It is common to hear of people describe themselves as ‘spiritual, but not religious.’ I see this regularly online from people who are devout Christians as well as those who don’t attend worship services. The word ‘religious’ or ‘religion,’ some would say, has too much to do with legalism and man made rules. ‘Spirit’ and ‘spiritual’ seems more liberating and loving. Many self-described people believe that if one is a good person who is compassionate to others and has a love for God, then religion is not a great necessity.
I grew up religious and know that my Christian beliefs are the cornerstone of my life here and the world to come. Holy Baptism is the sign of the cleansing of my soul from living sinfully to living righteously through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3). Taking the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is how I take the body and blood of Christ so that God lives in me (John 6:53-55). Prayer is how I keep connected to the Lord (John 15:1-4). And the Bible is the written record of God’s truth (2 Timothy 3:16). This is the Christian religion in a nutshell no matter if one is Orthodox Christian or belongs to a newly organized house church. Of course, there is a wide variety of doctrines, dogmas, and interpretations of the faith. Taste anyone’s barbeque and there is a variety of flavors and seasonings. However, proper barbeque takes the same standards; meat of choice, heat, smoke, and patience. A Christian has the standards of membership in the body of Christ, taking a part of Him into one’s self, maintaining the connection with Him, and understanding the scriptures that reveal Him. So, to be ‘spiritual, but not religious’ is impossible for a Christian. The believer must be both.
To be a religious Christian without being spiritual is another impossibility just as one cannot live in a cornerstone alone. Jesus Himself said as much to the Samaritan woman, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). God the Christian faith is three persons in unconfused union (Mark 1:9-11). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father as Jesus told His disciples (John 15:26). In Orthodox Christian thought, He is the Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth who is in all places and fills all things, He is the treasury of good things and giver of life, and we pray that He will come and abide in us, cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls because He is the Good One. Spirit aims our souls toward God. Religion gives foundation and structure to that aim.
It is important to be religious and spiritual (Ecclesiastes 7:18). Rather than dismiss or favor one over the other, it is best to dig deeper for an understanding of both. Know about the Christianity that you practice and other expressions of the faith. Learn about the founders of the church and their wisdom. Understand the strengths and flaws of the doctrines and dogmas. Look for prescribed pattern(s) and proven directions of walking with Christ. The Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy Podcast is a great place to seek and think about these things.