Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Living God's Love - Conversation on chapter nine

It’s the oldest one in the books when it comes to Spirituality and church today: “I’m spiritual but I don’t think I have to go to church to express it.”

At the heart of this statement is a misconception about what authentic Christian Spirituality. Spirituality does not lead purely to solitude and individual piety, nor does it lead to elitism. Instead, Christian Spirituality leads to and embodies Christian community.

In Lavender’s and Holloway’s chapter nine of Living God’s Love, they discuss the importance of a loving community, referencing the first Christ Community described in Acts 2:42-46. Through history, many Christians have departed from this model, however, favoring some form of artificial membership where those who join ascend to certain doctrines and forms and try not to miss meetings, but a relationship with God and discipleship may not be emphasized. The authors warn against both the pole of overstressing “membership” that’s merely attending and the pole of de-emphasizing membership in favor of a personal spirituality.

We must avoid the dangers of a private spirituality outside of the context of community. Such “spirituality” ultimately makes one less useful to God. The proper exercise of the spiritual disciplines will always lead us to a deeper participation in community, not to a spiritual elitism.
In Christ we put to death selfishness and individualism. We put on new clothes of Christ and that also means we join a community of those clothed with Christ as well. Peace of Christ rules our hearts and we display an exaggerated sensitivity for others, one that goes overboard to make sure we are preferring others rather than ourselves. The word of Christ dwells in us richly. Lavender and Holloway show how Ephesians 4:12-16 provides a complete picture of Christian community in action. Christ gives us each gifts to use in the body of Christ. Paul expects the churches to function as those who are being shaped in Christ’s image, growing toward maturity in Christ together.

In community we also worship in order to remember that we are not God, that God is sovereign in the universe and over our lives. Here’s what the authors say about the worshipping community:

The assemblies discussed in the New Testament reflect a joyful gathering for praising God for the blessings received through Christ Jesus. Trying to figure out exactly the right formula that would satisfy God is to miss the point of the assembly. He is not a God who needs us (Psalm 50), but he is a God who wants us. We need him! We need the worship assembly in order to remember that life is not about us. We come before him with the sacrifice of our lives and renew our covenant to live for his glory. So we lift our hearts in song and prayer, we study his written truths, we dine at his spiritual feast. We remember his magnificent works. We rejoice in our certain place in his eternal feast. Our lives are changed. And God delights in the submissive, worshipful heart.
One last thing about this chapter. Group discernment is raised as a spiritual discipline of the Christian community. There’s a great example of a life-shaping decision that Earl Lavender had to make, and he gathered several of his wise friends to help him talk and pray about it and discern what to do. He even invited one person along with whom he rarely agreed. He said with the help of God’s Spirit and collective wisdom, he knew what he needed to do. Looking back, he says, what he was encouraged by the group to do was clearly the right choice. Along with group discernment, part of living in God’s love and community is Spiritual friendship, what some call having a mentor. The greatest mentor, Jesus, invites us to be “joined at the neck” (yoked) with him as he embodies the life of the Father.

The last reflection coming soon is on the final chapter of Living God’s Love: “Inviting Others to Fall in Love with God.”

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