"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Christianity: Relationship or Religion?

Answer: Both.

To treat it as a religion and not a relationship is to fall into Pharisaism, going through rituals without either understanding or believing what it is that they signify. To treat Christianity as a relationship and not a religion is to fall into gnosticism, i.e. to disregard the sacraments and the Church that Christ founded, by which we receive grace and into which we, as material beings, are incorporated.

Protestants seem more liable to the gnostic error, as Jonathan discusses here. Sherry Waddell points out here that a fair number of Catholics tend toward to Pharisaism.

Imagine if we were united, and had the benefit of each other's gifts.


Eric Telfer said...

When the term 'religion' is used in a different sense we mean something along the lines of justice and/or gratitude, which, by its nature, is necessarily relational. Part of the motivation for doing certain acts which are particularly 'religious' stems from a recognition of one's dependency on God, a thankfulness to God, and a desire to give something back to God in return, even if only one's appreciation or gratitude. Building on this is the fact that some acts have been prescribed by God in history through Jesus Christ. And so we have particular acts to do by virtue of the New Covenant. Now, it is true that a set of acts (or any act) that has historically been thought of as a means of relating to God in a favorable way can be performed while under the influence of less than optimal states of mind or dispositions. It is also true that when performing habitual acts man can many times fall into the trap of mere routine, such that the acts are done mindlessly, with little or no fervor, with little relational value, with little attention to the act, or the relation, or the context of the act, etc. But abuse does not nullify proper use and if Christ prescribed the acts, we ought to think twice before giving up on them, especially if we have a relationship with Christ to begin with. A man can have a relationship with his doctor without taking the medicine that he has prescribed. A man can even have a great respect and love for his doctor without doing anything the doctor prescribes, but in what sense is it that the man is the doctor's patient or the the doctor the patient's doctor, if the man will not follow any of the doctor's recommendations? There may be a sense, but the point can be seen: a relationship with Christ without doing what Christ prescribed is not what Christ had in mind when he said to follow His commandments. It may be a relationship. It may even be a very rich relationship in some sense, but something is missing. In the end, doing what Christ commanded is important, as is doing it in a way that is fitting to the significance of the act for our lives. Recognizing the basic nature of authentic religion and then keeping a close eye on what Christ prescribed is very relational. Taking prescribed acts out of the relation is one problem. Performing prescribed acts incorrectly is another. Physicians, in the physician-patient encounter, are called not just to a set of acts (many, but not all, of which a machine could perform), but to a relationship that involves those acts. Moreover, they are called not just to do the acts, but to perform the acts 'relationally', seeing the importance of the acts for the relation and the importance of the relation for the acts. And so it is with church acts.


George Weis said...


Your good at what you do my friend! Very good indeed. I almost feel that urge to jump up and join in. I sit here still being skeptical and quite fearful. I am not 100% convinced, but I can see how you decided to become Catholic. The idea is a dread to me, and yet I continue to investigate. I do indeed love the idea of unity and Christians learning from each other and sharing great gifts. Oh, my head is splitting...

Blessings to you friend!