Being a pastor, I sometimes hear folks tell me they are “spiritual
but not religious” when they meet me, wielding the phrase like a shield against becoming a part of the house church or any other faith community. The phrase is so pervasive, it even has its own entry in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_But_Not_Religious.
Even though the two terms once shared the same meaning, in the past couple of decades, being religious has somehow become synonymous with those considered too judgmental or unimaginative to break the bonds of religion (read as institutional church) in preference for what is often an interior and individual spirituality. This individual spirituality meanwhile seems to deny the validity of community, a community reflected in the very nature of our Triune God, a relationship in which we find Jesus resting throughout his earthly ministry. What were the twelve disciples for if not community? Oh, I understand all too well the attraction, having tried to live in that “spiritual but not religious” space for a time while in college. But what I found for me was that it disregarded a vital part of following Christ, namely the willingness to share the faith journey with others. For as we steep in our own thoughts in this oftentimes individual place called spiritual, we miss the rich opportunity to grow firm in our understanding of our faith by allowing others to hold us to what we say we believe and to challenge us to know more and grow richer in our faith. It can be scary when we are called to task by another follower of Christ as we spar over the meaning of our faith or a particular passage of Scripture but at the same time we are pushed to see other perspectives, challenged to a faith truly informed by our beliefs and encouraged by those with whom we walk along the way. “Spiritual” isn’t perfect. But neither is “religion,” where the zeal to do all the right things makes us forget to just be, sometimes creating insurmountable barriers. I think Jesus called us to be both/and people rather than either/or people when it comes to practices that draw us to Him. Yes, we need the community associated with religion and it is imperfect and messy but “You use steel to sharpen steel and one friend sharpens another” as it says in Proverbs 27:17. And, yes, we need the more individual searching associated with being spiritual, as Paul exhorts Timothy to do in his letters and that’s messy and imperfect, too. And together both spiritual and religious are to glorify God as well as encourage and serve others. Whether you consider yourself religious or spiritual, maybe it’s time for us to reach across that artificial divide and simply follow Christ together. I think we have a lot to teach each other, don’t you?