"I don't have a religion, I have a relationship."
How many times have you either heard this (in one form or another) or perhaps said it yourself? Well, I fear that the whole concept is seriously flawed. And those who tout this common mantra are (perhaps unknowingly) little more than pseudo-spiritual charlatans.
The truth is, we live in a world filled with religion -- which is part of the real problem -- for we live in a world filled with far too many religions. And this shouldn't surprise us for ours is a world overrun by radical individualism -- and so you have 'your' religion and the next person has 'theirs' and we blindly pat each other on the back as an authority qualified to make such boastful claims. Besides, "Jesus is our friend, our bud, our home boy", right? And while we repeatedly sing of our 'personal' relationship with Jesus, we increasingly lose sight of the corporate, communal expressions and implications of our faith.
Further, the notion that 'religion' is nothing more than an older, institutionalized, destructive, 'man-made' system of belief -- a system that needs to be rejected -- is pompous nonsense. Religion, in it's most basic vernacular meaning, conveys much more than what many 'spiritual' charlatans (most of whom are frustrated fundamentalists and evangelicals) demeaningly suggest.
Neither Jesus nor the New Testament for that matter reject 'religion', but rather 'religious hypocrisy'. Christianity does not abolish religion; it refocuses it.
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27, NRSV)
Now, granted, much harm has indeed been done to people in the name of the Christian 'religion.' And I certainly appreciate the desire of some, who wish to convey a categorically different message to the world concerning the good news of Jesus Christ than that which the organized church has often portrayed in the past. But simply dumping the term 'religion' isn't going to make the real problem go away.
There are oodles and oodles of spiritual charlatans today who claim they have a 'personal relationship' with Christ rather than a 'religion,' but who are blind to the fact that their so-called personal relationship IS their religion. And when their 'personal,' and 'relational' religion is measured against the standards of scripture (e.g. James 1:27), I often wonder how in the world it can even stand? And for the record, there are just as many hypocritical "relationship-Christians" as there are hyprocritical "religious-Christians" (distinctions which, by the way, are absurd).
Religion is not evil. Religious Christianity is not evil. Religious institutions are not evil. Human arrogance and self-sufficiency and spiritual presumption -- now, there's some evil for you.
And while I'm ranting on this religion-relationship thing...
After nearly 30 years of ministry experience, I've come to the tragic conclusion that most people who "claim" to have a relationship with Christ, don't. What most people have is not relationship, but acquaintance. And this is not a modern phenomenon, but rather a very ancient one.
To deny that what we believe and are part of is not 'relgious' is disingenuous and misleading. And so, rather than touting that we have a 'relationship' rather than a 'religion,' perhaps as followers of Christ we should unashamedly model for the world that ours is a "religion that's relational."