Spiritual Life and Religious Life: A Contrast of Faith


Carl Barth, in his book The Christian Life, suggests that “the modern usage of the term ‘spiritual’ has wrongly been put in embarrassing proximity to the word ‘religious.'”  By comparing the terms geistlich (spiritual) and geistig (religious), Barth concludes that at “at best [religion] can only serve the spiritual (geistlich) life of man and often it will not do so.”  This distinction helps by reminding us that many things we attach to spirituality is really just religious.  I believe in many instances our communities of faith are creating very religious people who think they are spiritual.  Really they are religious: participants in a system of thought about God and what he demands of his followers.  These participants know [at least they think or have be told directly or indirectly] that “spiritual” people DO a certain set of tasks.  In doing the tasks they gain self assurance of their spirituality.  However, tasks many times are centered on the individual and their accomplishments.  The unintended consequence of religious tasks focuses the Christian on himself and his accomplishments.  When tasks are neglected, the Christian “tries harder” or “gets right with God” returning to the list that assures him of his spirituality. Bloesch helps explain the solution to this dilemma.  He explains,

True spirituality begins and ends with God.  False spirituality begins and ends with self.  We do not find the will of God by probing into the searchings and yearnings of self.  We find hope and promise for the self by reflecting on the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ….Our chief concern is to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, the necessites of life will then be ours as well (Mt. 6:33; Mk. 10:29-30; Lk. 12:29-31).

So the question becomes how do we do the things that please God without them becoming a list of self-assuring tasks?  Perhaps the answer lies in what tasks we are doing or who is the beneficiary of those tasks.

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