Tag Archives: Religion

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.

Faith: “Personal” Or “Private?”

The words “personal” and “private” may cause confusion at times.  Not everything that is personal needs to be private, although some things are.  In fact, some personal things are actually supposed to be quite public.

For example, a marriage is a very personal, intimate relationship, and spouses keep certain aspects of the relationship very private.  The marriage relationship itself, however, is quit public.  Even so called “private weddings” still require public licenses and witnesses to be valid.  Christian spouses are supposed to be public witnesses to the relationship between Christ and his Church.  So, a very personal relationship is also meant to be a very public one.

One’s annual income is generally considered to be personal information that is also private.  It comes across as rude to inquire about someone’s income.  When asked, “How much do you make?” one might respond, “I’m sorry, that’s personal.”  What is really meant, however, is, “That’s private.”  One’s name is also “personal” information, but we tend to freely divulge it when asked, so it becomes both personal and public.

Privatized religion is a strange phenomenon, especially where Christianity is concerned.  It makes complete sense that one’s religious beliefs are personal, for if one’s faith in God does not impact one’s person, there is little point to it.  This, I believe, is at the heart of why many try to make a distinction between “religion” and “relationship.”  Religion is often branded as impersonal while a relationship is assumed to be personal.  The reality, however, is that religion can and must be quite personal.  The whole point of the Christian religion is to be personally transformed by God.  Yet, the Christian religion is not meant to be “private.”

Christianity is meant to be lived in full view of the public.  The Christian is to be a “city on a hill” not a “light hidden under a bushel.”  Certainly, Christianity is personal.  It should transform a person.  But, if one’s Christian faith is always private, that is a problem.  At some point, many Christians bought into the idea that being open about one’s faith is taboo.  Somehow, the very public proclamation of the Gospel became a “private” matter not to be broached in public.  “Go and spread the Gospel” became “Don’t offend anyone or draw any attention.”  This happened despite the fact that Christians were told from the beginning that their faith would offend many people and that it was supposed to draw attention from the world.  Political correctness has overruled the Great Commission for many Christians.

Now, I can certainly understand why some Christians in certain times and places might keep their faith somewhat private, at least from the powers that be.  For two thousand years many Christians have had to face death and torture for being Christian.  Nevertheless, many of them gave (and still give) their lives rather than recant their belief.  That which is deeply personal need not be private.

I have heard people say things such as, “I don’t go to any church and I don’t want to talk about religion.  My God and I do just fine together.”  My reaction is, “If your faith is such a wonderful thing, why horde it for yourself?  Why keep all of that great stuff hidden from everyone?  That seems like a selfish thing to do, especially if you claim to be a Christian.  Why not tell people about your wonderful God?  Why not proclaim what you believe, why you believe it and what difference it makes to you and to the world?  What are you so afraid of?”

Finally, the Christian faith is about community.  In a community, people give, share and exchange things and ideas.  Christianity is not about isolation.  The idea is to have a relationship with Christ and then share the benefits of that relationship with others.  Christianity is not a private “security blanket” to be clung to like the Peanuts character Linus.  Christianity is a treasure to be freely distributed to others in word and in action.

So, by all means, have a deeply personal, Christian faith.  Just don’t keep it private.  Share the joy.

Once Christ’s Church, Always Christ’s Church (OCCACC)

During my years spent in “once-saved-always-saved” churches, there was something lurking below the surface of the doctrine that I could not quite put my finger on.  This morning it hit me.  Although it is not intentional, there is a double standard.  I certainly don’t mean to accuse anyone of malice or ill intent.  It is simply a double standard that folks overlook.  Most people that hold to “once-saved-always-saved” (OSAS) genuinely believe the doctrine and are well-intentioned in spreading it. They want to go to Heaven and take as many people with them as they can.  That’s not a bad thing.  They mean well.  They sincerely love Jesus.

When King David committed adultery and murder, he was not “dethroned.”  He remained King, not because of his good behavior, but because he was God’s anointed.  When Moses was disobedient, he was punished but not “removed from office.”  He remained the leader of Israel until he died because he was chosen by God to be the leader.  When the Pharisees became hypocrites and made the Word of God of no effect Jesus did not say, “You have been bad, so you no longer have any authority.”  Instead, Jesus told the people, “Do what the Pharisees tell you because they sit on the seat of Moses.  Just don’t be hypocrites like they are.”  Peter said the “wrong thing” prompting Jesus to refer to him as “Satan.”  Then Peter denied Jesus three times during his trial.  Despite this bad behavior Peter was still chosen by God to infallibly write letters that would become part of the inerrant, God-breathed, Holy Bible.

Regarding their own salvation, OSAS folks will say, “It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t lose my salvation because nothing can separate me from the love of God.  I am sealed unto the day of redemption.  I am justified (meaning, it is “just as if” I had never sinned).  Once God decides to save me it’s a done deal.  I may lose rewards in Heaven for bad behavior, but I’ll never lose my salvation.  God has the power to preserve my soul!”

However, that same, steadfast, preservative power of God is never seen as applied to the Catholic Church.  To the OSAS folks (and Protestantism in general), the Catholic Church cannot be the one true Church established by Jesus Christ due to “bad behavior.”  Whether it is the Crusades, the Inquisition, the selling of indulgences, the Galileo ordeal or the more recent priest abuse scandals, people insist that such behavior disqualifies Catholicism from being Christ’s Church.  In other words, God can keep King David and even individual Christians intact, but not his own Church.  The Church had to be scrapped and “started over” because it just wasn’t working out.  So, the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant Church, and the New Covenant Church was replaced by the “New” New Covenant Church in the 1500s.  God’s grace and the Holy Spirit just couldn’t handle the behavior of Catholics.

Nevertheless, OSAS Christians (and Protestantism in general) accept the Catholic Church’s formation of the New Testament canon.  The New Testament, as compiled and authorized by the Catholic Church, is accepted as the God-breathed, inspired, inerrant Word of God.  But, because of the bad behavior of some Catholics, the Catholic Church was “dethroned” as God’s anointed and replaced by lots of different “churches” with various doctrines and practices.  The office of the papacy, which once oversaw and authorized the compilation of Holy Scripture, no longer has authority.  This is the double standard.  It seems that the Holy Spirit and God’s grace are able to work with everybody’s bad behavior except for the Catholic Church.

The Holy Spirit-led Catholic Church allegedly gave us the New Testament and then suddenly turned into “The Whore of Babylon” at worst, or an “outdated, out of touch denomination” at best.  Personally, I believe God is more powerful and more gracious than that.  He is powerful enough to establish a Church with offices of leadership, and then preserve that Church until the end of time, just as he preserves the Scriptures compiled by that Church.

We need not apply the words of Christ, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” only to individual Christians.  Those words also apply to the Church Jesus established, the Catholic Church.  Jesus has not left the Church, but many of us have.  Some of us have met Christ’s Church, but we have not met Christ.  Some of us have met Christ, but we have not genuinely met his Church.  Many people have only been introduced to a caricature of the Church propagated by anti-Catholic teachings, poor catechesis or simple misunderstandings.

Christ and his Church go together.  We are incomplete with one but not the other.  Where there are human beings there will always be sin.  Nevertheless, “Once-Christ’s-Church-always-Christ’s-Church” holds true because of Jesus, not because of us.

The Religion Of Personal Preference

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m looking for a good church,” or, “We’re church shopping.”  I’ve said these things myself in the past.  There is much “between the lines” of such statements.  Overall, I believe those words often reveal a “religion of personal preference.”  That is, we seek God under the condition that God will make us comfortable and happy.

People “shop” for churches that appeal to them.  I can’t recall ever hearing someone say, “I chose this church because it made me feel so uncomfortable.”  The ironic thing is that, although God calls us to peace and joy, he doesn’t call us to “comfort,” at least not in the sense that most people perceive comfort.  The Holy Spirit is “the Comforter,” but that doesn’t mean he provides padded pews and nice feelings all around.  It means we can have spiritual peace and guidance even in the midst of our greatest trials.  Many trials are a direct result of following God.  In fact, Jesus told his followers to expect suffering.

The thing we tend to forget is that  Jesus calls us.  We’re not supposed to “shop around” until we find our preferred selection on a spiritual menu.  How arrogant and self-centered we can be!  Think about famous people in the Bible that were called by God.  Abraham, Moses, Jonah, all the prophets, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, the Apostles, are just a few examples.  None of them were “comfortable” being called.  They were afraid, reluctant, confused, angered, blinded, knocked to the ground, swallowed by fish, etc.  None of them said, “Wow, this just feels right.  What a warm welcome!”  On the contrary, the calling was not what they were “shopping for.”  It did not suit their preferences.

Why, then, do we insist on shopping for a church that suits our preferences?  We’re not supposed to search for a church that we “like” or create a church that we “like.”   We’re supposed to answer the call of the Church established by Jesus, like it or not.  The Church is Christ on Earth.  It is through his Church that Jesus calls us.  It is “right” even if it doesn’t always “feel right” because it is truth.  Truth does not change with our whims and our feelings.  Truth unifies.  Feelings tend to divide and confuse.  Jesus calls us to unity through truth.  The Church is not a product to be marketed.  It is the truth to be lived and shared.

Pope Francis has captured the attention of the world, not by creative marketing, but by being a disciple of Christ.  He is, as he says, “A child of the Church.”  This is what we are all called to be.  This is what Catholics are supposed to be like.  He is leading by example.  He is the pastor of the entire Christian Church.  He is our shepherd.  He takes his orders from The Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  Like it or not, there is no other “church” to shop for.

Let’s stop shopping for churches.  Let’s quit trying to turn the Church into a “product” that competes for the attention of fickle consumers.  Let’s dump the “religion” of personal preferences.  Instead, let’s answer the call of the Church.  Let’s allow Jesus to step into our boats and rock them.  That’s what disciples do.  Disciples follow their leader, not their own preferences.  Let’s show the world Jesus Christ.  He is what they long for.

Atheism And Thanksgiving

Gratitude is similar to a gift.  Without a recipient, it ceases to be.  I cannot give a gift to “no one.”  The very act of calling it a gift presupposes that it has an intended recipient.  The same is true for gratitude.  If there is no one to direct the gratitude to, it must be something other than gratitude, for gratitude requires someone to be a recipient.

An atheist can experience and express gratitude, but only on a limited basis.  For example, an atheist can be grateful to the gardener for planting flowers, but not for the flowers themselves.  Why?  Because the gardener did not create the flowers, she merely manipulated what was already in existence, even if she planted the seeds.  It is folly to direct gratitude towards “nature” because nature is not capable of receiving gratitude.  Whatever the atheist may feel about the existence of the flowers, it is not true gratitude until it can be directed at “someone.”  Nature is not “someone” although attempts have been made to personify it (Mother Nature).  It is also useless to thank “the universe” because the universe is not “someone,” either.

An atheist can be grateful to a spouse, but not for a spouse.  It is one thing to say, “Thank you for loving me and for marrying me,” but quite another to say, “Thank you for existing.”  One might thank one’s in-laws by saying, “Thank you for conceiving my spouse,” but that also falls short.  The in-laws did not create the life within one’s spouse, they were merely instruments used in the process.

An atheist can say to a doctor, “Thank you for saving my life.”  But there is no one an atheist can thank for life itself.  Once the atheist begins to express gratitude for life itself, the atheist has consciously or subconsciously acknowledged that there is “someone” able to receive that gratitude.  Until we imagine there is someone we might give something to, we do not call that thing a “gift.”  Until we imagine there must be someone to thank, we do not call it “gratitude.”

If one is truly grateful for life itself, there is no point in calling oneself an atheist, for one has already, to some degree, yielded to the One who transcends us.

Wait…Jesus Said To OBEY The Scribes And Pharisees? What..?

In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.”  There are several points here to reflect on.

1)      Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy.  Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites).  Jesus never said he came to abolish religion.  Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it.  When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken.  Jesus is good and so is his religion.

2)      Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees.  God established the seat of Moses.  It was an office of authority.  An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority.  Furthermore, that office had successors.  The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men.  What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority.  Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing).  Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.

3)      The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.”  Quite the opposite was true.  Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.

4)      The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).  Having the tradition wasn’t the problem.  Their attitude was the problem.  They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9).  Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God.  After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition.  They were religious!  One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition.  It’s about one’s attitude.

5)      As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God.  In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter.  Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it.  Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office.  God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men.  That is what the infallibility of the papacy means.  The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy.  God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses.  God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.

6)      Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter.  This is, ironically, unbiblical.  The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines.  It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority.  Jesus taught the opposite.  To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God.  Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.

7)      Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.”  Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures.  The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic.  They go together.

8)      Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.”  Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations.  There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity.  There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience.  If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ.  Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.

Conversion: A Work In Progress

Humans are spiritual creatures.  It is written into our DNA to look beyond ourselves to spiritual truths.  History demonstrates our desire for spiritual connection.  Although many these days claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” we all have religious tendencies.  Left to our own devices, we will find something to worship.  We will create our own, individual belief systems by assembling our opinions, our values and our principles into “little religions.”  Therefore, none of us are really “spiritual but not religious.”  Either we follow God’s religion or we follow our own.

I put together a list that illustrates my own journey of awareness about God’s revelation to humanity.  It’s sort of what I perceive to be a “growth chart” of spiritual awakening.  There was a time when I considered myself to be “spiritual but not religious.”  That changed around number 11 or 12 on the list when I realized that religious people behaving badly did not make “religion” a bad word.  I realized it was not only possible but desirable to be both religious and spiritual.  It is a both/and proposition, not an either/or one.

I believe lots of people get stuck somewhere on this list.  For example, agnostics might be around number one to six.  Lots of Christians stop around number eleven.  Some may be at number thirteen without knowing they need number 11.  Really, we can get stuck anywhere on the list.  I’m not claiming to have personally reached the ultimate place in a journey of faith.  We’re all works in progress.  This list is just a sketch of where I have been and what I’m striving for by God’s grace.  It’s not perfectly chronological in order.  I’m far from where I need to be.  The point is, as soon as we think we’ve “arrived,” we haven’t.  Conversion is a lifelong process, not a single event.

Here is the process:

1)      Look around at creation and realize it couldn’t have “just happened” without an intelligent designer and call that designer “God.”

2)      Realize that God transcends us.

3)      Understand that we are eternal beings, but imperfect beings (sinners).

4)      Realize that we can’t fix our own imperfection and become like God.

5)      Wonder if such a God cares about what happens to us and the rest of creation.

6)      Wonder if God knows how it feels to be human, or if God is aloof.

7)      Realize that Jesus is God in human flesh.

8)      Realize that God does know how it feels to be human because God became human.

9)      Realize that through Jesus, God came to seek us out.  We didn’t need to climb up to God.

10)  Realize that the perfect life, suffering and death of Jesus is the answer to humanity’s imperfection (sin).

11)  Realize that Jesus (God) desires us to trust him with our eternal souls and lives, not our own efforts.

12)  Understand and accept that, because he loves us, Jesus did not want to leave us to our own devices, so he made sure there would be an antidote to conflicting opinions.

13)  Realize and accept that Jesus called his antidote “the Church” and gave its hierarchy his own authority.  Accepting Jesus includes accepting the Church, because they are the same authority.  The Holy Spirit guards and controls the hierarchy’s teachings and also preserves the written Word.  To accept Christ and reject the Church is contradictory.

14)  Realize that Jesus did not want to leave us orphaned and promised to be with us.

15)  Understand that, in order for Jesus to actually “be with us” he has to be completely with us, not partially with us “in spirit” as if he were on the telephone or a video conference.  Jesus still has a physical body and still wants to literally “be with us.”  His love for us is that profound.

16)  Understand and accept that the way Jesus chooses to keep his promise to “be with us” is by humbling himself in the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist.  The power of the Holy Spirit accomplishes this.

17)  Realize that the religion of Catholicism is actually about being with and loving Christ and each other.  God is love, and Catholicism is the fullness of God’s religion when lived out in holiness and love as Jesus intended (not as a set of rules to earn Heaven apart from God’s grace).