Pastor's Blog

I closed my last blog (Jesus Is NOT My Girlfriend) with this statement:  “I think it better to speak, not of my personal relationship with Jesus, but of the covenant relationship between Christ and His Church.”  That provoked some response and thoughtful questions – so allow me to elaborate.

Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.  That’s a prominent evangelical slogan.  What do evangelicals mean by that?  The idea is that religion is impersonal -- formal, distant, cold -- whereas relationships are personal – comfortable, engaging, warm.  Cold impersonal religion is not attractive; warm, engaging relationships are.  So, evangelicals call people to “accept Jesus as their personal Savior” and to begin “a personal relationship with Jesus” (or God).

Why would anyone have problems with that?

Having converted from Catholicism, I found evangelicalism’s insistence that the Bible be the basis for religious beliefs an attractive proposition.  Martin Luther said he did “not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves” and trusted the God’s Word instead.  Evangelicals follow in Luther’s footsteps.  What does God’s Word say?

I’ll tell you this:  the Bible never talks about Jesus as a personal savior and it never calls Christianity a personal relationship with Jesus.  That doesn’t make that terminology wrong.  “Trinity” isn’t a biblical term, but it accurately encapsulates the biblical teaching of one God existing in three separate persons. 

Why did evangelicals feel the need to add the word personal to the discussion of salvation?  What were they trying to clarify or correct by calling Jesus a personal savior (instead of just “the savior”)?  The Bible talks about faith in Christ – not a personal relationship with Jesus.  Why did evangelicals feel the need to speak and write this way about the Christian faith?

If you feel a need to emphasize the personal aspects of salvation, it would seem you are trying to correct a view that seems too impersonal – don’t you think? 

Think about Catholic Christianity for a moment.  In Catholicism the ordinary person doesn’t relate directly to God or Christ.  God is too high and too holy and the people too lowly and too sinful.  The Church relates to God.  The church-goer relates to the Church.

And how did the average church-goer “relate to the Church”?  For centuries, people couldn’t read and didn’t have their own Bibles.  Bibles were written in Latin and common people didn’t read or speak Latin!  But all church services were done in Latin (this only changed when I was a small boy!).  “Going to church” meant standing, sitting, kneeling, and making the sign of the cross for an hour while you had no clue what was being said by the priest.  But you didn’t have to understand.  You just had to be there while the Church did the business with God for you.  You didn’t have to be personally involved.

Could religion get any more cold, distant, or impersonal?

Men like Martin Luther protested (hence Protestants) against this impersonal approach to God.  Luther wrote and spoke in German so that people could understand what was going on – so they could say “amen” to things and affirm their own beliefs.  Luther began removing the Church as the mediator, the go-between, the middle-man.  He and the other reformers preached that all Christians are priests, that the veil has been torn open and we can go directly to God because of Jesus.  And they preached that each man must take the personal responsibility to do so.  Your faith is your faith – not your parents’ faith or your godparents’ faith or your priest’s faith.  Yours.  Your faith is your personal response to God’s truth.

Evangelicalism (descended from the beliefs of the Protestant Reformers) takes this personal responsibility, this personal choice of faith, for granted.  But it hasn’t always been merely “granted”.

This is the first step and the most basic meaning of personal as it is applied to our faith in God.  It is jargon that protests impersonal mindless ritual and insists on each soul taking personal responsibility for its choices and beliefs.

More on this next time...

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