I just finished reading a wonderful article regarding the concept of Christianity being a relationship, not a religion: The Popular Myth that Will Sabotage Your Spiritual Growth. I strongly urge everyone to read that article first, before continuing forward with reading what I am about to say....
Had I read Mr. Hanna's article a year or two ago, I would have simply laughed it off. Or maybe would have made some comment regarding him not having a clue what he's talking about. And of course, this is if I even managed to finish reading it.
I have always been a firm believer that it should be a relationship, not a religion. I've always been very much against religion. And, at first glance, it sounded to me as if Mr. Hanna was saying that treating Christianity as a relationship would sabotage our spiritual growth. Perhaps that is what he is saying, to a degree. But to me, he's simply defining what a relationship truly is....
Over a year ago, my relationship with Christ was not a true relationship built on love. It was a selfish relationship based on disapproval and dislike of religion. Religion was simply a set of rules and regulations and politics (in other words, religion was evil), and therefore I was going to have a relationship with God. But, this isn't the kind of relationship "Relationship, not religion" means. This type of relationship goes no where because it is not based on love.
I remember when I was a teenager, I disapproved of the concept of marriage. I had been taught that marriage was just a set of rules. I had been taught that it's simply a piece of paper you sign which states you agree with these rules. I had witnessed that this piece of paper is quite easy to shred... and resign... and shred.... Marriage was an institution no different than religion. Instead, I felt it was enough to choose to have a relationship. But, this relationship was always based on finding something that did not fit under marriage. As soon as any of the rules associated with the institution popped up, the relationship soured.
When you have this kind of relationship with Christ - the minute anyone tells you that community support is needed, the relationship takes a kick in the pants. Community need is often thought of as a religious concept... therefore, the rules of the institution are popping up, souring the relationship. Whenever someone tells you there needs to be accountability or you need to learn more about God/love/the Gospel and that the Church/community is needed for these things - the rules are invading the relationship and spiritual growth is sabotaged.
I refer back to TE Hanna's post...
"Yet, while the relationship shared by my wife and myself is uniquely ours, I would be foolish if I rejected the community which supports us. Friends and family pray for us. When we face difficult times, we have a loving community that encourages us. When we are stupid, we have friends that call us on it. Our relationship may be our own, but it is buttressed by the relationships we have with others that surround and uplift us."When we apply this concept of a relationship to our relationship with Christ... we are strengthening our relationship with him. By allowing the support of friends and family... by having someone we can lean on when we feel our relationship with Christ is stumbling... by surrounding ourselves with others whom also want to strengthen their relationships... we strengthen that relationship. When we have those trusted friends who aren't afraid to tell us we're being stupid in our relationship... we strengthen that relationship. This community of friends and family doesn't have to be a physical church. My experience is that the Church itself is not necessary... but a group of fellow believers is... and well, face it, most often those believers are found within a church. But hey... if your support group is not located in a church, that's perfectly acceptable too.
Matthew 18:20 - "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
The other very important piece to having a strong relationship is that we must stop considering religion in any way. The concept of religion should not enter our thoughts. What do I mean by this? I mean stop seeking a relationship simply because you don't like the concept of religion. Seek a relationship - one based on love and support - because you WANT a relationship with Christ. The right kind of relationship with Christ will not sabotage your spiritual growth... but the wrong kind will.
The wrong kind of relationship with Christ will have you hiding your relationship from others. It'll have you believing it's only about you and Christ. It'll have you comparing every action with religion, thus not focusing on the relationship at all. It's that boyfriend you refuse to introduce to your friends because he's yours and no one else would understand, and no one else matters or is needed. It's a dangerous relationship which can never survive.
The right kind of relationship with Christ will have you seeking out a community of supporters... and a community of people whom you can share your experiences with. This is no different than when you are in love with someone... perhaps the one you love asked you to marry him/her... and the first thing you think of to do is call every trusted friend you have to tell them and share with them your joy. This is the kind of relationship we should be having - the kind that brings us joy; the kind we want to share with the world; the kind we know is based on love.