Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Life of Faith and Church Practices

In an earlier posting we were enlightened by Craig Dykstra’s explanation of a life of faith in his book Growing in the Life of Faith.

He wrote about the church practices (or what we also called spiritual disciplines) that helps to develop a life of faith. Normally we would think of a life of faith as being an individual enterprise between a person and his or her God. We then build up this life of faith by developing in our lives personalized spiritual disciplines. Dykstra, however, made a bold statement that he thinks it is the practices (spiritual disciplines) of the community of faith or church that builds a life of faith in its individual members.

Some of the practices he mentioned are:
(1) worshipping God together-praising God, giving thanks for God’s creative and redemptive work in the world, hearing God’s word preached, and receiving the sacraments given to us in Christ;
(2) telling the Christian story to one another-reading and hearing the Scriptures and also the stories of the church’s experience throughout its history;
(3) interpreting together the Scriptures and the history of the church’s experience, particularly in relation to their meaning for our own lives in the world;
(4) praying-together and by ourselves, not only in formal services of worship but in all times and places;
(5) confessing our sin to one another, and forgiving and becoming reconciled with one another;
(6) tolerating one another’s failures and encouraging one another in the work each must do and the vocation each must live;
(7) carrying out specific faithful acts of service and witness together;
(8) giving generously of one’s means and receiving gratefully gifts others have to give;
(9) suffering with and for one another and all whom Jesus showed us to be our neighbors;
(10) providing hospitality and care, not only to one another but also to strangers and even enemies;
(11) listening and talking attentively to one another about our particular experiences in life;
(12) struggling together to become conscious of and to understand the the nature of the context in which we live;
(13) criticizing and resisting all those powers and patterns (both within the church and in the world as a whole) that destroy human beings, corrode human community, and injure God’s creation;
(14) working together to maintain and create social structures and institutions that will sustain life in the world in ways that accord with God’s will.

Dykstra did make the point that the practices by themselves would not be effective and just practicing them will not develop a life of faith. However these practices are tools that will help us develop the life of faith. He notes, “These practices, when engaged in deep interrelation with one another have the effect of turning the flow of power in a new direction. After a time, the primary point about the practices is no longer that they are something we do. Instead, they become arenas in which something is done to us, in us and through us that we could not of ourselves do, that is beyond what we do.”

This is an interesting concept. Would our modality of spiritual formation be too individualistic because we are influenced by modernity and secular individualism? Many of us have this impression of the early church being too legalistic because of its emphasis on corporate disciplines and catechumenate.

Maybe it is time for us to relook at the modality of the early church where the emphasis was on corporate spiritual formation rather than individualized spiritual formation.

soli deo gloria

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