Religion or Relationships
By Tom Howland
Christianity is looked at by the world as just one of the major world religions. As Christians, we believe that Christianity is not just another religion, but it is entirely and totally different. Actually, it is diametrically opposed to all other religions. However, most Christians practice their faith much like any of the other world religions. To give a few examples, they go to large buildings for corporate worship, have leaders or rulers in authority over them, and follow rules and rituals considered sacred. Let's explore together and see how Christianity is supposed to be different.
If asked, "what is your religion?" Most Christians would say, "Christianity". But, is Christianity a religion, relationships or both? Most Christians would say that it is a personal relationship with Christ, which is true indeed. But then in practice they follow the rituals and customs of a religion.
What exactly is "religion". Our English word religion comes from Latin religio, (not from Biblical Hebrew or Greek), which means: supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back. The most basic definition of religion could be: An organized system of faith and worship. Can you be religious in Christianity and remain not truly Christian? Yes, you most certainly can!
James 1:26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.You can go to church, follow the liturgy and practice, even believe all the doctrine and still be as un-Christian as the devil.
James 2:19 ...Even the demons believe – and tremble!
Jesus opposed the "religion" of the scribes and Pharisees. Saying "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men" Matt.23: 13
The Jewish religion was set up with priests over the people as mediators between God and man. It was full of religious trappings, laws, rituals, and liturgy that defined good proper "religious practice". Although I speak here of the Jewish religion, these "religious practices" are common to any religion. All religions are noted for following rituals and rules in worshipping the sacred. I wanted to focus on the Jewish religion, because Jesus was Jewish and his disciples were Jewish. Jesus even said, "You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews." John 4:22
If this is so then why did Jesus and the Apostles go against the Jewish religion so strongly? Could it be because a New Covenant was being established? The Old was going away. Let's look at the above passage in context.
John 4:19 The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship." 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." 25 The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things." 26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."
Jesus said that worship is no longer confined to a place that you go to. But it doesn't stop there. The entire system of religious practice was torn down.
Romans 7:6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Let's now take a look at the priesthood, the practice of having one man (besides Christ) as head of our religion.
Hebrews 7:11-28 11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.
Jesus is now our high priest, our mediator between God and man. He is the head of the Church. And we, all Christians, are priests.
I Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
Most Christians know this and believe that we are priests, but they do not practice Christianity in this way. The general practice of Christianity is repackaged Judaism. The Priest has been replaced by the minister. The Altar has been replaced by the pulpit. Jerusalem as the place of worship has been replaced by the Church building...
Most Christians have been told that you must have one man as minister of your church. Scripture says that, just as we are all priests, we are all ministers as well.
II Corinthians 3:6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Not only are we all ministers and priests but also the New Testament explains how to observe church practice in a way that reflects this.
I Peter 4:10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
Is it Scriptural for one minister/priest type to stand up front speaking while everyone else remains silently lined up in rows listening? If we are all ministers and priests with spiritual gifts how should we meet? Take the time to read the following verses in their entirety and in context to see how the New Testament says that we are supposed to meet.
Colossians 3:16 Teaching and admonishing one another...
I Corinthians 14:26 ...When you assemble, each one has...
What about Pastors and/or Elders? The New Covenant is not against leaders or leadership. What it is against is unbiblical leadership. As 1 Peter 4:10 said, each of us has received spiritual gifts. The word pastor only appears once in the New Testament, and it is part of a list of spiritual gifts.
Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
Elders (Overseers, Pastors, or Shepherds if you prefer) are not to be acting as high priests such as they often are. Scriptures tell us what they are to do.
I Peter 5:2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;
A Shepherd is supposed to protect the sheep. Please note as well that these are not his sheep. They are Gods sheep. Also, is not the Elder one of Gods sheep too? A primary duty of an Elder in the New Covenant is to protect the church from false teachers. Not to be our bosses or lords. Don't get me wrong, most "Pastors" I know are wonderful gifted servants. However, very overworked. Reason being is because God never intended any one person to do everything. We all have spiritual gifts. Let's start using them.
Acts 20:17-29 17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church...
28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
Pastors also should not be the decision makers for the church body. When Jesus first used the word Ekklesia (the Greek word for church) to define His people, it was quite radical. Ekklesia in Jesus' day referred to the meetings the politicians held when decisions were to be made.
As Christians we are all priests and saints when we meet to make decisions for church it should be agreed by consensus of all the people. Not by vote, nor by a board of elders. That could do injury to a brother's conscious. In other words, if a decision is made without your input/approval, what if the resulting decision is something that goes against your conscious or convictions. The fact that we all have spiritual gifts and we all are members of the body make us all qualified to be part of the Ekklesia in decision making. Most important reason however would be as is explained in the following passage.
1 Cor 1:10 "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought."
Jesus came, and established a New Covenant. He is our High Priest, the Head of the church. We are all priests and ministers of God. True Christianity is a religion by definition, but Christ and the apostles tore down the trappings of the Jewish "religion". The New Covenant in Christ was purposely made into a family like relationship. No, not just family like, but family indeed!
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, most Christians will say that Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But, what else is it? Is it not also having personal relationships with other Christians? Are not all Christians our brothers and sisters? Let us take a look at how Christianity and this New Covenant is all about relationships.
The number one complaint I hear from Christians is that there is little, or no, fellowship and intimacy within the church. Christians are quick to say that Christianity is about loving the Lord, but are they as quick to follow Christ's second command?
Mark 12:29 Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."Regarding love, isn't Christ's new commandment what the New Covenant is all about? We are no longer under the law of the Jews, but are now under the law of Christ! What is this law of Christ, this new commandment?
John 13:34 -35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. As I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another".
Christianity is more than loving Jesus. It is also loving one another. Christians often say, we do love one another, but then act like strangers who only see one another once a week for an hour on Sundays. We shake hands and go our separate ways. "Love", has been watered down so much that it has little or no meaning any more. Let us remember what true love is for a moment. Do we truly love one another as Christ loves us?
3. Fellowship and Communion
You may have been told that fellowship is shaking hands in a hall outside the sanctuary at church, and that communion is a small morsel and a sip of juice. Let us look closer at what scriptures say.
John 17:20 -21 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me
I John 1:3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ
1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Fellowship and communion in the New Testament are the same Greek word: koinonia!
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology explains this word in a way that conveys exactly what I am trying to get across.
"...the fact and experience of Christian fellowship only exists because God the Father through Jesus Christ, the Son, and by/in the Spirit has established in grace a relation (a "new covenant") with humankind. Those who believe the gospel of the resurrection are united in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. The relation leads to the reality of relatedness and thus to an experienced relationship (a "communion") between man and God. And those who are thus "in Christ" (as the apostle Paul often states) are in communion not only with Jesus Christ (and the Father) in the Spirit but also with one another. This relatedness, relationship, and communion is fellowship..."
Most Christians have no problem with accepting the fellowship between them and Christ. It's the last two sentences of Baker's definition that we need to work on. That is the "one another" part. But this fellowship, this communion, is more than just being friends with other Christians. It is a mysterious unity. For Indeed Christ will be married to one bride on the last day and that one bride is us, His church, all Christians. We better start getting along now, because soon we will be one. An interesting note is that the common ancient Greek usage of the word koinonia was used often to refer to marriage. It is my personal belief that God created marriage for us in this life so that we can, even if it is ever so limited, have an understanding of what it will be like with Him in the afterlife.
Ephesians 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless
Romans 7:4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.
Revelation 19:7-9 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.You may say though, doesn't communion refer to the Lord's Supper? Yes, it absolutely does. It's all inter-related to the topic at hand.
Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!' "And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God."
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
The bread represents the body of Christ, which was broken for us. The mystery is that what is also true is that we – Christians – are the body as explained in the above verse. Also read:
Romans 12:5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
These are all very interesting facts but how they play out is very exciting. As we reviewed earlier Jesus and the Apostles went to great lengths to tear down all the trappings and legalism of the Jewish religion and change it from formality to family. The Apostles set up churches to run and function like extended families. They met in homes, and ate the Lords Supper as a full meal, which they called the love feast. You see this is what you do with your family. It is very intimate to eat with someone. It is most often the choice for a first date. It is also what I wish to do with my wife of 16 years, if I can ever find a sitter. In any case, it is difficult to eat with someone and not have fellowship to some degree.
It appears, as we see in scriptures, that the main reason for the saints gathering together on Sundays was to eat this feast together.
Acts 20:7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread...
I Corinthians 11:33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat...
It is not by accident that the Lord's supper is called communion. We just forgot that communion means fellowship in its most intimate form, koinonia. You see when Jesus ate the last supper with His disciples He was celebrating the Passover feast (both full meals by the way). He gave us the meaning of the cup and the bread, but He told us more than that. He said we would eat the feast again with Him! When? At our wedding to Him on the last day!
Luke 22:16 for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."
18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."
30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom,
Luke 14:15 Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!
Revelation 19:9 Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!' "And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God."
It is this marriage supper of the Lamb that Christ was talking about at the last supper. Our celebration of the Lord's Supper is a rehearsal dinner for the real thing! It is not to be a solemn time of remorse. It is a time of celebration, like during a family reunion at a wedding! The Lords Supper needs to be a weekly feast of celebration. That's what it was always meant to be.
Rev. 3:20 "Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into him and dine with him and he with me."
4. Preaching or Koinonia?
I said earlier that the main reason for the saints gathering weekly on Sundays was and is to eat the Lords Supper. Many will ask, "what about the preaching?" "Isn't that why we gather?" Every place the words preach or preaching is used in the New Testament it is in regards to evangelism.
Mark 16:15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."
Evangelism is for and toward unbelievers. Church, by definition is the called out ones. We are the Church. We are already saved and do not need to be evangelized to by being preached at. As Christians we are all told to go and be evangelists, not just bring unsaved to church with us in hopes that they will be preached at to hear the gospel. Better is to practice gathering as Church just as it was established by the Apostles.
I Corinthians 14:26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
As you can see by this verse the Apostles set up Churches to fellowship in open interactive spontaneous spirit led meetings. Everyone was encouraged to participate, to use their spiritual gifts one to another. To minister one to another for mutual encouragement and edification. To worship together as the family of God, as Christ's Bride.
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
You see this type of meeting, for the purpose of edifying one another, is fellowship, communion, koinonia! This is what Christ and the Apostles were so painstakingly working to establish in the New Covenant. Relationships put into practice in our church life.
Christianity is all about relationships. It is relationships. When we practice Church as outlined in scriptures these mysterious body relationships grow! Intimacy develops. True Christian family is experienced. Don't be afraid of intimacy with other believers. This is what Christianity is. Sooner or later we will be one.
John 17: 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Interested in finding or starting a Biblical house church in your area?
Call Tom or Shelley at 518-827-8611
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