Saturday, June 14, 2014
Religious but not spiritual. . .
We do not confess a spirit deity but the God enfleshed in Jesus Christ. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God who became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. As we sing in the ancient words of the Te Deum, Thou didst not spurn [abhor] the virgin's womb" or in the popular Christmas carol O Come All Ye Faithful we sing "to be born of a Virgin He doth not despise..."
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world (1 Jn. 4:2-3).
This incarnate God-man then suffered not spiritually but in the flesh for our sins. He bore the suffering of a whole world's sin upon His own shoulders. He died not a spiritual death but physical. He died and was buried not as a metaphor but as the greatest of all facts and truths. This we confess in the Creed.
Our Lord, the Son of God and Son of Man, rose again on the third day -- not as free spirit or ghost but in the new and glorious flesh and blood in which those who believe in Him shall also be raised from death to life. He showed Himself raised to more than 500 witnesses, not in the least were the apostles to whom He invited them to touch Him and His wounds. He ate in their presence and spoke in words heard by their eyes and not in thoughts to their hearts or minds. St. Paul insists that this physical, bodily resurrection is the hook on which hangs the whole of our faith and if we are left with only a spiritually living Jesus we are pitiful and still dead in trespasses and sins.
Jesus remains present with us not in some disembodied manner but incarnate now in the water of baptism, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and in the voice that speaks and delivers what it says (absolution). We do not gather to worship an absent Jesus or a Jesus who is but spiritually present but Him who comes to us in the concrete forms of the means of grace. The Spirit, the most spiritual part of this whole thing, delivers to us not some hidden or gnostic knowledge of Jesus or His wisdom but opens our eyes to see, our hearts to see, and our minds to behold the Christ not of feelings or desire but of Word and Sacrament.
Jesus did not send out His apostles and His Church to do spiritual work. The good works of Christians are not motive or intention but godly worship and life, showing forth the righteousness of Christ in the world, serving others in His name with His gifts and grace. We do not feed the spirits of the hungry and leave the bellies to others. We do not esteem the pro-life position without working for the protection and recognition of life at all stages -- from the unborn to the aged in their last breaths. We do not teach a spiritual or moral path but train up our children in the way they are to go, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, trusting in His death and resurrection and bearing His cross before the world.
I am religious but not spiritual -- there is no way I can conceive of a God apart from the God who is incarnate of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary. There is no God to worship apart from the worship this God has made possible by calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying His Church to be His Church, the bride of Christ who presents her holy and blameless by His blood. I do not pray to an idea or a creature of my imagination but to the Crucified and Risen Lord whom I meet in His Word and eat and drink in the Eucharist.
Those who are spiritual but not religious are not Christian and they know nothing of the God who did not disdain the ordinary of our mortal lives or this mortal world but came among us with great glory as one of us. These spiritual but not religious types are the enemies of Christ and His incarnation, rejecting as ordinary that which is extra-ordinary by God's design and honoring the idea of God more than His revelation. If you are a Christian of Scripture and Creed, then you, like me, will reject such Greek dualism and insist that we are religious and not spiritual, holding to the Scriptures "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" and singing loud and long "veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity..."
Man cannot become God -- not even some spiritual imitation but God became a man exactly once, without confusing the natures. The implications of this are the core and center of Christian faith, proclamation, and identity. This leaves no room for private or collective mysticism, false division between flesh and spirit that elevates one above the other and seeks the spiritual while disdaining the material. None of us is God. None will become God. We are not Mormons. We will always be human and never be gods. Salvation is not the deification of the mortal nor the release of the spiritual from the container of the flesh, but the restoration of man to his right relationship with God, now in creation and eternally in heaven, the new creation. Christ alone is the Son of God to whom has been given all power in heaven and earth.
The Incarnation has consequences for the way we see God's creation. Though marred by sin, it remains His good creation. God's Son was incarnate in the flesh, like us in every way except sin, "and was united with the Dust and made it glorious forever." (CS Lewis) He did not abhor the Virgin's womb, He does not abhor our humanity, our creatureliness but honors us and the flesh beyond all imagination by the Incarnation of His Son and His redemption of the lost and condemned by His own flesh and blood. Every other religion finds creation, history, and the flesh to be a curse or a prison from which the spirit must be rescued. Biblical Christianity believes, confesses, and teaches that God came into His creation and united Himself with it forever.