Spiritual But Not Religious – A Reused Concept by the Other Side

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.

  • Amos 5:21

I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.

  • Amos 8:10

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

  • Acts 17:22-23

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

  • Colossians 2:16-19

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

  • Hebrews 10:11

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

  • James 1:26

“ ‘Imagine early Christians talking to their neighbors in the Roman Empire. “Ah,” the neighbor says, “I hear you are religious!  Great!  Religion is a good thing.  Where is your temple or holy place?”  “We don’t have a temple,” replies the Christian.  “Jesus is our temple.”  “No temple?  But where do your priests work and do their rituals?”  “We don’t have priests to mediate the presence of God,” replies the Christian.  “Jesus is our priest.”  “No priests?  But where do you offer your sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?”  “We don’t need a sacrifice,” replies the Christian.  “Jesus is our sacrifice.”  “What kind of a religion IS this?” sputters the pagan neighbor.  And the answer is, this Christian faith is so utterly different than how every other religion works that it doesn’t really deserve to be called a “religion.” ‘ “

  • Timothy Keller, Gospel in Life, quoted from Dick Lucas, former pastor of St. Helen’s church, London

I drove by a tiny church’s sign the other day.  It read “SBNR and the 5th.”  This little church has about ten members or less, but they refuse to close the doors and go to the bigger church a couple of blocks away.  Their pastor’s sermon titles often intrigue me.  I had no idea what SBNR meant.  Wikipedia states that SBNR and SBNA are interchangeable, Spiritual But Not Religious and Spiritual But Not Affiliated.

Again according to Wikipedia, SBNR practices include: SBNR is related to feminist spiritual and religious thought and ecological spiritualities, and also to Neo-Paganism, Wicca, Shamanic, Druidic, Gaian and ceremonial magic practices. Some New Age spiritual practices include astrology, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, the I Ching, and science fiction. A common practice of SBNRs is meditation, such as mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation.”

I think I may focus on including “science fiction” in this list in another post, including discussing the documentary, The Science Fiction Makers which includes Brenton Dickieson of A Pilgrim in Narnia.

But for this focus, the modern world, with its abbreviations and acronyms, has lumped witchcraft, pagan worship, magic, ancient religions, feminism as a relgion, ecology (the “green” religion) and what many Christians may consider as “innocent” diversions, such as tarot cards, astrology, Ouija boards, and such.  Meditation is also included although Christians are encouraged to do something similarly named.

Thus, when the mainstream media often discusses “a moment of Zen”, they may not be discussing Buddhism, but SBNR.  Odd, those same media personalities might lose their jobs if they said something about “a moment to pray to our Father in Heaven”.  Do we have a freedom of speech and a freedom to worship as we please?  If we do, we are not allowed to talk about, so does that mean that we don’t?

But I remember one of the most influential books of my young Christian life.  I became a Christian a few years after How to Be a Christian without Being Religious made it to the bookstore shelves in 1967.  Fritz Ridenour’s book has been reprinted several times.  As I was coming to grips with my sinful nature and accepting Jesus as my Savior, I was also rejecting, in part, the “religion” that is commonly thought of as Christianity.  I was getting nothing out of the worship services.  Then we had a supply pastor who could, if he had wanted, to be the next Billy Graham.  His captured your heart with just a few words.  He left our church to become an Associate Pastor in a church in Bradenton, FL after he finished a degree in either a Psychology field or a Counseling field at the University of Mississippi.  For one year, he and I were both attending classes there, just vastly different classrooms, but I stayed at his house once during an unusual snowstorm.  (I was commuting from home at the time.)  I cannot remember his name, but he had a profound impact on me accepting Jesus, and he was not that terribly “religious.”

Like the quote from Tim Keller, quoted from Dick Lucas, Christianity was the “Spiritual But Not Religious” religion in the first Century.

What did we do wrong?

Humans tend to hate the “status quo” religions, but they love religiosity.  Why did the pagan gods look so appealing to the Israelites, and thus their downfall?

People like Felix Ridenour tried to get us to turn around and recapture that spark that has been lost in the church.  One review, for Google Books, describes Ridenour’s book with this beginning: Since the days of the Early Church, Christians have struggled to find a way to be ‘good’ – to please God by their own efforts. They end up carrying a burden God never intended them to bear. And what’s more, their brand of Christianity ends up looking like any other religion of the world – bound by joyless rules and rituals.”

I have written about this in the past that I only heard about the concept of a relationship with Jesus in recent years, although the famous pastors of the past century spoke of that relationship, like Spurgeon, Chambers, and Tozer.  Sure, we are “brothers” of Jesus.  We are called “children of God.”  But those were expressions that lost meaning when my mother did as she promised, “Beat my faith out of me.”  I had to become the lifeless Christian who treated God as the great giver of rules, rules that we can never follow, thus consigning us to a life of futility.  So it is with the Legalist who grips tightly to the Law that, as Paul discussed in Romans, cannot save us, but only condemns us.  Yes, the Legalist speaks of Grace, but they never live Grace.

Our conundrum is like the Karl Jaspers’ philosophy of having to develop one’s own philosophy and then bring that philosophy to the community so that it can be understood.  We are individuals who find and accept Jesus Christ on our own, but we are not complete until we join in the worshipping of the God who sent His Son to earth to save us.  But God did this for us to establish a personal relationship with Him, not lifelessly following religious rules.

And that is where the rub exists.  The more we try to improve our worship, from a worldly point of view, the more we create the structure and religiosity that Christianity never should have had in the first place.  Are we worshipping better?  Do we understand every nuance of every verse of the Scriptures without error?  Are our praises to God more fervent?  Does our heart burst more with Joy when singing God’s praises in an organized worship service?

Some people feel utterly lost if there is not structure.  Some people feel horribly imprisoned by that same structure.  Some say that this conflict and many like it have created the diverse denominations that we have on earth.  Not borne out of sin, but a natural progression where there was a difference of opinion and rather than stay in unity and grumble, they split amicably.  The truth is that many splits were not amicable; many arguments may have indeed been borne of sin; and many splits have led to the more Biblically-based fraction becoming more against Biblical teaching in the long run than the more liberal one in the beginning.  Give mankind long enough and they can screw up anything.

I teach Sunday school.  I attend church.  I am an elder in that church, just not serving as a ruling elder currently.  I type the prayer list for the church’s prayer team.  I have been on mission trips and work details.  I have taught Bible studies for an audience of many combined churches.  I have been on church retreats and to church camps.

But some of my best worship is done while writing these posts for this blog site.  I am always cautious when someone speaks of the “Spiritual.”  They almost never are referring to the Holy Spirit.  They usually are referring to one of the practices mentioned in the Wikipedia quote above regarding SBNR.

But I am truly moved by the Holy Spirit when I come closer to God being a Christian without being Religious.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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