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Last week I reference an article in The Hartford Courant and asked the question of why we shouldn’t all just be spiritual people while keeping our distance from organized religion. After all, with the options available to us today, it is possible to listen to your favorite preacher, worship band, and even to financially support your favorite cause, all from the comfort of your own home, without having to worry about the messiness of relating to other people. Thank you to all who shared your thoughts on the blog or on my Facebook page. Here are my thoughts on the matter:
(1) I certainly understand the draw towards being “spiritual but not religious,” worshiping God but not committing to a particular church. The first reason is that, as with any other close relationship, there is always the potential for hurt and conflict when becoming a part of a church. Why submit yourself voluntarily to that when you may already get enough conflict in your family or on the job? Secondly, Jesus presents such a perfect ideal of what it looks like to live the life of faith that the church inevitably falls short of his standard. And so we look around for another church that looks like they’ve got it figured out, only to find out that they fall short of Jesus’ standard in other areas. When churches hurt people or act in a hypocritical manner, they often cause many to lose faith in the God whom they represent.
(2) One of the commentors on the blog wrote “It’s easy to look at all us sinners who make up the church instead of focusing on God. When I look at people, I tend to get discouraged, frustrated, or cynical. But I don’t go to church to check out the latest fashions or gossip. I go to learn about and worship our Creator. So I think if our focus is right, we’ll grow.” Many people may lose faith in God because of the way His people act, but we have to try to resist taking that step. The church is not God, and the failings of God’s people do not change God’s perfection, but only prove how much we all need a Savior to redeem us and the Holy Spirit to guide us.
(3) Instead of fixing our eyes on the people of the church, we should learn from the example of Jesus, who, when faced with a people so full of wickedness that they deserted him, betrayed him, mocked him, and crucified him, chose to willingly die for them in order to make them holy and beautiful (Ephesians 5:25-27). I will say it again: Jesus, when faced with a sinful group of people, does not reject them but does all he can, even to the point of death, in order to transform them into a holy, beautiful people. Does that mean you should die for the church? Not necessarily, but it does mean that a little perspective is in order as to how we should respond to imperfect people.
(4) One of my fears with the “spiritual but not religious” approach is how it turns God and church into just another commodity in our consumer culture. By “church shopping” and asking whether or not a particular church works for us, we often exhibit an attitude towards God’s people that is opposite of a Biblical approach. While it is legitimate to evaluate churches based on their fidelity to the Bible or what they are teaching your children, it is also important to recognize that God may bring you to a particular church because of what you have to give to them, not just because of what they have to give to you.
(5) One of the dangers of rejecting the church and choosing to worship God on your own is that growth in Christ-likeness often happens when we are in close relationship with others who can encourage us, challenge us, and point out our blind spots to us. When we attempt to be spiritual on our own, we can mistakenly think that all is well in our discipleship, instead of being challenged towards much needed growth.
(6) Finally, the biggest reason we need the church was something I addressed in the Pulse on May 12th of this year (you can read what I wrote here). When you cut yourself off from other believers, or surround yourself only with your friends, you limit your experience of and worship of God. Each believer has experienced God in unique ways: some may have testimony after testimony of God’s provision; another may be able to speak to God’s healing power; another can speak to God’s ability to restore a marriage; and yet another to God’s ability to transform even the hardest heart. The church, in all of its weakness, is a collective testimony to the majesty of God, and to cut yourself off from that is to leave yourself with a small God.
What do you think? Can you give any other reasons why being a part of the church is worth the potential hurt and disappointment? I’d be interested in your thoughts. If you have an opinion, post your comments below.
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