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Spirituality: The New Pharisee-ism

If you visit religious websites or blogs, there is a lot of talk about “spirituality”. It is often associated with the statement, “I am spiritual, but not religious.” Usually, this means that the person is not affiliated with organized religion, or put another way, doesn’t go to church. This category is one of the largest-growing segments in the religious landscape of our country. Mark Vernon, author of the book How to be an Agnostic, explains why people have chosen this path: “The rise of this type of spirituality has been driven by a sense that religion is out of keeping with modern values. People associate religious institutions with constraining doctrines, and bad things that are done in the world. That may be outright fundamentalism, the oppression of women or some kind of conflict with liberal values.”


Whatever reasons people give for abandoning organized religion, there are two important points that need to be made. The first is that the church at large (not us) has brought this upon itself by running away from God’s holy Word to go along with the vain philosophies of the world. The second is that people have always thought they knew better than God and have sought to devise their own religion.

This is exactly what the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. They were a strict sect that taught people were saved by keeping the laws of Moses plus keeping the rules they made that surpassed the laws of Moses. They were self-righteous and rejected Jesus because they did not think they needed a Savior. Jesus called them hypocrites and quoted the prophet Isaiah against them: “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (29:13).

Those who separate from the church are the same as the Pharisees. They have rejected God’s commandment to remember the Sabbath day. They also believe that they will be saved by their own religious thoughts rather than trusting in Christ their Savior. Those who dwell on their own thoughts apart from the Word of God will only be led astray. The Scripture says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). The Lord also says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (Isaiah 55:8). God’s Word tells us the only way we can be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. He saved us by becoming our Brother in order to fulfill the divine law for us and die on the cross to pay for our sins. We must trust in Him alone for forgiveness and salvation.

God creates faith in Christ, and sustains that faith, through Word and Sacrament. The Holy Spirit works through these means to teach us the truths of God and strengthen our faith, as Jesus said: “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). Those who would have the true faith are to be “religious”. They are to go to church to hear the Word of God and to receive the blessing of the Sacrament of the Altar often. The Holy Spirit does not come to us in nature, but only through these means He has designated.

The devil never stops redefining spirituality. He doesn’t care what people believe as long as it is not the truth. The new spirituality leads people to trust in themselves and their own thoughts and feelings about God. This is the same thing that caused Jesus to condemn the Pharisees in His day.

Earthly institutions are not perfect, but God has established the church to retain the true worship and dispense His grace. Do not neglect what God offers you. Come and hear God’s Word that you may have the true faith and the comfort God offers you through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Rev. Matthew Luttman is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Vero Beach, Florida.