The Value of Religion

I may not agree with the Jesuits in everything but James Martin (as cited in this CNN article) makes an excellent point. In reference to the increasingly popular concept of being “spiritual, but not religious” Martin says:

Being spiritual but not religious can lead to complacency and self-centeredness. If it’s just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demand on you, why help the poor?”

From article linked above

While Martin’s conflation of religion and community may go a little far, he hits upon a profound truth. The Christian culture has increasingly become one in which we also want to consider ourselves “spiritual, but not religious.” The phraseology looks different – we’ll  say “I have a relationship, not a religion” or “I’m not a Christian, I follow Jesus” or with Anne Rice we simply quit “Christianity” – but the dangers seem eerily similar.

Of course, religion as a means of merit or earning a status before God has no place in the Christian worldview. However, religion as the activity of the Christian in the context of the local church deserves further thought.

With this definition in mind, denying our religion denies our very context. The Christian belongs in the church. God has ordained the church (as flawed as it may sometimes turn out) as the place for the Christian to practice Christianity with other Christians. This is not simply a good idea; it becomes a necessity. One need only briefly browse the New Testament to see the importance of community.

Yet often we think of religion as an individual effort and all the evils come rushing out to meet us – the fact that worship fails to draw us in, the fact that our pastor does not know Greek and Hebrew, the fact that the youth group does not really seem relevant. But all of these opinions treat religion as something revolving around “me” – religion, rather, must always involve the many because by definition it requires relational activity.

So why’s religion important? Because religion actually consists of more than simply “going through the motions.” Our religion includes our behaviors in community. This community and the way we commune with it deeply affects our identity, changing and shaping us. For example, even something as routine as singing songs together can deeply remind us of our united purpose and need for one another.

Religion may just be the best-kept and least-recognized secret in Evangelical Christianity. I think it time we give it another go rather than dismiss it for the world’s religion of “me.”

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6 thoughts on “The Value of Religion

    1. I think one thing religious activity gives us is a stronger sense of unity. Such unity in turn gives us a significantly stronger sense of identity which can greatly affect our behavior. One example that comes to mind is a serve day or some form of group service. I know personally I am more likely to serve in my community when I am with others. That’s just one practical way; I think the spiritual reality of a united community also must be considered.

  1. Great post Matt. I agree very much so and have used very similar thoughts in discussions recently.

    Is it possible for one to grow apart from the community? Can’t one love God and love others without the Anne Rice referenced body?

    1. Good question Cody. In my opinion possible does not equal best. Of course, it’s possible to grow apart from the community and of course one can love God and love others without the body but I think such a view comes up lacking. I am increasingly convinced that community is one way that Jesus “makes our burden light.” Paul emphasizes community in Philippians 2:12-18 where all those incredible commands and things we are to be flows out of Paul’s earlier emphasis on community. So, sure we can ignore it, distance ourselves from it but it cuts the legs out from under us. Even Jesus had his 12 so who are we to say we only need ourselves? And that doesn’t even start to approach the fact that we are fallen and need accountability – it’s like the article I cited said: “If it’s just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demand on you, why help the poor?” We may like to think we’d do it because we care but we are fallen and the reality probably is we’d find some navel-gazing more important.
      That’s a long reply but I hope it’s helpful. Your thoughts?

  2. Oh I agree entirely. Community is one of the greatest importance in following Christ BEST. I love how community is even deemed a spiritual discipline.

    I just wanted to see what you would say. I should’ve expected nothing less though. After all, you are Matt Timms.

  3. Good. I especially like the part about “Christian”. Some people like to stray away from this term because it’s religious, but really it’s deeply tied to our identity. Not only does it mean “little Christ” but it’s also the name we came to be called in the Bible at Antioch. The other name we have for ourselves is “followers of the Way”. These are our two biblical names. That’s just what was brought to mind when I read that part of the post. Thanks.

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