Monday, March 18, 2013

Spiritual-Religious Paradigms in the 21st Century

by Brittany L. Browne

Have you ever heard someone refer to themselves as being ‘spiritual but not religious’? Religion plays a major role in our society, but in the 21st Century it seems to be quickly turning into an institution with which many young adults no longer want to be associated. As a way to get around it, some call themselves ‘spiritual’ indicating that they do indeed respect a higher power, but not within the limitations of doctrinal confinements and rituals that are all-encompassing to who they are as a believer.

Christians often speak about how the word of God is living, breathing and active. But how is this notion evident in our churches, when church membership is constantly declining? It is not only church membership that is declining, but philanthropic giving to churches continues to decline both nationally and internationally. What does this tell us about the way individuals are defining themselves when it comes to association with Christianity?

Being religious is often interconnected with negativity while being spiritual appears to set one free from the negativity of the religion. Individuals who consider themselves spiritual are often criticised as being a contradiction.  Christianity suggests that we are all spiritual beings and that to be spiritual is already a composition of who you are as a believer.

The discussion of whether one is spiritual or religious is not a new concept but it is growing as there are increasing demands from the Christian faith to be more transparent, authentic and accountable. 

Many new ministries are forming in small circles, without an actual church building, in an effort to detach themselves from the image of the “Church.”

In Matthew 13:13-15, Jesus told the disciples [his] reason for speaking to the people using parables saying, “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” Is this true of the church? Are we as a body, seeing but not truly seeing or hearing and not fully grasping the full meaning of some things?   

With the depth of the spirit so subtle to the point of others calling themselves spiritualist, the future of the church has to continue to deeply consider what it will look like and sound like in years to come. The church must see, hear and understand with fresh perspective. To ride on the coattails of history and hold on to all old understandings, or definitions is not enough. It also doesn’t mean completely rid ourselves of essential things that are imperative to our identity as Christians. But, to reject new ways of understanding the faith is an injustice within its own institution. Instead, it is important for us as a body to inquire about the depths from which the new definitions are arising.

The spiritual and religious paradigms of the 21st Century are a way for us, as the church body, to be attentive to the prophecy of Isaiah as mentioned in Matthew 13:14-15 and to act on it lest we remain remote in our revelations and our relevance in the world.

Brittany L. Browne is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving with the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) in Geneva, Switzerland.

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