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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Formation’ Category

The following text was delivered to a gathering at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando on July 5, 2017. A hard copy of this text may be downloaded at this link.

 

The goal of this presentation is to provide a description and definition of Christian formation that reflects an Anabaptist perspective. Corresponding to common usage, the term “spiritual formation” is used here synonymously with “Christian formation.” In addition, and in accord with common usage, “spiritual formation” is the primary term used, until conclusions are drawn at the end of the presentation.

There is a compelling need for the treatment of this topic. Models deriving from two streams dominate literature on spiritual formation emanating from authors identifying with the Western Church. One stream is medieval pietism, which focuses on the believer’s relationship with God. Examples found in this stream include the works of Roman Catholic moral theologians as well as the writings of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and A.W. Tozer. The other stream is Reformed theology, which focuses on one’s behavior toward God. Flowing within this stream are writings from Calvinist authors like J. I. Packer and John Piper. However, this stream also includes works by authors who retain the “two-step” paradigm introduced by John Wesley. This approach to spiritual formation stems from the teaching of Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and has been propagated by his students with dogged effort. This presentation proposes that spiritual formation from an Anabaptist perspective is not so much a third stream, but a coherent theological and historical bridge between the two prevalent streams of thought. In other words, it provides a more than satisfactory option for one to consider.

The presentation proceeds along the following path: First, following a brief recitation of Anabaptism’s origin and significance, the author explains what he means by an Anabaptist Perspective. Second, from a position within that perspective, the author gives the features of an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation. In so doing, it will be necessary to consider the topic of discipleship, and the place of disciplines in this scheme. Finally, the author will propose a definition of spiritual formation based on the contributions coming from an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANABAPTISM’S ORIGIN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Contemporary Anabaptists trace their origin to the 16th century Reformation movement distinguished by its insistence on believer’s baptism, hence the moniker Anabaptists or re-baptizers. In addition, these reformers advocated a radical imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with special attention given to the Sermon on the Mount. They based this conclusion on the conviction that Jesus had inaugurated the promised messianic kingdom during his earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and session.

The Anabaptist insistence on a “believer’s church,” though, put its adherents in direct conflict, not only with Roman Catholics, but also with Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed. This conflict, in turn, boiled over into opposition from these three groups’ governmental protectors, with whom, in practice, they were effectively merged.[1] When this opposition came to a head in the form of persecution, Anabaptists’ radical adherence to the teaching and example of Jesus prohibited them from active resistance, resulting in widespread deaths.[2]

This brief account of the origin of the Anabaptist movement reveals in seed-form the two most apparent ways in which the practices of its members differ from that of members of contemporary Protestant faith traditions: Anabaptists maintain that the New Testament requires of disciples a level of commitment to Christ’s Kingdom mandating (1) strict separation of church and state and (2) non-resistance or pacifism.

Contemporary Anabaptists are represented primarily by Mennonites and by most groups with the word Brethren in their name.[3] However, their influence can be seen among Baptists and most free-church groups.[4] Evidence for this influence exists not only in the widespread practice of believer’s baptism and in various expressions of the separation of church and state, but also in the adherence to Anabaptism’s teaching on the symbolic nature of the ordinances and the visible nature and autonomy of the local church.

AN ANABAPTIST PERSPECTIVE

The preceding account identified two Anabaptist distinctives: separation of church and state, and pacifism. These, and other, distinctives arise from a particular theological perspective.

The perspective, or story, an interpreter inhabits and, therefore, from which the interpreter reads a text profoundly influences one’s interpretation.[5] Put another way, (more…)

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Christian Vocation is

the  birth           and      growth
     creation        and      formation
     initiation      and      development

of the story of a disciple and kingdom citizen subject to the Lord Jesus Christ,

within the story of  the people of God,
within the story of  the messianic kingdom of the Son of God,
within the story of  the triune God—creator, redeemer, and reconciler

by means of
     being           and      doing
     knowing         and      living
     relating        and      obeying
     communing       and      resembling

that reflects exclusive allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ

animated through the power of the promised Spirit of God.

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NECESSARY ELEMENTS TO A DEFINITION

Divine Focus
Divine Plan—The Gospel

  • Restoration of Edenic Shalōm
  • By means of establishing the Son’s Reign
  • Through His incarnation, life, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, and session as Lord and Christ the King
  • Resulting in reconciliation
  • Marked by forgiveness, freedom from sin and death, and the power of the Spirit

Divine GoalRelationship and Resemblance
Two sides of the same coin: the means to and evidence of each other

  • Relationship: Communion
  • Resemblance: Godness, Christlikeness, holiness, obedience

Moral Character – Matt 22:36-40, Summary: Love God and love people
Virtues—the inner life or being: affections, attitudes, thoughts, and motives

Ethics—the outer life or behavior: decisions and consequent words and actions

  • Affecting God, including His creation (Gen 1:28; Rom 8:19-22)
  • Affecting People: Both friends and enemies
    • Relationships with individuals
    • Relationships with social groups, both near and far: family, church, neighborhood, community, region
    • Relationships with power structures, both near and far: economic, political, military

Human Responsibility

  • Active, ongoing, obedient faith, including repentance, in God on the basis of the Gospel
  • Nourished by spiritual disciplines, including suffering and life in community
  • In which one progressively creates a new story through mentoring relationships that include encouragement and warning

These elements give rise to possible . . .

ALTERNATIVE NAMES

Christian Formation, cf. its Moral Character
Christian Vocation, cf. its Divine Focus
(M-Webster, “vocation”: a divine call to the religious life)

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Does evangelical emphasis on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible strengthen or diminish the authority of Christ and the Bible? 

By Joseph Bayly, 1968.

If there’s been one doctrine strongly taught and defended by evangelicals during the past several decades, it’s the inspiration of the Scriptures. Among many, perhaps most, who taught the doctrine, verbal inerrancy of the original manuscripts has been upheld.

Now with all this emphasis on inspiration and inerrancy, you’d think that young people who have grown up in an evangelical milieu would be firmly grounded in the Bible’s authority.

They’re not. In my experience, at least, I don’t usually find the reflex, “The Bible says it and so it must be true,” among young men and women.

The reaction of a student in a Christian college, from an evangelical background, on being reminded that the Bible forbids premarital intercourse, is rather typical of the attitude I’ve found. “Maybe the Bible says it, but if it does, that isn’t what it means.”

The element of doubt about what the Bible teaches in areas of less emotional involvement is also significantly high among our evangelical teens and students. Does God have purpose in human suffering? Is God powerful enough to act today? Will Christ return to this earth? For a large number of evangelical young men and women, such questions are not settled by what the Bible says.

If my impressions are correct, we are in danger, period, since it is questionable whether morality and ethics—even faith (Rom. 10:17)—can stand, apart from the support of accepted biblical authority.

How do we explain this weak attitude toward the Bible’s authority? Have we unwittingly undermined confidence in the Bible?

I think we have got things out of the right order, at least as far as ordinary Christians—especially the young—are concerned. We have stressed the Bible’s inspiration and assumed that authority would take care of itself. But it hasn’t.

Theologians may conclude that inspiration is the ground of authority, and therefore must come first. And they are probably right in a theological context.

J. Gresham Machen once said that theology begins with the doctrine of inspiration, while apologetics ends with it. I suspect, if this is so, that we have made the mistake of treating our young as theologians rather than as potential converts or young Christians.

I believe that the debate about biblical inerrancy during recent decades has had the unfortunate result of weakening the Bible’s authority in the minds of the young. The possibility or impossibility of infinitesimal error has tended to obscure the great, overarching areas about which there is no question.

By arguing about whether there is dust on the piano, or whether the kitchen floor is completely clean, a husband will lower his children’s overall impression of their mother’s faithful loving service and diminish her authority in their eyes. When they are older, the children may see things in true perspective; then they are likely to blame the picayune, judgmental father. But meanwhile the harm has been done.

So it may be with the authority of the Scriptures in the eyes of the young. We argue about whether 3,000 or 30,000 soldiers fought in a battle and we lose a greater battle.

Children, teens, and students need to be brought into Christ’s kingdom by faith, by their own personally exercised choice. From a human standpoint, they need examples, adults who say and live the principle, “I believe the Bible.” And I think this is the really important thing to communicate to the young—complete submission to the Bible’s authority—rather than, “I believe in the inspiration of the Bible.”

I know that full conviction of the Bible’s authority over all of life comes through the Holy Spirit’s work. But it is often, perhaps usually communicated through the Christian community.

Perhaps this low view of Scripture’s authority is related to a low view of Christ’s authority. We may be reaping the results of recent decades when we appealed to young to “receive Christ as Savior,” bypassing His demand of absolute Lordship and doing violence to His Person.

A fresh breath of submission to the authority of Christ and the Scriptures in the Church, and in the lives of Christians—especially the young—could be the catalyst needed to change the world’s drift toward anarchy and nihilism.

And I am not usually a prophet of doom.*

*Note: Have the intervening 42 years proven Bayly right or wrong?

Joseph Bayly, “Out of My Mind,” Eternity, August 1968,  37 . Bayly’s column ran continuously from October 1961 to October 1986.

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“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works.” The focus of Psalm 139 is “you,” Yahweh, who is omniscient (vv. 1-6), omnipresent (vv. 7-13), and infinite (vv. 14-18). Since we are none of these things, the greatness of God frequently leads us to bewilderment and even confusion; but God is big enough to withstand our resulting fits of outrage, even calming us down to the point where we regain a proper view of reality (vv. 19-24).

The main idea here is that God does all things fearfully and wonderfully, and, therefore, we are led to praise him. Why? It is this acknowledgment about God, consummated in our boasting and bragging about him, that, among other facts rehearsed in the Psalm, impels us to go down the path on the way of everlasting life on which he leads us.

In sum, it is God that we seek, both to know him and so to be like him, to be what he made us to be, souls—the inextricable combination of material and immaterial, inner and outer, made in his image—restored from the deadly consequences of the fall, having been reconciled through the redemption in Christ Jesus by the resurrection from the dead! Yes, “wonderful are your works,” reflections of omniscience, omnipresence, and infinity, reflections focused into a beam of light leading us down the path to know, to apprehend, and, feebly at first, and ever more strongly, reflect back to him the image of him whom to know is life eternal. By faith, and in hope of the resurrection, then, I will boast and brag on him forevermore!

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