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…