Tuesday, May 10, 2011



IN part 4 of his series on the "Normal Christian Life" Ben Witherington continues to diagnose the problems well:
Sometimes spiritual formation literature can get pretty weird and demanding, especially if you are an ordinary Christian just trying to improve your Christian life. Sometimes it sounds like you are being called to be some sort of individualistic spiritual superman or superwoman. John Wesley had a good deal to say about the wrong sort of spiritual fanaticism that involves more heart than light, that reflects a zeal, but not according to knowledge. And sometimes too, the call comes in the form of insisting, 'if you don't have the spiritual gift I have, then you are not a Spirit-filled, mature Christian.
And, primarily drawing on Wesley, offer some good solutions:
John Wesley certainly had some thoughts about this whole matter, and one of the interesting things about Wesley is that he did not think one size of spiritual formation fits all. In fact he set up societies, classes, and bands, three different levels of spiritual commitment to help persons at different stages in their spiritual growth learn to draw closer to God.


To begin with then, the normal Christian life involves doing one's best to observe the Lord's Day every single week. It involves coming prepared each week to wholeheartedly get caught up in love and wonder and praise of God in Christ with the congregation. We will say more about this in a minute, but it needs to be added that participation in learning about God through Sunday school or Bible study or small groups, learning with a group of fellow travellers, fellow Christians, is equally important.
The Christian life involves both education and transformation, both learning and loving, both fellowship and worship, both being lifted up in spirit and being enlightened in mind. The normal Christian life needs balance not only between work and rest and play, but that life cycle needs to include worship and learning as well. To some degree the Christian faith is something caught, through participation in worship, to some degree it is something taught, through Christian education. And in a Biblically illiterate age, we need large doses of both.
I am struck by how this model of both the Christian life, and the church, is at great variance with most churches today. In general these days a church seems focused on evangelism and mission. Worship is "the front door" - which means that instead of genuine worship and sacrament we are treated to a evangelistic Young Life club - and mission is full Christian service - which means a vacation with a few days construction thrown in qualifies as pretty much the totality of the rest of the Christian life.

Community is more than just a lot of people in one place - it is also a lot of people in one place doing a lot of different things. Yet anymore we we seem to design churches to funnel through a lot of people doing precisely the same thing.

Seems to me that is what got missionaries in trouble in Hawaii and other places around the world all those years ago. People are more complicated than that.

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