I’ve referenced Richard Foster and Celebration of Discpline before, and may talk about the Spiritual Discplines at some point. I was introduced to Foster at my Anabaptist college (who are very different from any variation of Baptist), so perhaps I didn’t realize just how many people really don’t agree with him.
I came across a very Baptistic website who counters all things emergent and contemplative at http://apprising.org/. It seems to come from a perspective that God only speaks through Scripture and there are no modern charasmatic gifts and such. Uses the word heresy a lot. His logic isn’t as good as he thinks it is, but he does raise some good questions. So, before discussing Celebration of Discipline, I thought I’d reference the opposing viewpoint.
There are a lot of people in the Christian tradition over the last 2000 years who have practiced what Foster calls The Spiritual Disciplines. Some would say that some of these have weak Biblical support, or none directly. The inward disciplines are meditation, prayer, fasting, and study; the outward disciplines are simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; and the community disciplines are confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
Now, whether Foster’s explanation of some of these is Biblical is one discussion, especially as to the importance of these means of grace, as they are called. On the surface though, it seems to me there’s sufficient mention of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study in the Bible for their practice to be Biblical in some fashion. Confessing to another person is Biblical, as is worship. The outward disciplines are not mentioned as commanded acts, though there is mention or modeling of each to a degree. So, if I continue this post series, I’ll refer to the Bible as the primary source.
It’s good to look at the Bible and ask how Biblical things are. We should question things. What confuses me is that a given conversative Christian may be quick to condemn a more liberal Christian for being unbiblical, but it less willing to be open to being called unbiblical themselves, as if the status quo of a given denomination must be defended at all costs, because everything else is heresy. Honestly, that kind of logic scares me.
Now, with over 200 varieties of Baptist, it’s hard to use that term to generalize, plus I know some awesome Baptists! But if we’re going to talk about extra-biblical practices, I’ve seen plenty in Baptist churches I’ve been too. Is wearing a suit or your Sunday best Biblical? Does the Bible say we can’t drink alcohol? Is Sunday School a Biblical command? Are we commanded to sing hymns? Is the pulpit commanded? Are pews commanded? Some would say that even some of the elements of modern church services have pagan foundations. Yet, what a pastor wears from a pulpit is a big deal to guys like John Macarthur. And in fairness, some people are too ready to condemn the so-called traditional church for things like these. And so it goes.
So, from the introducation to Celebration of Discipline, I find these encouraging words:
“The moment we feel we can succeed and attain victory over sin by the strength of our will alone is the moment we are worshipping the will. Isn’t it ironic that Paul looks at our most strenuous efforts in the spiritual walk and call them idolatry, will worship? Willpower will never succeed in dealing with the deeply ingrained habits of sin.”
I wrote the following on my personal blog after reading that: It dawned on me, recently, in simplicity, that if I don’t have a close relationship with God, born of time spent with Him in honesty and humility and joy, that I won’t serve Him very well, that I won’t be as holy as I could be, that I won’t be as loving as I could be. And so I’m intent on doing that, spending time with God for like an hour a day, for the purpose of, spending time with God, and letting Him do what He does, cause my efforts just don’t seem to amount to much, even my efforts to be good and be better. I’ve had times where I’ve felt close to God. Recently, I really haven’t, except for a few moments. And it’s all seemed more like work than joy. Maybe we have too much of an end in our religion. Maybe the means is all that matters. We throw the words “relationship with God” around, though our prayer lives show how much we mean those words. But prayer too, is too often focused on the end rather than the means.