was at the college Bible study I’ve been going to and the speaker was delving into how to get Christ’s “living water” in your life: through spending time with Him and in His word. When he said this, I sat up a little straighter and nodded my head in self-righteous agreement: yep listen up, kids, what he’s saying is absolutely true and the very core of the Christian life! Just kidding, I still slouched some in my chair. But mentally I sat up straighter and nodded my head in self-righteous agreement. After all, I know this. Then the deflating thought came to me… but do I do it? Do I pursue that relationship with Christ as if it matters even close to as much as the other relationships in my life? Or the other goals, things, and activities?

Thinking about this reminded me of when someone described me as a “religious” person. I decided I didn’t like it. Not only does it sound kind of weird, it is unfactual. Because, for one thing, I am not a religious person.

Being "religious" implies that you believe in a religion. And I don't. At least not as "religion" is typically used. Religion is about rules, action on the part of the mortal in order to gain the favor of some Immortal being or a spot in some immortal paradise. Believing in Jesus is about grace, action on the part of the Immortal God in order to bring that mortal freely into the favor of the Father and secure him a place in His presence both now and forever. Above all, I believe in a relationship. That is the epicenter of Christianity and what differentiates it from all other religions of this world.

However… when, intentionally or not, we treat Christianity as just a religion, as a set of rules to follow, or certain standards for our lives, if we treat it as just motions to go through, if we lose sight of the relationship, then it does, in fact, become merely a religion. Because a relationship with God is not only central to Christianity, it is Christianity.

So that makes the question, are you making time for developing that relationship with Jesus, with the God who took action for you when you didn’t even know you needed Him to? Are you investing your whole soul and being into knowing this Person? Or are you just going through the motions of Christianity, content to treat what is meant to be the most dynamic and fulfilling relationship you could ever imagine… as solely a religion?

I’m talking to me. Because right now, in the middle of the craziness of the school year, I find it super easy to fall away from any sort of commitment to investing time in intentionally seeking this God who truly surprises me with His love for me. I follow the rules but I forget the relationship. The relationship, which is the very core of what I believe and without which “the rules” are meaningless platitudes rather than natural outpourings of a life bound up in Him.

It’s not enough for us to sit and nod our heads and agree. We have to actually get up, reorganize our lives, and pursue that relationship. So that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to keep on just going through the motions when there is something so much better available to experience. Even if it means cutting out things I love to do (like stay up late or sleep in) I want a relationship not just a religion.

So please don’t call me religious.


  1. i think that's amazing.

  2. Grace- undeserved unmerited favor. Isn't it the least we can do , pursue a relationship with the one who saved us by Grace from what we deserve. This is a parting world, and as friends and family leave it before me , I want to know in Whom I believe and where I will be going . So grateful.
    Thank you uncle pea, thank you mandy, thank you Dad.

  3. Love this. So true. That's what makes Christianity so different from religions. Religions are spelled D-O. Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E.

  4. Well stated, Hailey! Great article and great reminder to us all! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Excellent article, Hailey! What an encouragement to keep our focus on what really matters.

  6. While I agree with the fundamental premise of your post, Hailey, I have a question.

    Christianity is primarily a relationship, agreed, but is it /wrong/ for Christianity to also be a religion? That is, is Christianity a forum for the individual to invest his or her life in Christ however they see fit [recluse tendencies, 80 work weeks because 'I'm working so I have more to tithe to my church', etc.]? Are there standards for the Christian to follow, and if yes, doesn't that make Christianity a religion?

  7. Good question. But to help me better answer, how are you defining 'religion'?

  8. The same way you do. "A set of rules to follow, or certain standards for our lives."

  9. Ok, here are my thoughts…
    If ‘religion’ means a set of fundamental beliefs, then certainly Christianity is a religion as well as a relationship. But since we're defining religion as it is most often used, as rules about or the *practice of those beliefs*, then yes I think, at the very least, it is unproductive for Christianity to be a religion. The “why” behind this ties into your question about standards.

    Yes, there are standards for a Christian to follow. Universal standards are laid out in Gods Word [do not murder, steal, commit adultery etc.]. But other standards [choices on what you wear, watch, listen to, do or say] the practice of your beliefs, cannot be standardized: they are the *expression of your personal interaction with Christ*, as He has revealed them to you. While God’s Word is the ultimate Truth, He also reveals His truth to individuals in His own way at His own time, which will differ between people and differ along their walks. You cannot apply your standards to my walk or vice versa. These standards become religion when they become rules; a standard is like a yardstick for you to measure as you grow in your relationship with Christ -- a rule is a measuring stick to see if each other measure up. To me, that is the difference between the standards of a relationship-driven Christianity and Christianity as a religion. Religion is a human institution, which seeks to universalize the practice of your beliefs, often far beyond God’s Word. Virtually all of the disharmony/division in the Church is due to a human created standard one way or another, and the effort to enforce that personally revealed truth as universal truth on others.

    So yes, I would say that Christianity is a “forum for the individual to invest his or her life in Christ” but not “however they see fit”… rather *however He reveals*. That is why history is filled with examples of Christians who lived passionately for Christ… as missionaries, as mothers, as political leaders, as businessmen, as pastors, as people…

    What are your thoughts, anonymous one?

  10. My initial thoughts are that you oversimplify and therefore degrade the concept of 'religion'. While it definitely exists in legalistic forms, it's true nature and tendencies are exactly the opposite. Religion, in my opinion, is simply a framework for existence. Individuals who desire to identify with a given religion ought to follow the principles of that entity.

    Religion alone is hollow, which is why the divine relationship of Christ in us sets Christianity apart from all other faiths/religions.

    At the same time, Christianity is a religion. 1 John makes explicit remarks regarding the behavior of Christians as a litmus test of their sincerity. Hebrews 10 issues a standard to not forsake meeting together [in other words, attend an organized church]. James discusses the morbidity of faith without actions to corroborate its existence. This is just a sample of the texts that do outline standards, rules, yardsticks for who is Christian and who is not.

    The amazing thing is that there's nothing wrong with standards. If we are truly devoted to our Savior, if our relationship with him is so completely submissive that He controls our life, it logically follows that our /joy/ [not duty, joy] is to obey the commands that he has provided. "If you love me, keep my commandments." Commandments are universal.

    This isn't meant as a criticism. I just don't think you realize the effect of bifurcating religion and relationships. Neither can exist alone; religion goes to legalism and relationship goes to individualistic apathy. Christianity is the perfect balance of the two. I am proud to be called religious, as long as that label means I'm living a life in obedience to the standards of The Greatest Relationship.

  11. Hey there Hailey! First, I am going to say again -- you are a fabulous writer. Truly gifted and with a superb "voice." I am so proud of you!!!
    I enjoyed this post very much. I wondered about your statement that relationship is "what differentiates [Christianity] from all other religions of this world." That's a BIG statement sweet girl! So I reached out my friend, Father Hector LaChappelle -- a world religion scholar - and asked him about it. As I suspected, we are not alone or distinct in this regard. Our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters also have a personal relationship with God built in to the tenants of their faith.
    Father Hector also added his two-cents on the difference between religion and spirituality - which I thought you'd like: "Religion deals with form . . . Spirituality with substance." Pretty cool, huh?
    Love you and, again, you are a GIFTED writer.

  12. [In response to my anonymous friend]

    I think you have a fantastic definition of true religion and understanding of how it applies to Christianity. And, now that you are defining religion as a “framework for existence” or as I put it in my previous comment “fundamental set of beliefs,” I can agree that Christianity is the beautiful and perfect marriage between religion [as defined above] and divine relationship. However, my post and my previous response were not condemning “true religion,” as described by either you or the Bible, by any means. Both were objecting to the common [and I agree over simplified] understanding/perception of religion, which we agreed upon, as a “set of rules” governing the practice of those fundamental beliefs. My thoughts were more of a reflection on the hollowness of that understanding of religion, which I believe has no productive place in Christianity, than an attempt to bifurcate relationship and true religion.

    The standards you mentioned [1 John, Hebrews 10, and James] are what I was referring to as the universal Truth, which God has revealed in His word, for all Christians to obey [yes, as a joyful response of our relationship with Him!]. My point was making a distinction between standards/truth from Gods word and the personal standards a relationship with Christ leads us to develop, such as what we choose to wear or how we choose to spend our time. Seeking to universalize these personal standards [rendering them rules, turning these into your religion] and using them as a yardstick of measuring who is a Christian and who is not is what I was objecting to, and is very different from upholding the commandments of God’s word.

    I would join you in being proud to be called religious, if that meant 'living in obedience to the standards of The Greatest Relationship'. Unfortunately, that is not often what is meant by the label, and it is *that* understanding which I was reacting to... not the word 'religion' in its truest form.

  13. [in response to Kelly]

    Thank you so much for your input! I appreciate Father Hector’s perspective. What I meant, though, was not that Christianity is differentiated by the mere fact that a relationship is involved, but rather in Christianity God took action FOR US, initiating a relationship, and that the centrality of that relationship to Christianity is unique. Following God’s rules or commandments is a response to His unmerited favor, rather than an attempt to earn favor.

    That said, I wasn’t really seeking to compare religions; more to express the love relationship component of Christianity, the extravagant, abundant grace of a God who redeemed us with His own blood that we might come into His presence unashamed.

    Love you too! :)

  14. Hailey, I think our differences ultimately are nothing more than ambiguity about the area of our faith at issue. I agree that dress, music, and other such convictions ought not to be standardized, that Christ has given us freedom. Paul aptly reminds us, though, that 'all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.' Our habits can be indicative of our beliefs, but should never be used as a platform for judgement by others. : )

    Kelly, if I may, I have a quick thought on your comment regarding Jews and Muslims. While Christianity, Judaism and Islam all share Abrahamic roots and monotheistic beliefs, only Christianity has confirmation of the divine relationship. Traditional Jews claim tradition and heritage as their line to God [it's important to note they don't even recognize the divinity of Christ]. Islamic teachings give Allah supreme authority over the eternal fate of every muslim. Allah may condemn even the most holy servant to eternal torment or the vilest wretch to eternal paradise. There is no safety or security in Islam or Judaism. There is no personal relationship with your Savior. Christianity distinctly provides that aspect of faith. : )

  15. I really love this article! Such a wonderful reminder of why we are Christians, and what that name really entails. Relationship... not religion.