spritual practices


Over at Outside is Better, Chad Brooks is calling us to tell the truth about ecclesiology in the local church.  He opens with three Ally Bank commercials that expose the ridiculous and unfair bait-and-switch practices of banking, and then segues into a discussion of our too often bait-and-switch ecclesiology.  He finishes the post with four suggested practices:

  • Build churches of care-giving.
  • Define moral boundaries in order to define holiness.
  • Build a worshiping community that is focused on God and his actions, instead of humans and our emotions.
  • Be honest about what your church offers.

Read (and discuss) the entire post at Outside is Better.

Running his suggestions through a bit of functional ecclesiology: What might leaders and members do to create a community in which these sorts of spiritual practices are common and expected?  Here are three suggestions:

  • Leaders–whether formal or informal–must model the expected practices.  It is not enough to teach and preach them.
  • Leaders must provide and members must seek out training that equips and conditions mind, emotions, and desires, so that all may become the sorts of persons who practice these as a matter of course.  This includes teaching our identity as a connected community in Christ, the transforming power of correct knowledge of God, and the fact of the speech-and-action tainting baggage that we all carry.
  • Leaders must provide and members must seek out training in the skills needed to create a web of care that expects shared responsibility, decreasing focus on self, increasing focus on God, and a realistic representation of the Body–both its strengths and its weaknesses.

What have you to add?

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Thoughts after reading the preface and introduction to Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church, in which he makes a case for church life outside the institutional church

Regarding Viola’s assumption, that in the institutional church the structure should not be reformed or renewed because the structure is the problem. Though I think the structure is a major problem, I also think structure is more a symptom than a source of the problem. Leaving the institutional church to its own devices will not solve the problem. I hold to another solution: remaining in the institutional church as the bold, yet respectful, loyal opposition.

My reasoning is this. If it be true that the persons inside the institutional church are Church and that the Spirit in them in witnessing to their spirits that Jesus is the Christ and the center of our corporate being, then change—including complete reconstruction—is possible (however likely or unlikely). Some first steps are redefining things and positions and removing the business/marketing template.

For example, if we say that the large Sunday gathering is worship and celebration rather than the primary event, then we free that definition (“primary”) for application to smaller gatherings throughout the week. These smaller gatherings would include learning groups, serving groups, and everything in between. If these smaller groups redefined themselves as primarily Christ-centered communities with specific tasks I think, the institutional church would begin to change. Of course, there are some things that must be rebuilt from the ground up. [1]

I realize even as I say this, that those who are fully committed to organic or house church will likely consider this a compromise. And indeed it may be, but I think the community of persons inside the institutional church is worth it.

[1] One thing that we must change is the solo senior pastorate being one (which I believe to be unbiblical and wrong). We need a plurality of elders (“older holy one”) who really do lead—stepping out there first, putting themselves on the line, and living lives that look so much like Jesus that we cannot help but follow.

Related post: Among the Loyal Dissatisfied

The Church is the Body of Christ; the individual members belong to that Body only by virtue of their connection to Christ. He alone is the founder of our faith; he alone is the completer (Heb 12). The Body, therefore, is not a mere collection, as if a part might be removed without consequence. Each person, each connection, each function, each purpose makes the Body what it ought to be. Similarly, persons, connections, functions, and purposes not inherent to the Body contaminate the system and make it what it ought not to be.

As the Body, the church functions at the communal and individual levels. In addition to saving grace (Eph 2:8-10), Christ measures out functional grace (Eph 4:7), equipping each member to serve the local and global church. Persons practice grace so that the church might mature and expand. The Body practices grace that is greater than the sum of its parts; a properly functioning church will have influence beyond what is logical from member’s participation.

How does this maturation take place in the world? An important step is to take a clear, focused look at Jesus and confess that we, as his Body, are not behaving in accordance with our identity in him. Only then, after knowing where we are and where we ought to be, can we plan and begin our journey. If the church is broken, the problem is not external; the problem is in the church itself.

A major internal contributor is the unbalanced, haphazard way many persons receive biblical input. Too may subsist on pre-chewed pablum. Too many read only emotionally. Too many read only intellectually. If growth results from knowing and speaking truth in the context of love, then adequate biblical input is necessary for life and growth.

This biblical input must go beyond mere hearing, mere emotions, or mere intellect. Each person, each community must take responsibility. The following matrix (developed after skimming Life with God by Richard Foster) offers some suggestions.

I realize some may cast doubt on my emphasizing biblical input, placing great importance on spiritual experiences. Such experiences can be important; they can also be false. Others will emphasize listening to the Spirit. This is, of course, crucial and necessary. But to both I must ask, How do you know the experiences or the voices are from God? One cannot merely say, I just know, for we all have personal and cultural filters that skew our perceptions. The only sure way to know God’s voice is to listen to him in community as we gather to read the Word with head and heart, going deeply into smaller portions and gaining breadth in larger chunks.

Relevant Readings and Writings this Past Week
blog post: Pursued by and Dwelling in God
book: Biology of Human Starvation
blog post: Blitz the Me-Prayer
Scripture: Daniel 9, Psalm 23, Psalm 119:105-112
book introduction: Thinking in Systems
blog post: By Guidance and Intention
ideas in blog posts: monkey bars

ponderings from the Moleskine, November ’08

The truth leaked from our life together in Christ is the necessary precursor to our proclamation of God’s worth.

Knowing begins in relationship with God.

  • The triune Creator, Covenant-Maker is foundational.
  • Our fear of and love for God develops wisdom: truth lived well in the world.

Knowing grows in relationship with others.

  • Community provides the training and correction needed for growth in truth.
  • Working and playing alongside our brothers and sisters adds what is missing in our knowledge and removes what is false.

Relational knowing leaks truth in the world.

  • The methods of relational knowing show that God’s truth is both conceptual and relational.
  • Modeling relational knowing before the world bypasses intellectual and emotional barriers, though resistance and acceptance remain matters of volition.

How–that is, by what reasoning standards–she [an author] introduces these observations, defends them, and allows them to build into a coherent, defensible, and ultimately persuasive statement is the book’s argument…

…The indispensable predicate for effective argument is command of your subject matter…

…For every conclusion there must be a trail of facts available in the text…

…Your research is trying to tell you where your argument lies. You just have to learn to listen.

Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato
Thinking Like Your Editor
W. W. Norton and Co
(C) 2002
pp. 145-152

In their book on writing serious non-fiction, Rabiner and Fortunato instruct writers to shape proper argument. Authors must provide a “coherent, defensible, and ultimately persuasive” line of thought, showing the reasonableness of their conclusions. There are three prerequisites for such an argument: (1) clear grasp of the broader subject, (2) a trail of evidence supporting the author’s thesis, and (3) willingness to listen to the evidence, even when it contradicts the thesis.

What does this have to do with the church? Followers of Jesus have a variety of opinions, many of which are strongly held and vigorously (if not visciously) defended. Some of this stems from our finite nature–we just don’t see things clearly. Some stems from the corruption–some of our deep beliefs don’t allow us to get it. Whatever the cause, love for Christ and for others demands we agree respectfully.

A PRECIS on Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript: Part II, Section 2, Chp. 2 (189-224)


SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT

True knowledge of God is subjective, not objective. Subjective knowledge is true because it properly handles the uncertainty inherent in existence. All human knowing involves uncertainty. While objective knowing attempts to explain and remove the uncertainty, subjective knowing decides to act despite uncertainty. Deciding to act despite uncertainty is the very faith required for true knowledge of God.

Still, we can have no true knowledge of God apart from God’s revelation of Himself in us. Human persons are in process, but God is complete. Our knowledge is in process. Humans in process cannot access knowledge of God, who is complete.

God is complete in that his essential, eternal truth is simultaneously objective and subjective. Human persons approach this truth in rare moments of intense intentional directing of the self (passion). In the normal course of life we must decide to seek either objective or subjective truth. If we choose objective knowing, then subjective truth becomes untrue. If we choose subjective knowing, then objective truth becomes untrue. We cannot go in both directions at once.

Not only must we choose one or the other, but we choose between unequal options. Our humanity depends on which one we choose. Objective knowing makes a person something other than human. Objective truth is static; humans are dynamic. When the self is directed towards static, external truth, the self becomes static. To be static is to be something other than human.
Subjective knowing makes a person increasingly human. It deepens one’s understanding of truth because truth is accessible within the self. Truth is discovered by an intense intentional directing of the self toward the self.

We see, then, that objective and subjective knowing pull the self in opposite directions. Objective knowing pulls the self away from the self. In so doing the self becomes something less than and other than human. Human affections are set aside as the self moves toward externals. In contrast, subjective knowing engages the affections and moves the self toward internal truth with intention and intensity. Deciding despite uncertainty (the leap of faith) is required for knowledge of God. True knowing is the decision to make the leap of faith and it is the leap itself.

Every act of knowing outside the leap of faith is an estimate because the only thing that can be surely known is what we are deciding. Our deciding—the leap of faith—carries risk. What is reasonable requires no faith, for faith requires risk. What is reasonable has no risk. Christianity is unreasonable. It is a paradox based on the unreasonable and absurd notion of the essential and eternal entering the contingent and partial (incarnation). Objective faith consists in propositional truth statements that attempt to explain the paradox. Subjective faith consists in intense intentional directing of the self toward the divine. Christianity, therefore, does not consist in the compilation of propositional truth statements, but in the continuing process of risking and deciding toward the divine.

Rather than attempting to explain, faith clarifies the incarnation paradox, showing it to be increasingly paradoxical. The explanations of propositional truth statements remove the paradox and make it something else. Once the paradox is removed faith is no longer required. What is explicable requires no faith; what is inexplicable requires faith. God is inexplicable; therefore, He can only be known through the intense intentional deciding of faith.

CRITIQUE

Kierkegaard is correct when he places the affective and volitional squarely in the realm of faith. Faith surely includes emotions and values, decisions and behaviors. A faith that is merely cognitive is a false faith. But Kierkegaard goes too far.

He goes too far when he equates what is partial with what is untrue. Partial truth is not untruth; it is merely partial. When a gynecologist does a sonogram on a pregnant woman the resulting picture is partial. Nonetheless, the picture provides reliable contours of the fetus. To one accustomed to these contours, the picture provides important information about the fetus. The same is true of objective knowing. Objective knowing is a partial picture that provides reliable contours of truth. To one accustomed to the contours, the picture provides reliable information about truth outside the self.

Objective and subjective truth are both partial. We begin to approach a more complete picture of truth only by combining the subjective and objective reflections of many individuals to arrive at consensus. As with a sonogram, a greater number of soundings provide a more complete picture.

While Kierkegaard also goes too far in his rejection of passionless intellectualism, the challenge is valid. Much theology in Kierkegaard’s day was far removed from daily Christian life. Life in the state church was also far removed. Spiritual passion had little to do with the objective worlds of theology and church. Kierkegaard, though, seems to have been a man of great spiritual passion. Some speculate that his depth of passion is clinical depression; this is unclear. What is clear, though, is his concern for professing Christians who remain passionless and his difficulty living in their midst.

Still, Kierkegaard focuses so heavily on will and emotion that reason is cast aside. Humans are whole persons commanded to love God with their will, emotions, reason, and body (Mark 12:29-30). In the end, Kierkegaard is guilty of the same offense as those he accuses. His truth is just as partial as that of the “assistant professors” he so harshly criticizes.