Continuing in my multi-part series on the subject of Myths Christians Believe, here’s the latest installment.
- For Part 1 (myths 1 and 2), go here.
- For Part 2 (myths 3 and 4), go here.
- For Part 3 (myths 5 and 6), go here.
Myth 7: I can be spiritual without being religious.
This statement is alternately expressed in these ways: “I consider myself a spiritual person, but not a religious person.” Or “I am spiritual but I want nothing to do with organized religion.” The problem with this line of thinking is that the moment you express your spirituality in any way, you are engaged in religious behavior. And what is the alternative to organized religion? Disorganized religion?
Let’s define a couple of terms. Spirituality is a process of engagement with particular beliefs and ideals for the purpose of personal transformation. Religion is the set of beliefs, practices, cultural systems, and worldviews by which one defines his or her reality. You may disagree with a specific facet of one or both of these definitions, but however you define either term you’re going to find obvious overlap. If spirituality is expressed in any way, if it results in any behavior whatsoever, and if that behavior is shared by anyone, then you’ve entered the realm of religion. And if those behaviors are repeated in any way, by anyone, then you’ve created the beginnings of a tradition; you’ve entered the realm of organized religion.
So maybe you don’t like the organized religion that you see around you. I don’t blame you. I think there are many different ways to do church. But to throw the baby out with the bathwater by rejecting all organized religion is neither practical nor really even possible if you are at all spiritual. A purely individualistic spirituality that engages no one and practices nothing and has no interest in personal transformation is probably not spirituality worth claiming in the first place.
Myth 8: I love Jesus but I hate the Church.
I want to respect the fact that many who read this have been hurt by a church, some in profound and lasting ways. In fact, everyone who gets involved in a church will get hurt by someone in that church sooner or later. The more deeply you get involved, the greater the potential hurt. A close friend can probably hurt you more severely than an acquaintance. The only sure way to avoid being hurt by a church is to abandon it altogether. But can you still love Jesus and hate the Church that Jesus loves?
Speaking to Peter, Jesus said, “… on this rock I will build my church.” Regardless of how you interpret “rock” (as referring to Jesus himself or to Peter), you cannot miss the personal pronoun “my.” The church is Jesus’s church. The Apostle Paul certainly did not miss this fact when he wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” And of course, the Bible ends in Revelation with imagery of a wedding between the returning Christ, and his bride, the Church (Revelation 21-22). Cyprian of Carthage famously wrote, “You cannot have God for your father unless you have the church for your mother” (The Unity of the Catholic Church). Augustine is credited with saying, “Though the church may be a whore, she is still your mother,” although this may be a misattribution. Similarly, John Calvin wrote, “for those to whom he is Father the church may also be mother” (Institutes 4.1.1).
So can you love me but hate the wife whom I love? I’m inclined to think not. Can you love Jesus but abandon the Church he loves? Jesus seems inclined to think not. So if Jesus is a person worth loving or following or admiring or emulating, then perhaps we should take another look at the institution he founded, perverted though it is, and see if there aren’t creative ways to engage the life of the Church in healthy and transformative ways.