Monday, January 14, 2013

Read: Acts 2: 42-47
                              One of the popular adage both in social network like Facebook, Twitter and also popular refrain from many people is that " I am spiritual but not religious". There are some others who also proclaim "I love Jesus and not the Church". This refrain is catching up on people and many people seems to blindly subscribe without thinking of the implications of the statement, or whether this statement has any biblical support or perspective. But what actually made me to take serious look into this popular adage is a recent article written by Dan Merica and published in CNN last week, which had a very surprising finding. The article was about a research done by Michel King, a professor at University College, London and published in this month's edition of British Journal of Psychiatry. According to this research,  people who claim to be spiritual but not religious are likely to face more mental health issues. According to King, people who have spiritual beliefs outside the context of organized religion are more likely to suffer mental health issues like neurotic disorders, mixed anxiety or depressive disorders or depression. King has been criticized severely for the finding of this research by people across the globe. But then it is difficult to define what it means to be spiritual and not religious  as both these terms are intermingles and many concepts overlap in both spiritual and religious realm. What King wanted to reiterate through his research was that people who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of  a religious framework may be more vulnerable to mental disorders than people who  are connected to an organized religious framework. This study is something similar to many other studies conducted whether religion or religious framework was good for individuals. Tanya Luhmrmann, a psychological anthropologist at Stanford University states that organized religion provides three benefits and they are 1. Social support, 2. Attachment to a loving God and 3. Organized practice of prayer. But more than benefits of being attached to organized religion, or whether the spiritual people or the religious people are more prone to mental health issues, my question is whether an  individual who claims to be spiritual live without any religious framework or can we equate our spirituality to pure individualistic outlook and living without any  connection to any organized religious framework?. At his juncture I think it is important that we define what it means to be spiritual and religious and also look to the Word of God as to what the Biblical understanding of both spiritual and religious means. Personally in a Christian perspective, the understanding of a person who is spiritual denotes a person who has intimate, daily, dynamic and living relationship with Jesus Christ and a person who is religious strictly seems to be that he/she belongs to a church or a member of a church. Thus can we say that those who belong to the church are not spiritual or people who are spiritual need not be members of the church or is it ok that the so called spiritual people need not associate with any church or community of faith thus living and claiming that spiritual living is only connected to ones relationship with Jesus Christ?
                         In the book of Acts, we find the first group of spiritual people. Who were these group of spiritual people. These were individuals, families and also children who believed in the message of the gospel, in the promise that was given to them by the Lord [ Acts 2: 38, 39].  The number of individuals who became "spiritual" or believers who responded to the preaching of Peter, according to Acts 2 :41, were three thousand. Thus it was three thousand people who had a transformation in their life when they believed on the message of the gospel. Now when we read Acts 2: 42- 47, we find a new insight as to what the spiritual people did after they believed on Lord Jesus Christ. These spiritual people or believers [ let us remember that they were not called Christians at that time], devoted themselves to apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and spent time in prayer. They also did something unique. They always came together, had everything in common and shared with people who were in need. It is these verses that show how the spiritual people in the early church lived their new found faith or their spirituality. The emphasis was on 1. Fellowship of believers, 2. Fellowship through communion and 3. Fellowship through the sharing of the burden and pain of others. Thus we see in Acts that spirituality is not something that we express not only in our personal life our personal realm but a conscious faith action done through fellowship, building up of relationship and in celebration of fellowship through the partaking of communion. So also being spiritual means that I cannot be blind and deaf to the cry of my neighbours and my people in the community. Being spiritual means that I am connected to the people in pain and suffering and that I need to be part and channel of healing and alleviation of pain and suffering of others. Thus if I need to express my spiritual beliefs I can do that only in a community, in an organized set up so that actions are more organized and beneficial to others. I understand that when we stress  on  more organized set up we may tend to focus could more on structures rather than practical ways of witness and serving, but yet with all these negativity associated with an organized  religious framework, I would still want to affirm that if I need to be truly spiritual I need to be connected with a community of believers, I need to be connected with the community outside my personal world, I needed to be connected with some sort of organized religious framework so that we are accountable not only to the Lord but also to each other.