Spiritual, Religious, or Christian?
Spiritual, Religious, or Christian

Is being spiritual the same as being religious? And are either of those the same as being a Christian?

A recent Barna Group study, revealed that despite a growing indifference among millennials, they have an openness to different forms of faith-sharing.

The Barna Group noted,

“For instance, non-Christians and lapsed Christians who say spirituality plays a significant role in their life, and / or that they have unanswered spiritual questions (more “spiritually curious” types), tend to be more open to a variety of settings to explore questions of faith. On the other hand, those who say otherwise (less “spiritually curious” types) are less open.”

The phrase that caught my attention is, “non-Christians and lapsed Christians who say spirituality plays a significant role in their life….” This quote reminded me of the substantial difference between spiritual, religious, and Christian.

Many people identify as spiritual who want nothing to do with religion in general or Christianity in particular. Spirituality is related to an interest in humanity’s inner condition—the non-material facet of our existence. But spirituality can also include interest in psychic or mystical activity.

Those who identify as religious may also identify as Christian. But these terms are not synonymous. Religion can refer to a belief in a variety of gods and is usually related to a particular method of worship.

These worship practices are often transactional in nature. For example, worshippers follow certain practices in return for expected blessing from the God or gods they worship.

Many Christians can fall into this trap, as well. It’s why they become angry or bitter at God when bad things happen. They expect a quid pro quo for their good deeds, saying things such as, “I’ve gone to church every week and served in ministry. I give money to charity. So why did you allow this to happen to me, God?”

Biblical Christianity goes far beyond both spirituality and religion, even though all three terms are often used interchangeably. True Christianity is about an intimate relationship with the one, true, living God—the God who gave us the greatest gift: the gift of a restored relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. This relationship is based on the new life the Holy Spirit brings, not on what we demand God to do for us in exchange for our worship. 

Timothy Keller once said, “Religious people find God useful. Christians find God beautiful.” What an accurate description of the difference!

So how do you identify yourself: spiritual, religious, or Christian?

Do you find God useful…or beautiful?

Follow the Leader…without being a Follower?

A recent news article has caused me to wonder, can one follow a leader without being a follower?

By now you may have heard about celebrity author Anne Rice’s “resignation” from Christianity two weeks ago. She hinted at what was coming with several posts on her Facebook page illustrating ignorance, violence, and “horror” among Christians. Then she quoted Ghandi, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Finally, the next day she posted this announcement:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

She followed up her resignation with these words:

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

For two weeks, people have been discussing, disputing, and dissecting her position. Can a person follow Christ without being a Christian?

Perhaps this is what happens when we place Christ-followers on a pedestal. Christians are frail and Christians are flawed. As Christians, we are in the process of becoming all that God created us to be, but we aren’t there yet. The apostle Paul wrote:

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13:9-12).

I find it telling that these verses are part of the “love” chapter. Paul describes the characteristics of godly love – the love Christians are to have for others – then reminds his readers that we’re not there yet.

Someone once said Christianity would be a cake walk if it weren’t for all the people we have to deal with. But I’m sure that’s exactly what other people say about me. I hope Anne doesn’t think that she’s the only person among Christ’s followers who got it right. Wouldn’t that smack of the same arrogance she ascribes to others who bear the Savior’s name?

Still, she makes a point. When did Christianity become all about the “anti’s”? I find it sad that she has boiled down Christianity to a series of anti’s…anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-science, just to name a few. Is this what we’ve become to the world, a group of people who are known more for what we are against than for what we are for?

I’m not saying we should compromise God’s righteous standards. Absolutely not. But didn’t Jesus reach out to sinners with the love of the Father? Surely we can be anti-sin while showing love for the one caught in that sin. After all, wasn’t that the condition of each one of us before we were washed clean by the sacrifice of Christ?

I don’t understand how anyone – including Anne Rice – can say she follows Christ, yet not be a follower of Christ. To be a follower of Christ is to be a Christian. However, I do think many call themselves Christian who are not followers of Christ. Perhaps that’s the real problem.

What do you think?