On Saturday of last week and then again on Monday of this week, two different articles crossed my desk reporting that one in five Americans declare themselves religious but unaffiliated with any church or denominations.
These unaffiliated believe in a nebulous higher power, some of them even believe in a personal God. Gary Laderman, professor of American Religious Cultures and History at Emory, calls the question, "Do you believe in God?" a simple-minded question (wow) and said the real question today should be "What is sacred to you?"
Those who want spirituality without affiliation do not reject belief; rather what they are rejecting is spiritual authority, of any sort. They don't want churches telling them what to believe; they reject religious institutions of all kinds, opting instead for a religion that is purely a private matter.
Basically, what the unaffiliated are doing is creating their own private religion. The only time they turn to the church is for weddings and funerals.
Early in man's history, there was a man who today would be called one of those unaffiliated religious people. His name was Cain and you can find his account in Genesis 4. Let me summarize and apply what we learn from that account.
Apparently, sometime after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God instructed Adam and Eve in how they could approach Him. Contrary to popular myth, Cain and Abel were not the only children of this first couple (Genesis 5:3-5), and from the biblical record we can assume that they are not even among the first children of Adam and Eve. The Bible records redemptive history, not exhaustive history.
In any case, as Cain reaches adulthood, he makes the decision that many "unaffiliated" are making today; he decides he can go to God his way, and he does just that. His younger brother, however, is willing to submit to spiritual authority, in this case, the approach that had been revealed by God.
Cain apparently thought that God would be pleased with any type of approach to Him, and his course is basically an approach through nature worship -- he offers God "the fruits of the soil." Cain is greatly disturbed when his approach is rejected, when he discovers that all roads do not lead to God or that one gets to decide for himself or herself how they can approach God.
In fact, the Genesis text tells us that Cain becomes livid over the fact that God doesn't recognize his offering.
God intervenes, speaking tender words of advice and comfort to Cain, warning him of the error of his way and instructing him once again on what he must do to be in fellowship with God. This, however, does not placate Cain, so he asks his brother Abel to join him in his fields, and there, he attacks and murders him. I imagine that Cain might have been thinking, "You want a blood sacrifice? There's your blood sacrifice!"
I think a lot of those who want spirituality without authority are a lot like Cain. Cain, instead of complying with God's instructions, decides he can accomplish more by murdering the one who did comply. Get rid of the guy who is faithful to God and there is no one left to tell you that your way is unacceptable.
No one beside God that is -- but hey, you've already rejected His authority, so why start listening now?
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.