The False Dichotomy of Religion versus Relationship with God

In 2007, the year I graduated high school and the year Facebook began to popularize, the “religious views” section of my profile stated: “Relationship with Christ—religion has nothing to do with it”. This statement wasn’t something unique that I came up with, but rather the mantra of evangelical Protestantism, the faith tradition of my upbringing. The Baptist and non-denominational faith communities instill in their congregants the belief that true Christianity is not a “religion” comprised of rules and rituals, but simply a personal relationship with Christ without rules or rituals. They continue to state that religious traditions and regulations are merely a trap set to deprive people of that deeper friendship with Christ, and adherence to such traditions can keep people from experiencing eternal life if people cling to religion “instead of” developing that relationship.

The intent that surrounds these ideologies is honorable. Faithful evangelical Protestants have an intense love for Jesus and heart for worship, and it frustrates them to see people who bare the Christian title going through the motions of worship and tradition, while showing no evidence of Christ otherwise in their daily life. As faithful Catholics, we sympathize with such frustrations. It pains us to see our fellow Catholics recite the words at Mass without meditating on their meaning and receive the Sacraments without openly embracing the graces that flow from them. Evangelical Protestants address this issue by creating unofficial categories for all those who identify as Christians, as seen through statements such as, “You should have a relationship with God instead of being religious”.  This, however, is a false dichotomy.

In the words of Father Claude Burns, who wrote and recited a poem addressing the issue of relationship vs. religion, “blaming religion for contradiction is like staring at death and blaming the hearse…those who choose to sit in the pews and refuse the good news is not the fault of religion”. Anywhere you go, you will find those who are blindly going through the motions without a true heart for Christ. While this is a severe problem in the Church that needs to be addressed, the answer is not to abandon the traditions Christ handed down to us; quite the opposite, we should cling tighter to them and strive to teach their meanings more diligently. Christ never condemns traditions in themselves, as many Protestants claim, but only the empty practice of them. True religion will enhance and deepen our ongoing relationship with God if practiced as He intended: with a full and focused heart. Similarly, the fruits produced from our relationship with God should stir in us a desire to be faithful to His commands and to the Church He built. “Religion” and “Relationship”, therefore, are not contradictory to each other, but rather they are beautifully intertwined and feed off one another.

As a former evangelical Protestant, this is something I had to slowly come to learn. Though confident as I was in my decision to become Catholic, realizing that it is the historical Church established by Jesus and commissioned by the apostles, I remained hesitant to become too devout in her Traditions and too dependent on the Sacraments. The Christian teachings of my upbringing imparted in me the belief that my relationship with God should be the foundation of my faith and becoming too religious would hinder that friendship. The Sacraments themselves showed me the faults in the latter part of that statement.

Indeed, my relationship with Christ is the center of my faith. The Sacraments have brought that relationship to a more intimate level by allowing me to experience God with all of my human senses. In the Holy Eucharist, I taste Christ. In Reconciliation, I hear Christ’s physical voice, spoken through one of his servants, say “I absolve you of your sins”. When the incense is used during mass, I smell the prayers of the faithful being lifted up to the Heavens. I feel and see Christ’s love daily through my Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. None of this is to say that my relationship with Christ was not deep or sincere as a Protestant; it certainly was alive and real and I was growing daily as a Christian. However, the religious rituals of Christ’s one Church have brought me to a new level of intimacy with Him, and this is because He physically dwells in the Sacraments.

Father Claude ends his poem with this final remark: “So as for religion, I love it. I have one because Jesus rose from the dead and won. I believe when Jesus said it is finished, His religion had just begun”. As someone who formerly claimed to hate religion, I now echo these thoughts. I am convicted that the Christ who came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” gets the greatest glory when His religion is practiced the way He intended: with hearts open and alert, striving to know Him more.

Fr. Pontifex Responds to Jefferson Bethkes Hate Religion, But Love Jesus

  • AdrienneOctober 24, 2012 - 7:28 am

    Great job, Tiffany! This concept, rallying against religion, still irks me greatly. It pains me to see people love Christ so fiercely, and meanwhile reject “Religion” as an enemy and thus jettison His Bride, the Church.

    The Church hierarchy is appalling to many American Christians as man-made tradition at its worst. Yet, it is in times like these, where the HHS mandate MUST be fought against, that we see the wisdom of organized religion. We’re organized like an army. Think about it… in the “non-religious” individualistic relationship with Christ Christianity, they’re like an amoeba in the face of evil. No one to physically take charge and rally forth. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, the epitome of organized religion, already knows that this is a battle to be fought, and how to begin fighting it. We already have a person, a bishop, in position to lead us into battle, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in particular. And our Bishops on down have instructed every lay Catholic in their diocese exactly how they should fight this mandate.

    These political times have made me so thankful to be a part of an organized religion. Our country is in need of a spiritual battle. Thankfully we have some Evangelical brethren who are indeed with us in opposing the HHS mandate on the grounds of abortion alone (fewer, of course are with us on the birth control stance as well).

    While I understand it is against all of their sensibilities to agree that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church could have been put in place by Christ himself in order to battle evil most effectively… I can’t help but see their lack of organization and wonder who’s design is that? Disorder isn’t from God.

    I wonder if a person’s view of evil has a bearing on their acceptance of hierarchy in the Church. Now, I know that our Evangelical brethren know evil exists, but the degree to which someone believes it prevails in our world and must be fought by the Christian Church makes me wonder if they are more or less accepting of organization in Christianity -> Religion.ReplyCancel

    • SusieAugust 28, 2015 - 4:24 pm

      Excellent comment, educational and informative, too, Adrienne. Amen!ReplyCancel

  • TammyOctober 24, 2012 - 7:51 am

    Excellent article !!

    Can I first thank you for writing a post that is NOT about children or marriage?! I am a new widow and my kids are grown/nearly grown and Im frustrated that 98% of Catholic ladies blogs are about nothing but children and marriage…those are big/important issues to us, but if women forget how to talk about anything but husbands and children, we risk isolating ourselves when each of us get to where I am (unexpectedly) now.

    I am also a convert from Evangelical Protestantism and you did a lovely job of explaining that mindset and who the dichotomy really IS false. I dont even think I can improve on it or add to it…thank you for putting this all down an a handy place to reference.ReplyCancel

    • SusieAugust 28, 2015 - 4:29 pm

      I agree, Tammy. While I am not a widow, I am 60 and children are grown and gone. We do have twin grandsons, but I also like to read what women have to say, that doesn’t always have to be centered around marriage/kids. I too am a convert after being in Evangelical fray for some 30 years. Great and grateful to be back in the CC the past 10 years!ReplyCancel

  • TonyaOctober 24, 2012 - 12:52 pm

    Excellently put, Tiffany. It’s amazing you find time to do all that you do and get to sleep. Thank you for the inspiration.ReplyCancel

  • Tiffany POctober 24, 2012 - 1:13 pm

    Thank you all for encouragements and additional insights! 🙂 Adrienne, I completely agree that the issues our country has faced here recently have been best handled by the Church organized the way Christ set her up. Great analogy about the need for an organized army in (spiritual) battle.

    Tammy, I have found that I have little to write about in great length when it comes to marriage and motherhood, but geopolitics and theology is my favorite topic. I’m happy that you have been blessed by it! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Loly MartoneOctober 24, 2012 - 3:43 pm

    Tiffany, having a relationship with religion and a relationship with Jesus are two different things. Jesus called out the Pharaises more than once because of it. I think you are a very gifted writer and truly I can understand your attraction to catholicism. Your senses are fulfilled. I understand. However, how you can promote and stand by a religion or church like it has the power to save you or anyone is beyond misleading. It is decective. You yourself told me that there is no salvatin outside of the Catholic church? There is no salvation outside of Jesus. He alone is the way, the truth and the life. Some traditions alone that have been become dogma and have been through the years accepted because a man has declared it so is not acceptable or in alignment with the scriptures. Paul and Peter both warned us about false teachers and prophets. How do we discern which are false and which are real? Only by the written Word. You love to quote early church fathers yet the earliest church fathers we have are in the Word. The Scriputures tell us that we no longer need an altar, priest or sacrafice for the forgiveness of sins, and yet you all all three. The Bible says that you can boldly go before the throne of grace to make your request known and you can go to eachother to confess your sins. The Bible forbides communicating with the dead 7 times and yet you all still feel the need to go to everyone that has passed on to the next life instead of God. Repititious prayers…not acceptable. Holy Holy Holy is praise and worship. So you could repeat those. Jesus told the woman at the well in the Gospel of John that the time was coming and it is already here where it did not matter where you worship. That the Father is seeking those who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Paul tell the Corinthians that some amoung them were saying, “I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos..” why did he say that? You all keep elevating man…Peter, who was married as your leader and all these other men who have been named pope thereafter. Do you realize that there is some history that has been compromised and re written? In the 1 book of Peter, Peter himself calls himself a “fellow Elder” Let’s talk about the early church. What feasts did they celebrate? The feast of the Assumption? The feast of the Immaculate Assention? The Feast that the early church celebrated all pointed to Christ. The only one you celbrate is the Feast of Pentecost. The eucharist meal that you believe is the actual literal flesh, Jesus in John 6 says that the flesh profits for nothing that the words He spoke were Spirit. Do you remember that He said that ALL who eat of this flesh will never hunger or thirst? He meant spiritually you will never hunger or thirst. The fact that you ate on Saturday or Sunday after communion proves that He was not talking literally. Jesus was “weeding” out the ones who were following Him for the wrong motives. That is why some disciples left Him. They were following Him because they wanted to eat. It is forbidden in Mosiac Law to drink blood, so Jesus, being fully obedient would not ask His disciples to drink His blood. Yet, you all insist that you are actually drinking His blood? And Mary being sinless and our mediator? The Scriptures say that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. For the RCC, that means, expcept Mary. Do you realizet that that doctrine was institued in the 1800’s because a fallible man declared it so? This doctrine is in direct oppossion to the Word. Do you remember the verse that says, Heaven and Earth will pass away but my Words will never pass away? And the Bible verse that Jesus responded to the woman in the crowd that said, “blessed in the woman who nursed you and bore you..” Jesus said, “blessed, rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” Lastly, if you look in the book of Revelations and look at the 7 churches that Jesus addressed. Out of 7, only 2 did not receive any rebuke from Him. The 5 churches that got rebuked by Jesus, our Chief Shepherd, had witchcraft, false doctrines, no love and tolerance. The 2 churches that got no rebuke whatsoever by Jesus was the Church of Smyrna which was a faithful, persecuted church and the other was The church of Philadelphia. The Church of Philapelphia was the church that kept His Word and looked for His Coming. It should matter to you and all of us to be in the right Church. I no longer look for that building of a church as the right church or the right religion. There is obviously a remnant that He is looking for~ a peculiar people, a holy priesthood like Peter said. Unfortunately, there are a lot of deception in most evangelical churches as well. But the Scriptures warned us and told us already about that so most of us are prepared and can discern the times. It saddnes me to see the false churches that are on TV. One of my fears of leaving the RCC years ago was to see these churches protrayed on TV as the only options. However, through studing His Word and guidance by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to every reborn believer, He comforts me, guides me and leads me to all truth. How do we spot the false doctrines and false teachings? By being good “bereans” and searching the scriptures. The Church is the pillar of truth of the truth that was delieverd to the Saints. Jesus is going to separate the wheat from the tares and the sheep from the goats. If you study most religions today, you will notice a common thread. They were started by man. People who are listening to men more than the inspired breathed Word of God are headed for a destructive road that leads to death. All Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) And never should signs and wonders be an indication that you are in the right church. So believing in the messages of the virgin mary appearing all over the world and the eucharist turning into real flesh should not validate God’s presence in your church. There is an increasing amount of signs and wonders now in some of these christian churches too and it does not validate God’s presence there either. Jesus said that it was a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks signs. Read Matthew 12:29 and Luke 11:29. The Scriptures further talk about this in 2 Thessolians 2:29, Paul warns that Satan is coming with lying wonders and signs to deceive all who did not believe in truth. The Power of God unto salavation is the Gospel Message. It is the truth that sets us free. It is simple and clear. Paul said that our minds would get corrupted if the simplicity of the Gospel is lost. How I pray that we will keep it simple. If you ever have time, read a book called, Bruchko. It is a true story of a 19 year old called into the mission jungle field to preach to a stone age indian tribe. Because of this simple message, this village now walk on the “trail” that leads to Eternal life. One of the reason there is not unity between Rome and Christians is because we are preaching two different things and while we are called catholic bashers, a more appropriate name for us would be “false doctrine exposers” for I do not bash people, I am convinced though, that you and I are sisters. Blessings and peace Tiffany. In Christ alone, LolyReplyCancel

  • AdrienneOctober 24, 2012 - 8:51 pm

    Loly, welcome to Catholic Sistas, thanks for stopping by. You wrote a lot in your comment, but I’m just going to address your first few statements.
    “truly I can understand your attraction to catholicism. Your senses are fulfilled. I understand.”
    Catholics (including Tiffany) aren’t simply attracted to Catholicism because senses are fulfilled… so, you don’t really understand if you think that’s “it”. Tiffany was probably referencing our ability to worship God with our whole bodies (all senses), but that’s not the sole draw to Catholicism. The draw is to the fullness of Truth and Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.
    “However, how you can promote and stand by a religion or church like it has the power to save you or anyone is beyond misleading. It is decective.”
    The Catholic Church does not claim to have the power of its own to save persons. The Church claims that God, Christ Himself, saves souls through His Bride, the Church, specifically through the Sacraments, that are clearly laid out in Scripture (interpretations can be a hindrance to this statement). Just like God uses humans to create new souls (children), God uses humans in the Sacraments to tend to those souls, as the Church is His Body.
    “You yourself told me that there is no salvatin outside of the Catholic church?”
    This statement does not make sense to those who are not Catholic, those who are understand church to be denominations instead of the Body of Christ. Just like no soul ever will be saved without Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, no soul will be saved (by some mystery, even if the person isn’t “Catholic”) without Christ’s Bride, the Church. The Church and Christ cannot be divorced.
    “Some traditions alone that have been become dogma and have been through the years accepted because a man has declared it so is not acceptable or in alignment with the scriptures.”
    Again, this is a question of interpretation. No Catholic Doctrines violate Sacred Scripture, only personal interpretations of it.

    “Paul and Peter both warned us about false teachers and prophets. How do we discern which are false and which are real? Only by the written Word.”
    This is an excellent question. I find that non-Catholics will agree that yes, there are false teachers, can’t bring themselves to admit that God has provided us authentic teachers. Skepticism is at play here, and thus the non-Catholics say the only source of teaching that can be trusted is the Written Word of God. Yet, Scripture warns us of false prophets but never says a time will come when no authentic teachers will exist, or that there will come a time when only the Written Word will be authentic. Sola Scriptura is an assumption, based on skepticism (not faith). Furthermore, Scripture does not say that Scripture is what determines who is a false teacher. In fact, what determines who is a real and who is a false teacher is from whom they were educated (apostolic succession).

    Will have to read and respond more later. You had quite a lot to say!ReplyCancel

  • AdrienneOctober 25, 2012 - 8:36 am

    Okay, coming back to address two more issues, those that I am most passionate about. BTW, everything you’ve said here we’ve seen, read, and researched many times before. We’re not Catholics out of ignorance of Scripture, history OR Protestantism ;), but out of conviction from all.

    “The Bible forbides communicating with the dead 7 times and yet you all still feel the need to go to everyone that has passed on to the next life instead of God.”

    Souls that have passed on with God’s Grace are alive in Christ in Heaven, more alive than you or I. Humans are souls first and foremost, bound to Earth in time and space by our bodies. When our bodies die, our souls live on, forever. Our souls are grafted into the body of Christ, and there are no divisions in the Body of Christ. Therefore, while the senses of our bodies confuse us, it still stands true that our Christian souls on Earth are connected to the Christian souls in Heaven. The Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ makes it possible for our friends in Heaven to hear our requests for their prayers. To say Christians that have passed on are dead is un-Biblical. To say we are separated from them is un-Biblical. To say that we cannot ask fellow Christians to pray for us is un-Biblical. You are simply discriminating against your fellow Christians in Heaven because of skepticism.

    “the eucharist meal that you believe is the actual literal flesh, Jesus in John 6 says that the flesh profits for nothing that the words He spoke were Spirit.”

    Throughout the Gospels we hear Jesus speak many times of “the flesh”, meaning worldly desires or the human condition. In John 6, for the first and only time in the Gospels we hear Jesus speak of His OWN flesh. “Eat My Flesh”, “My Flesh is true food” (he reiterates this many times because it is so difficult to believe). Then he says the flesh profits nothing… but this time, He’s not referring to His own flesh, like He had been before. He never says HIS flesh profits nothing. Skepticism and the senses of our bodies fail to detect Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. However, Scripture is clear. It is true.

    Pax ChristiReplyCancel

  • Tiffany POctober 25, 2012 - 11:08 am

    Hi Loly! Thank you for stopping by our blog, and thank you for your complimenting words about my writing. It has always been a passion of mine, so it’s encouraging to hear others say they enjoy my writing, even if they don’t agree with the contents.

    You addressed a lot issues that you had with the Catholic Church and her Teachings in your post, and it’s clear that a lot of this has been heavy on your heart. Since they are not the subject of this post I don’t want to go into a lengthy explanation of the Scriptural backing and reasons behind each Tradition, but I think Adrienne did a good job addressing some of them. If there is one in particular that stands out as something that bothers you, we can certainly discuss that one at a time. However, I want to leave you with this thought: you claim certain Scriptures violate those Teachings that you mentioned. Is it possible that the problem is not with the Teachings, but with your understandings of the Scriptures? The leaders and countless lay people in the Catholic Church have studied the Scriptures as extensively as you claim to have, and they disagree with you that any Scripture contradicts with any Teaching or Tradition. By what authority do you claim that your understandings of the Scripture are absolutely correct and superior to that of other Protestant denominations or the Catholic Church?

    The main thing I want to address here is your very first statement: “a relationship with religion and a relationship with Jesus are two different things”. This is one example of the mindset that I wrote this blog post about, which is indeed a false dichotomy. You and many other evangelical Protestants try to divorce Christ from her Church, by making comments such as “relationship with religion ‘instead of’ with Jesus” or “the Church ‘instead of’ Christ”. There is no hierarchy here. The Church and Christ are one. As such, the Traditions and rituals of this Church, one with Christ, that we adhere to “religiously” is us devoting ourselves to our relationship with Christ. Everything we do in the Church is geared toward knowing Christ more, becoming more intimate with Him and more deeply in love with Him. As an evangelical Protestant, and I’m sure you can relate to this, I would nurture my relationship with Christ by frequently reading my Bible and meditating on the lyrics of a praise and worship song during Sunday worship. Arguably, this is something that evangelical Protestants do “religiously”, in that it is a routine habit that you do for the purpose of keeping close to Christ.

    As a Catholic, I still do these things, too! I spend quiet time in God’s Word and I crank up the praise and worship music in my car throughout the week. What has changed, however, is that through the Church I have been introduced to more ways to deepen my knowledge and love for Christ, and these ways (the sacraments, especially the Mass) were established by Christ Himself! When I said that I can experience God with all of my human senses, I wasn’t saying that I attempt to satisfy my human flesh. Rather, I can worship God with all parts (and senses) of my body. We are not bodiless angels; we have a body, and it is natural that we would want to love God with all aspects of our human body, including our senses. That is why Christ provided us with the sacraments.

    Relationship with Christ’s Church? Relationship with Christ? The two are not different from one another, they are ONE with each other.

    I want to leave you with this quote I picked up from another Catholic blog, a woman who is also a former Protestant, about strengthening our relationship with God both on our own time and through a relationship with His Church:

    “Throughout the week, private worship can be expressed through personal preference. You can turn up the volume on you inspirational music or pray the Rosary or meditate while playing the piano (or a round of golf or a game of racket ball). But when we worship Him as one – those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation – we do it in the way Christians have worshiped Him for two thousand years, by praying the Mass and offering the Heavenly Father a pure and perfect offering.”
    — Denise Bossert

    I hope that you will continue to stop by this blog and perhaps learn more about the Catholic Church and how she can bless your relationship with God in ways that you may not have thought possible. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • ChristyMarch 1, 2013 - 7:59 pm

    I am just stumbling upon this well written blog! I myself was raised in the Episcopal church. In college I would sometimes attend the Catholic mass, and oftentimes the non denominational services. All this time I was not really walking with the Lord, just knew that I needed him in “some way”. I walked a dark, lonely path for years after college. On the surface I had a fabulous job, lived in center city, I looked and acted the part of a successful 27 year old women! Inside I was a mess. During this time I attended an evangelical church. At some point I “was saved” via the walk with a woman who was truly on fire for the Lord. I wanted it at the time, I truly did in that emotional moment (emphasis on Emotion- Not guided by the Holy Spirit). She went on to tell the entire Bible study I had been attending that I was saved. I felt sick to my stomach…not quite sure what the heck was going on. I knew her intentions were good, but I was certainly confused and lacking peace…in fact, I found myself pregnant not long after. I have been a juvenile diabetic since the age of 5. The doctor gave my baby a 20% survival rate due to my lack of control with diabetes. During pregnancy I lost my eyesight (diabetic retinopathy). I underwent 10 surgeries in each eye. My Kyle is now a healthy 8 year old, and I since married a wonderful man and have a beautiful 2 year old daughter.My eyes (thank you to the Lord and wonderful doctors, are healthy). Kyle won the religion award at school last year. He has an intense love for the Lord. He had an amazing experience the first time I took him to Eucharistic Adoration(another story). I became a catholic, and Kyle is about to make his first Holy Communion. My point being….God is with us. He knows our individual journey’s. He knows our personalities more than anyone. I have fallen deeply in LOVE with the Lord and the Catholic faith. I also have friend s who grew up in the Catholic church, but started their relationship with Jesus outside of it. Jesus commanded us to LOVE. Every Catholic I know who has left the church still tunes into EWTN now and again, or googles what going on with the Pope, or peruses websites like Catholic sistas 🙂 Why? Only God knows…but I think (opinion) the most important thing is to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit…Each of us has a mustard seed”, or we wouldn’t be here!!!:) God Bless all of you on your Journey!!! Ps. Loly, I know where you are, and have been there..I know the scripture inside and out that you recite. You obviously have found a wonderful relationship with Jesus, but don’t stop there…the Catholic church is 2000 years old and I am willing to bet they know it too 🙂ReplyCancel