Personal Relationship and/or Institutional Religion

When the questions from the input box come to me, sometimes it’s hard to discern the particulars of the person’s query. This question was fielded:

Isn’t a relationship with Jesus more important than religion?

… and I wasn’t sure how to approach it. So I guessed:

Christianity has always treated this as a both/and situation instead of an either/or. Jesus himself called disciples into a community, most notably his band of twelve companions. The New Testament witness is consistent in the value and virtue of Christians gathering in groups to encounter the Lord in the experience of baptism, in the preaching of the Word, and in the “breaking of the bread.” These sacraments are the foundation of Christian worship, and imply the high value associated with the public and communal practice of worship.

That said, human beings bring different aspects of their God-given personalities to the practice of faith. For some, the personal relationship with God offers the most spiritual fruit. For others, institutional religion provides a solid foundation of trust. For all Christians, the faith community is strengthened in the rejoicing of its own individual gifts when believers gather to share what they have in common: a love of God and commitment to the Gospel way of life.

Some spiritual directors might urge a Christian to expand and grow in new areas. Do we find God in nature? Maybe an encounter with God before an icon or near the Blessed Sacrament will be a source of surprise and a new spirit. Do we like to pray by rote? Perhaps a challenge would be for us to compose a prayer to God in our own words. Are we aligned with institutional religion? Then perhaps it is opportune to cultivate a personal relationship with the Lord. And for those who value one-on-one time with God, there are riches in the practices of the planet’s two billion Christians that might, in turn, enrich our faith.

How would you have guessed and answered?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Parish Life, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Personal Relationship and/or Institutional Religion

  1. Joyce Donahue says:

    Not bad. It’s definitely not “either-or”, but interrelational. Most often people ask this question because they don’t believe it is necessary to have the structure of learned “faith facts” (doctrine, etc.) and specific practices.

    I would have directed the person to the General Directory for Catechesis, which says that the aim and purpose of all catechesis is to put people into intimacy with Jesus Christ. That means “religion” (learning doctrine, etc.) exists for the encouragement and support of the relationship. Similarly, worship and practice of the faith should be an expression and celebration of the relationship.

  2. Liam says:

    I would say that people who resist structured expression and inculcation of faith are no less likely to have relatively rigid assumptions and beliefs. It’s just that they are less likely to have those assumptions and beliefs confronted other than episodically. In the long run, that’s harder in many respects, though they don’t realize it for a long time (and many may never realize it, though the consequences are visited on others).

  3. Neil says:

    I agree with what Liam says – see my post on spirituality here.

    But I would be cautious about dismissing – as opposed to questioning – “personal religion” (not that Liam suggests this). It’s too easy to point out the arbitrariness of opinions or the fragility of feelings compared to “centuries of Tradition” or something like that.

    One should have a “personal” relationship with God. But, in Christianity, a “personal” relationship is always “social.” This is because life with the Father comes through being incorporated into Christ through the Spirit. Christ is always the “servant” for others and the Spirit always breaks down hostility. Therefore, friendship with God always means mutual love between believers. One goes with the other.

    So, any intensification of that friendship with God will also intensify that mutual love between believers, and so presumably should be public and visible. Therefore, the Catholic “means of grace” – the sacraments, the apostolic faith, being in communion with the Bishop of Rome – should be “personal” without being “individual.”

    I realize that it doesn’t always seem that way, but it should.


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