In this blog I make a distinction between religion and spirituality. Religion is a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things” (Emil Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life). Biblical spirituality is the real and personal encounter with the real and living Jesus.

1703646closedmindA Congregation, therefore, can act as a religious or a spiritual assembly of believers. It is mere religion every time a sectarian rule is applied which overrules God’s words in the Bible.

A repeating example I have faced since 1973 is a Baptist congregation insisting that a newcomer, a believer in Christ, cannot become a member unless they experience baptism in exactly the form this religion demands. No other form is acceptable. And the person applying is not allowed full participation in religious decisions until they submit to the religious power.

However, nowhere in the New Testament is baptism (in any form) a prerequisite to membership in a local group. Actually, membership in a local group is nowhere practised in the New Testament! As believers we become part of the Body of Christ, the ecclesia, The Church, not a local segment of it. Local loyalty foments division – a sin according to the New Testament.

During the years of Paul’s ministry a Council in Jerusalem issued this as the doctrine that was required: “…keep away from things polluted by false gods, from sexual sins, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from eating bloody meat” (Acts 15:20, see also 21:25 God’s Word©). This is not the statement uttered or followed by congregations today.

Another way to look at this is what Jesus declared, “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other” (John 13:34-35 God’s Word©).

The world will know we are disciples by our costly and sacrificial love, not our baptism, not our canon law, not our rigid doctrine, not our exclusion of believers who do not submit to our religious practise and not a congregational constitution!

WHOSBOSSThese statements from the Council and Jesus direct action, both for personal fitness in faith and outreach/evangelism (the number one mission of the Church). Neither Paul nor Jesus emphasized doctrine or intellectual believing. It was all about the fruit, not the theory of farming.

“Be careful not to let anyone rob you {of this faith} through a shallow and misleading philosophy. Such a person follows human traditions and the world’s way of doing things rather than following Christ” (Colossians 2:8 God’s Word©).

Since denominationalism is the way that we gather in this culture, join where Jesus tells you. But do you really need to be able to vote on who is the pastor? Since that is wrong-headed anyway (the Biblical way is by lot to remove human interference/opinion) concentrate on service, not participating in power processes, every one of which will be spiritually suspect.