Thursday, April 8, 2010

Total Church: Spirituality

The disciplines of “contemplation, silence and solitude” certainly describe a good deal of what passes for spirituality among evangelicals today. The authors call this the exact opposite of biblical spirituality. It is not about contemplation, it is about reading and meditating on the word of God. It is not about detached silence; it is about passionate petition. It is not about solitude; it is about participation in community. It is centered on the gospel and rooted in the context of the Christian community.

Spirituality and the gospel word
In the mystical and contemplative traditions the goal of spirituality is union with Christ. Union with Christ is attained through a pattern of spiritual disciplines or a series of spiritual stages. Gospel spirituality is the exact opposite. Union with Christ is not the goal of spirituality; it is the foundation of spirituality. It is not attained through disciplines or stages; it is given through childlike faith. (138)
The previous understanding represents a spirituality of achievement.
In response to the spiritual elite in Colossians, Paul emphasizes the supremacy of Christ, the fullness of revelation in Christ and the sufficiency of Christ for Christian living. In other words, in the gospel of Christ we are richly supplied with all we need to keep going as Christians and to grow as Christians. We do not need anything else (140).

Spirituality and the gospel mission
Passionate engagement
In biblical terms to be spiritual is to walk in step with the Spirit in all of life. The world God made – spiritual and material – was very good. And the future God intends is both spiritual and material (141).
Biblical spirituality does not take place in silence; it takes place bearing a cross. It is not a spirituality of withdrawal, but a spirituality of engagement. You do not practice it on retreat in a secluded house; you practice it on the streets in the midst of broken lives (142).

Passionate prayer
Biblical spirituality is not a spirituality of silence; it is a spirituality of passionate petition. If we are engaged with the world around us, then we will care about that world. We will be passionate about people’s needs, our holiness and God’s glory. We will not be still in prayer. We will cry out for mercy with a holy violence. To ask God for things is a profound act of faith.

Spirituality and the gospel community
Here is a spirituality in which we grasp the amazing dimensions of Christ’s love ‘together with all the saints’ (Eph. 3.18). We model and embody God’s love for one another. I have a relationship with God because we have a relationship with God. There are persons of God because there is a people of God.
What does this mean in practice? Three suggestions:
First, we should prioritize prayer with others over prayer alone.
Second, we must not separate our relationship with God from our relationship with others. The barrier in our prayer life is not often sin against God, but sin against other people.
Third, we need to exhort and encourage one another daily (Heb. 3.12-13).
The avoidance of apostasy demands not simply individual vigilance but the constant care of each member of the community for one another (William Lane).
This community spirituality clearly requires a certain level of relationship. We need to be sharing our lives. We need to be with other Christians ‘daily’ (145-6).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Total Church: Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care
The authors deal with the difference between seeking biblical counseling and professional therapy. The problem with this therapy culture, according to Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, is the way it has made therapy into a way of life. People are encouraged to define themselves as victims who have suffered at the hands of others. As long as people are encouraged to seek professional counseling to help them with everything from dealing with an unpleasant incident to raising their children, argues Furedi, individuals become disinclined to depend on each other in the normal routine of relationships. Relationships are increasingly ‘professionalized.’
This book (Total Church) is a call to a dual fidelity to the gospel word and the gospel community. It is our conviction that the gospel word and the gospel community do not fail us when it comes to pastoral care! (125)

The sufficient gospel word
Does the Bible give us an accurate and sufficient analysis of the human condition and an effective response or ‘treatment’? Have we created a dichotomy between the ministry of Bible teaching and that of pastoral counseling? The former is considered the preserve of the ‘minister’ while the latter is for qualified (in a secular sense) members of the wider community.
At the heart of historic evangelicalism is a commitment to the Bible as “the final authority on all matters of faith and conduct.” This confession has been summarized as the sufficiency of Scripture and this is where the debate is centered. There seems to be a view that argues that God has given us two books through which to understand the world: Scripture and Nature. Another view sees the Bible as unique and altogether distinctive in the way it defines what we are as human beings.
‘Simply by being Christians, we have access to everything we need to live a life that pleases God.’ This is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture and this is what gives us confidence in our pastoral care as we expose each other to the gospel word. (125-27)

The efficient gospel community
If our primary identity is as persons-in-community, then our ability to thrive will be shaped by our involvement in a community…Pastoral care in a Christian community is not merely one ‘therapy device’ among many. It is the context in which any other pastoral care takes place.
So much formal pastoral engagement takes place outside of the community and one of the reasons for this is disengagement from the community…While the need for specific counseling sessions in a more formal environment will remain, healthy engagement with others in committed relationships will deal with so many of the presenting issues and underlying causes of her problems.
Dealing with marriage issues: a significant element in divorce rates is individualism. In a culture in which the rights and desires of the individual are sacred, bringing two individuals together in a relationship as close as marriage is bound to create problems. We live in a society with a disposable attitude toward relationships in general and this affects attitudes to marriage.
The breakup of the extended family with increased mobility has contributed significantly to the strain placed on marriage. We no longer live in an “it takes a village culture.” We leave child raising to a couple (and many times a single person). There is no better place for marriages to be nurtured than in a communal setting for two principle reasons.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Total Church: Discipleship and Training

Discipleship and Training
The means by which sinners are evangelized, the gospel word and the gospel community, are the means by which sinners are discipled…The good news that gives life is the good news that transforms, while the community that incarnates gospel truth for the sinner is the community that incarnates gospel truth for the saint (110).

Teaching people the gospel word
Our contention is that being word-centered is so much more than being sermon-centered (112).
Word ministry takes place in a variety of ways, not simply for forty-five minutes on a Sunday morning. It takes place through group Bible studies. It takes place when two people meet to read the Bible. It takes place as people are mentored through the word. In our experience, most character formation and discipleship takes place through informal and ad hoc conversations. This kind of word ministry requires relationships, time and gospel intentionality.
What counts is teaching that leads to changed lives. Being word-centered means God’s word has priority over tradition and precedent. Many churches that claim to be word-centered are in practice tradition-centered…Unless someone long ago came to a complete and perfect understanding of the Bible; it suggests people are no longer living under God’s word so that it challenges their thinking and practice (114).

Teaching along the road
This is not to denigrate the importance of formal teaching times as church, but rather to emphasize the need also to bring teaching out of the pulpit and embed it in life…Chapters 9-10 of Mark’s Gospel are an extended explanation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
They should understand the sovereignty of God not only from a sermon series on Isaiah, but as they see us respond to trials with ‘pure joy’! We have found in our context that most learning and training takes place not through programmed teaching or training courses, but unplanned conversations: talking about life, talking about ministry, talking about problems (115).

Shepherds who are sheep
Leaders are not a special class set apart on their own, having to face burdensome responsibilities and forced to endure a lonely existence. Leaders cannot be detached. They must be visible believers who live their lives openly in the midst of the believing community.
The only demarcation among the people of God is that of function not position. If my role is that of a leader in the local church, then I am a gospel minister using my gift to serve God’s people.
Many of my ‘minister’ friends speak of church as something from which they must seek solace. They ‘protect’ their day off and guard their privacy of their home…For Tim/Steve, church is where they find solace.