(CREDO FRIDAY is the day I post something about the way my faith has developed over my lifetime and where I’ve come to because of the things I believe on the day on which I post these thoughts. I am a work in progress, a candidate for change, I have not arrived and I am not fully formed but I am being made new, more and more as the Day draws closer.)
Over the last two posts about the Centered Set, I’ve tried to unpack this way of illustrating an approach to doing life together. I’ve attempted to give some foundation for using this approach to ecclesiology in general and what I’ve come to believe about the Jesus way of doing life together as the Church specifically. You can read part one HERE and part two HERE.
If you want to go back and re-read those quickly, I’ll wait here for you and then we can carry on.
Right, so with the foundation of those two posts, let’s look at how in the world this would look in real life.
First, it means that we are going to have an emphasis on what we will call “spiritual formation” rather than the current emphasis on what we will call “discipleship.” Immediately every good evangelical begins to clench their sphincter muscle but please stay with me. In many cases, definitely not all, we have reduced “discipleship” to a series of classes one takes and completes. You may have seen this illustrated with a baseball diamond where a person starts at home plate and proceeds to “round the bases” with classes 1-3, levelling up with each class until you’ve taken all the classes and – what – graduate with a certificate of completion?
Anyone who has followed Jesus for a lifetime knows that discipleship can’t be contained to 3 classes and a certificate. So when I am use the word “discipleship” in this context, I am not talking about Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all the nations but rather the form of “discipleship” we have created that best serves the system that we have already built. As a pastor, I regularly engage in conversation with other pastors who are looking for a discipleship system that actually works. And almost every year a new program comes out that promises to be THE program – and may God make it be – but what this clearly indicates is that we have not been successful in a wholistic and satisfying way of making disciples through our contemporary “discipleship” programs.
Spiritual formation, on the other hand, looks to me a whole lot more like the practices of discipleship that the early church engaged in. I’m not suggesting that the practice of spiritual formation is offering guaranteed outcomes but I am saying that in my experience, people engaged in spiritual formation make greater progress in becoming more and more like Jesus than I have seen form “discipleship” programs over my lifetime.
The spiritual formation approach recognizes we are in process our whole lives. It is a process that we must engage in for it to make progress. It is relational and incarnational by nature and relies on ancient practices being utilized by those engaged to make progress towards our TELOS of becoming more and more like Jesus. Spiritual formation recognizes that God is forming us to be more like Jesus even when we don’t know it and perhaps even when we don’t particularly want it or like it. It focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives both affectively and effectively with help from following the story we are in and proximity and even messy relationship with the people with whom we share this journey towards the Center.
Now, let’s take a specific instance or we may never get to one.
I am a pacifist. I didn’t start out following Jesus as a pacifist but over time and through relationship with Jesus and becoming more and more familiar with the story we are in, studying the Scriptures and being re-formed by the Holy Spirit, I’ve come to believe that anyone who follows Jesus must come to the practice of pacifism as an expression of their submission to the Lordship of Christ.
And let’s be honest, if we read the Bible and take it at face value, pacifism has all the receipts.
I realize not everyone who reads this will believe that – about the receipts. I realize that, in part, because I once didn’t see it that way either. But now I do. I see it as an essential element of following Jesus and being faithful to this story. And I have to admit, I’m mostly a theoretical pacifist – I’ve never had to make the choice of taking someone’s life or not or getting into a fight to save another person. The most I’ve ever had to do was walk away. But nevertheless, this is my conviction and I believe, a central teaching of Jesus for all of his followers.
So, how do I do life together with people who aren’t pacifists?
I can make that the line for my bounded set. If you’re a pacifist, you’re in. I don’t have to know you or try to understand any of the subtle nuances that make you who you are as a follower of Jesus. As long as you share this conviction with me you are practicing the Scriptures correctly as I understand them and though I may never really know you, you are in and I am in. And if not, if you believe killing another person created in the image of God is ever acceptable, if you feel we can pick and choose how and when to apply the “clear teachings” of Jesus in the sermon on the mount and across the New Testament, you’re out.
And we’ll just tweet our farewell.
In the Centered Set model, I have to first discover your orientation to the Center by getting to know you as a person. Terribly inconvenient for dismissing people but shouldn’t dismissing people be terribly inconvenient for followers of Jesus? What makes you read the Scriptures differently than I do? How is the Holy Spirit or is the Holy Spirit working in your life in ways that the story we are in predicts and identifies as signs of God’s redemptive, re-creative work in your life?
I can’t separate myself from you simply because you have not come to the same conclusion I have about a very clear teaching of the Scriptures. You still believe in Augustine’s non-biblical, theological construct of the “just war” theory? You still believe that an eye for an eye achieves something positive? You still believe that supporting the killing of an adult on death row can still somehow make you “pro-life”? I don’t get that but I can still love you and I can still identify the work of the Holy Spirit in your life and when you tell me about the kickass MMA fight your discipleship group just hung out to watch together, I can love you like a Vegan child loves their steak eating parents even while I cringe a little.
Because my focus is not on where you are but on where you are oriented.
That doesn’t mean I won’t ask you some questions or suggest you need to read your Bible or maybe even cry in front of you when you talk about one man beating another man into bloody and barbaric submission, but I will keep on loving you on your journey towards Jesus.
As Rich Mullins once sang, “My friends ain’t the way I wish they were – They are just the way they are.”
So, I believe that we can share life together: those who practice simplicity sitting beside those who live in opulence, those who are pacifists breaking bread with those who believe in a just war, those who wear hats in worship sitting alongside those who go without their biblical head covering, same sex couples singing worship right next to hetero-normative couples, people who never tithe passing the offering basket to people who have never not tithed, the guy who smokes praying at the front for the guy who believes his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and would never pollute it, the rage-aholic can minister beside the food-aholic and the intermittent faster.
IF our orientation is to the Center of our set and the Center is named, Jesus.
It is the grace, mercy and forgiveness of such a sacramental community that allows us the space and safety to unpack our stuff over time and become more and more like Jesus.
And one day, we may even discover that quite by accident and without intending to, you’ve become a pacifist too in your pursuit of being more like Jesus.
NEXT WEEK – God willing – I will reverse everything I’ve just said in a post we will call, “The Exceptions.”