18 Oct 2020
We have looked at the reliability of Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit as the Author and Teacher of the Scripture itself.
Perhaps, it may not be so obvious to some what the roles of Scripture and the Spirit have in the formation of Christian Spirituality in believers. Even the idea of spirituality or piety may not be so clear to various ones – for instance, when we browse the shelves of secular book shops, we find books on every kind of spirituality, ranging from New Age to Zoroastrianism; even in Christian book shops, there is very little available on biblical views of spirituality. Topics and books on spirituality in the Christian circle are often only concerned with the exotic, the abnormal and exciting, unusual experiences and encounters.
It is obvious but tragic that little attention is paid to the Bible as a source of spirituality; there is failure to use the Bible as a guide and source of true spirituality. It is important therefore for us as believers to be confident in the model of spirituality taught in the Bible and to recover biblical spirituality and to test and measure our spirituality by the Bible. If the Bible is given by God through the Spirit, and therefore has God’s authority. then biblical spirituality would express the will of God, and biblical spirituality will be sufficient spirituality.
God has given various means of grace to foster spirituality; these will include prayer, fellowship, the Holy Communion, Worship Service – however, the ‘right use’ of these various means and resources includes the right and good use of the Bible, which gives us spiritual discernment. The Bible is a great God-given resource and guide to true Christian Spirituality. One of the wonderful gifts of the Bible in Christian life and outworking is to clarify what is godly and what is not. John Calvin uses the image of the Bible as glasses that help us see everything more clearly from God’s perspective. The great need of our time is authentic gospel and biblical spirituality. The Bible teaches us that as the gospel is easily distorted. so gospel spirituality is easily lost.
J.C. Ryle explained it clearly:-
“You may spoil the Gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to Faith, – Jesus Christ; and to substitute another object in His place, – the Church, the Ministry… and the mischief is done…
You may spoil the Gospel by addition. You only have to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honour, and the mischief is done….
You may spoil the Gospel by disproportion. You only have to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done. Once alter the proportion of the parts of the truth, and truth soon becomes downright error…
You may completely spoil the Gospel by confused and contradictory directions. Complicated and obscure statements about faith, baptism, and the benefits of the Lord’s Supper, all jumbled together, and thrown down without order before the hearers, make the Gospel no Gospel at all” (Ryle 1964:12-13).
The New Testament describes heresies as false spiritualities. But what happened at Corinth, and Galatia, for instance, was not so much a clearly articulated ‘heresy’, but rather a ‘lop-sided’ or ‘unwholesome’ form of spirituality. Indeed, what is happening today in various churches and congregations takes the form of such a ‘spirituality’ which has ‘departed’ in various degrees from true and wholesome biblical spirituality. This was clearly described by Ryle in above quotation -when the gospel is ‘spoiled’, biblical wholesome spirituality goes missing. Another kind of spirituality is practiced and looked at superficially, it may seem ‘alright’ and nothing appears ‘seriously wrong’ to those who are less discerning.
Another reason why some churches fail to pursue the subject of true biblical spirituality is because they are single minded about primary evangelism. Their question is often “What is the irreducible minimum of the gospel the unbeliever needs to hear?” rather than “What is the fullness of the Gospel God has revealed?” Their preoccupation with initial conversion may have led them to neglect growth in the Christian life. If this is so, then there is room for repentance, for God’s gospel is effective, not only to make new Christians, but also reproduce mature Christians and mature churches. You need not look too far to see such churches, apparently doing well in terms of growth in numbers and in increased activities (many of which are focused on evangelism and appear positive), yet in reality, the ‘quality’ of true biblical spirituality is sadly lacking, with many ‘members’ uninterested in the Bible and biblical truths and many living lives which grieve the Spirit of God.
In some congregations, the Bible is left out in the discussion on spirituality because of the assumption that spirituality functions at ‘a deeper level’ than words. So such ‘believers’ favour dreams, sacred objects and places, visions, ecstatic experiences, miracles and feelings. It is the loss of the belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures that leads to a loss in expectancy in their impact on our spirituality. There develops a gap between theology and the practice of spirituality. The roots of theology lie in the revelation of God, rather than in experience. To express it more accurately – the roots of all our theology and spirituality lie in the revelation of God in Christ, articulated by the Spirit in the Bible. To depart from this revelation of God in the Bible articulated by the Holy Spirit and illumined by Him is a recipe for spiritual disaster for the church. Faith comes from hearing of the Word and from the work of the Spirit in sealing our minds and hearts. God addresses us both by His Word and by His Spirit at the same time and by the same operation – He sounds in our ears by the mouth of men, and He addresses us inwardly by the Spirit. To love God is to love His words, and to be alert to the Spirit is to receive the words of the Spirit in the Bible. In the Bible we find God’s self-revelation, God’s character, God’s will and God’s plan. We do not know everything about God and His plan, but what we do know is found in the Bible.
We need to recover the spirituality of the Word. This spirituality will come in various forms, including private reading, meditation and memorizing of Scripture, sermons and Bible studies, mutual exhortation and encouragement centred on the Word.These then contribute to the essence of Biblical Spirituality – if we neglect the Word and the Spirit in the life of the church, let us not be surprised that the church may have ‘a name that she is alive but in reality, she is spiritually dead’; she may be very involved in ‘religious activities which may appear spiritual’ but it is basically the work of the flesh rather than that of the Spirit; she may boast of ‘spiritual gifts, of various ecstatic experiences’ but God may declare it as ‘carnal’ like the church in Corinth.