[The following is an email one of our leaders received from his former Pastor in Guatemala. It answers the question – Can You Be Spiritual But Not Religious. I added the title for purposes of publishing on this website. As a disclaimer, the views expressed herein do not necessarily express the views of Grace Church Medellin. All comments inside  are the personal views of Steve Tuggle. Those comments also do not necessarily express the views of Grace Church Medellin.]
I think we have all heard the following statement, and perhaps used it ourselves. “I think of myself as spiritual and not religious.” Now, as a person of “religion”, I sometimes think of that statement negatively. It is an excuse people use to not participate in organized religion. One of my favorite books in high school was entitled “How to be a Christian without being Religious” by Fritz Ridenour, a Lutheran.
In Christianity, Can you be Spiritual But Not Religious? Is Christianity a “Religion”?
[We Christians don’t think of ourselves as religious – we think of ourselves as “forgiven”. Fritz Ridenour said in his book, “Christianity is not a “religion; it is a “relationship”. And according to the Books of Ephesians and Romans, God, the Father initiated that relationship through His Amazing Grace.]
If you read the Gospels carefully and critically, we see that Jesus’ incarnation, was not to start a new religion. His coming among us was not as most Christians think. It was actually to save all religions from the laws (Torah) that separated sincere people and kept them divided.
Why Did Jesus Come To Earth?
Jesus came among us to proclaim that “religion” had come to an end. His message was that all people could form one human family caring for each other and God’s Creation. [In the truest sense of the word, “religion” is man reaching out to satisfy God. Christians know from Romans 3:23 that we can never satisfy God’s standards. Therefore, the only way we can be reconciled to God is through His free gift of faith in Jesus.] In a sense, the critics are absolutely correct. The religions of the world are responsible for the world’s divisions and wars among people. The religions of the world have subtly left the intention of their founders. They adopted rules and ways of being that cut them off from others, rather than unite them with each other. Take Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. [John 14:27]
How does “Religion” respond to the message of Jesus?
Humankind seeks peace as the world does, by uniting the “Us” against the “Them.” And religions, for the most part, have adopted the world’s way by making enough rules to make it difficult for many people on the “outside” to find a community within them. The Christian “religion” [not the Christian faith], knew full well that Jesus gave only two commands: Love God and neighbor and gather to celebrate Eucharist (thanksgiving) together. Nevertheless, they adopted so many rules “from biblical teaching” that effectively make it impossible to find unity. These rules, or disagreement with them, have led to countless divisions in Christianity alone. Instead of following Jesus’ commands and gathering together in thankfulness for Jesus’ presence in our midst, they make rules. And if I don’t like your rules, my friends and family will leave and make our own community and find rules (Torah) we can agree with.
And what was Jesus’ Response?
This is why Jesus, in his last talk with his disciples before going to the Cross, says
I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. [John 14:26]
Now over 2000 years later, the “cat is out of the bag.” There are thousands of religions and many divisions in each one. How are we ever going to heal or eliminate religious fervor/division and get back to our spiritual roots? I think the followers of Jesus are most responsible, guided by the Holy Spirit, to bring about a spiritual revival across all religious faiths, denominations, or people who are searching or even not-searching for God. The Holy Spirit reminds us again today of what Jesus said and taught. We need to end religion and gather in the Spirit with all people of goodwill. We must love Jesus. And since Jesus is no longer with us physically, we must let go of the fear that causes us to gather only with those we agree with or feel comfortable with.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. [John 14:1]
In Light of All This, How Should We Then Live?
The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is the one “called alongside” (parakletos) to defend the accused or the victim of accusation. Anyone who seeks to bring down the barriers of religion and build unity will be victimized and accused of being anti-religious, disrespectful of holy laws, and being relativistic. This is not to say that “one religion is as good as any other,” but that all human beings are already related (ligament) to one another, the root meaning of the word religion. So: What would Jesus have us do now? I think Jesus wants us to do the following.
- Begin to live the Gospel vision of unity seeing all people as our brothers and sisters in this world.
- Love and affirm the good in them.
- Forgive them when needed (as we have been forgiven).
- Let go of the religious barriers we’ve grown up with.
This I think is living the life in the Spirit Jesus desires us to live. All human beings are invited to gather together in Eucharist: giving thanks for God’s love, the gift of life, and all of Creation.
Rev. John Smith,
[PS. Since all of the Bible verses quoted in this letter are from John Chapter 14, it would appear that there is much wisdom to be gained from studying this chapter. I therefore highly encourage everyone to study John Chapter 14. Our Grace Church Medellin Small Group Bible Studies are currently studying the entire Gospel of John. We invite you to join us in the group that is most convenient for you.]