What does it mean to be religious? What does it mean to be Spiritual? And, can a Christian be both religious and spiritual individually and collectively?
Within the modern Christian church, today, there is a statement that floats around regarding religion and Christianity. For the most part, it is as such: Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. Most Christians I have encountered over the years seem to shun and speak out against the idea of “spirituality” as being of an occult nature or aligned with various forms of paganisms. In addition, when it comes to the idea of religion, most Christians have this perception (and sometimes strongly held assumptions) that religion is a danger and only part of a cult.
The reality is that Christianity is not just a relationship it is also spirituality within a defined religious understanding. Meaning, Christians hold to a religious ideal where there is a structured belief system that are centered on essential core doctrines while developing and transforming one’s life into a more spiritual unification with God.Or, in simpler terms that the Savior used: “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one with us, so that the world may believe you have sent me.” (See, John 17:21 – Christ’s High priestly prayer).
1. Christianity is a religion: Regardless of how one may want to dismiss this very thought, Christianity is a religion that began from the First Century when Christ walked among men. His gospel that he preached came up against the gospel of the Rome (see my article: What is the Gospel?) It’s early roots were within a more Jewish Context and then within the more Gentile contexts of First Century Rome. As the people (Jew, Greek and Gentile) began to come together in communities, they followed the teachings of the Apostles. Those apostles taught based on the teachings and disciplines they learned from Jesus Christ himself. As the Apostles themselves began to suffer persecution and death, the First Century Christian Church began introducing false doctrines and false forms of worship. Paul himself recounts this on many occasions throughout his letters to the various Churches.
In the Epistle of James, we read the difference between two types of religion. James contrasts the two religions as being the one of benevolence and the other of selfish pride. The entire epistle speaks on the practicality of the Christian religion and faith.
In his article, on this very subject, Dr. Joel McDurmon provides the etymological word of Religion and breaks it down to its root “to bind”. Christianity is a religion that binds individuals to Christ and individuals to one another. Paul, refers to this as being a slave to righteousness or a bond-servant.
2. Christianity is a covenant based religion:
One of the most profound parables of Jesus Christ is that of the ten virgins. Many sermons have been preached on the ten virgins (5 who had lamps ready and the 5 who did not have their lamps ready) as pertaining to being ready when the Bridegroom comes and the wedding feast begins. The aspect of the parable of the ten virgins is rooted very well into the Jewish wedding ceremony of the First Century. The bridegroom would bring to the brides father a contract, new wine, and wealth to purchase the bride. If accepted, the soon to be father in law and son in law would drink the new wine as a means of binding the contract. The bridegroom will then go and prepare a place for himself and his bride while his bride prepares herself for the return of her bridegroom.
Christ saw himself (and consistently referred to himself) as the Bridegroom and the Church his Bride. He paid the ultimate price (the death on the Cross) and purchased the Church through his sacrifice. The covenant is made to Christ through the mode of baptism. Paul discusses this important covenant in Romans 6:1-14. From the LDS (Mormon) Christian perspective the covenant of Baptism is key to our ongoing transformation and growth.
3. Christianity is a relationship:
The basis of Christianity is centered on the “religious” ideals and doctrines of who Jesus Christ is and what the Church is. Individuals begin their transformation of a new life through the covenant of baptism and then begin to grow in their own relationship with Jesus Christ; as well as their relationship with one another. Modern terms, we hear the Church often referred to as the Church Community. In most larger denominations, there is the idea and understanding of moving people to develop “communities of fellowship” with one another.
Referring back to my previously linked article, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is one where we begin a relationship with God the Father and His Son. “And this is life eternal, that they may know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” (See John 17:3, KJV) For the Latter-day saint Christians, a similar verse states it this way: For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (See Moses 1:39) Our relationship with a divine and sovereign Heavenly Father begins with our relationship with Jesus Christ. Through him, we come to the Father and it is the Father’s desire to bring to pass our own eternal destiny and life in the life to come.
As we cultivate our relationship with Jesus Christ, we are becoming like Christ in our daily lives. We draw to us those who also are broken, we reach out to those who are marginalized in our churches, in our community at large and we build loving and sustaining relationships with one another. We become bound to one another in fellowship and in community.
5. Christianity is a spiritual transformation: One of my favorite passages is that of Paul when he wrote in Romans 12:1-2 and states that we are no longer to be bound by the understanding of the world, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. And, through this renewing of our mind, we become a living sacrifice on a daily basis to God. We are striving to put to death our old self and facilitating a growth of the new creation that had begun in us as Christians. In this sense, Christianity is a spiritual experience through the ongoing process of transforming our lives to become more aligned to the will and desire of God. Through our growth, our faith will be tried and strengthened. We are called to head the voice of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is replete with words and guidance on how we are guided in our mortal lives to become more aligned to the divine will of God.
This ultimately is manifested through our acts and benevolence. In fact, on one occasion, Jesus Christ called out to the religious leaders of his day and said that they were white sepluchres where they were adorned with great appearances of good quality, however, inside their own hearts and lives, they were nothing more than rotting corpses and decaying flesh. We were once like that, appearing good on the outside, yet filled with our own selfish pride, sense of depravity and lacking in any spiritual maturity. Christianity is a process that ought to lead a new believer toward a more mature spiritual person through their relationship with Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father as well as their relationship with their fellow neighbors.
Thus, Christianity is not just a religion. It is not just a relationship. It is not just another form of spiritual sense of being. Christianity is a religious and spiritual transformation of a depraved and sinful soul into a person who has a genuine and authentic relationship with the Savior of the world, their fellow neighbors and ultimately with God the Father.