During the 1960’s, an anti-establishment counter-culture developed in the youth that rebelled against the societal norms of the day. Fueled by psychedelic drugs, liberal pop culture, and teenage angst, the values of this country were shaken. They preached a message of peace, free love, and a loathing for “the man”. These people were called “hippies”
The hippies basically had the view that life was one big party and one should just live it up. Drug’s were a way to expand their minds and come to a state of enlightenment. It wasn’t long before the party quit being fun and many young people were left feeling lost and hopeless.
In 1965, a hippie by the name of Ted Wise, had a “conversion experience” during a LSD trip. He began attending the Mill Valley Baptist Church in San Fransisco, CA. It wasn’t long until he began bringing in more and more hippies. This would be the beginning of what would become “The Jesus Movement”.
The Jesus Movement brought much of what hippies were about to the realm of religion. They were referred to as “Jesus Freaks”. These people refused to dress nice, cut their hair, and respect the leadership of the churches. Inevitably there was a clash between the leaders and the “Jesus Freaks” and the new group basically left behind all organized religion.
As the movement morphed and developed into its own group, they grew in popularity. Not only were ex-hippies joining the group, but so were many of the youth from more mainstream traditional denominations. The biggest draw was that this movement placed its emphasis on their idea of what it means to be “free” in Christ. What that idea meant to these people was basically, that one could still have a relationship with God, without making a big to-do about keeping his commands.
The movement was like a flash flood. It came and went, and today is essentially nonexistent. However, the message and sentiment of the group lives stronger today than it ever did before. This is clearly seen by constant regurgitation of the phrase, “it’s not about religion. It’s about a relationship”
So many people have just accepted this phrase as if Jesus said it somewhere. It has been said so many times, that no one questions it. And it sound’s so catchy and deep that people are proud of it. But this catchphrase defies the Bible, and it defies sense. I believe if people would just think about it they could see how silly it actually is.
What is a religion? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has 4 main definitions for the word. When I look at these definitions, I can’t figure out for the life of me, how I could ever have a relationship without religion.
First, religion is “the service and worship of God or the supernatural”. This is a general definition that is used to identify different religions. The religion of Hinduism worships and serves their different god’s in different ways than a Muslim. Those are two different religions. John 4:23 says that God is seeking people to worship him. God is seeking people to join his religion. The religion of Almighty God should look different then other religions because it IS different than them. But if its about a relationship and not a religion, I can worship the Hindu God Vishnu, by taking a pilgrimage to Mecca, all the while claiming to be a Christian.
Second, religion is “commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance”. Can you have a relationship with God without being committed and devoted to him? Can you please God without observing him? If one is married and has no devotion or commitment to their spouse, we call that a toxic relationship. But we’re going to say that’s what God wants?
All of us have special days/traditions in our relationships with family. Are those important to us? Do we make an effort to observe them? God has given us a book of things that make him happy (2 Tim 3:16-17) and then were going to say, “It doesn’t matter if I observe those things. It’s about a relationship not religion.”. That’s a pathetic excuse for a relationship.
Third, religion is “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”. What is God’s attitude toward sin? He can’t even look at it (Hab 1:13). But I’m going to say I have a relationship with Him without changing my attitude towards it (Luke 13:3)? What does God believe? If it's about a relationship and not religion, I don’t even need to care to find out what God believes. Does God want me to practice anything? Doesn’t he want me to go to church (Heb 10:25), Doesn’t He want me to take the Lord’s Supper and remember His Son (1 Cor 11:17ff)? Doesn’t He want me to sing praises to Him (Eph 5:19)? Doesn’t he want me to love my neighbor (Mark 12:31)? If it’s about a relationship and not religion I can never worship, never believe in the death of His Son, never praise Him, and steal everything my neighbor has and still be ok with God.
Fourth, religion is “scrupulous conformity”. This means that someone is completely committed to their religion. This might be where the problem with religion comes in. They look at Jesus and his interactions with the pharisees and say “see, Jesus didn’t want that type of religion”. Jesus doesn’t want us to keep the religion of the pharisees. He said, “if you love me keep my commandments”(John 14:15). His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:13). But make no mistake, they must be obeyed (2 Thess 1:8).
The reality is, religion is the avenue of a relationship with God. And God sent his Son, to give us that relationship (John 14:6, 14:15). May we honor and respect that with “scrupulous conformity”.