Monday, January 08, 2007

The Art of Holiness and Spiritual Progress

As many of you know, our family has moved out of the more institutional approaches to the Christian faith into what is often termed a more organic or simple approach. I personally prefer to speak of our move as from a more academic approach to the faith to a more monastic or intentional community approach. Our current goal is to find like minded families who are interested in living in community in such a way that meetings are available every night in homes and that in these meetings the primary focus is how to live out and practice the teachings of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Though I would personally never attempt going to meetings every night, it is very helpful to have meetings available every night. Currently, we have families who are committed to opening their homes on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday AM and Sunday PM. The primary learning technique is to allow the close proximity of our living to surface relational, emotional, and spiritual weakness in all of us. Let me begin by saying, this new simply approach to the faith has been quite fruitful with our children. Later in this post I will describe how we do church in our home.

Why Begin Outside the Church
The Benefits of Daily Community
The current misconceptions regarding how to approach Christianity and a lack of proper language in Christian circles to explain and train one another in the methods of sanctification and spiritual progress is so acute that I find it necessary to go outside of the majority Christian culture in order to develop what I understand to be a disciple making community. One element is the understanding of the need for community. Our approach as we are practicing it today sees community as a pre-requisite for spiritual progress. In the intentional community approach, the need for skills in conflict resolution, humble confession, giving and receiving spiritual direction, and forgiveness is absolutely crucial. Community surfaces our immaturity, and our weaknesses become opportunities to learn the teachings of Jesus. This progress only happens in the context of intentional community and in an all-in approach which embraces weakness and confession. In this context, mentoring and discipleship becomes an organic characteristic of our Christian life.
While our approach to the faith takes a daily practice of community as a prerequisite to spiritual progress, we also are developing a different model to our actual meetings which focuses on the learning of practices and spiritual disciplines more than the development of a worldview. In the institutional church, we are taught that Spiritual growth comes through the listening to and sometimes discussion of concepts when in fact spiritual progress is attained primarily through repetition of certain practices. Like any other activity, Spiritual progress comes through the development of certain talents and skills. Church meetings are modeled more after a sports practice than an academic classroom. Again, Christianity is learned more like gymnastics than geometry.

Ultimately, Christianity is not a body of truths to be intellectually known but a body of practices to be learned and skills and talents to develop. I think of the Martial Arts. In the Martial Arts, skills are learned, a certain type of kick or a certain type of stance. Or we could use the analogy of ballet. The result is a dance but the method of learning is repetitive practice of skills. Then the skills are put together like sentences in a story and the dance is developed. Church then is to be modeled after a ballet or Martial Arts lesson where we learn and practice skills as opposed to an academic exercise where we discuss and learn truths.

Our Family Church
In 2006, we began doing church differently. Though we have always led “small groups”, recently we began doing church in our home using a model where doing church was learning a skill and not a set of truths. To know Christianity is to know how to live a certain way in imitation of the life of Jesus Christ and not to develop a worldview or a theological system. It is difficult for me to explain how revolutionary this approach has been.

We began by asking ourselves what skills do we find essential to living a morally beautiful life. The conclusion we came to, my wife and I, was the practices of prayer and worship. Ultimately, it is affection and encounter with God Himself that is the foundation of all holiness and commitment to the ethical commands of Jesus Christ. If my children learn worship and pray, then I can trust the Holy Spirit to mold their affections.

So we are teaching our children not about prayer but actually how to pray. As a specific skill, we have been teaching our children how to use silence to adjust our attitudes and enter into worship and thanksgiving, reflection and confession, and preparation and petition. We begin in silence and thanksgiving. Next, we work together on some project like practicing music. In the course of the “band practice” there will inevitably be some conflict. After the band practice, we use the conflict as a teaching point to reflect on the teachings of Jesus. After discussion, we return to prayer and confess our weaknesses humble ourselves. This always ends in a wonderful time of worship and joy. We close by praying for the rest of the day and any people we are planning to meet that day.

The church time becomes a model of the daily cycle of morning prayer, daily work and evening reflection and worship. Our goal is to live this daily cycle every day and to teach this spirituality to our children.

So far, we are seeing spiritual growth both in ourselves and in the other folk who are taking this journey with us. We are hoping that as we learn this model through a few years of practice that we can bring our approach to the faith to those in the institutional church that are seeking to become and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

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