Are You Spiritual? Or Religious?

by Tom Terry

Every once in a while a new movement comes along that seeks to capture the attention of people away from traditional faith commitments. My attention was grabbed by one so-called spiritual movement last week. Calling itself the “Spiritual But Not Religious” movement (SBNR), it portends to offer true spirituality instead of that stuffy, old time religion. What does SBNR offer?

According to the movement’s website, SBNR folk are those who avoid, “Guilt—A set of rules to follow.” SBNR people are those who “walk beyond all religious forms that bind our humanity.” Additionally, the movement claims that, “There is no longer such a strong need for a minister, church or sacred texts to put boundaries on an experience of wonder.” Or to put it more succinctly, “Spirituality is more concerned with experience than dogma.”

The movement is founded by a supposedly Christian pastor of the innocuously named church, “Christ Community Church.” The name seems to ring with “Christianity,” but the movement’s principles clearly defy the definitions in scripture of what is spiritual and what is not.

For instance, take the quotes just offered in the paragraphs above, such as avoiding, “A set of rules to follow.” It sounds pleasant, doesn’t it? Not to the ears of the Apostle Paul who said of those rules to follow, “For we know that the Law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14 emphasis mine).

If the Law is spiritual then why do men create movements that seem to repudiate God’s word? The same scripture provides the answer: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (Romans 7:14).

It is the nature of all so-called spiritual movements to redefine what spirituality is. Last week I asked on my blog site, “What is spirituality?” Not too many takers on that one. It seems that in our post-modern world true definitions are difficult to come by.

Unless we go to the Bible.

We’ve already seen one definition from Paul—the word of God is spiritual. If you want to be a spiritual person then you must go to the word of God to assist you in that endeavor. But movements like SBNR deny this fundamental truth. They not only deny it, they turn the definition of “spiritual” into some kind of feel-good-only sense of wonder and mysticism. Amongst its many examples, here’s how SBNR defines spirituality.

• A rainbow emerging through violent storm clouds,
• A newborn baby cradled in your arms,
• A brilliant sunset illuminating mountains

Are these “spiritual?” They look an awful lot like “natural” to me. Therein lies part of the problem. SBNR and movements like it redefine spiritual so that it is really nothing more than a personal, subjective, emotional experience—regardless of religious profession. In fact, SBNR seems to embrace the feel-goods of every religion. SBNR claims that true spirituality includes the “universal wisdom” of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, nature traditions and more. In fact, SBNR is nothing more than Buddhism disguised. According to the movement’s website: “There is a way out of this fallen state (of sin or illusion or disharmony), there is a path to our liberation. If we follow this path to its conclusion, the result is a rebirth or enlightenment, a direct experience of spirit within and without, a supreme liberation, which marks the end of sin and suffering.”

That’s not spirituality. That’s Buddhism.

So what is true spirituality? As already mentioned, we cannot have true spirituality without the Bible. “For we know that the Law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14). The Apostle Paul—a true spiritual man—defined for us what a spiritual person is. Notice how closely Paul ties the spiritual man with the wisdom of God’s word instead of human systems.

“We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (I Corinthians 2:12-13).

What do those spiritual words say to us? “Who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16).

Did you catch that? We have the mind of Christ. We have, through the Holy Spirit—who is the origin of all true spirituality—the ability to know what God thinks. What does God think? He thinks this:

“No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ…Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness” and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless” (I Corinthians 3:11,18-20).

A truly spiritual person recognizes Christ for who he is, submits to the authority of Christ and his word, and orders his life according the principles of Christ.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).

Without these things our so-called spiritual experiences may offer emotional satisfaction, but they cannot progress beyond that. Man’s own mind may deceive him into believing his is spiritual when in fact he is only acting according to the sin nature which thrusts itself against submission to Christ and his word. Used by permission of the author.

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