I often hear people describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” When they do, I scratch my head and wonder what are they trying to tell me. I am of the opinion that those who say this “understand neither what they say nor whereof they affirm.” Indulge me for a moment, I am not playing at semantics. I am addressing an important point to those who parrot popular phrases without thinking about what they are saying and all the while believing they have touched the divine. This is an all too common problem among modern believers.
First of all, to say one is spiritual is the equivalent of saying. “I am human.” Which may be true, but it really isn’t saying anything that is not already apparent. Every human being is a spiritual being. It is not a matter of choice. To co-opt an idea from modern philosophy you were born that way. Sometimes that spirit is overshadowed by a mind or body twisted by disease or injury. This does not make one’s spirit less real or less important…just less readable from the outside. Freed from disease or injury, this spirit shines as brightly as any other. Some people are indifferent to their spirit, others simply neglect it.
By all means, rejoice in your spirituality. It is the part of you that survives physical death and exists eternally. You’re going to be spiritual a long, long time.
Contrary to what spiritual mutterers tell us, religion is not a four letter word. I think many who claim to be spiritual without religion have confused religion with the creeds and practices of large church organizations. There are three reasons for this, a misconception of the biblical view of the church, the definition of the word religion, and human desire to “be as gods.”
The New Testament in more than one instance describes the church as a body. That is…interdependent, individual organs working in unison to build up the entire body by making every part healthy, happy and whole. That this distinction is lost on many Americans is because they have lost the notion of individuals freely working in concert. Our government was established and built by “We the people.” This means the government exists to serve and protect each individual. We have abrogated this privilege to a huge, over-reaching government that now demands the people serve the government.
Large denominations, like big government, often demand the service of the members and strict adherence to their codes. This is not the biblical model. Biblically, churches are people coming to together for the profit of all. The church serves the believer. This is why the Bible instructs us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Fear and trembling, not of church demands, but awe of the mighty God that called everything into being.
Another reason for the bad connotation given religion is that people don’t know the meaning of the word. Religion is: “the belief in a god, an organized system of beliefs…used to worship a god, an interest that is very important to a person.” Now, when we speak of an organized system of beliefs, we mean the organization that takes place in the mind and heart of the individual. Without such an organization of what we believe, we become like waves tossed by the wind. Religion is the believer’s defense against the chaos of thought that is necessary to focus his energies. The Bible says pure religion is, “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Be kind to the weakest, most defenseless people and do it out of love. This is religion.
Finally, there is the issue of control that has been with us since the Garden. People fear religion because they rightly understand it involves surrendering control of the final say it what we do and how we behave. The misconception is that we surrender to some mindless organization. This is untrue. In true biblical religion, the believer surrenders only to God. This is not as simple as it sounds…ask Adam and Eve. They took a shot at it while living in paradise and failed. Taking it on in our modern world sounds impossible. Fortunately, there is nothing impossible with God. But, it takes focus and focus is what religion supplies.
The church and individual Christians today need to recapture true religion. We need to refocus on God and His intention to transform the hot mess we hand to Him in prayer everyday.