‘the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.‘ – Spirituality definition ( Google)
We are the era of political correctness. This has penetrated through the governmental organisation, the family (home) and now the church. It’s created an uproar in the Christian faith. People coining new labels to settle the unresolved dispute and generic misunderstandings of life events.
This blog post addresses the issues of spirituality and it’s recent division from religion. It is based on research and opinions, one derived from scripture knowledge and understanding. The subject faith which will be discussed is Christianity, however, I am aware that people of other religious beliefs do endorse spirituality also.
First thing is first, I believe spirituality and religion are and should be inseparable.
As a Christian, your aim should be to develop and mature your spirituality. We are living emotional beings, and part of this means we will experience different things, such as grief, sadness, happiness, etc. This should not affect your faith or religion. It should rather cause you to explore and understand your faith in context to your different life events.
In doing so you tap into the realms of spirituality, as you are prescribing the understanding of faith- inscribed meanings to life. The cohesion of both matures the individual’s knowledge, understanding, logic and reason, and eventually standards of living. This is my opinion.
Now let us do something different,
The aim of believers on earth is to be Christ-like. What does it mean to be Christ-like?
Let’s look at the beginning of Matthew. After the birth of Jesus Christ,
and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
This was an account recorded by Matthew, but it is in itself a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There is no direct old testament account that Jesus would be called a Nazarene but he had to be called a Nazarene. Judges 13:5 is a scripture that is referred to as a typology. Although in context it seems the scribe was referring to Samson, it was prophetically concerning Jesus Christ that is to come. And here we see the author mention a boy that is to be border a ‘Nazirite’ who will lead in delivering ‘Isreal’ from the ‘Philistines’. This prophetically aligns with the life of Jesus recorded in the gospels of the new Testament. For example, Romans 11:26 – refers to Jesus was a ‘deliverer’. Furthermore, Amos 2:10-12 also figuratively refers to Jesus the Nazarene without the actual mention of Jesus and the do’s and don’t a Nazirite is to avoid. Although they were not prophets speaking directly about Jesus, they figuratively speak concerning him as a Nazarene.
Moreover, we understand the importance of Jesus being a Nazarene closely links with his mission. Nazareth was a town with a ‘bad reputation’. It seemed rather inconspicuous for the Messiah to be from such a background. One that later alluded Nathaniel, upon hearing that Jesus is from Nazareth, to say “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). It was a despised place and Old Testament prophecies foretold that the Messiah would be a despised person, rejected by many of his contemporaries ( Isaiah 11:1, 49:7, Daniel 9:26).
In addition to this, In Acts 24:5, Nazarene is a word used as a slur-expression to describe Christians. It was seen as a ‘sect’ as people followed the path of Jesus, it became the new way. People are called to be Christians. And the same applies to our world today; We live in a time where people are plagued with being politically correct and so trivialise their belief in Christ so other people are not offended. But to be Christ-like is to be different. To be Christians and show compassion although the world despises you. To love those who hate you. To let your love blur the divide of differences and to put your trust in God admits all situations.
We are called to be Christians, not spiritualist.
This conflict between spirituality and ‘religion’, therefore needs to be reassessed.
The term religion needs to be defined. There are various understanding of beliefs which make it difficult to assign a universal explanation of what it means to have a faith. Hence, any definition used or found is subjective to the individual’s stance in their belief and how they view their faith. It doesn’t speak for all. It, however, seems although a majority of the spirituality renaissance developing, show increasing resilience to a particular faith-led belief; Christianity. Due to its plethora of denominations, people are taking the ballpoint of Jesus and God and from the relationship with him to doctrines derived away from Him that they disagree with. So they search for something more supreme.
I recently stumbled upon an article which attempted to provide depth to recent understandings of the phenomenon of ‘spirituality’
In this article which was covered by the BBC, the editor stated spirituality being a common term endorsed by Prince Charles and the Archbishop of York. They show in favour of this new term as a way to ‘step beyond religious divide’
Individuals have sort to this pathway of faith through the ‘feeling of greater’. The essence of ‘spirituality’ being an escape to their misunderstanding of their ‘Christian’ faith.
The article explains that according to the work of Mark Vernon author of How To Be an Agnostic. “People associate religious institutions with constraining doctrines, and bad things that are done in the world. That may be outright fundamentalism, the oppression of women or some kind of conflict with liberal values.” With Science now replacing God for many.
In the editor’s explanations, science doesn’t provide a correspondence to how people feel about their place in the world so they resort to Spirituality.
Due to man-ascribed doctrines upheld by the different religious groups, God is misinterpreted and often confused with the things men do. The understanding of Spirituality is also important here, you cannot oppose something you do not know or understand.
So, here are different definitions of what it means to be ‘spiritual’
“spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.”
(Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health)
“spirituality means any experience that is thought to bring the experiencer into contact with the divine (in other words, not just any experience that feels meaningful).”
(Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, researchers and authors of The Spiritual Brain)
“the spiritual dimension tries to be in harmony with the universe, and strives for answers about the infinite, and comes into focus when the person faces emotional stress, physical illness, or death.”
(Ruth Beckmann Murray and Judith Proctor Zenter )
At first look, all definition took away the concepts of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and replaced them with ‘divine‘ or ‘infinite‘, however with a more concise look, they explain man’s attempt to find God and know Him through His works or experiences.
There seems to be a growing stress to pull apart spirituality and religion as individuals acknowledge that there is a God but He cannot be referenced to all the evil we see in the world. I propose that you can’t pull them apart. They were created to be together.
The issue that many are facing is trying to have one without the other which creates an imbalance. Pull religion away from doctrines but don’t take God out because He exists.
Religion without spirituality leads to people ‘practising’ what their heart and soul are not in. For example, someone going to Church every Sunday for the sake of Sunday traditionally being for church going with the family, but come Monday, they go back to drinking, smoking and swearing. The person is following a doctrine of attending church every Sunday, and to others may be identified as a Christian. But His behaviour and actions speak otherwise. As Matthew 7:16 states, ‘you shall know them by their fruits’, not their labels.Spirituality without religion leads to people living primarily without acknowledging God in any situation.
Now let’s look at religion,
The definition of religion is broken down into 3 very different understandings.
(These definitions are from the Oxford dictionary)
The first being ‘a particular system of faith and worship.’
The problem with the first definition breaks down the relational aspect of belief to a system structured in particular to a set faith. The worship is, therefore, going through a systemic audit before presented.
The second definition is: ‘The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.’
To coin God as superhuman confines him to the restrictions of being human. This is to mean the patterns of God are likewise of humans but his abilities are beyond. Which belittled Him because God is in no way or format human.
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Neither is He controlling because of the element of free will. It is not by force to serve God but a choice. Joshua 24:15 states “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
The third definition is: ‘A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.’
This diminishes the possibilities of a relationship with God, making religion generic to the multitude not the individual with no reference to faith or belief.
The problem with both spirituality and religion is definition. You cannot define something that goes beyond words or definitions. Attempts to characterise both subjects it to a tangible encounter, hence weak in expression.
The choice a person makes is to fall in love with Christ, not Christianity. Therefore, the doctrines you are to follow must be line with Christ, not Christians.
I personally believe people assign to a faith, not religion. Religion creates boundaries, faith breaks boundaries and gives the heart.
However, I won’t go overboard and denounce Christianity because I believe Christ is beyond the construct of the label. Rather, believers ought to live a life that defines their belief in the faith under the umbrella of the label Christian, because the doctrines man ascribe does not define their relationship with Christ.
Spirituality is more important to the Christian than doctrines. You are to seek God’s heart not the church’s approval.
Take God out of the equation and there is no meaning to life. You cannot have a religion without spirituality.
Maybe it’s time to redirect the fight to the doctrines.