America is increasingly moving to a nation that devalues religion. Instead it promotes personal relationship with God and demotes religion. But these are not mutually exclusive. Both are biblical and both are important. Indeed, both are essential.
The word relationship does not appear in scripture though the principle is certainly present. The concept of kingdom is instructive as to relationship. Jesus speaks of kingdom in his teaching his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:9-13. There Jesus says “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Jesus also speaks of kingdom in a number of other places (Luke 17:20-21; John 3:3, 5; and John 18:33-37). Jesus establishes that the kingdom is within us not outside of us and therefore is not observable with the natural eye. Jesus establishes that he is not king of a nation such as the Jewish nation but of a kingdom that is not a natural nation. This is the essence of relationship.
Yet, scripture also establishes the importance and existence of religion within the sphere of God’s expectation and concern as exemplified by James 1:27 which indicates the value of pure (good) religion over impure (bad) religion. Thus, James establishes the existence of both good and bad religion with good religion being that which we are to accept and bad religion being that which we are to reject.
Of course one’s personal relationship with God is of utmost importance. Indeed, every individual must stand before the judgment seat of Christ for himself/herself (2 Corinthians 5:9-11; Philippians 2:9-11). Yet, Christians who downplay the importance of religion should be careful about aiding dependence on individualism. Popular television shows promulgate the idea of individualism and self-reliance and life apart from the group aspects of the church. Certain aspects of individualism have their proper place in every society. But when individualism rules over religion then it is out of place.
We live in a day where personal views and human relationships tend to give more weight to human love than love for God. The tendency is to decide based on our love for humans rather than our love for God when human desires are in conflict with God’s desires.
This is precisely what happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Human desires were given more weight than God desires. This is why Eve took the “forbidden fruit”. This is why Adam gave in to Eve’s desires and his own desires by hearkening unto her voice.
This is what I call the individualism factor to which human increasingly tend to look more than to the group aspects of religion. The religious community downplaying of religion in favor of personal relationship promotes this individualism factor. Of course, a person can be a Christian and adequately attend to oneself. But one can also be an atheist and adequately attend to oneself. So the key is to be a Christian first and apply appropriate individualism factors subservient to Christian religion.
Christianity is about the body of Christ having many members. Christianity is not just about an individual member relationship to God. But it is also about members relationship to one another. The religious aspects of Christianity deal with both the person’s relationship to God and the person’s relationship to other members.
Some seem to say it is not about religion but strictly about personal relationship. Some even make it so personal as to call Jesus their lover or running buddy. We can especially find this done in some of our songs. Does not this idea reduce God to human level? We love him because he first loved us. Do you speak of falling in love with your mother, father, sister, brother? Is it proper to say one falls in love with Jesus? Judge for yourself! As for me, I love him because he first loved me! The phrase fall in love is usually applied to a spouse or girlfriend or similar lover. Nowhere in the bible is Jesus spoken of as our lover. The Song of Solomon is about love between man and woman not between God and humans. Yet, I understand that words and phrases depends on the context in which they are used. Thus, I understand that the meaning of the phrase “falling in love with Jesus” to be one choosing Jesus as Lord and Saviour. But an earlier song that spoke of making that choice was entitled “I decided to make Jesus my choice.” I think that is a better phrase that minimizes the negative effect of the little leaven leavens the whole lump principle (Galatians 5:9). I only caution Christians to beware of such unnecessary and potentially dangerous wordings/phrases.
Again, some seem to say it is not about religion but strictly about personal relationship. Well this is clearly contrary to the word of God. For the Word of God explicitly says it is about religion. James 1 describes both one’s personal relationship to God and others. Thus, religion includes and is not separate from relationship. Religion defines a body of knowledge that tells us how we are to relate to God and to one another. In a sense relationship provides the foundation for religion and religion provides the structure for relationships. Both are important as both the hands and feet are important for a person to be whole.
Now of course the Word of God implicitly includes the concept of relationship but God specifically and explicitly mentions religion to emphasize its importance. I understand that some people mention relationship so we don’t overemphasize religion. Yet, let us not fail to properly emphasize religion less religious aspects of our faith
degenerate in our community and society. Let us not go to the other extreme and ignore the need for proper religion in our society.
Let us remember that in the model prayer given by Jesus (Matthew 6:9-13), Jesus says “Our Father” rather than “My Father”. In so doing Jesus emphasizes that each person is to recognize that he or she is just one of many who have a compatible relationship to God. In fact in the Model Prayer and verses 14 and 16 of Matthew 6, Jesus speaks of “us” and how we are to relate one to the other as well as to God. This means there is a community or corporate relationship as well as a personal relationship to God. There are both community and personal aspects to the Christian Faith. Religion says it is not just about me but it is also about us.
Relationship’s undesirable rule over religion is evident in the government’s protection of the wealth of the rich without applying ample energy to increasing access to wealth by the poor. Indeed, many of those making decisions have a friendship and business relationship with the rich and often base decisions and practices on that relationship. This is true of some who are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. So neither Republicans nor Democrats can claim the moral high ground on this. Much talk but no results is the reality. Religion puts relationship in proper balance to ensure all receive their fair and balance service from governments.
Indeed, a nation who is willing to go into debt and spend billions of dollars to fight a war and to bail out the rich and is not willing to spend billions of dollars to improve the standard of living for the homeless and poor is a nation that gives no priority to God’s religion. God gives priority to relieving the poor and distressed. If a nation can go into debt to fight a war against enemy nations or terrorists, can it not also go into debt to fight the war on poverty and related health care and overall quality of life?
This is especially true since it is taking a large amount of tax dollars that seem to not be used very efficiently or effectively overall. Now unrestrained debt is not wise or moral. Yet, it is also immoral and unwise to be willing to go into debt for war or to build up people in another nation but not be willing to do so to take care of people at home.
Legalization of homosexual/lesbian relationships is another prominent example of this reduction in the importance of religion in society’s practices and laws. You see the homosexual agenda is all about the personal relationship. It says it is all about the individual. It says never mind what God says. It says never mind what nature’s norm says. It says never mind what is best for society as a whole. The homosexual agenda discards the Christian religion as rooted in the Holy Bible.
We who are alive today have an obligation to future generations to promote God’s religion as rooted in the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed we have an obligation to do so in every aspect of our society.
Now I do recognize that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” But this in no way prevents Christians in power from promoting lawful policies and making decision that reflect the principles set forth in the biblical Christian Faith. In fact, this is precisely what Christians ought to do.
We may say that we are not affected that much ourselves today. But let us not be so selfish. Let us remember that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Thus, even though we may not be directly affected today, as corruption increases it will undoubtedly affect our children, our children’s children or their children or some other generation; the same goes for our neighbors. On the other hand, those in power should not focus so much on protecting their descendants and neglect the plight of those living today. The more leaven we let in, the more the lump is leavened and corrupted. Do we not owe it to our nation’s descendants to preserve and/or promote a godly foundation on which they can build? Of course, we do; it is our godly duty!