TRUE SPIRITUALITY [PART 2]

In the previous blog I introduced the subject of ‘TRUE SPIRITUALITY’ as reflected in Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer’s experience and writing. I lifted out three highlights for me personally.

The fourth highlight for me was Schaeffer’s understanding of spirituality as related to the Church [we can’t separate spirituality and the Church:  my comment]. I want to deal with three insights here concerning spirituality and the Church: 

  • Schaeffer, quite rightly, saw the Church as ‘the second humanity.’ She is ‘the body’ of Christ. As such she should exhibit him to the world. Just as our means of communication into the external world is our body, so the Church as the body of Christ should be to Christ his means of communication into the external world. We think our thoughts and then we convey our thoughts into the external world through our bodies; our physical body is the point of communication with the external world and this is the way we affect the world. In the same way the Church is called to be the means whereby Christ may be exhibited and act in this external world until he comes again. Since the fall there have been two humanities, not one. There are those who are still in revolution against God, and there are those who by God’s grace have returned to him on the basis of the cross. Every single generation should be able to look at the Church and see an exhibition of a substantially restored relationship between men in this present life. We’re talking here about men in relationship to God, in relationship to themselves, and in relationship to others – all this in the Church. We are to be true humanity before a lost humanity. [my comment:  was it Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said that Christ came to make us truly ‘human’? Imagine the outworking of this in the work-place, our marriage, our parenting, our witness to the broken and forgotten, our unity in a polarising society, etc. Let’s remember these things when next we talk about ‘being the church’ in the world]
  • Where a group of believers are not under the headship of Jesus, they are ‘spastic’ members of the body. Church unity is not organisational, it is a united  body where each part is under the control of the Head and therefore lives and functions together. Thus if as individual believers or groups of believers we are not under the leadership of Jesus, the Church will be functioning like hands that cannot find each other and in a disjointed way. This applies to a congregation, mission, small group, etc:  let us examine ourselves as to whether we are in fact functioning under the headship of Christ. [personal comment:  we are not here de-meaning those born with a spastic disability. In my first youth group, many moons ago, we adopted a school for disabled children – what fun we had together] [another personal challenge:  do you know of any church or group that truly honours the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering? I think this is where we have to start if we want to be the body of Christ in this world]
  • There is a distinction between men, even converted men, building Christ’s Church and Christ building his Church through converted and consecrated men (cf. Mt. 16:13ff). Organisational and financial matters should not be allowed to get in the way of the personal and group leading of the Holy Spirit. These things must never be allowed to rule out faith or contradict the supernatural. Schaeffer uses the example of Uzzah and the Ark (2 Sam. 6:1-15), symbol of God’s presence. There always seems a legitimate reason for reaching out to steady the Ark. And as Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark, he thought he had a good enough reason for disobeying the word of God (v.6-7). At this point he no longer trusted God to steady the Ark. Might it not fall? Might not something of God’s work and glory be shaken? Schaeffer says this danger is never more present for us than in the face of organisational and financial crisis. You see, we tend to think that God is building the invisible church and we are building the visible church. This is a false dichotomy. In ‘church meetings’ are we not all familiar with the quick ‘opening prayer,’ a quick ‘closing prayer’ after half the people have left, but in between no difference exists between doing the Lord’s business and the business of some well organised business enterprise. Instead we should always look to Christ, and always wait and pray for his leading, moment by moment, so that we operate on a supernatural plane. This to many of us is a different world. [personal comment:  organisation is not wrong per se, but it becomes a problem when it gets in the way of the conscious relationship to Christ of the Church as the Church. I would plead, as many others are at this time, for minimal church structure and maximum church ‘life’ (Christ). Let us pursue ‘simple Church,’ so that Christ may truly function as Head of his body].

There is much more I could share from Schaeffer’s ‘True Spirituality,’ but I’m sure we have enough to chew on and hopefully change us before a watching world.

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TRUE SPIRITUALITY [PART 1]

How many of us have longed for that, but somehow never quite grasped it mentally or experientially. Of course it all depends on what we mean by ‘spirituality.’

Recently I picked up one of my Francis Schaeffer books after a half-hearted attempt to read it many years ago during a spell in bed with pleurisy. I refer to his ‘True Spirituality,’ which he wrote as a result of personal struggles and a crisis of faith which saw him question the unreality of evangelicalism. He had to be honest and rethink his Christianity, or return to agnosticism. After months of walking in the mountains and thinking and praying, he wrote this very helpful book. [For the record, Schaeffer (1912-1984) was an American Presbyterian theologian, philosopher and pastor, famous for his writings in the area of apologetics as well as the establishment of L’Abri (i.e. ‘Shelter’) in 1955, a spiritual community in Switzerland which attracted thousands of young people during the hippy era’s mad pursuit of drugs, eastern religions and personal guru’s]

I thought I would share some of the highlights for me personally, and show their relevance today, 40 years later.

The first highlight was Schaeffer’s emphasis on ‘Christ plus nothing.’ Whereas in my early years of faith I was always in pursuit of some mystical experience of the Spirit which would render me ‘holy,’ Schaeffer rightly anchors sanctification firmly in Christ and the cross. He insists there is such a thing as true, moral guilt in the life of mankind which needs to be dealt with, i.e. a true moral guilt before the ‘Infinite-Personal God’ (I love that title) who is both holy and loving. Only the finished work of Christ on the cross in substitution as the Lamb of God, in history, space and time, is enough to remove this. It is truly removed on the basis of the finished work of Christ plus nothing on our part. When we thus come, believing God, the Bible says we are declared justified by God. When Schaeffer speaks of ‘faith’ he doesn’t mean a Kierkegaardian (19th century Danish philosopher) ‘leap into the dark.’ It is not a solution of ‘faith in faith’ [so prominent in today’s ‘faith movement,’ and so devastating – own comment] but of faith in the given promises of God in the gift of his Son on the cross. We are saved and sanctified (in a moment-by-moment process) ‘by grace through faith.’

The second highlight for me was Schaeffer’s emphasis on our sharing, through our faith-union with Christ, in his historical and objective life, death, resurrection, exaltation, reign and personal return [when we speak of this ‘faith-union’ with Christ, think of a biblical marriage union between husband and wife, sharing everything: personal comment]. He points us to Rom. 6:4,6,11 where Paul centres our sanctification in the historical work of Christ:  ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life… For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.’ What does this mean in practice, so that it will not be just words going over our heads? It means ‘that in our thoughts and lives now we are to live as though we had already died, been to heaven and come back again as risen.’ Schaeffer reminds us that at least one man has gone there and come back – Paul speaks of himself as such a man in 2 Cor. 12:2-4. Our life, our values, our view of things – everything would be changed if we as believers and as the church lived, moment by moment, in the light of this truth. As the clock continues to tick, in every moment of time, our calling is to believe God, raise the empty hands of faith and let his grace flow through us in fruitfulness.

A third highlight was the historicity, objectivity and practicality of Christ’s transfiguration as described in Lk. 9:28ff. Because familiarity often fools us, let’s read this passage again. Here we are brought face to face with a supernatural universe. Moses and Elijah are speaking to Christ as he is glorified in the company of some of his disciples. This supernatural universe is not a far-off universe. The day after these things occurred Jesus and his disciples went down the mountain and entered into the normal things of life – but note, the normal sequence of things was continuing while they were on the mountain! The encounter is both temporal and spatial. As they went up and climbed the mountain, there was not a place where they passed into the ‘philosophic other.’ If they had had watches on their wrists, these watches would have ticked away. The Bible insists that we live in reality in a supernatural universe. Thus the glory of the transfiguration of Christ has everything to do with the way we live in the world. We live in reality, but as those risen and exalted with Christ through faith. The ‘heavenlies’ (Eph. 1:3ff) are not a long way off, the supernatural world is not remote. Being a Christian means living in the supernatural now, not only theoretically but practically. We don’t play at Christianity, we really live it! [a few Sunday’s ago as we were sharing together in house church fellowship, it seemed God’s presence was so close we could touch it (him) – I reminded those present that the curtain between this world and the supernatural world is paper-thin, so that we should not be surprised by these experiences]

Until next time and Part 2, warm greetings…

 

 

FULL CIRCLE

Our eldest daughter (now in her early thirties), as a rather confused but strong-willed teen spent quite a few of those intermediate years in ‘worldly experimentation’ with values she had not grown up with. Then she encountered Christ (or, Christ encountered her) and the same strong will was turned to serving Jesus. She took full responsibility for her life and eventually found good employment, to which she committed wholeheartedly. At that time of turn-around Rosanne, together with her son Matthew, took active and enthusiastic part in our weekly house church gatherings in our home. After excelling at her job locally she was promoted and transferred to Cape Town. There by ‘God-incidence’ she renewed acquaintance with a committed believer she had admired in a youth holiday club (traditional church days), they fell in love and got married.

In Cape Town Chad, Rosanne and Matthew attended a local community church that was very warm and accepting, and became involved in different capacities. However, somehow Rosanne hankered after the days of ‘house church’ where spontaneous life and participation were experienced week after week, with the development of deep relationships across racial, cultural and generational divides. [‘Organic house church,’ when functioning healthily, has a way of ‘wrecking’ one for good]

Unprompted by anyone except the Spirit of God I am sure, this young family made contact with another house church group in Cape Town. To cut a long story short, this past Sunday morning Rosanne, with the full support of Chad, Matthew and Caleb (who providentially took a nap – he’s 10 months old) led an organic fellowship gathering in their home, including the Lord’s Supper. Everyone participated spontaneously and thoroughly appreciated the experience.

I asked her if facilitating the group was difficult or left her drained emotionally. She replied ‘Nope, God led the meeting!’ You see, that’s what happens when people share spontaneously under the headship of Jesus and by the inspiration of his indwelling life. What proud parents and grandparents we are! [we rejoice that our other two married children and grandchildren are engaged in the same process of organic life in Christ, albeit at different stages of the journey]

At Rosanne’s response a few scriptures immediately came to mind:

  • Rom. 8, where Paul writes of individual and corporate ‘Life Through the Spirit’ shared in by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection. V. 14 reads, ‘Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.’ Wherever people who have died to sin and risen to new life in Christ, gather together, they are inevitably ‘led’ by the Spirit of God in the ways of God.
  • 1 Cor. 6, where the apostle reminds the Corinthian church of the power of a ‘way of life in Christ Jesus,’ which agreed with everything he taught everywhere in every church. Christ is both ‘taught’ and ‘caught’ and ‘lived,’ not between 9 and 10 on a Sunday morning but 24/7 52 weeks of the year.
  • Zech. 4. The prophets Zechariah and Haggai had the ‘impossible’ task of encouraging post-Babylonian exile Jews to re-build the Jerusalem temple and return to the true worship of Yahweh which their forbears had forsaken. God encouraged the two prophets and their governor Zerubbabel with the well-known words of v. 6, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” A humble and child-like dependence on God’s Spirit always enables God’s Church to build more easily and more fruitfully.

God grant that in these days, when he is working ‘outside of the box’ in so many ways, that many young families in our country and across the globe may be like Priscilla and Aquila of old, displaying and conveying Christ in the intimacy of a home yielded to him. 

[by the way, as an expression of their life in Christ, Chad and the family are currently serving in very practical ways a neighbour who about a month ago lost her life-partner to cancer and is in the process of possibly losing her son (in his 30’s) to extreme diabetes. The husband had come to faith in Jesus before his death, the son has done likewise whatever the outcome. Chad and Rosanne would be the first to admit that they are a young family facing all the frailties and crises and challenges other young families face today – in their case it’s just Jesus who is making the difference]

 

 

Christ and Culture

Of course, this is a huge subject, so this is no attempt to examine the subject in depth but to share two recent personal experiences of Christ and culture.

Despite protestations that some cultures are superior to others, all cultures display something of the Creator’s glory. God has not left himself without a witness in creation and in the conscience of mankind (Rom. 1). There is a ‘general revelation’ of God in creation and culture [sometimes to a surprising extent – I am reminded of veteran missionary Don Richardson’s experience in Papua New Guinea in the 1960’s-70’s, when he was able to build on the Sawi tradition of a ‘peace child’ exchange between rival villages to stop the perennial killings and bring thousands to a knowledge of Jesus]. There is also God’s ‘special revelation’ in Christ, outside of which there is no personal knowledge of God.  

Thus most of us would agree with anthropologist S. Lingenfelter (‘Transforming Culture’) and theologian H.R. Niebuhr that Christ comes to transform culture on earth through his redemptive work – through his incarnation, persons and cultures can be restored to fellowship with God and harmonious relations on earth.

A month or so ago I was invited to include in our regular house church gathering at Mordecai (a home for abandoned children) the ‘welcome home’ of the house mother’s son, Sipho. He and some fellow late-teens had been ‘in the bush’ for their traditional Xhosa circumcision. While some of this rite is commendable, aspects have occultic roots and involve the approval of the ‘ancestors.’ [While I have never personally looked for these things, I have had no choice from time to time to pray with Xhosa believers who carry spiritual baggage from pre-conversion beliefs and practices. Often in such prayer-times demonic forces evidence themselves via headaches, clasping of the ears (in order not to hear the name Jesus), convulsions, etc]

For some years Sipho had been mentored by a local multi-cultural congregation, Lwazi a respected Xhosa school teacher as well as a spiritual father, Julyan, whom I greatly respect. In the bush Sipho was joined by a committed believer from out of town, and together they got to together for daily Bible study and prayer. They learned what was good in their culture concerning ‘manhood,’ but also abstained from rituals they could not identify with as believers.

In our Sunday gathering we celebrated with praise songs, congratulations, exhuberant traditional dance moves, etc. Our house group shared with Sipho and two fellow graduates (apparently unconverted) that ‘what really makes a man’ is not circumcision in the flesh but ‘the circumcision of the heart’ (Deut; Rom; Gal). Lwazi and I prayed over Sipho as well as his mother who, despite many hardships, had adopted him and raised him as her own. Lots of banter, soft drinks, cake and coffee followed. I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything!

A few weeks ago there was another encounter, this time directly with evil supernaturalism. God had brought a professional Xhosa man into my circle who showed hunger for spiritual things. He had been raised in a very traditional home with a mother who, while attending an evangelical denomination still practices witchcraft. He has over many years resisted her overtures and spells in order for him to follow in her footsteps. He has suffered much in terms of horrific dreams, misadventures, ill-health, etc. A prayer team and I spent a morning praying over him the deliverance of Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross (Col. 2:13-15). I am pleased to say that the outcome was positive and there has been a massive shift toward knowing Christ more fully – he never misses our house church gatherings, his perception of biblical truth is growing weekly, etc. Please pray for his maturing as a follower of Jesus and that he might soon get a permanent post in his profession. [Let me say that we have learned, in this kind of ministry, never to become obsessed with the enemy and his tactics but through prayer to enforce, in co-operation with the demonised person, the victory of Christ and his cross. The great Scottish preacher of yesteryear, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, used to say ‘For every one look at sin take ten look’s at Christ!’]

I conclude with Eugene Peterson’s wonderful, Christo-centric paraphrase of Col. 1:18ff (The Supremacy of Christ):  ‘He was supreme in the beginning and – leading the resurrection parade – he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious he is, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross… Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence… There is no other Message, just this one…’ 

[For those working in Africa I heartily recommend my friend Vernon Light’s ‘Transforming the Church in Africa’          
for excellent perspectives on African Traditional Religions & Culture]

THE CHURCH AND FRIENDSHIP

While reading through Jn. 15 (The Vine & the Branches) I was again struck by Jesus’ words to his followers in v. 15, ‘I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.’

This conversation of Jesus with his followers is surely about relationship and intimacy. In fact the NASB divides ch. 15 into 3 sections:  v. 1-11, The Vine & the Branches;  v. 12-17, The Disciples’ Relation to Each Other;  v. 18-27, The Disciples’ Relation to the World. I.o.w. there is an intimacy between us and the Life-Giver, between us as fellow-followers, and between us and a lost world.

Does the reference to ‘servant’ exclude all thought of intimacy? I don’t think so. ‘Servant’ (Gr. doulos) can be rendered ‘slave,’ but most translators favour the former. It is a paradox of course that Jesus’ followers are also his ‘slaves,’ i.e. his bond-slaves who out of sheer gratitude for their ‘ransom’ serve their master with all they are and have. The apostle Paul introduces himself to the Roman church as ‘a servant (‘slave,’ doulos) of Christ Jesus’ yet ‘called to be an apostle.’

Later in the Roman Letter (8:15ff, Life Through the Spirit) Paul expands this intimacy with God:  “you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ (‘Abba’ is an Aremaic word for Father, conveying the thought of intimacy; Eugene Peterson renders it ‘Papa’).

While a servant’s task can be arduous, Jesus had already intimated that his yoke was ‘light’ (Mt. 11:25-30), i.e. compared with the unbearable yoke of the religionists of the day. The Messiah’s followers enter a relationship with God rather than a religion with a host of rules and regulations. Most know the song, ‘He aint heavy, he’s my brother.’  

Coming back to Jn. 15:15, Jesus expands on this special friendship (Gr. philoi). A friend is a confidant. By this time Jesus had told his core community all he had heard from the Father:  why he was sent by him to this earth, why he was going to lay down his life for the world, why he had to leave this earth, what he would do at his return, how people could have access to him, etc.

Someone close to me recently suggested that she saw me (metaphorically) sitting on God’s lap. My religious training sent off alarm bells. Yet there is a sense in which ALL of God’s children get to enjoy this privilege. He gets to share with us the intimacies of his love, his kingdom, his purpose in Christ (Eph. 1-2; Col. 1-2), the secrets of heaven. We in turn get to share our intimacies with him, our fears, inadequacies, need for purpose and direction, our love and worship.  

Recently a ‘serious’ Christian from the UK attended a church service at a certain congregation in our city, and was apalled by the casual dress of the worshippers:  to him it denied God respect, it affronted his majesty and holiness, etc. ‘Would one appear dressed like that before a king or president,’ he asked? My daughter-in-law spontaneously quipped ‘Yes I would if the king was my dad!’ The reformer Martin Luther got it so right when he pointed out that God’s majesty is most revealed in his coming as a baby to be born in a backyard cave for the sake of wooing a rebellious world.  

AND YET many of us continue to meet weekly with pews full of believers who show little or no evidence of intimacy with God or one another. A religious exercise, yes, a ritual yes. But intimacy? Friendship?

For Jesus true friendship among believers is non-negotiable:  v. 12-13, ‘My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.’ In most churches their may be acquaintance and perhaps even friendship to a degree. But intimate, Jonathan-David type friendship, friendship that will lead me to sacrifice time and energy in relationhip, lay down my life for my brother or sister if necessary? Do you have friends like that in church? Are you likely to be a friend like that? For me that is impossible apart from my relationship with Jesus and his indwelling presence and my weekly house church gathering. I have always been an introvert by nature, not half as spontaneous in relationship as my gorgeous relational wife. But I tell you what, on a scale from 0-10 where in my institutional church years I registered 4-5, I reckon I now register perhaps even an 8? Even family and friends have commented on the difference. Do you grasp why I don’t tire of pleading for a smaller, organic form of ecclesia, where at least there is a better chance of growing into true friends of God and my spiritual siblings? You may recall from a recent blog of mine A.W. Tozer’s assessment (1950’s?) of the modern church as ‘an asylum for retarded spiritual children… a nursery for over-grown spiritual babes, most of whom do not have a clue about how to function spiritually with their fellow brethren in a co-ordinated way.’

So HOW does this friendship happen? Not by another church program or structure, or by trying harder. Ultimately it’s God’s gracious doing. On our part there simply has to be a much greater focussing on Christ, who he is, what he has done (and is doing), and God’s eternal purpose in him (Eph. 1-2;  Col. 2-3). Even to focus on a better form of church is not going to crack it. We have to lift up Christ in every possible way (no clergy in the way), who being lifted up by the Father and us, will draw all people to himself! (Jn. 12:32).