Sunday, June 24, 2012

Spiritual. . . But Not Religious

How many times have you heard from others "I'm spiritual, but not religious?"  I have!  It's cropping up more and more often when I converse with people these days.  The "rub" here is that if you are "spiritual," you have it together, you're real, you're a good person.  The "religious" person, by contrast, is not together, fake, and a bad person. . . in short, a "hypocrite." 

I ran across the following dialogue lately, and thought I might share it here. 

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In George MacDonald's novel Robert Falconer, there is a bit of dialog which highlights the folly of today's conundrum regarding "spiritual, not religious" ideas. The segment is taken from Chapter 8 "My Own Acquaintance."
‘We are a church, if you like. There!’
‘Who is your clergyman?’
‘Where do you meet?’
‘What are your rules, then?’
‘We have none.’
‘What makes you a church?’
‘Divine Service.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘The sort of thing you have seen to-night.’
‘What is your creed?’
‘Christ Jesus.’
‘But what do you believe about him?’
‘What we can. We count any belief in him—the smallest—better than any belief about him—the greatest—or about anything else besides. But we exclude no one.’
‘How do you manage without?’
‘By admitting no one.’
‘I cannot understand you.’
‘Well, then: we are an undefined company of people, who have grown into human relations with each other naturally, through one attractive force—love for human beings, regarding them as human beings only in virtue of the divine in them.’
‘But you must have some rules,’ I insisted.
‘None whatever. They would cause us only trouble. ...'"

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Hat tip: the late Chuck Colson/The Colson Center for Christian Worldview 

 One of the Christian nonfiction books I read early in my Christian life was Ray Stedman's 1972 classic Body Life.  Stedman, longtime pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California, brought to life just how the Body of Christ is meant to live and operate. . . then, now, and for the future.  A classic easy to read primer on what Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts and the ekklesia, the Body of Christ, and yes. . . the worldwide, universal church.  Another way of saying it is the catholic - "notice the small "c" denoting "universal and worldwide - church.  A useful passage is Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV): 

  11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Lots to chew on in that passage!  I'll briefly point out a couple of observations.  The Body of Christ is plural.  It is made up of many persons ("saints") who the Apostle Paul refers to as "we."  So the church is plural, not singular.  Many persons, not one. 

We may start out as children in the Christian faith (v. 14), but we don't stay there.  We are to grow up!  (v. 15)  This reminds me of the famous line in the film Shadowlands, where Anthony Hopkins as C. S. Lewis declares to his church congregation, "We need to grow up!"  We do. . . and so do I.  All of us.  Staying as children is unnatural and does not become us.

As I tell my wife on a regular basis, "Ministry is a team sport!"  No "Lone Rangers" in the Christian life! 

Worshipping God together assembled as Christ's Body, the church these days and being connected and accountable to Christ as He expresses Himself through His body is so countercultural in the present day culture.  Yet it is scripturally taught.  The easy way out is to say "I'm not religious. . . I'm spiritual!"  The harder path is to - as the Apostle Paul and C. S. Lewis would say - grow up and be a willing part of Christ's Body. . . the church, warts and all.  No, the church is not perfect.  But she is still Jesus Christ's bride whom He sought and bought with His precious blood on the Cross.  Respect her - the church - at least that much.  Work to better her and let God cleanse her from her sins, not condemn her and walk away like a Lone Ranger.  Hope to see many of you in church this Sunday.  


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