Sunday, April 20, 2008

Maturity and community, Part 2

In Part 1 I drew a picture of spiritual maturity's absence:
they were really more interested in themselves than in you. They don't listen well: either they don't pay attention at all, or they want to tell you about a similar experience, or, worse, give you advice before they fully understand your situation. And whatever the particulars, you get the feeling that you're not a real person to them; you might be an item on their checklist, or a data point on an assessment program, or the target of an evangelism project -- but you sense they don't really want to know you or understand your situation. And you don't walk away thinking, "I've been with someone who walks with God."
I'm not a big fan of defining terms with a series of "it's not ________", though that paragraph does provide us with a starting point. But rather than starting with Joe Random Christian's impressions of what maturity is, why not see what the New Testament says? Here are some passages that come to mind.
  • Galatians 5: the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit
    Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
  • 2 Peter 1: what we should make every effort to acquire
    Faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love
  • Matthew 5: beatitudes
    poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted for righteousness's sake
  • Ephesians 4-5: not infants tossed about
    truth spoken in love; put off falsehood; not sinning in anger; productive work instead of stealing; useful speech; shun bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice; kind, tender-hearted, compassionate, forgiveness; no greed or sexual impurity; wise living; no drunkenness; filled with Spirit; thankfulness; being subject to one another
  • Philippians 2: imitating Christ
    unselfishness; attitude of Christ, who didn't exploit equality with God but became a servant and died on a cross
No doubt there are more, but let's stop there for now. If the goal looks like that, how do we get there from here?

I can't believe what I'm about to write

... but the obvious answer is: Spiritual Formation. Spiritual disciplines. How is it possible to train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7) -- for perseverance, goodness, mercy and all the rest? It's the disciplines, which I've written about here. It seems to me that for the issue of greed/humility/selfishness, a key activity is serving, which come to think of it probably is considered one of the disciplines, or one of the "streams" of spiritual formation.
True Confession: Some years ago, when I first opened the Renovaré "yellow book" (which doesn't seem yellow any more) and read about the traditions of spiritual formation, I thought, "Why are you quoting historical church figures, rather than the Bible?" So I was an original Spiritual Formation nay-sayer. But as our group worked through the material, as we followed the program, our sharing was deeper than I'd experienced before in typical Bible study groups. Though different from what I'd been accustomed to, I saw the benefit of approaching spiritual growth in this way.

If you look on the web, you'll be able to find "hit pieces" that talk about these disciplines as though they were a way to earn God's favor. Having read a few of these, I'll say that they appear to be based on a misunderstanding of what the spiritual formation movement is about: it's not that "if you do this you'll go to heaven;" rather, "if you want to train yourself for godliness, here are some things you can do to work with the Holy Spirit as he changes you." So I hope that makes sense.
Now does this mean we should abandon all our other church programs in favor of spiritual disciplines, spiritual formation?

“All the wood behind one arrow”—is that in the Bible?

No and no. Let me take just one example from Kimball's They Like Jesus but not the Church. Suppose a young woman becomes a Christian and starts attending your church; someone encourages her to read the Bible, and then she comes upon this passage:
women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
If this young woman is perplexed or annoyed, what would the typical parishioner say to her? Would they know the answer, or know a lay person who could talk to her about it? Or does she need to make an appointment with a pastor (and how hard is that to do -- how hard does it feel to her)?

Kimball says that our church members need to be trained to deal with questions like these. If they haven't done the study themselves to address the issues, they should know someone, preferably a lay person (of whom we wish there would be a lot, scattered throughout the congregation), who has studied the issue and can handle it honestly and intelligently.

So, no, I don't believe in the "all the wood behind one arrow" theory for church programs. But I do believe we need an increased focus on spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

How to convince people that they need it? There's another challenge, which I won't address today.

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