Pastor's Desk

The Strangest of Relationships

August 14th, 2016


It's not uncommon to hear expressions of surprise from time to time over the unlikeliness of the pairing of two seemingly incompatible people who have, despite the expectations and assumptions of friends and family, happily joined together in marriage. Others might ask, “How do they make it work? They're so different.” To those outside the relationship, the relationship seems a strange one. However strange such a relationship may appear to people outside of it, nothing comes close to mimicking one of the strangest relationships perpetuated in evangelical Christian circles for years.

Evangelical Christianity has long promoted the idea of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” and while the Bible certainly teaches the truth of adoption as sons by the Lord of those who come to saving faith in Christ (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14-17), it is evangelicals who have coined, embraced, and proclaimed that term “personal relationship.” The idea behind this terminology is that there is a closeness – an intimacy – between the Saviour and the saved, and it is this idea which presents to us one of the strangest relationships accepted in a society that pursues and exalts strange relationships.

While it is not my intention to examine in any depth the Scripturalness of the term itself, I have spent some time reflecting upon the notion behind the term and its application in our society. The term itself does not appear in Scripture, and I'd venture to guess that the Scripturalness of some of the connotations of the term are also questionable. But supposing, on face value, that the term withstands Biblical scrutiny and is used in a sense to indicate the closeness of fellowship, or perhaps, the union, between Christ and the believer, what should our expectation be of those using the term to describe their union with Christ and their fellowship with Him?

Surely, with their emphasis on this personal relationship, we would see increased attendance in the Lord's churches: perhaps meeting multiple times on Sundays, additional times throughout the week, and willingly traveling great distances just to be in the Lord's house, meeting with the Lord's people. Alas, such thinking would be incorrect. The highways are indeed filled to capacity with weekend travellers, covering great distances weekly to travel for hours at a time, but only to please themselves with fishing, camping, boating, and cottaging. And this personal relationship? Well, the personal relationship here simply means that Jesus is with them wherever they go; so, conveniently, they take take Him along to the cottage or the campsite to give Him a little of their attention when they can fit it in, if at all. It boggles the mind to recall the last relationship in which two people on equal footing claimed to love each other while one of them conducted himself in such a manner as to only spend the barest of minimum time with the person he claimed to love. Yet, despite the fact that the Lord plainly declares that He shed His blood for the New Testament assembly (Acts 20:28), and that He is not on equal footing with us (who are created to worship Him), many professing Christians in a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” can barely find time to meet with him in the corporate worship of the church (I'm generously using the term loosely here), once on Sunday mornings, and almost never any other time. Truly, this is a strange relationship.

Surely, the idea of a personal relationship would also involve intimate knowledge of the person with whom the relationship exists. Such a knowledge would no doubt involve the individual's hanging on to every written word of God, digging deep into the Scriptures to understand what God has revealed about Himself there, and recognizing His majesty, holiness, and righteousness. But again, were we to assume that, we'd be wrong. A personal relationship here typically means listening to one's heart for voices to direct him in the way he desires to go, even when it contradicts the perfectly revealed will of God in the Scriptures. As far as the Scriptures are concerned, well, they are difficult to understand, need to be digested in snack-sized, personally-customized doses, and suited to the individual tastes of the person who is supposedly in this personal relationship. The written record that God has so carefully inspired and preserved for our use two thousand years after its completion is boring and needs some sort of revitalization or paraphrastic adaptation in order to find acceptance by those in this personal relationship. In most cases, though, the written record isn't even all that necessary, since it contradicts the “voice of God” “speaking to my heart” inaudibly, and telling me to follow the desires of my heart. Imagine a child refusing to obey his parents unless they hired a comedian or story-teller to re-interpret their instructions in a more entertaining way, punctuated with poems, jokes, and interesting personal anecdotes.

Surely, this idea of a personal relationship with King Jesus means that the entry into His house, the presenting of sacrifices of praise, and the offering of worship would be done with reverence. Surely it would mean that people who dress up to appear before an earthly judge, before an earthly job interview panel, or at an earthly wedding would put on their best to meet with Him in His house. But no, this personal relationship doesn't involve any of that. You might find a bit of dressing up on the Sunday-morning golfing outing, but not in most churches. Being formal? Dressing up? Unnecessary, because God sees them when they're dirty and when they're clean; when they're clothed and when they're not.1 What matters is the heart (which is true, although its present-day application is twisted from the Scriptural meaning), and so this generation has developed a previously unheard-of hypocrisy, in which a good tree can bear evil fruit; in which a good heart can hide under a characteristically corrupt and worldly appearance.

Strange relationship, too, where people coming together to worship are frequently presented with church material assuring them that every effort will be made to ensure their comfort, their excitement, their acceptance, their fun, and a programme suited to their tastes and engineered to ensure they experience something [God] in a powerful way. Were a person unaccustomed to this contradictory notion of worship to enter the meetinghouses of such churches today, he might be forgiven for thinking that the visitors and so-called worshippers were themselves the objects of their worship, rather than God.

What husband would be pleased by such treatment from his wife? What wife would be pleased with such behaviour from her husband? What parent would approve of such imbecility from a child who characteristically ignores them, manipulates their words to achieve his own ends, refuses to obey them unless he gets some sort of self-serving emotional experience out of it, yet all the while claims to love them and boasts of his personal relationship with them? But this is precisely what goes on in the name of God by a worldly, self-loving generation of professing believers. Strange relationship indeed!

No other relationship on this earth would survive that kind of impropriety. How much more so with those who call themselves sons and daughters of God, and claim to love the Lord (don't forget the meaning of that name!), and lay claim to a relationship involving worship of the one true God? God utterly rejects the false appearance of such a relationship in Malachi 1, when He questions the worldly priests of Judah, saying, If then I be a Father, where is mine honour? And if I be a master,2 where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name (Mal. 1:6).

Let it not be said that those who profess to worship, honour, and reverence – indeed, to be in a personal relationship with – the one true God, show more visible, practical honour and deference to their fellow-creatures, than they do to their holy, righteous, and omnipotent Creator, thereby despising His name.

1- That defence of informal appearance and attire in the meetings of the church is a frequently used but laughable argument; as though God couldn't see the nakedness or dirt on Old Testament worshippers whom He warned, I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen (Mal. 1:14), nor among the New Testament recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews who were reminded, Our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:29)
2- The Hebrew word translated “master” here is elsewhere translated, “Lord.” (e.g. Ex. 23:17; 34:23; Deut. 10:17, etc.)