“If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the trends over the last few years when it comes to self-identifying religious preference is for folks to say they are spiritual, but not religious. This has in some ways been a partner to the rise of the “nones.” Many folks from this media darling social group don’t want to identify themselves as associated with any particular religious group, but at the same time, they don’t want to give the impression that they are claiming to be atheists. So they’ll say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” How should Jesus followers respond to this?
Well, for starters, we should acknowledge there are not a few folks from this SNR group who would gladly profess to be followers of Jesus. As unpopular as organized religion in general and Christianity in particular are, Jesus isn’t. People may not want to go all the way to the point of claiming they follow Him, but they at the very least like Him. So, let’s be clear: SNR doesn’t necessarily mean non-Christian. They are separate questions.
Having acknowledged that, though, the next thing to do is to try and understand why they feel the way they do. Why would someone claim that label for themselves? Perhaps it’s because they’ve either had a bad personal experience with religion, or else have heard about enough they have been convinced they don’t want anything to do with it.
And although we may disagree with their logic and their conclusion on this matter, can we be at least humble enough to accept that if we had experienced what they had experienced we’d probably feel the same way? Can we at least acknowledge that people claiming the mantle of religious don’t exactly have a sterling record? Let’s just go ahead and state the truth: Religion and religious people have not been shy about giving ammunition to their critics over the centuries.
All of that being said, there are a couple of other things about which both sides need to be honest (especially SNR folks who would profess to be followers of Jesus). The first is this: No follower of Jesus is going to grow healthily apart from a deep and active connection to a local body of Christ, that is, apart from being an active part of a church. It just doesn’t happen. Like a flower cut from its stem, you may continue to bloom for a while, but disconnected from the root like that, you will eventually begin to wilt. Not one of the New Testament writers had any concept of a church-less follower of Jesus.
The second thing is this: The Church is the public face of the Christian religion. That’s right, if you are engaged in a church, you are taking part in religion. Sorry.
The trouble with these two truths (and they are true whether we went them to be or not), is that they play right into the hands of our ideological opponents. This is because of a common view of religion that is not terribly complementary to say the least. We’ll talk about that and what James has to say here about this whole situation next time.