Can I be A Christian in Spirituality and Not Be Religious?

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I am often told or asked about the question: can I be a Christian in spirituality and not be religious? This is a variation (or maybe hybrid) of the common view in the popular culture of not being religious, yet still being spiritual. The question centers first around the definition of terms. What is spirituality? What is religion?

I am not going to get into etymology and usage over time, but just give a common definition of these two terms, religion and spirituality. Religion refers to a devotional practice associated with an institution. In Christianity that is church membership and use of the elements of worship. Spirituality has two meanings, general and specific. Spirituality in general is used by most in society to describe eastern internal meditative speculative mystical religions. The basic assumption of these is that the world is one being with ultimate reality. If I am one with the universe, then there is no need for religion, I simply am a sprit living in a material world. If I want to I can meditate, but all I really need to do is be aware of the universes oneness, and, if I may, seek the universe for guidance. In the more specific sense spirituality refers in the Christian religion to the human intellect in communion with God through the Holy Spirit. This is a basic created reality, as man is in the image of God, he has a sense of the Divine, the internal personal non-physical component of men and women in the image of God have a capacity t commune with him. We also believe that this capacity for communion was perverted by the sin of Adam.

Terminology aside, the basic answer to the main question is no. No, because Jesus founded a church where his Spirit dwells. This means that one can be “spiritual but not religious” if one is not a Christian, but not if one is a Christian. Assuming one is honest with the text of scripture – which defines Christianity – and those who seek to redefine it need mental help. Seriously, if one thinks, “I am a Christian, but I don’t act like those Christian, and am not part of the church Jesus founded” that is a symptom of being unwittingly influenced by the larger popular culture’s view of spirituality. So much for being “self-aware.”)

What does Christian spirituality look like? It looks like church. It looks like religion. The reason is not that the elements of worship are the things worshipped. For example, apostolic Christianity does not kiss Bibles or pray to the Apostles. We listen to the writing of the Apostles, and read and have the bible preached to us as a means to the end of knowing God. That’s the key. We don’t worship the Bible; we worship the God of the Bible. That is, the Father, Son, and Spirit who speaks through the Bible, speaks through the preaching, are taught by the living preacher who raises his hands in blessing, physically breaks bread with us, and reminds us that by the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with us as we eat in communion with Him. In short, the word, sacrament and prayer are means to the end of knowing God in the human Spirit. In the Old Testament the saints new the Lord through the means of temple worship. See Psalm 118:27, “The Lord has given us light…” What light? “Bind the festal sacrifice to the horns of the altar.” In the New Testament Apostolic church there was Bible reading, preaching, sacraments, prayers, offerings and blessings as means for the worship of God, same as the OT but without the bloddy sacrifices which are now obsolete. The way of worship may have changed in terms of the relatively simple worship of the NT church, but the principle is the same. We worship God through the means he gives us.

Another thing to know about Christian spirituality is it really is spiritual. The Bible teaches that humans have a created soul/spirit that is the non-physical rational and moral capacity within man. It also teaches us that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God, has the function of being the Spirit of God who’s function it is to know God the Father and the Son and to cause us to know Him (1 Cor 2:10-13). The Spirit of Knowledge is thus said to testify to our Spirit (of course through scripture being assured to us) that we are children of God, and that Jesus is our Lord, and that we are at peace with God. Thus, the spirituality of the Bible is where the Divine Spirit of God acts upon the human spirit to know God, commune with him, and be assured of His love, peace, holiness and glory.

How does the Holy Spirit do that though? Through means! That is through the means of religious practice, the elements of worship and private actions of devotion. This brings to the third component of Christian Spirituality, the Holy Spirit dwells in the local Church. It is a popular and fun belief that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, however when the Apostle Paul used the language of the temple the Holy Spirit, he did so in the context of the local church of Corinth. He used the 2nd person plural in the Greek. “You [church in Corinth local and complete] are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 3:15-16). This means that the place of communion in our spirits with The Spirit is the local church. That does not mean that the individual Christian does not have personal knowledge of God the Father, Son and Spirit all day every day, but that is unlikely to happen if one ignores that local church. Jesus founded a church. That is a phrase I say to people almost every day, probably because I live in a culture where Christianity is so democratized, to personalized, it has nothing to do with Jesus or His church, or the Bible for that matter.

Let me conclude with an example. The sacrament of communion is an example of Christian Spirituality. I was raised in a Baptist church, and thus was taught that the sacrament was a bare memorial. It is not. The Bible teaches us a theology of the Sacraments, and the church in general, that the Holy Spirit causes us to know Christ, commune with him, and be in His presence through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of the local church. Jesus is in heaven, not bodily on earth, so true Christian religion is communion with him in the Holy Spirit. He communes with us as we eat and drink the bread and wine of the supper. We have a personal spiritual relationship to the Triune God because of Christ, by the presence of the Spirit, and thus we can cry out, “Our Father” as really our Father whom we know.

Bumper stickers often say, “It is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” Actually, it is a relationship mediated by a religion. Can I be a spiritual Christian yet not have the religion of the church? The answer is no because Jesus founded a church, the Holy Spirit dwells in the local church, and he assures us through the elements of worship in the local church through the Spirit filled ministry.

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7 thoughts on “Can I be A Christian in Spirituality and Not Be Religious?

  1. Also, like I said, I am not planning on answering the other questions in this venue, meaning the blog. The reason is there are too many assumptions that need to be uncovered that I cannot do here. My laser beam sight in the article was directed at those who reject public worship, not the nature of private or natural worship. Also, the section of the article on knowing the Spirit and the Spirit of adoption if carefully read would answer many of the questions.

  2. I am talking about the assembled church on the Lord’s Day, not buildings. Building have nothing to do with it. The church could meet outside. The Sunday assembly of the local body of the saints which is covenanted together is the temple in the NT church. Just as the Temple was in the OT centralized at Jerusalem, in the NT the Temple is wherever a local church meets for corporate worship. This is not an analogy that Paul is using. The local church at Corinth is the Temple when they gather for worship. Location is all over the earth, as the Jerusalem temple is obsolete. In that sense, it seems right to say that in 1 Corinthians 3 the subject is distinct from 1 Corinthians 6. In chapter 6 he deals with the individual, who certainly is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. There however the issue is not the assembly of the saints, but one’s moral life outside the context of instituted worship, sometimes called natural or lifestyle worship. However, the existence of natural worship as distinct from instituted worship does not give us license to not attend the public worship with a covenanted body. I guess my concern is if one were to say, “I am the temple of the Holy Spirit individually, then I can worship wherever I am and I don’t need the visible local body to worship” this would be the equivalent of someone in the OT saying, “Ahh Moses, I don’t need to worship at the Tabernacle, I can worship on my own.” It sounds pretty crazy. But it follows logically. I do believe the individual Christian must be filled with the Spirit, know the Father and the Son and the Spirit, and practice communion through personal prayer and study, but that is not given the same pride of place as the assembly of the saints on the Lord’s Day. There and then is where the Holy Spirit is regularly poured out. Which I take to mean Him being personally present in holiness and then applying Christ to the saints. And even empowering them for his service.

  3. Thank you for your response Ben and yes, please do take your time in answering my other questions.

    Regarding what you wrote in your response: “However the context of 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 is regarding a distinct concept from that (though related), and relates to the corporate church, not the individual.”

    So I guess this relates back to my original questions and just add this one to the list to answer whenever you are able to: do you believe that we are EVER considered the temple of God outside of the church building, and that as God’s temple, the Holy Spirit dwells inside us?

    I do believe that we MUST meet regularly as the bible commands us not to forsake the assembling of fellow Christians (Hebrews 10:25), but if we take the bible at its word, it’s telling us that we are also the temple of God. The bible is making the distinction between the two churches: the building and the body of Christ. Would you agree with that? Or maybe not?

  4. Hi Carlotta! Glad to hear from you sister!
    As I mentioned in the article, the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer is a true doctrine, absolutely yes. However the context of 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 is regarding a distinct concept from that (though related), and relates to the corporate church, not the individual. In fact the entire argument of 1Corinthians chapters 1-4 regards the corporate church. Especially verse 17 makes it clear that He is speaking about a corporate context as it parallels the Temple destruction by the Babylonians, which at the time in 586 BC was the locale of God’s Spiritual presence and work. In terms of 6:19, the pronouns are also plural, so I think it may also have a more corporate context than we democratic Americans may presume at first glance. I am making my way through 1 Corinthians right now, so that’s why this is all coming to the point of application and writing.
    Your other questions (while important) have too many assumptions I cannot deal with in a timely manner in this venue. I appreciate them, but they need require to slow cook rather than be answered on a blog comment section.
    I can give you a story though. When I was searching for a church which practiced the protestant principles of the reformation and held its doctrine, I was overwhelmed. Not by the doctrine, beautiful as it was, but the presence and holiness of the Spirit of God overwhelmed me. And it was not warm fuzzies, but Word and Prayer and Sacrament weekly burning chaff from gold in the fires of sanctification. Because of that experience of being under the preaching, of first Barry Fitzgerald and then Brian Tallman, I was not only changed in my doctrinal views over time, but convicted that I must change by the Spirit of God’s presence. It was the Spirit who spoke the Word in the worship services and Scripture was expounded in the Spirit of God, which the preacher has no control of, as the Spirit is His own person, not under our control. He is pleased to tell us that he dwells in and especially blesses the reading and preaching of the word, prayer, and the sacraments. This for me was not the word only, but the Holy Spirit personally reveling himself to me through the read and preached word, and the sacrament. As I went along the reason for this transformation became clear, the Holy Spirit works in the worship services in a special way because he uses means. If we cut ourselves off from the means (i.e., the locale church assembly) we cut ourselves off from where He promise to meet us. It is like if I set a time to meet someone for coffee and don’t show up, I cannot then complain that they are not present with me. I was the one who did not keep the appointment. That is what I am stressing in the article, people are missing the power of God because they are not meeting with the persons of God where he ordains to meet with us.

  5. Ben, I for one do believe strongly in the role that church plays in a believer’s life. But I also believe strongly in what the scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit does indwell us. As the scriptures say, if we don’t have the Spirit of Christ then we don’t belong to Him:

    Romans 8:9-11- “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

    These verses are speaking specifically of the Spirit of Christ, which we know to be the Holy Spirit. The popular verse that you mentioned earlier where it is said our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the verses appear to point clearly to our physical bodies and not a church building which is consistent to the verses above in Romans 8:

    1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

    Those verses are urging us to glorify God with our bodies and says nothing of a church building.

    So plenty of questions about what you posted: 1) Is a Christian only a Christian while in church? 2) The bible said in the verse above that if we don’t have the Spirit of God in us, then we don’t belong to Him. Do you believe we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us at any time? 3) If we do have the Holy Spirit, does He ever leave the church building walls? 4) Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is imparted to believers during the observance of the sacraments? 5)What about Christians such as myself who left a church and is looking for a new church home. Since I’m not in church, does Christ’s spirit no longer dwell with me? 6) Will I only be recognize as a spiritual Christian while I’m a member of a church?

    I know I’ve thrown a lot on you but hopefully my comments don’t seem too wacky. Thanks Ben for your post and only because I was considering your church in my search for a new home am I bombarding you with these probing questions.

  6. “The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true
    religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.2)

    That last phrase would cause no small amount of consternation these days, wouldn’t it? “No ordinary possibility of salvation” outside of the visible church! (See also Shorter Catechism Q.85.)

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