“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  He said to them, You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” – Luke 16:14-15 (NIV)

It has become cool to bash religion. People bash organized religion because they view it as judgmental, hypocritical, anti-fun, too political, insensitive—and boring. Often, their disenchantment with the church is legitimate. They had a bad experience in church or with church people, or they are simply buying into the usual suspects that have stigmatized the church as being intolerant and exclusionary for decades. Your immediate reaction—like mine—is that these generalizations and characterizations are, for the most part, both unfounded and unfair.

Religion to many people is about going to church, because that was what we are supposed to do, participating in the rituals and traditions. We can be religious on a Sunday and then do what we want the rest of the week. Religion is somewhat of a social gathering, or a form of entertainment. But is that what religion really is?  That is not Christianity.

Many people think that Christianity is not a religion; it is a personal relationship that God has established with His children. A personal relationship with God is exactly that: a relationship very much like the ones we have with other close friends and family members. But does that mean it is not a religion in the sense of participating in the church? We all know the church is imperfect. Christ calls us to strengthen it by their presence rather than criticize it in their absence. The old quip forever rings true: “If you do find the perfect church, don’t join it, for then it would no longer be perfect.” Spirit-led Jesus followers recognize that they are imperfect Christians working with other imperfect Christians to serve a perfect Christ. When we love and give to one another, then we grow as individuals and as the family of God.

Consider this for a moment: Salvation is not merely a personal relationship with Jesus that allows us to go to Heaven when we die. It is also a communal relationship with the church to live on a mission for Jesus’ Kingdom in this life. His call to “follow me” means come join a group of disciples who together are the people of God. The New Testament uses collective metaphors to describe the church of Christ. They include flock, temple, body, etc. Each of the images communicates the same big idea that God’s people are to remain together. Sheep die individually but live as a flock, fed and protected by a shepherd. A building falls down if too many bricks are removed.  Limbs die if removed from the body.

We need the church because we need the help of others to keep following Jesus. We need incentive and accountability to strengthen their spiritual lives. We need to do life with other Christians. We need exhortation, strengthening, encouragement, and prayer in every season of life as we build and grow our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Following Jesus is both a personal relationship with Him and a collective relationship with the local church.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the stereotypes of religion that you have? 
  2. Why do people think talking about religion can be offensive?
  3. How can church strengthen our relationship with God?
  4. What can we do this week to strengthen our relationship with God?