What it means to be spiritual and not religious

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By Pastor Chuck McCullough

“I hear some people say they are ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious.’  What do they mean?”— Judy


The place to start is to ask your friends what they mean by this statement. Absent their response here, we can make a few general observations.

Some individuals who say this often are expressing their rejection of “institutional” religion.  They may have been burned by an unpleasant “church” experience or perhaps simply consider themselves above the mundane, human-shaped thing which often passes for “church” in our day.  

Their critique is not entirely unwarranted — there is plenty of room for improvement if not radical change in the way “church” often appears in our culture.

This statement may also reflect a certain self-perception in which these folks see themselves as kind, generous, hard working and engaged in issues such as the environment, peace, justice, etc. For them, these character traits carry spiritual import, perhaps even attesting to their belief that a spark of divinity resides within.

Some who say they are “spiritual” are genuine seekers: they possess a yearning for significance and substance that transcend themselves and what they see in this world.  They have a genuine interest in the supernatural and want to connect with it in some way.

Interestingly, the Bible does not promote “religion,” i.e., denominations, theological schools of thought, or church dogma, law and tradition. It does value kindness, generosity, hard work and concern for peace and justice. 

The Bible’s view of “spiritual” goes beyond mere behaviors or metaphysical perceptions. It addresses the spirit of man (i.e., its condition and its needs) vis a vis the Spirit of God. 

It affirms man’s innate thirst for Something worthy of worship.  

 It presents a holy, righteous God who infinitely transcends man yet who comes to man, offering a life-giving relationship while answering the deepest longing of his heart: unconditional love, belonging, purpose, peace, and eternal life (Jn. 3:16-17; I Cor. 12-13, 15; Phil. 4:4-7).