Religion or Relationship?
Imagine someone gives you a beautiful stone. It is small, and polished, with no blemishes, and a lovely colour. It nestles in the palm of your hand. By itself it is complete. It is so beautiful, if you did anything to it, you would detract from it. It needs no decoration.
Now suppose you showed the stone to a friend, and they asked if they could borrow it. Expecting no harm you gladly share the beautiful stone, and your friend takes it home. After some weeks you return to reclaim the stone, but when you arrive at your friend’s place, you find that the stone is now inside a huge building, which has been built especially to house it.
You meet guards at the door, and they force you to dress in strange clothes. You then have to read out loud from a set of books, and you step through the door only on specified stones. You enter a long corridor, which is lined with golden statues, and incredible ornamentation. People bow and make secret signals as you pass. You smell perfumed smoke, and hear music, and you walk a long way down a tapestry carpet before coming to the huge, guilded doors of the main room. You pass more guards, more rituals, and then finally you see, in the centre of the room an enormous, gold-covered display case. It is richly decorated with carvings of people and animals and it is partially covered by layers of silks and velvets. A circle of swaying priests frown as you approach.
“I would like my stone back please?” you say, but you see that it will never be returned.
This story illustrates something that has happened since Jesus walked this earth. When He came, he taught His followers that Christianity was a relationship with Him. He gave His followers the pure and simple stone of relationship.
Soon after Jesus rose into heaven, some 2000 years ago, this ‘stone’ of relationship was taken by some well-meaning but misguided followers, and other people who were not followers, and gradually became buried under ritual and decoration, until it was lost from sight. So much was added, so much taken away, it became difficult to find the stone. Hundreds of years passed and the decoration grew, until it took a Reformation to uncover the stone again, and that only partially. Over the simple truth of ‘relationship’ was built the mighty edifice of ritual and ceremony, cathedrals and church buildings, priestly clothes and commentaries, ‘holy books’ and spiritual edicts, decorations and heresies and ornaments and statues . . . until the stone was covered by a colossal pile of additional but quite unnecessary things.
Christianity, at heart, is a relationship with God, through Jesus. Religion is a Manmade system which ignores or rejects or replaces God’s plan.
As most people know, there are many religions in the world, and there have been many more in the past. Some have died out, some survive. Some have huge numbers of followers, while some have only a few. But before we go any further, we ought to ask the question, what exactly is a religion?
Unfortunately, it is not easy to define ‘religion’. Some of the best definitions are also the most difficult. Religion covers a lot of ground. A short definition is: “An expression of belief, or reverence for, a superhuman power or powers, thought to have created all things or which govern the universe.”
A religion is also system of beliefs, or an institution which is based on a set of beliefs. It always includes some rules, and some superhuman power or powers. It elevates something or someone to a higher level and promotes adoration, devotion or fear. In its crudest form, a person may treat a hobby, a spouse, a book or anything they like as the object of their devotion, but in the wider sense, it always includes the spiritual dimension. The curious thing is, if only one person has a set of beliefs it is not considered a religion, but if many people believe the same things, it is. Numbers of believers has a lot to do with the importance of a belief.
Percentage-wise the numbers of believers in various religions are approximately:
Not religious 16%
Chinese traditional 6%
Primal indigenous 6%
Others . . .
Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are the four largest world religions today. Approximately 75% of humanity follows one of these 4 religions. Christianity is the religion with the largest number of professed religious adherents, followed by Islam. The third-largest group of approximately 1 billion people adhere to irreligious approaches which include Humanism, Atheism, Rationalism, and Agnosticism. Hinduism with 900 million adherents is the third largest religion followed by 19 smaller groups of religious adherents.
The main religions in the world today are as follows:
1. Christianity 2.1 billion
2. Islam 1.3 billion
4. Hinduism 900 million
5. Buddhism 708 million
6. Chinese folk religion 394 million
7. Primal indigenous ("Pagan") 300 million
8. African traditional and diasporic 100 million
9. Sikhism 23 million
10. Juche 19 million
11. Spiritism 15 million
12. Judaism 14 million
13. Bahá'í Faith 7 million
14. Jainism 4.2 million
15. Shinto 4 million (see below)
16. Cao Dai 4 million
17. Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
18. Tenrikyo 2 million
19. Neo-Paganism 1 million
20. Unitarian Universalism 800,000
21. Rastafari movement 600,000
As you can see, there are many religions, and many followers for each. If you asked the followers of most of the above religions if theirs is the right one, they would probably say that it was The problem which we have now is deciding which, if any, is the right one? They can’t all be the right one, because they contradict each other! Is it possible to know if there is any religion which is superior to all the others, or are we supposed to pick and choose what we like from all of them? Perhaps they are all wrong? Perhaps there is really no God and we are completely alone in the universe? There are people who believe that religion is an invention by Man, but how can we know if they are right?
Perhaps we can decide which religion is right by taking an average opinion from a lot of people. Here is the opinion of a large number of Americans: “When Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and others pray to their god, all of those individuals are actually praying to the same god, but simply using different names for that deity.” This is the registered opinion of four of every ten American adults (Barna poll) Perhaps they are collectively right?
But there is no way of telling, just by gathering opinions, whether these Americans right or wrong? We cannot decide truth my adding up opinions? Opinions are not truth.
Mahatma Gandhi of
“The soul of religion is one, but it is encased in a multitude of forms.”
Is this true or false? Just because Mahatma said this, are we to suppose that his opinion is more important than ours? What if someone else important contradicted Mahatma – would that make their statement more true than Mahatma’s? (No)
The Bahá'í religion states:
“In reality, there is only one religion, the religion of God. This one religion is continually evolving, and each particular religious system represents a stage in the evolution of the whole,” (A claim made by the Bahá'í faith on its official Web site at bahai.org.)
The Hindu religion has this view:
“In whatever way men approach Me, even so do I go
—quoted from the Hindu scriptures by Swami Chidananda of Divine Life Society.
Islam, like Christianity, claims to be the only true religion, but there are many beliefs within Islam and Christianity which are absolutely opposite to each other. Which side is right? Obviously, we cannot decide on whether a religion is true by the devotion of its adherents, or by the number of mosques or cathedrals it builds.
Then there are all the many religious sects and cults, which make many different and often conflicting claims. Some of their beliefs overlap, while others conflict like black and white.
Faced with so many different views, it is no wonder so many people throw up their hands in despair and reject all religions!
What we need, in order to sort out a true religion from all the contenders, is something wonderful to happen, something on the supernatural scale, something which provides concrete evidence, something well-attested, witnessed, recorded, and undeniable. One thing which might provide proof on this scale would be if God – if there really is a God – were to visit our planet and tell us plainly that He is the true God.
This is where Christianity comes in.
Is Christianity's claim of uniqueness and exclusivity misleading and baseless? Or is it necessarily true?
Dr. Michael Green is an internationally respected
author, speaker and scholar, and Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall,
“Jesus is unique among religious leaders in claiming to bring God to our world in His own person and making good that claim by such powerful evidences.”
Apologist and author, C.S. Lewis said that when it comes to the categorical claims of Jesus Christ regarding His Divinity…There is no half-way house, and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him, 'Are you the son of Brahman?' he would have said, 'My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.'
If you had gone to Socrates and asked, 'Are you Zeus?' he would have laughed at you.
If you had gone to Muhammad and asked, 'Are you Allah?' he would first have rent his clothes and then cut off your head.”
The one thing that makes Christianity different from all other religions, is the life of Jesus. This alone sets it apart from all other religions, but at this point we have to return to the opening words of this essay. God sent to us a beautiful stone, pure and unblemished. He gave this stone to us because He wanted to open up a friendship and a relationship with us, but that precious gift was taken by men and smothered. It grew into a religion which sometimes became so ugly it was more like a system from hell than heaven. Sinful, wicked, greedy people changed the gift of God into a monstrosity.
Now, whenever the word ‘Christianity’ is mentioned, many people think of the Crusades, or the Dark Ages, or priest craft, or cults and sects which have caused incredible suffering and cost many people their lives. Instead of elevating Jesus, Christianity has become synonymous with evil, bondage and ignorance. This is terribly sad, because at its heart Christianity holds the precious gift of God, the Lord Jesus, who can heal, restore and save all people, yet to reach him they sometimes have to pass through an enormous building, and observe dozens of unnecessary rituals.
Religion is Christianity’s greatest curse.
The remainder of this essay is about the ‘stone’.
It would be wonderful if all the chaos and religious rubbish of the last 2000 years could be bulldozed away, so only the person of Jesus was visible. In reality, He never once suggested that Christians meet in cathedrals, or wear strange clothes, or build church buildings, or have pulpits, pews, and special goblets and cloths and ornaments, and tables and so on. His followers wore the clothes of their day, and met in each other’s homes, for meals, and fellowship, and prayer, and they loved hearing His word. They were like a family. They shared their Christian love and material possessions and they worked in their communities to solve the problems caused by sin. They were a blessing.
The first church was based on Jesus, and all His followers had a personal relationship with Him. They prayed to Him. He spoke to them, mostly through His written Word, but also at times to their hearts. He filled each believer with His Spirit, and they loved Him. They loved Him so much they were prepared to lay down their lives in service. They did no harm to any man.
They reasoned with unbelievers in love, but they never used violence or force to win hearts. These were the first followers of Jesus, the true Church. At this time the ‘stone’ was held in their hand, without decoration or ornament. It was Jesus they treasured, and He alone.
Jesus stands out in history as a mysterious, yet definable man. His place of birth and childhood are recorded, and his public ministry. His parents are named, along with most of his siblings. His words and works are edited down to just a brief summary in four gospels, but what we are told is enough to set Him apart from all spiritual leaders who have ever lived. He was a miracle-man. He had awesome supernatural powers, and there was nothing He could not do. His powers went far beyond trickery or magic.
His miracles were seen by tens of thousands of people. Not a single claim of fraud was registered in three years. He told people to show themselves to the unbelieving scribes, so they would have to admit the evidence. He healed every sickness and disease, every mutation, every cancer, every deformity. He also controlled the elements – he walked on the sea, commanded a storm to stop, and drove thousands of fish into a net.
All these things just by themselves would have set Jesus apart from all other people, but He went further and predicted His own death and resurrection. Perhaps we have grown tired of this word ‘resurrection’? What does it mean? It means the end of death. It means that even after someone has died and rotted away, they can suddenly be restored to full health again. All modern medicine can do is prolong life – Jesus can call it back. Do we have any idea how much power Jesus must have if He can reverse death?
Show me your religion, which burdens people with rules and regulations till they die, and I will show you my Jesus!
When we take Jesus into account, we find that the simple truths of Christianity – the truths which it started with – not the monstrosity that grew all over them, we find that all religions are not the same — Biblical Christianity is absolutely unique among all the religions and philosophies of mankind. Its claim to be necessary for salvation is based squarely on the uniquely powerful evidences for its truth and finality. Actually, true Christianity is not a religion, but a person, Jesus Christ.
“By Him, and for Him, were all things created” ( Colossians 1:16, 17).
Thus, Christianity is unique in the following fundamental respects, among many others.
We also find that only in the Bible is God revealed as the one eternal, and also personal Creator, who brought the entire universe into existence by His own Word.
Many other religions start with the material universe as the only eternal reality, with their “gods” being essentially personifications of the natural forces which developed the universe into its present form. They invent ‘gods’ to explain things, whereas the Bible starts with God the Father and Creator, the only true God, and all His creation is subjugated under His authority. Creation is the works of His Hands. Science studies what God has created.
The Creator-God of the Bible has all power and is Himself, therefore, not only the One who created the universe but also the One who establishes the basis for human salvation. He made the universe, so He makes the rules!
Christianity alone is centered in the historical events associated with a Person - the birth, death, resurrection, and imminent, glorious return of Jesus Christ. No other religion gives Jesus such a central position.
All religions other than Biblical Christianity are invariably based on the teachings, rather than the acts, of their founders.
Jesus Christ alone, of all men in history, has conquered man's greatest enemy - death.
The founders of other religions are all dead and their tombs venerated. The tomb of Christ is empty, and His bodily resurrection from the grave is the best proved fact of all history. The fact that He alone could overcome death demonstrates that He alone has all power. He Himself said,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).
All other religions of the world are fundamentally just one religion — one of trying to achieve salvation by works. Each religion sets up a particular set of religious rites, of commands and restrictions, and of ethical principles to follow, and then teaches that if a man does these things he will be saved. The human origin of each of these systems is indicated by the fact that each is humanly attainable. This gives followers of these religions a false hope and a false confidence.
The Bible, however, sets its moral and ethical standard as the very holiness and perfection of God Himself, and demands nothing less than this for salvation. Obviously, no man would invent a standard which was utterly impossible for any man to keep. In simple terms, if you can keep the Ten Commandments, you can save yourself by your obedience – but no human can keep even one of the Ten Commandments perfectly, so all have sinned. Good works or obedience are therefore not the road to heaven.
The man Christ Jesus, alone of all men who ever lived, maintained in every respect a life of perfect holiness and full obedience to the Father, thus demonstrating that He was the God-Man. Jesus alone obeyed the Ten Commandments, in thought, word and deed. He was morally perfect. He then died for the sins of all the world and thus can offer full pardon to anyone who receives Him .
To the one who truly believes on Him, and obeys Him, He then gives through the Holy Spirit a new nature, enabling that one to live a life pleasing to God.
Jesus Christ is the world's Creator, and is its only true Redeemer.
“Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).