The “Religion vs. Relationship” Fallacy

I’ve posted about this before, but, since it’s such a recurring theme on social media, I might as well revisit it. I’m not sure when it happened, but someone, somewhere, sometime got the idea that religion is “bad” and relationship is “good.” I don’t know who it was, but it certainly wasn’t Jesus. He never told anyone to abandon religion in order to have a good relationship with God.

Jesus did give the religious leaders of His day a hard time for being hypocrites. Jesus did not say that the religion they had been placed in charge of was bad. In fact, Jesus was a faithful Jew. He knew that God had established the Jewish religion through Abraham, Moses and the Prophets.  Jesus was not Jewish by accident. He was Jewish because Judaism was God’s established religion (His religion). Jesus actually told the people to obey the Pharisees. However, He also warned them not to be hypocrites like the Pharisees (Matt 23:1-3).

When Jesus established the New Covenant, He did not abolish religion. He fulfilled the Law and started the new religion that the old religion had foreshadowed. He founded His Church and chose leaders for it (you don’t need leaders if there is no religion to lead). Jesus gave these new religious leaders specific instructions on how to follow the new religion which we, of course, know as Christianity. Jesus did not do this so that we could “earn our way to Heaven.” He did it so that we would know HOW to be in the proper relationship with Him.

There is a false idea being preached that we must either choose “religion” OR “relationship.” This is not the only “either/or” fallacy floating around. Here are some others:

  • EITHER the Church’s authority is right OR the Bible’s authority is right.
  • EITHER you believe faith saves OR you believe works save.
  • EITHER you wrongly confess to a priest OR you confess to God.
  • EITHER you believe Jesus is the One Mediator OR you wrongly pray to Mary and the Saints.

To correct such fallacies, one only needs to understand what Jesus understands, namely, the great BOTH/AND:

  • Jesus gave His authority to His Church and from that Church sprang the canon of Scripture (i.e. The Bible). Authority belongs to BOTH the Church AND the Bible. They work together.
  • Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Faith alone does not save you, nor will your works alone save you. What saves you is faith working in love. BOTH faith AND works together save.
  • Jesus breathed on them and said, “Who’s sins you forgive are forgiven, who’s sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22-23) Such forgiveness is allowed only by the authority of Jesus. The sins are confessed to God and God forgives the sins through His official instrument the priest. BOTH the priest AND God are involved in the process, not either/or.
  • Jesus is “the One Mediator between God and Man.” (1Tim 2:5) He allows all members of His Body to participate in His mediation with Him. That’s why we can pray for each other (i.e. mediate or intercede for each other). The saints in Heaven are part of the Body of Christ. We can ask them to pray for us, too. Such mediation does not “replace” Jesus any more than you are “replacing” Jesus when you ask your pastor to pray for you. Again, it’s the great BOTH/AND.

Jesus does not want us to “give up religion” in order to “accept a relationship” with Him. Jesus wants us to accept BOTH Him AND His religion together. The either/or fallacy of religion vs. relationship causes a lot of harm because it keeps people away from the very thing Jesus created to keep us close to Him; His Church and the Sacraments! The either/or fallacies are often directed specifically at Catholic Christians. “You’re just following a religion! You need a relationship with Jesus!”

There are indeed many Catholics that need to discover an authentic relationship with Christ, but abandoning Christ’s established religion is not the remedy! The remedy is for these Catholics (and all Christians) to embrace the true meaning of Catholicism and understand the great BOTH/AND that Jesus intended!

There are also a great many Christians that feel they have a relationship with Christ, but they have abandoned, or perhaps never discovered, His true religion! In this case, relationship lacks the authentic religion established by Christ. They love Jesus, but they are unaware of just how close He desires to be to them through His Sacraments (particularly the Eucharist). Many of them believe that Church problems justify rejection of the Church, but that is not the response of Jesus. He never condemned Judaism because of the Pharisees. The Apostles never abandoned the Church because of Judas or even their own disputes. Whatever problems Catholics may have, The Catholic Church still remains Christ’s one, holy, apostolic Church.

Many people claim a relationship with Jesus but reject all notions of “organized religion.” Essentially, they create their own religions with their own rituals and observances. Somehow, they have determined that their own, “unorganized” religion is superior to the religion established by Jesus Himself. This is a symptom of the predominant relativism and self-centered thinking of our age. Doing “whatever feels best to you” doesn’t typically work in a marriage, a family, a job or any real friendship. Why do people believe it is the best way to have a relationship with God? The object of worship in such a “religion” is one’s personal feelings, not Jesus.

We don’t need to choose between “religion” and “relationship.” We need to choose THE religion that embodies the fullness of the relationship Jesus wants with us. Why would a husband get his wife a toaster for a gift when she desires flowers? Perhaps because he does not know her very well, or he simply does not care what she wants? Maybe the toaster was conveniently at hand or more to his liking. He may give her such misguided gifts “religiously,” but it is not the relationship his wife truly desires. What he needs to do to nurture the relationship is religiously bring her flowers.

We all have some “religion” we follow. What we must determine is, “What religion does Jesus desire us to have, and why did He make it so? For the faithful Catholic, religion is not the opposite of relationship; our religion is the embodiment of the relationship Christ desires to have with us. Religion/relationship; the great BOTH/AND.

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