I’ve spent the past two weeks addressing the dichotomy between spirituality and religion. However, the divide between the two is truly a false dilemma. We can have both! Organized religion should incorporate and enhance an individual’s sense of spirituality.
Often, organized religion is perceived as stifling personal spirituality. Yet what could be more spiritual than a room full of people – filled to the brim with the sound of their hearts and their breaths and their sighs – all praying together to the Lord? What could be more moving than being surrounded by ten or a hundred or a thousand souls who share the same purpose as you?
Combining prayers with others is powerful. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” How much greater, then, is the presence of Jesus in a gathering of two or three hundred Christians!
Of course, we cannot only connect to God when we gather together. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-38, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” The essence of spirituality is developing that emotional connection with God. We must develop that spiritual connection with personal prayer and study.
Jesus himself was extremely spiritual, and as Christians, we are to follow His example. Luke 5:16 says that He “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” The New Testament is full of examples of Jesus’ praying (Mark 1:35, Mark 6:46, Luke 9:18, etc). He gives a good guideline of how to pray in Matthew 6:9, but he also gives us examples of prayer in John 17 and John 11:41-42. Obviously, prayer is very important. No amount of going to church can fulfill our need for personal prayer.
Yet going to church can often help us with our prayers. If our prayers are becoming dry, we can seek advice and help more easily. When we gather, we can practice prayers with an entire church instead of solely alone before God. If we are struggling with something difficult, we can ask others in the congregation to pray for us. James 5:16 tells us, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” It is very hard to confess and pray for one another when we are not gathering as an organized body.
The word “church” in Greek is εκκλεσια, which would be better translated as “assembly.” Organized religion is merely an easy way to assemble those who believe. Frequently, we forget that the Church is not a building, but the body of believers. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “You are God’s field, God’s building.” Acts 17:24 states, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” We know that we are the Lord’s temple and that His spirit dwells in us and in our fellow Christians. We cannot eliminate an entire aspect of spirituality by cutting ourselves off from the Holy Spirit’s presence in other people.
In Matthew 12:49-50, Jesus points to his disciples and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Christians are more than just friends or neighbors. They are our family!
I’m an only child, so I can’t always appreciate what it means to treat someone like a brother or a sister, but I’ve been blessed with over six aunts and uncles living within a five-mile radius of my house. My family gets together, if not once a week, at least once every few weeks. Yet my family is not unified on much more than our lineage and our love for food. How much more often, then, should I meet with my family in Christ, who share my belief in my redeemer?
My cousin is currently living with my parents and me because our house is close to his university (renting from us is less expensive and he gets to enjoy my mother’s cooking). This has given me a whole new experience, as I get a better idea of what it means to have a brother. He and I look out for each other. We call each other to make sure that everything is okay if the other person isn’t home yet. We make each other meals. Just last week, I gave him a hair cut! If this is what I do for my blood relatives, then how much more should I do for those in my church, my brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, in Jesus Christ?
It can be hard, in this world of many broken families, to understand how we should interact with each other. Yet if the Church is our family, then we shouldn’t just attend on Sundays for the sermon and leave right away. We should bond and get to know our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we should not abandon them when we are frustrated by church politics or practices. It should be as difficult for us to abandon our church as it would be for us to abandon our siblings. Although the occasional fighting and bickering is to be expected among family, we cannot let that divide us. For just as our earthly parents expect us to reconcile and erase the lines drawn down the room, our heavenly Father asks us to be reconciled to our brothers (Matthew 5:24).
Yet too often, Christians abandon their faith because of disagreements in the church. They turn to empty spirituality instead of working through problems within the body of believers. When they do this, they lose out on the full spirituality that can be appreciated in a church. They lose a body of support to help rekindle their fire in prayer, they miss out on the moving of the spirit in other people, and they cut themselves off from their family. Isolated spirituality cannot provide the comfort of the Church, but the Church can build up a person’s spiritual connection to God. The decision is not between one or the other. The decision is between one or both. Which will you choose?