I can’t tell you how many times in America I’ve heard the phrase, “Christianity is not about religion; it’s about a relationship.” I like that sentiment, but, let’s be honest. Look around: holy text, weekly gatherings with worship and teaching, often a hierarchy of some kind, standards of belief and practice. This “relationship” looks suspiciously like “religion.”
But, to be honest, I’m not sure where I fall. I read two books this summer by a guy named Carl Medearis: “Tea with Hezbollah” and “Muslims, Christians, and Jesus” (both of which are amazing and I recommend). He’s a big proponent of Jesus, not religion. And, honestly, in my context here in Central Asia, I think that will work better than it might in America. Although the people are merely nominally Muslim, they do know that they’re not Christians. But that Jesus guy, He’s in the Qur’an, so maybe it’s okay to talk about Him?
Let me give you a great example of this from the large-group Gathering we had last Tuesday:
After the meeting, J. came up to my roommate Jon and told him that he liked the Gathering. Then he got very serious and said, waving his hand around the room,
“You know we’re all Muslims here, right?” (unaware that half the room was actually made up of Christians).
“Yeah,” Jon said. “We know that.”
“This isn’t a religious thing, is it?” J. asked. “Because if it’s religious, we can’t come.”
“No way,” Jon said. “We just here to help people make friends and build character. We think Jesus is a really good example to follow.”
“Well… okay. So it’s not religious?”
“Okay… so, when’s the next one of these?”
There’s something about Jesus that can cut through much of the clutter that comes with terms and ideas like “religion” and “Christianity.” We can see that in J., and we can also see that in Y., another new guy I met this past Tuesday.
I was doing my best to talk to Y. in my broken Russian, and he to me in his broken English, and somehow it came up that he was no longer Muslim, but that he had decided to follow Jesus. Fantastic! I asked him, “How many years ago did you stop being a Muslim?”
“No, not years,” he replied. “I decided to stop being a Muslim and try to follow Jesus… yesterday.”
He came to Jon’s life group last Thursday, and wants to come to mine on Monday, too. He’s hungry, and, yes, it’s not for religion–it’s for Jesus. Maybe there’s something to it, after all.