“I’m spiritual but not religious” was something we heard a lot for a while. Maybe people are still saying it. And maybe they really believe it.
But it was, for a time, such a prevalent sentiment that church leaders found themselves trying to head it off by protesting that their church wasn’t really religious. “We’re about a relationship, not a religion” was the sort of thing you were supposed to say. We conceded the premise that religion is bad, false, stuffy, and passe. In the spiritual language of the Bible, religion was “the old wineskin.”
But it seems like a good time to make clear that at Furnace Brook we practice religion, and that’s why people should consider attending Furnace Brook.
You can do church without religion and you can do religion without church, but it’s best when you practice the one in the context of the other. Here’s what I mean.
If church is the organized faith community with common leadership and regular occasions of worship, and religion is how people interact with God through activity that has supernatural implications, you can have churches (even growing churches with charismatic leaders and dynamic presentations) where there are good sermons and enthusiastic singing but little by the way of religion. And, on the other hand, you can have religious activity (the keeping of vigils, sacramental gestures, anointing the sick and praying for healing, etc.) that happen outside of any faith community.
But the best thing, by far, and the thing that best reflects Jesus’ design for us, is when a faith community comes together not to grow its brand or increase its platform but to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven.
When Jesus restored Peter and commissioned him to ministry he told Peter that whatever “you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and that whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This is the mysterious and potent stuff of religion and we can not run away from it.
So we baptize people believing that the water of baptism accomplishes something real that extends through the cosmos and endures through eternity. And we offer and take communion believing that the Savior of the World is present with us in that moment to nourish us, body and soul. And we anoint the sick and lay hands on the oppressed for deliverance and receive and express words of knowledge from the Holy Spirit and we pray together powerful words out loud until our hearts are saturated with the truth of those words. It’s religion, and the world needs it because the world needs God.
So, yes, at Furnace Brook we practice religion. Our worship services and the life of our fellowship is religious, meaning that we operate at the intersection of the natural and the supernatural and what we do is always a matter of life and death.
And some people, even after the sobering season of pandemic, will still prefer to participate in a church that emphasizes conventional success over religious experience. Some people (especially those who have been well churched) will always prefer that. But we sense that in an anxious age there is a deep desire for the deeply religious faith that offers to connect people supernaturally to the Jesus who loves them, redeems them, and makes a way for them from this world to the world to come. And we’re here for it.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog