It is becoming more common for people in American culture to describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. The problem is, it is not always clear what people mean when they claim this "status". Generally, this sounds good and most people consider it a positive sentiment. I would like to offer a sampling of what I think people mean when they use this term, as well as an assessment of some positive and negative implications of this idea.
"Spiritual but not religious" could apply to the following groups:
1. Those involved with the New Age movement, divination, astrology, Satanism, magic, the occult, or any other non-Christian spiritual practice. It seems common for these people to describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. In this instance, the phrase is used to describe religion as a bad thing, while still embracing the idea of being spiritual as positive.
2. Nominal Christians- Those who have some association with the Christian faith, but are not regularly involved in a community of faith and do not engage traditional Christian practices regularly. The term is used to communicate that the individual has some belief and connections to the Christian religion, even though they are not very faithful in practicing.
3. Lazy Christians- Similar to the above category, but often used by those who are simply too busy or lazy to serve and participate in a church community.
4. Hurt Christians- Those who have been disenfranchised or wounded by a church, religious group, or even by a fellow Christian. These people want to distance themselves from organized religion and institutions because of their woundedness.
5. Carnal Christians- Those who are not living a lifestyle worthy of the gospel who are convicted/embarrassed by their behavior and feel reluctant to associate with the Christian religion because of their lifestyle.
6. Reforming Christians- Those who are embarrassed by the current state of Christianity in America and use the term to try and distance themselves from the negative aspects of the Church and organized Christian religion.
All of the above are potentially bad reasons to claim the title "Spiritual but not religious." The sole exception might be the last (#6). However, I still think there are dangers with the last category. It is not necessarily bad to want to distance ourselves from mistakes the church has made in the past. But we cannot give up on the church just because she is not perfect. What if, rather than distancing ourselves from the problems of the past, we simply admit the mistakes, repent for them, and move forward with a more biblical, authentic, pure version of the faith.
The church is God's idea. God created us to live in community and practice our faith in community. We have been so affected by the western exaltation of individualism that we view our faith through this lens as well. It is all about our personal relationship with God. Yet, the people of God throughout the Bible, and the majority of Christians throughout the centuries have not viewed it this way.
The Bible does not give us the option of being a "lone ranger" Christian. 1 John 1:7 says, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (emphasis added) To be a follower of Jesus Christ requires us to participate in his body. If you are a Christian who has cut yourself off from the Church, falling back into this idea of being "spiritual but not religious," I encourage you to search the Scriptures, pray and seek God, and ask him to guide you to a church where you can serve, grow, and practice loving God and others.