“It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!” goes the evangelical platitude
Indeed, indeed! It’s a saying we Baptists are especially fond of using, to illustrate how Christ’s salvation of a person transcends the stodgy ritualism of tradition. And yet, is there really a biblical precedent to say such?
This is a hot issue with many local cults, who often meet the Christian’s “personal relationship” with the retort that such words never appear in the Bible, and must therefore be wrong. According to them, in fact, it would seem more biblical that God’s Saviorship is extended to the church as a whole body. (Of course, this being a cultic prooftext, the “church” in question is that and only that which has been founded by Eli Soriano / Felix Manalo / Joseph Smith / etc.)
Fellow Christians saved solely by God’s grace, how do you respond to that? Having been saved through the spilling of Jesus’ blood on the cross, I have no doubt in my spirit that I share an intimate personal relationship with Him. Naturally, we are indwelt by His Spirit, and we speak with our Lord in prayer as sons to a Father. How could that be recognized as anything other than a personal relationship? And yet, I prefer to be cautious against too liberally throwing about the platitude of “a personal relationship with Christ” before first stressing the primacy of our salvation through His propitiatory sacrifice.
(One interesting but slightly tangential point: Iglesia ni Kristo and Ang Dating Daan cultists claim that a personal relationship with Christ is false because He “is not a person,” but just a heavenly being dwelling in the flesh. However, they simultaneously deny that Christ is one in being with the Father, and is merely a “lesser god,” or “Almighty god” — small ‘g’ — as Eli Soriano puts it. However, when pressed to expound on exactly what kind of relationship it becomes if not personal, most of these cultists are at a loss to continue, and instead resort to personal attacks. Well, if it isn’t personal, what the heck kind of relationship can it be? The cultic method of killing off both Christ’s humanity and deity leaves them with nothing but an empty shell of a religion which works only to mislead the ignorant.)
Let me reiterate the question: what biblical precedent is there to claim a “personal relationship” with Christ?