As I go around town and I meet new people, one of the first questions I get asked is, “what do you do for a living?”
I usually respond with, “I’m the priest at the Orthodox Church in town.”
After I say this, the conversation can go in many different directions. One direction that some people choose is to say, “Oh, that’s nice. I don’t go to church, but I’m spiritual.”
This answer always confuses me. I’m never really sure what they mean by spiritual. So, I ask, “What do you mean by that?”
Of course, spiritual will mean different things for different people. Generally, though, in the American context it will mean that the person considers themselves to be some sort of Christian but doesn’t want to be associated with any one church or denomination.
Is Being Spiritual Biblical?
But this raises a huge question (in my mind at least)!
If they are Christian (self-proclaimed, anyway) but not associated with a church, let alone the Church, does this mean that people are unfamiliar with Scripture, or does it mean they don’t believe Scripture’s witness?
In other words, how do they understand the following verses?
Scripture says the Church gives us sacraments for our salvation
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’.” (John 6:53 RSV)
In other words, Scripture clearly indicates that we need the salvific sacraments of the Church!
The aim of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit, and the sacrament is a means of attaining that goal. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom tells us that we partake of communion in order to commune with the Holy Spirit (Litany Before the Lord’s Prayer).
Holy Communion is not offered in nature, nor is it offered through Scripture. It’s offered by a priest with the a community of believers surrounding him.
Scripture says we should hold to the traditions given to us by the apostles
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 RSV)
The tradition of the Chruch that was handed down to us by Christ through the apostles is liturgical worship. The early Christians gathered as a community to worship and praise the risen Lord.
St. Paul speaks about this in I Corinthians 11, and an early writing from the early Christians, called the Didache (c.a. 100 A.D.), also describes worship as a liturgical and communal event.
In short, the tradition handed down to us is the Church!
St. Basil tells us this,
Of the dogmas and preaching preserved in the Church, some we have from the written teaching, others we received from the tradition of the Apostles, handed down to us in secret, both of them having the same force for piety. No one who has the least experience of the laws of the Church will object to these, for if we try to dismiss that which is unwritten among the customs as of no great authority, then without noticing it we shall damage the Gospel (On the Holy Spirit, 27.66).
If one is simply spiritual they will have inadvertently cut themselves off from the gospel as it was given to us by Christ through the apostles.
Scripture says that the community of believers are to be one body – not many denominations
“I [Jesus] do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21 RSV)
The core of the gospel message is that God reconciles himself with humanity through the crucifixion and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ. This means that we, as humans, are also reconciled to one another in Christ. St. Paul says it very well,
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 RSV)
In other words, the witness of Christians is that we are all one. We gather together around the Communion table and partake of the sacrament, precisely because we are all one!
By declaring yourself spiritual and refusing to identify with the Church means that you are divorcing yourself from the Body of Christ, and this is contrary to the gospel message.
In many ways, also being non-denominational, or even denominational, is not the witness of the one, holy, catholic/universal, and apostolic Church.
P.S. In Church we work together for our salvation and this is much better than being spiritual
As I mentioned above, the contemporary trend seems to be that one is spiritual rather than religious. What some people will mean by this is that they consider themselves to be Christians, but they don’t go to Church.
However, Scripture shows us that Christ established a physical Church on earth. Through this Church, Christ establishes life-giving sacraments, which are faithfully preserved by his apostles and the Church throughout the ages.
For over 2,000 years, the Orthodox Church has been doing precisely this.
St. Paul writes,
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 RSV)
Therefore, it is together as one Body of Christ that we help one another and work out our salvation.