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Monday, May 26, 2014

Is a personal relationship with God all that is really necessary?

A friend recently sent me an article entitled "A Point of View: Is it better to be religious than spiritual?" (you can view the article here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27554640) Tom Shakespeare notes that more and more people are choosing to designate themselves as "Spiritual But Not Religious." (SBNR) He also concludes that this is not a positive development. He said: "I worry that SBNR can just be vague, lacking the rigor which comes from centuries of refinement and debate. And unlike traditional religions, it doesn't have much to say about charity and justice." In short, Mr. Shakespeare concludes that rugged individualism does not produce the best results for spiritual growth and development - we need each other.

As a Christian, I have to agree with him. Although I have pointed out the failures and shortcomings of Traditional Christianity on numerous occasions, there is still value in people coming together and interacting with each other. Yes, the arguments over beliefs and doctrines can be petty and unpleasant; but we desperately need to hear other opinions and perspectives. How can anyone expect to grow and learn if they settle into their own personal self-reinforcing pocket universe of ideas? How can one expect to grow in love, empathy, patience and mercy if there is no one to love, empathize with, be patient with or be merciful to?

From a Biblical perspective, going it alone is simply not an option. As I have also noted, the Greek word that has been translated into English as "Church" implies a coming together - an assembly of people. Indeed, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his (Christ's) return is drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT) By the way, electronic discussions can count as coming together - it is the interaction that is vital. On the other hand, attending a Church service without speaking to other people or listening to what they have to say wouldn't qualify as coming together in the sense that is being discussed here.

Yes, each one of us is unique and brings a different set of gifts, experiences and perspectives to the table; but that is exactly what God wants! Paul compared the individual members of the Church to the human body. (I Corinthians 12:12-13) He wrote: "Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, 'I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,' that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, 'I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,' would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, 'I don't need you.' The head can't say to the feet, 'I don't need you." (I Corinthians 12:14-21, NLT) Paul concludes, "All of you together are Christ's body, and each of you is a part of it." (verse 27)

In his general epistle to the Christians of his day, John wrote: "If someone says, 'I love God,' but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a LIAR; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters." (I John 4:20-21) Clearly, Scripture indicates that we need each other.

In this same vein, I was also dismayed at some of the comments about the Yahoo article entitled "Pope calls Muslims 'brothers' at Dome of Rock." (http://news.yahoo.com/pope-calls-muslims-brothers-dome-rock-061917919.html) What is wrong with Francis' statement? I'm not a Roman Catholic, and I don't agree with many of the teachings of that organization; but what's wrong with referring to Muslims as brothers? Aren't we all God's children? Didn't Christ socialize with people of differing beliefs and perspectives? What's wrong with promoting peace and harmony in the world?

Some of the responses to the article are typical of that kind of reflexive reaction to traditional religion that is so commonplace today. More than a few individuals availed themselves of the opportunity to attack organized religion outright. Why curse the darkness when we can be lighting a candle? If you're standing on the outside looking in, how can you ever hope to have a positive influence on what's happening inside? As the old proverb indicates, "iron sharpens iron." (Proverbs 27:17) Like it or not, if we're Christians, we need each other to grow in grace and knowledge. Also, if you consider yourself to be an SBNR, then you might want to consider getting out of that warm little cocoon of yours every once in a while.

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