Which got me thinking: what's the point of a doctrinal statement? Not in a negative way- just in a, "I don't want to do things at church just because that's what churches do" kind of way. Among my many thoughts on that issue, one of the most prominent was my numerous interactions with the type of people who sharply distinguish between "religion" and "spirituality," preferring the latter. With that in mind, I decided to write an introduction to the doctrinal statement that perhaps that kind of person would come across, especially for our soon-to-be launching website.
I thought it would be a good idea to put that intro here first though, partially because I think you might be interested, and partially because I wouldn't mind some feedback. So pardon the length of this post, but without further delay:
Today’s Western World commonly distinguishes between spirituality and religion, expressing a conscious preference for the former. The term “spirituality” conjures thoughts of desirably mysterious transcendence and generally being in touch with the divine. By contrast, “religion” is thought of as the stifling institutionalization of that transcendence, such that mystery is eliminated and God is made in humanity’s image to suit its arbitrary and sometimes even evil ideas and actions. Perhaps it is because of these stigmas that some well-meaning Christian first coined the phrase, “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship.”
We can appreciate the good in this mindset. Most of us can feel intuitively that there is something profoundly wrong with domesticating the divine. Most of us can also feel intuitively that there is something profoundly right about looking outside ourselves for an experience of the transcendent. Further, most of us can see that all too often, heinous evil has been done in the name of God.
Yet while we see this good, we are convinced that, contrary to the religion/relationship distinction, to carry out any legitimate relationship with God, some of the forms of religion are quite necessary. There are two sides to this point. From the divine side, God is so transcendent as to be largely unreachable but for His revealing Himself in real ways in human history. From the human side, mankind’s finitude and sinfulness allows us too limited a knowledge of God to be satisfied with sweeping mystery as expressed in spiritual platitudes. The combination of God’s eternality and humanity’s finitude is spiritually paralyzing- unless God intervenes to make it possible for us to know Him.
We believe that God has done exactly this through direct revelation to humans, both in word and action. The “spiritualist” denies the need (or perhaps the possibility) of this revelation and wallows in the mystery. The Christian is unsatisfied with mystery alone and asks, If God has truly revealed Himself to humans, why should I do anything but pursue it with the most seriousness and vigor I can muster? She sees the need for revelation and joyfully pursues her spirituality within revelation’s self-set bounds, including any religious structures it deems necessary.
We believe that God’s revelation of Himself in particular in the Bible provides such religious structures. Because God has also revealed Himself to be good, wise, and omniscient (among other things), we trust that any religious structures He has revealed to be necessary are not hindrances to our spirituality, but channels of spirituality that benefit our pursuit of Him. Indeed, without those religious structures, no human being would be able to know God meaningfully.
“Religion” as a concept thus should not carry the stigma of being spiritually stifling. By contrast, we embrace religion joyfully, and choose to distinguish between religion and “religiosity” rather than religion and spirituality. God is not only transcendent and incomprehensible; He is knowable. Religiosity gets caught up in the forms such that the whole enterprise goes stagnant. The religious Christian rejoices in the truth that we can have real access to God rather than being stuck in the perpetual vagueness of New Age spirituality.
The following affirmations then lay out some of the major parameters of God’s revelation of Himself that we at