Religious But Not Spiritual?

A new Facebook group caught my attention recently. It’s called “I am religious but not spiritual” and its description reads: “The most important thing in life is to have an institutional relationship with God.”

I didn’t join the group, but something about the idea resonated in me. Obviously, it’s a reaction towards the more established, opposite movement; that faith should be all about individual expressions of spirituality, and not about institutions and structures and history.

As postmoderns we are supposed to distrust institutions. Does that make me modern if I find myself actually liking them? Brian McLaren says the divide between conservative and liberal is outdated; now it’s about modern and postmodern. It’s still a divide. What if there’s no divide and never was? (Intensive reading of Bruno Latour the last few weeks has almost persuaded me this might be the case.)

But back to church. A post and published article by Tvesok (in Danish) has some interesting observations about the target group and purpose of new churches. But a comment on this was: what about those people who like and need the security and structure that institutions can give?

It’s all about community, we’re told to believe. And I believe community is important. An institutionalized church without community would not be the same, sure. But is it the most important thing? What about corporate worship? What about the Word? What about the ‘sacraments’ (insert theology here)?

Upon, for instance, moving to a new city, finding a church can be a difficult task. Personally, I’d prefer one that suited me on both religion and community. A church whose activities and institutions inspired and challenged my Christian life – but also one in which I felt a sense of community with the other people. But if you can’t have both, the choice is not that easy.

What is church, anyway?


Author: Kenneth Mollerup Birch

Living north of Copenhagen, Denmark. MA in Information Science. Interests include communication, internet, sociology, language, politics, religion, theology, travel, music, and food.

6 thoughts on “Religious But Not Spiritual?”

  1. A common misconception among emergent people is that there are no moderns outside the Church, in the “real world”. However, most atheists and people engaged with science have a very modern way of thinking. To say that the future Church should be postmodern would be to exclude these people or, rather, their way of interpreting Christianity in case they are converted. They might argue that over time, there will be none of these people left. Or they might argue that the old Churches can take care of these. I’m a bit concerned with this direction.

    On a personal level, I find myself seeing great potential in institutions and I believe there some obvious benefits. At other times, though, it feels like the institutions are limiting us unnecessarily and preventing us from expressing our faith in an honest way. I guess, I’m neither modern nor postmodern.

  2. not.especially@Kenneth:
    (rather some random thoughts)

    I don’t really see myself as fitting totally in either the box of the emerging, the postmodern or the deconstructivist. Neither the box of the modern. Or the box of the Danes or even that of the Europeans. I am also not a devoted McLaren fanatic. I am/want to be a disciple of Christ.

    But still I have the following thoughts which could make me seem belonging to a number of the above:

    For my sake we could re-invent the institution. That would be okay. But I see a need at the moment to first have it dismantled.

    (Btw.: Who invented the church institution? Man or God?)

    At the moment I think the institution is making us blind, so we don’t realise the needs of the people outside it (AND do something about it). We only see our own need (e.g. to find the nearest local church that suits me).

    (Btw.: Bjørn Ottesen recently held a really good sermon at Århus Cafekirke – listen to the podcast.)

    But what about the Word then?
    -Well it depends, if for you the Word is letters – “the Bible” (as for the Jews at the time of Jesus), or if the Word is (the less definable) “Jesus”.
    If the Word is letters the best way of teaching/learning it is class room lessons (for this we need institutional places like the adventist sabbath school or the like – (like regular sermons with speeches) and institutions where we can study theology).

    But what about the sacraments then?
    Sharing bread and wine is good for remembrance.
    Baptisms are good for the moral of a congregation, a good way of marking a turning point in ones life, and a good opportunity to teach newcomers about Gods work through Jesus.
    So… what about them?

    What about corporate worship then?
    Institutionalised worship has always made me wonder. I see it a bit like an opposite to spontanous worship, which I find more real. Let’s worship where ever we may roam, but because God is worth it, not because it’s weekend. (<-please read this last paragraph with et gran salt, I’m tired and I’ll promise to be quiet now and go to bed.)

  3. @Tvesok: A rhetorical effect, I admit. Nobody in particular, but often you hear things like: Church is not about the building, it’s about the people… Church is what YOU make it… etc. And I say it myself. My question is if this actually presents a skewed picture of reality.

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