So the Internet Monk introduced a new discussion panel a few days ago. The panel consists of spiritual leaders from most of the major Christian denominations allowing for comparative discussion of spiritual topics. Which is a pretty cool idea for anyone that likes to contemplate such significant matters. The credentials of “The Liturgical Gangstas” panel are listed at the beginning of the I Monk post.
The first question for the panel was the following: A person comes to you and says “I want to grow significantly as a Christian in the next year.” What kind of guidance would you give this person? Be as specific as possible. I have summarized the panel responses below:
- Read the Bible daily. (using a read the Bible in 2 years plan)
- Pray daily using an Anglican prescribed morning and evening prayer.
- Read about the lives of the saints.
- Church community.
- Serve others outside the church.
Matthew Johnson/United Methodist:
- Participate in a 32-36 week Methodist Discipleship Bible study.
- Pray for each other in the study.
- Church community.
- Respond to bible readings.
Peter Vance Matthews/Anglican:
- Worship every Sunday with preaching and communion
- Read the Bible and pray daily using The Daily Office (Anglican/Episcopal/Catholic) prescribed prayers and verses.
Alan Creech/Roman Catholic:
- Lower your expectations for growth. (I’m not making this up)
- Place yourself inside the liturgical rhythm of the Church with the traditional Christian calendar.
- Attend mass frequently.
- Find a spiritual mentor.
- Pray liturgically and often.
- “Find a way to get a steady diet of Scripture.”
- Take a yearly retreat.
- Don’t try to measure your growth.
Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist:
- Make sure your expectations for growth aren’t too high.
- Love your neighbor through acts of service and giving time.
- Give away a possession you value each month.
- Make the “I” in the question a “We” (as in Jesus and me)
- Look towards Jesus not inside you for growth.
- Attend church regularly in a disciplined way, hearing the Word preached – faith comes by hearing – and taking communion.
- Pray daily from hymns, readings from Scripture and the church fathers, the Creed and the catechism.
- Avoid Drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual sin.
- “Active use of the fruit of the Spirit.”
So I have a three comments after reading this panel discussion:
1) Should I be concerned that 2 of the 6 spiritual leaders want us to lower our expectations for spiritual growth?
How can one believe that Jesus was raised from the dead or that God parted the Red Sea but not think that God could produce “significant growth” in a person in as “short” a time as one year? Wasn’t Saul changed instantly on the road to Damascus? Didn’t the disciples quickly change from cowardly hiding in a house to boldly preaching on the streets? Isn’t the fact that God changes lives at the very CORE of the gospel? If God can’t help me grow in a significant way – why should I become a Christian?
2) Are Christians incapable of praying without a guide?
3) How understandable is this seemly foundational Bible?
Should you only hear it? Or read proscribed excerpts from it? Can you read it only with a study or another book to guide you? Or can read it all alone with out help or guidance from another person or book or some other resource?
Two of the panel responded to my comments (below), so I respond to them and (hopefully) reinforce my point.
I don’t think so, personally. Not if the two weren’t talking about “lowering expectations,” but were instead trying to caution against a naive idea that we become super-saints in a moment and encouraging people not to despair and abandon the whole enterprise if they struggle in their advancement.
Mustard seeds and all of that.
– Wyman Richardson
Amen and all that, Wyman. Exactly. Quick change in people is unusual, not because of God but because of us. It’s the nature of real spiritual growth that it takes a long time. Yeah, weeds and all that too. Peace.
– Alan Creech
Well the question wasn’t how do I become a spiritual superstar overnight – it was how do i achieve “significant” growth in a year.
Now personally I read “significant” as the opposite of “insignificant”. IE measurable, real, growth or change.
Wherein, I became concerned when given any possible methods for a full year – spiritual leaders are hesitant to promise too much.
In defending my position, however, I decided to look at the actual definition and I found it illuminating:
– of a noticeably or measurably large amount (basically my earlier def)
– probably caused by something other than mere chance (as in statistically significant)
This second definition opens up what I consider the heart of the matter – is not significant spiritual growth evidence of the divine? Proof that Christianity works? If all we can promise is small growth – how are we sure that isn’t just chance or human efforts?
Without SIGNIFICANT growth – can Christianity claim to be more than a support group? Or a 12 step program? Those both can do SOME good but they are really only man’s efforts and will at work. Wherein is the God that changes people? Are we afraid to set the bar too high lest God’s reputation be tarnished? Is not God able to deliver on his promises to make someone a new creation?
While I understand the whole instant gratification culture, I feel that a year is a reasonable time frame. Consider that the Human lifespan is 40-80 yrs depending on where in the world you live. 1/40th of your life is not a small commitment. Jesus only trained his disciples for 3 years. Most grad schools consider 3 years enough time to significantly train students. Are college professors better teachers than the Spirit?
Here are some more examples of quick significant growth/change:
– In the span of an hour a naked, possessed, crazy man living in the cemetery was sent as a clothed, sane, missionary alone to Decapolis (“ten cities”)
– In a few hours, an Ethiopian court official was converted, baptized, and left to go back to his country.
Slower change happens too: today Mission USA is working with Chicago gangs. Over time, Gang members are putting down guns and taking up bibles. Still “significant”
Quick changes are COMMON in the bible. And in desperate parts of the world. Here in comfy cultures and comfy churches – comfortable Christians struggle to standout from nonchristians.
As for mustard seeds: they start out the smallest of seeds but become large plants in a matter of months.
As for weedy soil: there is also GOOD soil that yields a 3,000-10,000% return.
I would say both of those are significant growth!