Imagine you're faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of finding your way through an extremely complicated maze the size of New York City.
Fortunately, you don't have to face this tangle of winding tunnels based on your own instincts. The creator of the maze has given you a map of the entire area, showing the only correct way through the tunnels to the other side.
Not only does the map show you the proper way through the labyrinth, but there are notes on the map from great men who have gone before you, elucidating the meaning of certain instructions from the creator of the maze.
No one in their right mind would reject such a gift and choose instead to navigate the maze's passages using his own feelings and experiences as a guide. Only a fool would do such a thing.
Reality, while obviously quite different, reflects this hypothetical situation. Young people want to set off on a faith journey, but often do so with an experiential-based mindset. Instead of embracing religion as set down in the Bible and explained by the great saints of the faith, many younger Christians want to distance themselves from religion, instead embracing "spirituality." They make such statements about Christianity as, "It's a relationship, not a religion."
The truth is, they're wrong. Christianity is about having a relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, but that's not the totality of what makes someone a Christian.
While Christianity is a relationship, it is, perhaps just as importantly, a religion. There is no way to enjoy the fullness of a relationship with God, outside of religion.
In the pastoral epistles, the Apostle Paul is fastidious in mandating the teaching of sound doctrine. In his letter to Timothy, Paul even goes so far as to tell Timothy that teaching the truth will save both Timothy and those whom he teaches.
In a Christianity based on experience and relationship, no one can claim that another person is or isn't a Christian.
The only thing that separates a Christian from a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness, or even a Muslim for that matter, is religion. If you simply rely on "experience" and "relationship," Christians have no more of a claim to Jesus than other groups.
If you ask a Mormon, whose theological beliefs are opposed to those of a Christian, if he has a relationship with Jesus, he will say yes. And how can he be proven wrong?
The answer: religion.
Religion is not a dirty word. There is nothing wrong with religion. Religion is simply a set of beliefs dealing with God and faith that are affirmed by a group of people.
In this era of post-modernity, personal experience is heralded as truth, and the idea of absolute truth is mocked. In direct opposition to the current sentiments, which, in some cases, have bled over into the Church, Christianity is not based around personal experience; our Faith is based on the absolute truth of Jesus, His deity, His sacrifice, and His resurrection.
It is not possible to experience the fullness of a relationship with God while denying the foundations of Christianity, namely that Jesus is God, that He died, and rose from the dead.
Put simply, if you get the fundamental tenets of Christian doctrine wrong, your relationship with God does not exist.
No matter what you think or feel about your relationship with God, if your religion is wrong, you do not know God.
That is why religion is so important. You cannot have Christian spirituality without a solid foundation. Religion provides that foundation, allowing us to know the truth in ways that an experiential-based relationship does not.
I don't know about you, but as I'm setting off into the maze of Faith, I want the Creator's map. I want religion. We would be fools to primarily trust our feelings when it comes to the issues of faith and God.