Religious v. Spiritual

August 20, 2013

Religious vs. spiritual: Study says the truly ‘spiritual but not religious’ are hard to find
by Matthew Brown, Deseret News

Published: Friday, Aug. 16 2013


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I don’t know what it’s like in your neck of the woods, but the organized “church” in my area (of various denominations) is very religious, but spiritually destitute. With the world closing in around them, most churches don’t have enough spiritual power to blow the dust off a peanut. Prayerless and powerless. They are dragging as much world into the church as they can to still appear Christian. Religious (yes) … spiritual (no). Our walk is supposed to be based on relationship, not religion. I hope to live to see the day that religion’s funeral is preached! God came to redeem and work through individuals, not institutions. These institutions we call church are OK if they are populated with enough of the true Church – the Body of Christ with all its various parts – which is on mission to evangelize and disciple. Praise God that there is still the Church (spiritual) within the church (religious) which has been preserved by His hand to penetrate darkness. Everything else is just religious noise.

    Norm Miller

    I resonate with your comments, Max. I was one who, early on, joined the seeker-sensitive bandwagon. My heart was genuine in what I saw as evangelistic motivations in that movement. But, as the Bible says, and we believe, no one seeks God. I think seeker sensitivity has subtly brought a worldly look to an other-worldly institution, and that is the Church. If we believe that no one seeks after God, then why are we trying to make the church attractive to those not seeking God? While I applaud a church’s evangelistic efforts, I am not so sure that a time designated for the worship of God and the equipping of the saints must be so lopsidedly designed for lost people. Some may posit that one generation seemingly has left the red brick, white door church building because of vacuous religiosity. I say the real reasons are as you have noted in your comment. And unless God’s flock is being fed, then the true sheep, to whom form matters little, will find different pastures. That which is a mile wide and an inch deep never offers the chance to be immersed in all that God can offer through a church and pastor sold out to the Savior.


      And everybody said AMEN and AMEN! (or should have)

      Norm, the church and pastor you describe are rare and endangered species. But, I have to believe that God is preparing a new generation of spiritual leaders in a wilderness place who will come forth soon – a lost world is at stake. The world is dying (literally) to experience what we currently offer in both traditional and cool church. The problem is not with form (red bricks/white doors or black stages/loud music) … it’s the substance of message and mission which has drifted off course into shallow water.

      Johnathan Pritchett

      “I am not so sure that a time designated for the worship of God and the equipping of the saints must be so lopsidedly designed for lost people”

      This is what I have been thinking about for quite some time now, and I wholeheartedly agree. I think that if it were lopsidedly the other way around, it is very likely that we would have full church buildings of well-fed congregations because what they received in worship equipped them for local missions and evangelism, which in turn, brought more people into the flock.

      On the other hand, I don’t think we need to toss everything learned from the seeker-sensitive bandwagon under the bus, as many are these days. We just need to rethink the positives, and implement them in different ways that don’t center around the Sunday and Wednesday corporate worship.

      I think the backlash from the seeker-sensitive thing has led to “church-buildings” being underutilized because of the emphasis of going out into the streets. That is good, as far as it goes, but still keep the baby and just run fresh bathwater. I think there are still many non-worship functions that can be had at the church building for evangelism purposes that would greatly impact evangelism efforts. The occasional music act, theater/drama performance, book clubs, various community and civil oriented seminars, etc. are all still good outreach endeavors.

        Norm Miller

        “…keep the baby and just run fresh bathwater.”
        Exactly. Great quote.
        Also, I agree that much of the seeker stuff is valid and effective, but at the right time and place. And though I may take a hit on this remark, I think the abandonment of our nicer clothes, in some cases, may express the wrong thing to some people. I like to listen to the occasional TV preacher just to exercise my theological radar. A local preacher on public access cable was in the pulpit wearing a gaudy Hawaiian print shirt and cargo shorts. That may communicate to the lost that God wants them “as they are.” But for me, a believer and ordained minister, it communicated a lack of respect for God, the preached Word, and the pastoral role. Note how the OT priest dressed to enter the Holy of Holies. Also, one of the best illustrations I heard on this was from Adam Harwood. He asked, “How would you dress if you were invited to the White House for dinner? And, why would you dress down from that standard to minister and worship in the presence of God and on his behalf among his people?”
        The Apostle Paul sought to save some by all means (Mars Hill = seeker sensitivity), but, if his letters are any indication, he wasn’t terribly seeker sensitive in house churches. And neither was James.

          Johnathan Pritchett

          There was a robe to be made for Aaron for glory and beauty. (Ex. 28:2)

          I’ve been thinking about the clothes issue since our last disagreement on the issue. I can see both sides, but the side of me that does have issues with dressing-down for church has less to do with respect for God (I think disrespect in this instance would seem to require motive or intent to do so, which I don’t think most of these pastors or congregants have), and more to do with how pathetic it is for men in their 40’s and older to dress like teenyboppers. I turn 37 next March, and my wife would be absolutely embarrassed if I dressed like I did when I was in my early 20’s back when we were dating. I don’t own a suit, but I do wear slacks and a tucked-in shirt to church on Sunday morning (though I’ll admit I wear jeans on Sunday nights).

          Indeed, Paul wasn’t very seeker-sensitive. He was a fisher of men and feeder of flocks. Indeed also, some of Paul’s statements resemble seeker-sensitive, though I disagree with how a lot of people interpret those passages in Acts 17:16-33 and 1 Cor. 9:19-23, and I bet you do too. :)

            Norm Miller

            I recall our last thread, and I think we both left thinking, “What’s wrong with that guy?”
            (And that is reflective of the blog venue’s problems of both time and space.)
            Suffice it to say that I do agree with the motivation aspect you mention. I think that is the fulcrum upon which all our behavior rests. One issue I have had is that I do not want to dress down for church, and being told I should assails my motivation to show respect for God in how I dress to worship him. That said, I don’t have the right to expect or demand that others reflect and obey my motives and convictions. They will have to arrive at them as God leads.

            Johnathan Pritchett

            “I recall our last thread, and I think we both left thinking, ‘What’s wrong with that guy?’
            (And that is reflective of the blog venue’s problems of both time and space.)”


            “Suffice it to say that I do agree with the motivation aspect you mention. I think that is the fulcrum upon which all our behavior rests.”

            Uh-oh…we found agreement on this issue…look for the pale horse. :)

            “One issue I have had is that I do not want to dress down for church, and being told I should assails my motivation to show respect for God in how I dress to worship him.”

            Amen! More agreement.

            “That said, I don’t have the right to expect or demand that others reflect and obey my motives and convictions.”

            True, but, I must add a “but.” See, once again a few brief exchanges launched a few hours of thought on this topic, as well as the related topics. I do not think all your motives and convictions would be wrong.

            The more I thought about this, the more that there is a standard in which all Christians motives and convictions should mirror each other. The issue of modesty. Even if we grant cultural differences (head coverings for women in Corinth, and no elaborate hairstyles for women in Ephesus and there being no mention of head coverings there), and even if we grant some subjectivity, there is still an objective principle we find in appropriate behavior for corporate worship.

            If we look closer into 1 Corinthians, and take a glance at 1 Timothy 2, we see some patterns emerge. We tend to think of modesty in our culture as it relates to “how much skin is showing”, but the texts indicate something that, while no doubt includes that, Paul thinks of modesty in a wider scope. He frowns on elaboration in 1 Timothy 2 regarding women, but since verse 2:9 begins with “likewise”, we can safely assume that men shouldn’t be elaborate either. Now, one may be quick to jump to the conclusion that Christians should not “over dress” for church in the sense of expensive suits and dresses with lots of jewelry, and that is not wrong conclusion. However, the underlying issues would include anger, quarreling, and distraction. Clearly the context in this passage is corporate worship. Back to 1 Corinthians, we find similar underlying principles. In 1 Corinthians 11 we find issues of proper attire as it relates to honor, dishonor (shame), and distraction (something to do with angels, but still…). Certain attire should not bring shame or distraction upon the church during worship. Certainly these principles carry forward from 1 Cor. 12-14 as well about distractions, unity, honor, order, etc. related to other issues such as factions and unity, gifts, order, etc. It is all tied together.

            Now, back to your earlier point about Paul’s be all to all to save some. As you noted, this is removed from the issue of corporate worship precisely because, while in a good chunk of 1 Corinthians scattered throughout, Paul is addressing worship, BUT, clearly in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul is speaking those “Be like X to win X, be like Y to win Y, and be all to all to save some” words regarding his apostolic ministry. While Paul is pastoral, he isn’t a pastor. His ministry is primarily itinerant public evangelism and church planting.

            As such, the principle that we should “to be like X to win X” has no Biblical warrant for corporate worship, only evangelism. In fact, God has a vision in heaven for corporate worship (Rev. 7:9). That is his will. Thus, if we follow Jesus’ prayer about God’s will on earth, and oneness in the body (Matthew 6:9-13, John 17:20-26), along with Paul’s teaching in Galatians and Ephesians throughout, there is no Biblical basis for even “racially” segregated churches like we have here in America, much less demographic-specific churches (a la Cowboy churches, Seattle grunge churches, 20-something hipster churches, Hip-Hop churches, etc.)

            Thus, many people invoke the principle of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, but they change the facts. Christians in our contemporary times do this in at least three erroneous ways.

            1. Mentioned above, they take a strategic principle of Paul’s evangelical ministry and apply it to corporate worship. This is both an exegetical and categorical error.

            2. The principle is usually only applied in one direction. Thus, missing is the overarching principle of “be all to all to save some”. They typically become X to win X and stick with being X only for X, and worship is aimed at attracting X. For example, say you have a “Cowboy Church”, So the worship is geared to cater to that. Well, they have become X to try to win X, but never extend the principle to its Biblical conclusion of “be all to all to save some”. Thus, the corporate worship becomes EXCLUSIVE rather than INCLUSIVE, and the principle, again, never applied to worship to begin with, and we find that none of the cowboys dress up like 20-something hipsters to win the hipsters and then also follow through in bringing them into corporate worship. Apply those demos to any demo and the point stands. Cowboys and hipsters are just the example.

            3. Adopt questionable/sinful/immoral/wordly behaviors to do evangelism. Paul wouldn’t even remotely imply this given his strict holiness teaching throughout 1 Corinthians (chapters 5-7), rebuking goofy slogans (10:23), and so on. Paul’s point in becoming like X to win X is primarily about not being or doing anything to bring UNNECESSARY, NEEDLESS shame or offense to himself while with a group of people engaging and evangelizing them, because the cross is offensive enough as it is (1 Cor. 1:20-25)

            Now, this is but a brief sketch that may require a lot more work and words to make rock solid, but to tie it all up, I do think a Biblical case could be made for the following regarding dress for corporate worship given the above issues:

            1. Do not dress immodestly, skanky, or in a manner that is distracting from God in worship, or brings attention or shame to yourself or to the congregation (given certain consideration to cultural variances, of course).

            2. Do not dress in such a way that gives off the impression of exclusivity. Whether it is high priced suits and dresses (nothing wrong with suits and dresses, but avoid overly-expensive ones for worship), punk rock garb, hip-hop garb, cowboy garb, or anything else that, in our highly individualist culture, makes it all about “me expressing who I am…blah, blah, blah”, and not God first and “we” second.

            “They will have to arrive at them as God leads.”

            And sometimes God leads through teaching, correction, and rebuke. ;)

            But yes, I agree and think that people should be given time and room to see these Biblical principles.

            So, after doing some preliminary thinking on this today, and spelling it out here in brief (I am sure there are holes to patch up if anyone wants to expose them), I think we have BOTH moved closer together on this from opposite ends. I think that, depending on the wealth of the person, his or her “Sunday’s best” (and Norm, I know you only said “nicer clothes” and didn’t say anything about “fancy-schmancy”) might be Biblically overdoing it, but I think “nicer and more reserved/conservative” clothes would be the optimal dress code on Sunday morning and such could be argued to be binding for everyone, though granting variant cultural differences and so forth.

            It is hard to swallow in our individualist culture where self-expression is at a premium, especially though clothes, but it is Biblically inappropriate for worship.

            Addendum 1: Now, I do want to say that I have no problem with lay Christians dressing like punk rockers/cowboys/hipsters/hip-hop heads/etc. six days a week, and witnessing to that demographic of peers exclusively, because not everyone is called to full time evangelistic ministry, which is also germane to the evangelistic context of Paul’s strategic principle in 1 Cor. 9:19-23.

            Addendum 2: I also do not think Paul’s strategic principle in 1 Cor. 9:19-23 is THE ONLY way for every full time person in ministry either. There is no command here to “be like X to win X, and like Y to win Y”. But, if a full time evangelist DOES INVOKE the principle, they need to do it consistently by sticking to the facts, and by the manner in which Paul meant it.

              Norm Miller

              Several observations:
              1. Your comment went into moderation because it was almost 7K characters. Limit is 5K.
              2. Overall, your comments remind me of an incident in my brother’s family. He is an electrical engineer. His daughter asked her mother about an Algebra problem. Mom answered, “Go ask your dad.” My niece replied, “I don’t want to know THAT much about it!”;^>
              3. Apparently, “(And that is reflective of the blog venue’s problems of both time and space.)” doesn’t apply to you.
              4. Seriously, more discussion leads to better understanding. Thx!
              5. Of the many valid points you make, you have also illustrated the old adage about youth ministry: “What you used to bring ’em, you gotta use to keep ’em.” (See post coming up this afternoon, a quote from Vance Havner.)
              6. I have been privileged to worship with believers in rural Russia, the Maasai in Tanzania’s highlands, in a Brazilian squatters’ village, at a summer camp above the Arctic Circle (at midnight in the sun!), and at FBC Dallas … and on and on. Thank you God! The phenomenon I have experienced is the feeling of being at home, where true believers worship God in spirit and in truth. In TZ particularly, the worship time was almost 2.5 hours. A moonless night, the Milky Way emitting enough light we could see each other, I sat on a cowhide as the Maasai sang hymns they had written (in Swahili), and as their young men preached, and as others gave testimony to God. Sans cloven flames on their heads, the Maasai never uttered a word I could understand. But, I knew exactly where I was: in God’s presence among His people, my siblings in Jesus our Savior.

              I learned and important lesson about worship that night — a lesson that got from my head to my heart. Here it is: Worship is first and foremost an attitude of the heart. Prone on that cowhide, I wept. I reveled in the presence of God. (And I was still wearing the same clothes I put on that morning!)

Bob Cleveland

I think 2 Timothy 2:14 was written for a time such as this.


‘as God leads.’ Norm is right on that point. “We will all stand before the judgment set of Christ” about how we understood the Lord to lead us.

From experience, it is no walk through the park.

Nahum 1:7

    Norm Miller

    “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him” Nahum 1.7.

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