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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thoughts on spiritual discipline and freedom

            At the house church I go to, as opposed to examining a piece of scripture, the discussion on Sunday (which just happens to be a day in which we meet) was around the topic, “How does being involved in a house church, as opposed to (what in North American culture would be considered) a traditional church, change one’s life?”  What I thought of, for myself, is that is has changed the dynamic conflict between spiritual disciplines and freedom in Christ.  Over the years in the traditional church, I was taught to (at the least) read some scripture daily.  I am quite certain many persons did not do that, and if one just comes in, listens to sermons, and acts friendly toward others, the (lack of) intensity of the realationships in the church are insufficient for most to realize any difference in a person’s life, either to one’s benefit or ill.  In and of itself, there is the technical conflict that one can grow in faith by studying scripture, but one is never commanded in scripture that one must study the Word (which, of course, has been impossible for many in a wide variety of cultures over history for a variety of reasons).  We learn that we are free in Jesus to follow Him, but there are implied and subliminal pressures to exercise that freedom in only certain ways, such as using that Bible study or quiet time in either teaching Sunday School or forcing oneself into a leadership position, for instance (with seemingly few other choices).

            Now that I am not longer in the traditional system, there have been changes in how I live for Jesus.  At first, I felt a kind of guilt when I didn’t go to a service on Sunday morning at times when I was free to do so (I have worked a significant amount of my life in jobs in which I had to work on Sunday), even though I intellectually knew that worship was how I lived my life, not a ritual in a building at a time and place. It was something I had gotten used to over the years, and fit the status quo.  For an extreme example, if one grew up Catholic/Anglican/Episcopal, one might associate the smell of incense with worship; I once visited such a church, and found it irritating and distracting and strange.  That’s my background and experience; there are plenty of other things equally not based on scripture that I had gotten used to, such as the “worship service” starting immediately after a bell on the roof clanged a certain amount of times (at one time I knew how many, I no longer remember).

            Now, spiritual discipline is something to do to honor Jesus.  Over the last couple of years, I probably have done Bible studies less than in the past.  I remember in college a teaching on quiet times done via Inter-Varsity (I think I have this correct) that broke down quiet times into the parts of a) Bible reading, b) Bible study, c) meditation on the Word, and d) prayer.  At that time, I probably did more Bible reading, but that, in a sense, makes more sense in that we need to read the Bible to know what is there, and then study it to understand how God’s communication to us interconnects with our lives.  Over decades, I know more and more what and where certain teachings are, and can interconnect them in my mind.  For instance, one reason I never use the KJV is that English has changed so much in 400+ years that James 1:21 in KJV doesn’t make sense anymore, as the meanings of a number of words in that sentence have either changed in meaning or just became archaic, and, therefore, meaningless in our culture.  If one has been a believer for many years, and gotten used to the archaic dialect might not even notice that to unbelievers in this culture, and even believers younger in age, the dialect makes it unreasonably difficult to understand.  Conversely, if you don’t feel that way, that’s cool.  God made us differently, and each of us may fit in either better or worse as His witness to various subcultural situations. 

I do far more meditating on the Word.  As I say that, it gives me reason to explain myself.  Among my age group, believer or unbeliever, if I say the word “meditation”, it right should conjure up a photo from the late 1960’s of the Beatles sitting crosslegged before the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  As eastern as it is, that has become the standard image impressed on western culture, in part as this society has become more secularized, and part because the traditional church has taught minimally on meditation from a Christian perspective.  Simply, eastern meditation involves supposedly emptying one’s mind.  Personally, I’m not sure that’s truly possible, and if it is, I believe it borders on the demonic, which is a subject difficult to put into words.  Christian meditation is on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and what we know about following Him—which includes our experience of first becoming His child (the beginning of our salvation), what He has shown us in His Word, our experiences of continuing salvation, sanctification, and growing in spiritual maturity, including both rightly and wrongly sensing the guidance of the Holy Spirit in one’s spirit, and as we grow in maturity, learning of and walking in one’s particular spiritual giftings, and becoming more and more an elder—an experienced believer—in the practical (not human titular) sense.  As time goes by, the Spirit has more to work with in enlightening our spirits in this way. 

For myself, there’s more that I would like to do to honor Jesus with my life, even as I have less strength to physically do things.  I think that I have always felt that I was free to honor Jesus however the Spirit would lead me, but I can look back that, to the degree that a certain act did not fit into the program of the traditional church I was connected to at the time, that attitude was threatening to the leadership and the system, particularly if it was only felt by leaders at a subliminal level, i.e. they may have felt threatened, but didn’t consider why.  As I look back at some of the scandals among famous “Christians” in my lifetime, I know that I cannot figure out, and only God knows, whether that person, in his/her spirit, was a total charlatan on the level of a used car salesman, or whether the person was/is somehow deceived or self-deceived.  That is important to me only to the degree that I, as a part of living in this culture, deal with persons who have been hurt in spirit because of it, but that is pretty much all of our society, both unbelievers and believers.  Therefore, for me, freedom in Jesus is different, and less limited.  Part of that is the realization that God may truly, by the Spirit, do a certain thing, which in turn is a part of my witness to the people around me, and another believer, in another place, being a witness to a different group, may do an exactly opposite thing in an aspect that is not a tenant of faith.  Examples of this (that I can think of at the moment I am writing this) are meat-eating/vegetarianism (Peter teaches us in Acts that we believers are no longer under the kosher law, but I know of believers who choose to be vegetarian so as not to be a stumbling block in being a witness to people in eastern cultures that hold, for their own reason, to vegetarianism), being conservative/liberal/ apolitical (I overtly choose apolitical—I have my opinions, but I feel led to keep them to myself, but respect my brothers who get heavily involved in one side or another), immersing oneself in one of many subcultures, using a certain ability/laying that ability down to emphasize a point of God’s infinite love, and the list could go on and on.

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