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Can You Be Spiritual Without Being Religious?

I want to make a bold claim. You can’t be spiritual without being religious.

I make this claim based upon two things. First, the term religion comes from the Latin term ligare which means connected. It is the root of the term ligament (the connective tissue in our bodies). To re-ligare, to religion, is to connect things back together.

Second, the apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 12. He opens with the phrase, “Now concerning the spiritual.” It is important to note that he does not say “concerning spiritual gifts.” The term gifts (charismata) is not introduced until verse 4. The term gifts is inserted by the translators, unfortunately.

Spiritual but not religiousThis distinction is incredibly helpful in our day when one of the largest growing demographics in our society is the nones. These are people who check “none” on the census when asked for a religious affiliation. Many nones consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious.”

So, Paul says, “Now concerning the spiritual.”

What does it mean to be spiritual? Our society has become centered on the main idea that each person is a completely autonomous individual. I am complete within myself and do not need anyone or anything else to complete me, so we are told.

Spirituality, therefore, is also an individual endeavor. I am completely free to choose whatever spiritual pathway will lead me to self-fulfillment and self-actualization. You are free to choose your spirituality. I am free to choose my spirituality. As long as we don’t impose our spiritualities on each other, then we can all live in peace.

The apostle Paul has a very different understanding of the spiritual. It is summarized in verse 7. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” he says. Spirituality, at its core, is a communal thing. This is emphasized in verses 4-7 where we see that the spiritual is interwoven with the communal, Triune God.

There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
There are varieties of services, but the same Lord;
There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

Why?

Is it for individual, self-actualization so we can live(separately) and let live?

No.

It is so that we can be re-ligamented, re-connected, as a body. So we can be…religion-ed.

The thing that most of us truly want is love and peace in the world. The reason most nones have chosen to be nones and pursue individual spirituality is because, frankly, the church has blown it. We have behaved badly in the world and have caused as much evil, pain, and suffering in the world as we have promoted the way of peace and love that Jesus sent us to do.

That’s because we’re human, we mess up all the time, and we need continual forgiveness and grace, love and peace.

Here’s the thing about love and peace. They cannot happen when individuals are independently seeking self-actualization and leaving each other alone. That kind of peace is the silence of isolation, and there is no love when you are alone.

That is Hell.

Love and Peace can only happen when diverse people bring their God-given uniqueness (and incompleteness) into communication and cooperation with each other, in humble recognition that we have been given all things through the grace of God, “for the common good.”

And it is hard work.

Ponder this, as we look, again, at verse 4-7:

We have been given gifts. They are gifts from the Spirit, not rewards for holy behavior.

We have varieties of service, because Jesus, God made flesh, is the kind of Lord that served us rather than lorded it over us. We should follow his example.

We have varieties of activities (energies), because God is the source of all energy that binds us all together in the first place.

To be spiritual, I suggest, is to be religious, because we are all part of this crazy human body, together…and we desperately need to be re-ligamented.

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