Spiritual, not Religious, Part 3
…in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. Colossians 1:24b
A few months ago I wrote about my belief that the church has hijacked Jesus, prayer, God, and the Bible from non-churched spiritual seekers, largely unintentionally, but also mostly for its own purposes and benefits. By that I mean that those who have rejected the church, for whatever reason, also tend to reject the teachings of Jesus, prayer, God, and the Bible because of their nearly unbreakable associations with today’s church. The truth, as far as we can discern it, is that Jesus never intended to start a new church but only to reimagine how best to follow the will of God as understood by his people. As we know, Jesus was a Jew – from everything we can tell, he was a devout Jew – even though he had serious disagreements with the religious leaders of his day. The New Testament of the Bible tells the stories of the early followers of Jesus who started the movements that became the Christian church in all its variations and manifestations. The Old Testament does the same for the Hebrew people, later known as the Israelites and the Jews, sharing the early stories and histories of what we know today as Judaism.
What I am calling Churchianity in this series of writings refers to the practices of the Christian church that have become more about the perpetuation of the church itself, as well as promoting the limited beliefs of its leaders, than about the faithful following of the teachings of its namesake, Jesus of Nazareth. Again, as I have mentioned, Jesus never told us to worship him; Jesus directed us to follow him – to live as he lived and to treat others as he treated others. Following is a much higher standard than worshipping because it requires far more from us. How so many churches have developed doctrines and practices that stray so far from the will of God as displayed in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is nearly beyond comprehension. My sense is that much church doctrine has developed along the lines of what allows the church to contain its membership within certain behavioral boundaries that may or may not be consistent with the life of Jesus as told in the Gospels. Unfortunately, being contained within the limited boundaries of a church or other belief system can prevent us from experiencing God in a wider, more expansive context. We settle for the mundane and known instead of reaching for the spectacular and unknown.
Granted, that so many people reject the teachings of Jesus, prayer, God, and the Bible because they reject the church is as much a sign of laziness on the part of the rejecting people as it is a nod to wrongdoing by the church. One does not have to read far into the teachings of Jesus to know he addressed life outside of religious life as much or more than life within it. As such, most of Jesus’ teachings stand alone, with or without the church. When a person gives the church the authority to claim the life of Jesus, prayer, God, and the teachings of the Bible as its own exclusive property, that person has relinquished profound resources that could otherwise help them in breaking out of the old molds they may be stuck within. Following Jesus on a path toward spiritual growth and wholeness requires sacrificing sameness and stagnation.
My point is that the unfortunate association of Jesus, prayer, God, and the Bible with the church has led to the rejection of Jesus, prayer, God, and the Bible by many who also reject the church. It is the paradoxical throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because churchianity seeks to tie our spiritual growth and development to the church, the teachings that are the foundation upon which the church is built get thrown out with the outdated structure. Because the church has largely hijacked the teaching of Jesus, prayer, God, and the Bible, those vital teachings typically fall into the realm of religion and out of the realm of spirituality, to the degradation of both. Ideally, those teachings would be fair game for all spiritual seekers, and they are fair game for everyone, except for the desire of increasing numbers of people to distance themselves from the church. Is it the responsibility of the church to adapt to the needs of the people, or the responsibility of the distanced people to adapt to the needs of the church? Jesus chose to meet people where they were at rather than forcing them to come to him on his terms.
This is the 24th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at email@example.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.