Identifying Religious People

Have you ever heard a well meaning Christian friend or leader identify another Christian as “religious” or having a “religious spirit”? I’m sure no one reading these posts has ever done that? Smile.

If you have or do – please stop. When you miss categorize someone this way you are doing more harm than good. Even if you feel that you are justified – let me tell you that you are not. You have no biblical precedence for doing so.

To look at another person’s actions and decide whether or not they originate from a religious spirit is to suggest that you can discern the intents of the heart. No one can do that.

I had a situation years ago where a good church person suggested to me that we shouldn’t allow people in the church who have been in jail. Her reasoning was that church needs to be a safe place for people to find God. When I shared that with a fellow pastor his immediate response was to suggest that this dear lady was religious. He wondered where an ex-convict could find God. Then when I explained to my fellow pastor that this woman had been a survivor of a violent crime, his tone changed.

On another occasion I was arbitrating a disagreement between two Christians. The one individual was picketing abortion clinics. The second one was so upset because he felt that it was religious and was giving the church a bad image to lost people who didn’t know any better. What the second person failed to realize was that if it were not for a picketer, the first person would have been aborted years before.

So the next time you hear a fellow Christian articulate their preference for a certain type of liturgy, advocate for a political position, desire specific church language, abstain from certain practices, etc, please don’t jump to the conclusion they are being religious or not. You don’t know the heart behind it until you ask.

I believe that the future church belongs to leaders who are able to lead a people with different personal convictions without the need to create a corporate mandate about what is in and what is out.

I have made the mistake of trying to create a culture that is non-religious by judging dear saints who have used older language out of the goodness of their heart.  Personal convictions and preferences don’t always come from a religious spirit. They are simply personal convictions and preferences.

The moment we try to get away from the use of certain words and phrases, shun certain styles of music, and elevate a type of culture over another we end up creating artificial spaces of what is in and what is out.  We end up creating our own religious experience that will in time be judged as well.

In Romans 14 we learn the valuable lesson not to create corporate mandates for personal convictions but to create spaces where personal convictions in non-essentials are free to be expressed rather than controlled. 

I believe that there is an art to this type of leadership and it takes a secure leader to facilitate both the expression and the acceptance of differences – ethnic, generational, or otherwise.

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