CONTEMPORARY RELIGIOSITY AND SPIRITUALITY
P. M. Joseph
Peculiar to our recent times is the intense religious excitement and keenness encountered across all religions. The fervour is certainly an unprecedented phenomenon, although similar happenings have occurred periodically in religious history; but never on this proportion. Its impact is astonishing and the over-arching influence makes the trend fairly disturbing to genuine believers. As an express upshot of its sway, places of worship are thronged with all varieties of people, from thugs to the earnest, leaving the disparity hardly thread-thick. However, its queer unconcern for the inner state of man and its betterment makes this phenomenon bizarre. Though quite unusual, this enthusiasm can be ascribed to a number of reasons. The spiritual void that standard religiousness yields can be one cause. The apparent inconsistency between the religious activity and the uncharacteristic life-style may be another reason. Besides, it can also be an acute reflection of oneís self deficiency as a spiritual being, standing far below Godís expectation, goading him to work overtime to gain approval. Guilt feelings springing from improper moral conduct too may stir up this wild fervour. These and a host of other reasons unleash the current frantic spiritual quest, which spur people to religious centres to drown in pious activities. By and large, this kind of a quest does not compel people to the correct fountainhead of spirituality, the Lord Jesus Christ, but only elsewhere. Whatsoever may be the case, keenness is obvious.
As there are no dependable means to verify the authenticity and correctitude of this passion, it remains baffling to the common mind. Broadly, the authenticity of any religious fervour is normally gauged through the sustainable experience it affords. It is, obviously, a man-made rule to satisfy oneís own self. Going by that standard of judgment, every religious experience is apparently valid, as the devotees seem to obtain their desired results tangibly. It makes most people always content with their brand of beliefs. Since their immediate problems are resolved, no need to verify its authenticity is considered necessary. The means and the end are almost identical to them. The luxury of quickie solutions yields comforts, but many do not realise that the end is lethal. Still many hold on to this precarious position albeit unwittingly. On the other hand, the Bible portrays unmistakably the nature and confines of God-approved spirituality vis-ŗ-vis the familiar religiosity. According to it, spirituality must rest on God as its sole end and it should lift man as a spiritual being close to the Creator by refining his nature and temperament by the advocacy of the Cross. It is strictly objective and does neither focus on subjective experiences, nor rely on it as an end. However, the mood and tenor of current religiosity is essentially opposed to the genuine brand. If any religiosity is to be genuine as spirituality, a few vital ingredients are indispensable. We will reflect on some of them briefly.
For any religiosity to be authentic as spirituality, it must view God as He really is. Naturally, God is the focus of all religiousness; but it may not necessarily conform to who He essentially is. Very often, the commonplace idea of God is man-made and never God-revealed. Therefore, it does not proclaim and reveal God as He is. A flawed understanding of God engenders inconsistent living. Therefore, an accurate understanding of God is crucial for accurate spirituality; or else, it remains mere religiosity, unacceptable to God and consequently unproductive. Genuine spirituality is always two pronged. It has a vertical angle, where God is seen as He really is and is honoured accordingly. Then, it has a horizontal angle where manís character is refined with an ensuing influence on the surroundings in which he lives. So, the quality of spirituality is reckoned in terms of its real life impact, resulting from knowing God as He is. By nature, human perception of God is defective and imprecise due to the Edenic mishap, which rendered human intellect permanently defective, and his thinking inconsistent. It is sad, yet true, that even the most genuine seeker after God is beleaguered with this debilitating handicap that aborts, retards, and terminates his quest after God obliging him to invent gods and goddesses of his liking and preference. This god of his making is largely a duplication of himself and therefore, a vague distortion (of God). Obviously, this invention produces defective religions and promotes aberrant living, as life can only be as cultured as oneís knowledge of God. Despite all their long and arduous efforts, the human race is still powerless to return to the original state of its understanding of God. On the contrary, and paradoxically, the true God who has revealed Himself through the Bible is still unacceptable to human mind. Man must return to the Bible to find God.
Any sensible mind can realise and conclude that God is vastly unlike the gods of the religions, as the general understanding of God available in the natural world around him reveals to the contrary. However, general knowledge is inadequate and meager to draw accurate conclusions about Godís attributes, nature, and demands. It can, at the most, generate an interest or initiate a probe, but it cannot reach a conclusion. Nevertheless, as an act of sovereign mercy, God revealed Himself personally and explicitly through the Holy Bible for humankind to search and discover. The Bible portrays God exactly as He is and His attributes are accurately pictured there. It represents Godís attributes and nature perfectly as One who is holy and righteous (vis-ŗ-vis man who is sinful), which should reflect in the lives of those who know and worship Him. He insists that His people be holy as He is and maintain upright lives. Further, God detests sin with all its covert and overt manifestations, and judges it justly. He is also loving and caring towards His creation and the entire natural world attests to His unqualified goodness. He is eternal and His being is unchanging. He is the embodiment of light and dwells in unapproachable light worshipped by holy angelic beings, asking His worshippers to live transparent lives. These simple, yet vital essential truths are seldom found honoured in present religious pursuits making them a state-of-the-art travesty. Again, anything maintained contrary to what is revealed in the Bible is only a clever masquerade and counterfeit. As the god of contemporary religious exploits fails to measure up to the Scriptural standards, it is a only caricature.
If religiousness should pass the test of legitimacy as spirituality, it must have the Lord Jesus Christ as its central figure and focus. Though God revealed Himself through the natural world and the pages of the Bible adequately, tangible knowledge of Him becomes substantial only in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is historically God incarnate. God had intervened in history periodically ďin many ways and through the prophets, but in these last days He spoke by His SonĒ (Heb.1: 2). Again, the book of Colossians insists that He is the Ďexpress image of the invisible God and the brightness of His gloryí (Col.1: 15, Heb.1: 3). These are categorical assertions regarding the unique identity of the Lord Jesus Christ as God in flesh unveiling Him as the only dependable revelation of Godís person. Briefly, in Christ Jesus alone can humankind view God, His nature, and His expectations unequivocally. It also helps to conclude emphatically that every other concept of God is false and potentially dangerous, however engaging they may be. The discreet and wise among the sons of men must discard them and cling to Christ Jesus lest they should injure their destiny. Briefly, any valid spirituality should maintain Christ Jesus as its Lord and God. Clearly, it involves subjecting an individualís life to Christís authority as Lord and subscribing to His teachings as an act of commitment to pattern life after Him in walk, work, and worship. This acknowledgement will reflect in oneís moral behaviour and social conduct concretely. Disassociated of this premise, no religiousness can ever be accurate.
Spirit Of God
For religiosity to be authentic, the Holy Spirit should be its author and this is the third vital ingredient. No man can ever know God, His Son Jesus Christ and His ways unless the Spirit of God enlightens him. He quickens the minds of men and women which are dead towards God and makes them spiritually agile and receptive. With His help alone can man understand genuine godliness and Godís standards and expectations. He alone can situate man in God-approved worship and facilitate a godly walk. In genuine religiousness, He is there as the central factor, from the beginning until the end, guiding, enabling and sustaining. In brief, the dynamic involvement and presence of the Holy Spirit is indispensable in so far as authentic spirituality is concerned and no man can maintain it credibly and practise it meaningfully without this element. This parameter renders every other form of religiosity invalid.
A religious experience should tally with the Holy Scriptures if they are to be accepted as valid. The Word of God, the Bible, is the ultimate standard to gauge religiousness and confirm its soundness. Critically and objectively, it analyses every shade of religiousness and resolves its veracity conclusively. God has revealed His mind and will through the pages of this sacred book and it is there that any should seek any spiritual reference. It is the only reliable manual for religious consultation available to man in the whole world. All other manuals, though they appear convincing, are counterfeits and miscarriages of truth. It is a fact that most contemporary religious teachings and the results they yield, including those claimed by some Christians, fail to tally with the Holy Scriptures in content and spirit. In effect, most religions have customised and expertly articulated manuals, which are palatable to men and hostile to God. It keeps men spiritually amused, undisturbed and smug. Intelligent men must avoid them, if their destiny is to be secure. On the other hand, the Holy Scriptures convict men of their sins and demand repentance. They drive into them a sense of the awesomeness of God and His holy demands which makes sinful man shudder over his inadequacies as a responsible moral being. The Scriptures impel man inescapably to the foot of the Cross for cover, the only shelter for sinners, and trust in Christ and His finished work for salvation. Further, it rigorously disciplines them to walk consistent with the Scriptures.
Finally, if religiousness is to be genuine as spirituality, it should promote godliness in day-to-day practical living as its natural corollary. Quintessentially, godliness is god-like behaviour in tangible form and it is ever indivisible from true spirituality. The Old Testament (New Testament as well) was specific that the worshippers conform to the One they worshipped, reflecting His nature and concerns lest their worship should become a sham. In some respects, it was a test of their brand of worship and its authenticity as well. In brief, one cannot be simply content with a regimen of religious drills and workouts without focussing on subjective transformation of his core being. It is possible only when one patterns his life after Christís life and makes His teachings, his ideals. Objectively, spirituality impacts Christ-like existence and advocates His attitude, nature, and values. Christ-likeness thus becomes, synonymous with godliness. The aim of spirituality should be this end. As evident, most religionists defy and flout this important element condemning their pursuit to merely ďhaving a form of godliness but denying its power.Ē The present flurry of religious activities fails to synchronise with the biblical parameters. Also, it contradicts Biblical spirituality in content and spirit, though only by a thin distinction; it must be discarded as outright counterfeit, designed to con the unwary.