Sometimes things seem to drag on forever, and then on the other hand, once a long drawn out affair is over it can seem to have begun just last month. I think for many of us that is true of certain aspects of this pandemic and the effect it has had on us in certain areas.
Going to worship is one of those areas. It was shortly before Palm Sunday 2020 that churches and other venues were told to close due to the pandemic. It seems so long ago, yet in some ways it seems not so long ago.
From a full gallop to an immediate standstill, that’s what it felt like for many of us. But fairly quickly churches found ways to connect with their people, many via streaming on Facebook or YouTube. The digital tools we have certainly have helped to keep us connected in many ways, especially in areas of the country where draconian lockdown measures were forced upon people; sadly in some areas they are still occurring.
Although for most people it was a one-way view, for some the use of digital tools were helpful in two-way meetings or Bible studies. Nonetheless, for many two-way visual contact was little to nonexistent; mostly one-way up to now.
But praise God things are beginning to really open up, when it comes to opportunities to worship in person. But as you check around you find that not everyone is coming back, and for many of those who are not you find a question is being kicked around, one that has actually been bantered around for some time: “Is Christianity about religion, or a relationship?” In this context the question relates to whether or not people should attend worship.
In recent years many have been promoting that Christianity is about a relationship, not religion. But now, this side of the virtual worship experience, that question is getting in the way of people coming back to in-person worship.
The truth is, the answer to that question has not changed, in spite of the pandemic, and the answer may surprise many. When it comes to the question, “Is Christianity about religion or a relationship?,” the truth is it is both, and we need to engage in both.
First of all, Christianity is all about having a relationship with God. God created us for that very purpose, that we could have a relationship with Him, now and for all eternity. But that relationship is found in the pursuit of true religion through faith in Christ.
What do I mean? We first need to understand “religion” in the way the Bible defines it. The word “religion” is only used five times in the New Testament. Four of those times are not helpful in understanding how God defines “religion,’” but one is very clear. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
What does that mean? In a nutshell it means you are to live out what you believe. Jesus cared about people – ALL people, but He has a special concern for those who are most at risk in the world. Therefore if you claim to be a Christian you need to show it by how you live; how you treat others, especially those in need.
You also need to remember that Jesus was very religious. He obeyed all of the commands of God’s Word – the Bible; specifically the Old Testament, but now it includes the New Testament. He observed all of the Sabbath days, as the Word of God instructed, especially the gathering with other Jews on the three Sabbaths the Jews were commanded to observe each year by going to the temple in Jerusalem. He paid His tithes, He respected those in authority over Him, and He did whatever else was commanded in God’s Word.
Many people say they want a relationship with Jesus, but they don’t need religion; they don’t need church, but living out the religion Jesus taught is part of HOW you have a true relationship with Jesus.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says we are to gather together to encourage one another to love and good deeds. We are to build up and edify one another, and we are not to stop gathering together, as some have done.
God gives us many commands in His Word that we are to obey. In doing so we glorify God, we minister to others, and we grow in our likeness to Jesus.
Although some say they don’t have to obey commands to actually follow Jesus, Jesus disagrees with that. In Luke 6:46 Jesus asks, “Why do you call me Lord, but do not do what I say?” For those who want to call themselves Christians, that is a very important question.
The Bible makes it very clear that Jesus was “religious.” It also makes it clear that the way you speak and act ought to be in line with what you say you believe, especially what you believe about Jesus, and that in order to be in a proper relationship with Jesus you need to be living out religion as the Bible defines it.
By the way, you cannot do that on your own; you need Jesus in order to live like Jesus.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.