Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Still Wanted: An Authentic Spirituality

A long time ago, I wrote about this topic of spirituality.  I wouldn't agree with some of what I wrote, especially my castigation of the monastic tradition.  Years later, though, I'm still seeking that spirituality.

Recently, in popular evangelicalism, the concept of brokenness has taken on extreme importance.  You can go to churches that openly proclaim their brokenness, their corruption, their sin, as a badge of honor.  The intent, I think, is to make all feel welcome: you won't find any false, holier-than-thou piety here, just real people struggling with the same stuff you are, maybe even worse.  This is undoubtably comforting for many, especially those who have been hurt by ecclesial structures and authority figures. But it says something deeply disturbing: real, authentic, lasting holiness is a myth.  Once a sinner, always a sinner.  Jesus can change you in the eschaton, but here you are hopeless.  I'm not sure if this is what Luther meant by "simul iustus et peccator," but I know many have understood him that way.

What good is religion if any actual benefit is always out of our reach, especially if that religion commands us to be that way in the here-and-now?  By benefit, of course, I'm talking about the spiritual healing of the human person, not some psychological salve or material gain.

Over and over again in the Scriptures, especially the letters of St Paul, there is talk of the power of the Spirit to enable spiritual transformation.  Talk of sin being divested of its claim and righteousness talking its place.  Talk of a real, somehow tangible indwelling of God's Spirit, given us life and a peace "that surpasses all understanding."  Either this is true, and therefore somehow accessible on a continuous basis for the Christian, or the whole thing is a wash.

In other words, we need saints.  I don't mean the common "in Christ all believers are already saints" idea, which I've been unable to find in the Scriptures, save by exegetical equivocation.  We need folks, men and women, who have attained to the state of constant and abiding communion with God, who have been healed of their passions and errant desires, who dwell in that peace of the Kingdom.  It strikes me, as a Reformed Protestant, that the whole history of the Church is awash, from the earliest days, with the nomenclature of sainthood: martyrs, ascetics, virgins, monks, common men and women who practiced the disciplines quietly and faithfully.  This has been largely lost since the Reformation.  I remember a conversation a couple of years ago with an OPC pastor friend in which we lamented how we couldn't encourage our church youth to become like the often caustic Reformers.  How could we, we discussed, valorize the Reformation when we couldn't morally honor the leaders?  We ended up going separate ways in our conclusions.

Where the saints are, there is the Spirit, where the Spirit is, there is the Church, where the Church is, there is Christ and the Father.

I need healing and I'm still seeking it, wherever it may be found.

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