Something I forgot to include in the last entry: the challenge for religious groups is to recognize these three levels and to simultaneously speak to different people who are at different levels. A church needs to minister to people who are in the literal stage, people who are in the ethical stage, and people who are in the spiritual stage.
That’s a tall order, particularly in a religiously plural society like ours where people change churches or change religions if things get too hard or don’t “meet my needs.” Most religious groups seem to pick one stage and focus on it. While there’s something to be said for niche marketing, this causes people to think “what my church does is all that’s important.”
So, Southern Baptists tend to think that a literal born again experience is all that matters. UUs tend to think that ethics and the here and now are all that matters. I don’t have any first-hand experience with mystical, spiritual groups – I would hope they have a more holistic view of religious belief and practice, but my guess is they don’t.
It may be that all we can expect from a church is to do one thing well, then to have the wisdom and humility to say “you need to move on” to those who are ready for something more.
How could a church, fellowship, congregation, coven, or grove simultaneously minister to people at such different stages of spiritual development???