Tom Pittman's WebLog

2014 April 7 -- Faith Is Doing (Religion), Not Relationship

I never wake up in the morning thinking about Scripture, but there it was: Hebrews 11. I knew it's the "by faith" chapter, but I did not realize (until now) how hostile it is to Relationshipism. Maybe that's why nobody* -- Relationshipists, all of them -- ever preaches from it. Relationshipism is the man-made religion, a human tradition, based on the phrase "relationship, not religion," which is not in the Bible.

Anyway, I turned on the light and got out my Bible and looked at all those "by faith" lines. There are 18 of them in the chapter. The first possibly excepted (but I don't think so), every one of them is in the form "By faith somebody did something." This is not a mental activity ("somebody thought or believed...") and definitely not "somebody was in a relationship." Four of them (five if you count the first) are miracle: God created the universe, Enoch went to Heaven without dying, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, Israel crossed the Red Sea, and the walls of Jericho fell. All the rest, more than two thirds of them, are ordinary people doing ordinary (perhaps brave or heroic, but not miraculous) things "by faith."

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "religion" as "the belief in a god or in a group of gods, an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods." The pastor I most recently heard the "relationship, not religion" line from likes to define "religion" as man-made, something you do. I think both are correct, but incomplete. Religion is what you do that is based primarily on what you know to be true in some deep fundamental sense. Everybody has a religion that governs how they behave -- even the atheists, except when they describe what they believe is really true, "god" is not part of it. So the Bible defines religion that way:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -- James 1:27 (oNIV)
This is what you do because of what is true, and God accepts it.

This pastor admitted that the "man-made" part of his definition does not really distinguish Christians from the other religions: everybody -- including the atheists -- believes that their own religion is really true, and all the others are fabrications. What distinguishes Christianity from the other religions is that our "really true" is based on history reported by eyewitnesses. Nobody else (except the Jews) has that. We might argue about the quality of their reports, but they were real people, and we know people, so we can evaluate what they reported. Nobody else has that. Nobody else dares to have it.

Hebrews 11 lists 17 things people (four of them with the obvious help of God) did because of what is really true. In other words, it defines "faith" as doing things. It's the nature of Christian religion, according to that chapter. That's why the Relationshipists can't preach that chapter. It's not alone, the Bible is full of God telling people to do (or not do) something. There are a few places where God tells us to believe something -- what we do is indeed based on what we know is true, and Jesus pointed out that everybody does what is in their nature to do -- but mostly it's a bunch of do's and don'ts. Doing those things does not "save" us and get us to Heaven (God alone does that, through the finished work of Jesus on the Cross), but a habit of not doing those things certainly means your eternal destiny is elsewhere.

* My friend tells me he's heard several sermons on Heb.11. Maybe it's because he goes to a manly (not Relationshipist) church (see "Getting Men into the Church through Apologetics"), or maybe I'm just losing my memory. It happens.


The arguments (For and) Against Relationshipism
Relationships, concluding that people mean "affirmation" by that word
Faith Is Doing (Religion), Not Relationship (you are here)
God of Truth, a draft of what might eventually become a book
Men Are from Mars, a list of specific Thinker/Feeler differences
The bottom of my home page, a challenge to do something about it
Getting Men into the Church through Apologetics, what one church is doing about it
Thinker/Feeler Distinction
Complete Blog Index
Itty Bitty Computers home page