KB Categories Archives: Catechesis

10 Tithings Around the Table: A Devotional Guide for the Journey

Connie Bull: One tenth of a year is about every 36 days.  Welcome to the journey of tithing our time!  If we are indeed to bring all the tithes into the storehouse (Mal. 3:10), then we need to include the tithe of our time, for each day is a day the Lord has made (Ps. 118:24).

In this devotional set, you will find scriptures and feet-to-the-faith activities and the liturgical color to guide you through each of the 10 tithe segments of the year.  How do you most need to be challenged personally and corporately, as an intentional member of Christ’s body?  A service of communion at the end of each 36 day segment will be your chance to stop and meditate on your progress toward the goal(s) you chose:  a personal spiritual formation trek, a family missional projects, or a church community outreach focus.  Make a visual reminder by using the liturgical color in a family table centerpiece or family altar. The cycle here begins 36 days from Christmas Eve, but you may choose any day closest to your current “today.”  Blessings to your journey!

Tithe 1

December 24, 2017 to January 31, 2018 [White]

When counting 36 days from Christmas Eve, we arrive at January 31st. Some families of faith celebrate Human Relations Sunday in January. Christ’s call is to go into all the world and look into people’s hearts, not at the color of their skin or the many ways in which you may differ. Reaching the world with grace is not about judgment first, but humility. The widow humbly gave her tithe even though she herself was in need. Not many Sunday School units are on tithing except for the lesson on the widow’s mite.  Take time now to read Luke 21:1-4.  Tithe is taken from the word tenth. Tithing is not only money. It also encompasses the act of becoming the body of Christ by doing His work— exemplifying leitourgia, or liturgy— a work of the people.

Create a special offering the children themselves could take up during the service—an offering of dimes, Dimes of Devotion.  The dime being a unit of 10 will help in communicating to give monies to God as well as giving to God the tenth of the year it represents.

Words to the worship leader: The children’s “dime time” does not have to take up an extra allowance of time in the service. It could be done after the Opening of the Word during the prelude, during the choral anthem, or as a response to the scripture.  The children’s Sunday School classes could rotate as ushers to take up these “Dimes of Devotion.” The children could then decide with their teachers how the collective money will be spent— ten different charities or one single one, etc., or in the case of older classes, meet to buy school supplies for needy children or toiletries, etc. with the monies closer to the last tithe, Christmas Eve.

Tithe 2

January 31, 2018 to March  8, 2018 [Purple]

The Season of Lent— “Lent” comes from the Old

English “lencten” or “lengthen” because the days would continually  get longer as spring approached.  The Early Church used this time as 40 days of devotion (not counting Sundays) before Easter.  Some people take something out of their diet or habit so that when you miss it, you are prompted to realize Christ’s sacrifice for you.  Others add something to their daily routine.  Since we are in the middle of that period of self-reflection, focus on tithing the days remaining days of Lent by 1] planting a seed and taking a picture of it every three days until Easter to show its slow growth. Print out the pictures and make a devotional display for your home or for display at church or 2] creating a poster with 40 “footprints” in a winding path.  On each footprint, write the name of someone whose example you are thankful for along your journey and with their name, write one of the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 that they possess and helped you to nurture in yourself. Sometimes the leitourgia, work of the people of God, is the walk of the people of God.

Tithe 3

March 8 to April 13, 2018 [White]

Season of Eastertide
In this season of celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances to his followers before his ascension, it is a good time to tithe our presence as Christ’s countenance in the lives of those who cannot come to church as often to experience the presence of Christ among the family of God.

In the next 36 days, select six people who are either in the hospital or a nursing home, or get on the volunteer list to serve food in a shelter in your area.  As you visit with someone, you communicate blessing and make them feel like they belong and are not alone.  One of the most often quoted verses and scripture songs sung is “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” from Numbers 6:26.  If we examine the text, though, there is a paradox that often goes unnoticed: the Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace.  If the Lord is to lift up his countenance, then his face could possibly be ….below.  If you begin thinking of how Jesus’ face would be looking upward to see yours, you realize it suggests servanthood and sacrifice….when he bent down to write in the sand before granting forgiveness to the accused woman, when he was washing the disciples’ feet, when he fell beneath the weight of the cross.  Find a way to be a blessing every six days and lift up your countenance from the position of servanthood in Christ’s name.

Tithe 4

April 13 to May 19, 2018 [Red]

Season of Pentecost

In this season of the Christian year, or the life of Christ throughout the calendar year, we celebrate the empowerment of Christ’s followers by the Holy Spirit, the pouring out of God’s power upon the Church.  Read again Acts 2:1-18.  God’s gift of empowerment was through languages to communicate his plan of salvation to the world. Pentecost was a celebration 50 days (pente = five) after Passover.  In Hebrew tradition, it was to commemorate God giving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus.  God in His wisdom knew that the time to empower believers was when they were already gathered and when the world’s peoples could hear their message. God’s gift of the Commandments was given that followers of God would have foundational ideas on how to please God and live honoring the gift of life in community.  Jesus became the living example and was sacrificed as the Lamb at Passover in order to save us from our reckless selfishness with our lives. God’s Holy Spirit was given 50 days after to help us communicate that God’s love is more than obeying the 10 commandments; the everlasting covenant fulfills the laws with love. Look up on Google translate the way to say “God bless you” or “God cares for you” in a number of languages from all the continents (BTW: The scientists in the research station in Antarctica speak Spanish!)  Take a screenshot or create a display with 3×5 cards at your church. Pray for the

Spirit’s guidance to speak love and life in word and deed. There is a version of the Lord’s Prayer with motions for each phrase.  If you can teach the motions to all present, everyone can pray in silence but in unison. Embodied Lord’s Prayer.

You might even ask your church leadership to partner with other bodies of believers in your area who worship in different languages and celebrate communion together or teach them the motions to the embodied Lord’s prayer and pray in silence together.

Tithe 5

May 19 to June 24, 2018 [Green]
In this next 36 days, make it a goal to memorize six verses, one every six days. Write them on your mirrors or on cards to place at often visited focal locations in your house.  Begin by studying the fruits of the Spirit Galatians 5:22-23 or The Beatitudes Matthew 5:3-12.  Identify three qualities that you struggle to exemplify.  Choose two verses that would help you in these three areas. You might even find a song that helps you remember the verses or look on hymnary.org or wordtoworship.com for songs that are based on your target verses.  Read II Timothy 2:15 and encourage one another.

Tithe 6

June 24 to July 30, 2018 [Green]
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—emphasize the “ten” Sundays after the celebration of the empowerment of the Church through the Holy Spirit and have a “testimony times and dimes” aspect of the worship service as to how their journey  has been impacted so far through viewing the days in the year as the tithing of time.  Read Psalm 66:16-20 and rejoice with one another.

Share your verses with one another from Tithe 5 to keep them fresh in your memory.

Tithe 7

July 30 to September 5, 2018 [Green]
16th Sunday after Pentecost–next day is Labor Day.  With intentionality, there is a way to highlight the importance of Christ’s life events as a focal sacred observance on an otherwise secular day, Labor Day, by giving the dimes of devotion to a cause working to eradicate child labor. God tells us children and adults alike will stand before Him on the merit of their own choices. “For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me.  Ezekiel 18:4 (NIV)  We are also given the just cause of speaking up for those who have no voice.  Read James 1:27 and pray for the world’s children and the world’s working poor.  As a more personal ministry, deliver baked goods to police and fire departments with thank you notes for the good they do.

What would you have to give up to receive the empowering Gift of the King to join him in that work?

Tithe 8

October 7: World Communion Sunday [Green]

Our 36 days ends at Oct. 11 but rejoicing in communion with believers all around the world on the first Sunday of October is a privileged opportunity. Read anew the story of blessing for all God’s children: Mark 10:2-16. If possible, have family members take on the roles of people in the account.

In Jesus’ day, a tradition was already in place for the blessing of both boys and girls—but it required preparation.  Children up to 12 years old would prepare for to be blessed on the Jewish Day of Atonement by fasting (not eating) and prayer. Children up to one year of age would fast until daybreak.  Children up to 12 years old would fast until sundown, and then be taken to the elders for a blessing.

Some biblical scholars have suggested that the reason the disciples began turning the children away is because they were uncertain that the children were properly prepared or that it was not the Day of Atonement.  Some have also suggested that the disciples felt indignant because Jesus had not even blessed his own adult followers yet, and in that day, adults came before children in importance.

Jesus was not simply blessing the children to be seen in a good light like many politicians do when running for office.  Jesus was re-enacting Jacob’s blessing of his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, the boys born to Joseph by his Egyptian wife.  Let the story live again and pause to read it now:  Gen. 48: 1-20.

In the blessing, Jacob adopted the grandson’s into the inheritance of God’s chosen people.  It was an act of unconditional acceptance and belonging.

Today we celebrate together at the Lord’s Table and the bond of Jesus’ adoption of all Christians all over the globe into God’s family.  For the tithe of the next 36 days, take the challenge to become more global in your daily prayers of intercession as an individual or as a family.  Here’s one way.

1) Look up the following website.

http://www.countrycallingcodes.com/Reverse-Lookup.php?calling-code=876

(You can also look in the front pages of a local phone book for the numbers that correspond with a great number of countries.)

2) Look on the left side bar and click “reverse look-up”.  If you scroll down, it should give you a place to look up numbers from 1-999.  Choose (or take turns in the family) a number and look up which country belongs with or is closest to that number.

3) Pray for the Christians in that country to be strong under persecution and bold in their words and deeds for Christ.  Pray for those who will encounter the presence of Christ through a believer’s example today.

4) Repeat tomorrow and choose a different country.  You may also want to look up ministries related to that country and pray for the stamina, health, and peace of those who are working for the cause of Christ.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to empower all believers to become more like Christ (Rev. 5:12).—strong, gentle, generous, and wise—so that together we all as adopted, unified family may walk with Christ in honor, glory, and blessing.

Tithe 9

November 25: Christ the King Sunday—[Gold]

The emphasis of this season is on the Heavenly Banquet and preparing to be ready in service for His return. Christ the King Sunday encourages our hearts to look forward to the day when every day is like Easter, and Jesus is indeed and forevermore enthroned on the praises of God’s people. Take time now to read Rev. 1:4-8.  Try this with your gathering: If you make a circle holding hands and then raise all hands, it makes a physical symbol of a crown. Pray that the King will be enthroned in the hearts of those gathered and that Christ’s peace will reign in their hearts whatever the current circumstance.  Pray for those who are in positions of government across the world as well as locally.

Some activities to help you tithe the next 36 days will take you into the season of Advent when we travel the faith journey in worship looking forward to Christ’s birth and the Promise of God’s greatest blessing to the world.

Enthrone the King who came as a helpless babe by selecting one of the following Psalms to read each day. As you read your daily Psalm, keep a record of the acts of salvation, deeds of mercy, works of creation, words of wisdom, or everlasting glory that causes the psalmist to praise the LORD.

Keep a record in those five categories and add a reason to praise of your own life experience or your heart’s overflowing.

Where can you find the LORD at work today locally or globally in acts of salvation, deeds of mercy, works of creation or words of wisdom?  (Psalm 132:12-18)

Tithe 10

December 24, 2018: Christmas Eve Communion [White]

 As we come to this last tithing of our time, give thanks through the four songs of the Nativity:  the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), the song of Zechariah Luke 1:67-79, The Song of the Angels (Luke 2:14), and Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32).  Here are songs that represent the work of God through all life situations:  the song of a man who has no voice until he gives way to God’s will in his life and for his family, the song of a woman who willingly gives way to God’s will in her life even though it will mean giving up her reputation and her home to become a refugee, the song of angels heard by some average third-shift workers (shepherds) whose lives are forever changed as they put feet to their faith and go when and where God tells them to go, and the song of a man who can now rest that God has kept a promise that the future will be full of hope.  Which story is most like your journey right now?  Praise the Lord whose hope is born anew in all and through you to all.

Revisit the verses you memorized half-way through the year and pray for strength to continue rebirthing those verses as you continue to unwrap the gift of Christ within you this next year.

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Will You Ask the Blessing? Blessing in Spirit and in Truth

Dr. Connie C. Bull:

A blessing is a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal, and strengthen. –John O’Donohue, Irish poet & priest (1956-2008)

Will you offer the blessing?  We hear this phrase often at mealtime, even perhaps daily. If we pause to consider, though, we realize that blessing is not only connected to meals. Throughout the Bible, blessing is connected to belonging.[1] Our common speech patterns, however, do not imply belonging when we are quick to say “Bless his heart” or “Lord, bless her” when speaking of a personality flaw in someone. Instead, we are covertly lying to hide the disdain we feel under the surface.  Thus, we have twisted the biblical meanings what it is to bless; blessings are to be prayers for deliverance and a “made-new worldview” as we bless in Jesus’ name, our Deliverer.

The Old Testament uses nine different meanings of the term “bless” including greeting/leavetaking in peace, prevailing power over enemies, wisdom, prosperity, benediction, transfer of power, respect, praise, and thanksgiving.  In the New Testament, Christ embodies these, and blesses into belonging both young and old in His ministry. Jesus’ last earthly act was blessing (Luke 24:51)—a ministry for more than church staff, but rather for all Christ’s followers to continue.

[1] Claus Westermann, Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church, trans. Keith Crim (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 19.

Want to read the rest of Connie’s wonderful work? Please click the “Read More” link below.

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A Conversation with Dr. Rick Asche

Microphone (2)Rick Ache FamilyAudio Content: Dr. Rick Asche, a recent graduate of the Institute for Worship Studies and a long-time pastor, was the guest on this edition of “Ancient-Future Faith,” a radio program sponsored by Epiclesis: An Ancient-Future Faith Community. Rick has served in youth and men’s ministry, as well as a lead pastor, and more recently in junior high ministry in Lincoln, California. He recently accepted a calling to join the pastoral team at Epiclesis as Pastor of Intergenerational Discipleship. In this episode of the radio program, Rick talks generational ministry and its biblical mandates.

Click on the play button in the audio player below to hear the conversation with Rick Asche:

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A Litany of Little

 

Donald Richmond:

My wife and I have just enjoyed another anniversary. Celebrating this event has also encouraged me to reflect upon the entire sweep of our meeting, dating, engagement, marriage and honeymoon.

largeOur honeymoon was spent in Scotland. The preparative process was simple, direct, without any fuss or bother. We threw some clothes in two knapsacks, drove to the airport, boarded the plane, and arrived in England, then in Scotland, nine hours later. Joy!

This is no longer what happens. My wife now packs her bags for a solid week, fills two trunks of luggage that could each serve as a small home for newlyweds, unpacks, repacks, decides upon what she should not take, and finally padlocks her bulging luggage for the journey. Of course, as the dutiful husband who only totes a knapsack, I carry her semi-trailers as well.

Often, when we finally board the plane, I look lovingly at my bride and cry, “DUDE, WHERE IS MY WIFE? WHAT DID YOU DO TO THE WOMAN I MARRIED?!” That is, in other words, what has happened to my knapsack wife? What has happened to the freewheeling vagabond, the would-be “hippie,” I married? I want my knapsack wife back!

I am still of the opinion that we only need a little for our travels. A knapsack over the shoulder will do, unless we are journeying for a month on the Camino De Santiago. But, of course, that would be a rare exception. On most occasions, a little is enough.

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The Imitation of Christ: Original Art by Donald Richmond

Donald Richmond:

Self Portrait: Donald Richmond

Self Portrait: Donald Richmond

The Imitation of Christ, purportedly written and/or compiled by Thomas á Kempis, is one the most beloved and important books within the Christian corpus. It has been said that, until relatively recently, it outsold every other book except the Bible. Although this has now changed, the text is a treasure trove of Christian philosophy and living that is appreciated by every major Christian tradition– including the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The first copy I ever saw was a 1954 edition, published by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, that my mother had when I was a child. As I could not read at the time, I remember paging through the text and being deeply moved by the images which accompanied this particular publication. These images changed my life. Later, when I eventually learned how to read, the words shaped and changed who I was and how I thought. Apart from the Bible and my Prayer Book, The Imitation of Christ has been my constant companion for almost forty years.

Several months ago, I was impressed by these words from the twelfth chapter of the first book of á Kempis’ four-part collection:

“In the cross is salvation

In the cross is life

In the cross is protection

In the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness

In the cross is strength of mind

In the cross is joy of spirit

In the cross is the height of virtue

In the cross is the perfection of sanctity.”

These words, albeit modestly abridged from the Challoner edition (Tan Books), began to stir within my heart and imagination. Within a short time, I began producing images related to the quotation.

What you now have before you (below) is a selection of these images– and a bit more. I hope that you will enjoy looking at them as much as I have enjoyed creating them–  and this with the equal (if not greater) hope that you, too, will adopt á Kempis’ classic text and apply it.

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-there-is-Salvation

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-is-Life

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-there-is-Protection

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-is-the-Height-of-Virtue

Kempis-Richmond-In-the-Cross-is-Perfection-of-Sanctity

Kempis-Richmond-Eye-of-the-Needle

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Dr. Jacob Kaufman: A Pedagogical Case Study for Worship Leaders on Prayer

Video-IconVideo Content: At June, 2016’s annual AFFN Convocation, Network member Dr. Jacob Kaufman presented “Synthesis and Summary: Applying Ancient-Future Principles in Evangelical Worship Traditions” and led led us through some of the theological and practical considerations involved in writing liturgical prayers.

He drew from his planning and implementation of a recent class at the college taken from a recent paper, “Teaching, Constructing, and Executing the Prayers of the People.” With particular emphasis on Luke 11:1-4, he highlighted these important questions: How are we formed as leaders through prayer? And, how are our congregations formed spiritually through our corporate prayers in worship?

Jacob, who holds degrees in Christian thought and a DWS, is the chair of the music department and director of the contemporary Christian music program at Central Christian College in McPherson, Kansas.

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The Concretization of Spiritual Ideals

D.H. Williams:

DHWilliamsThe following is an address that Dr. Williams gave to the June, 2016, conference sponsored by the Robert E. Webber Center for an Ancient-Evangelical Future at the Trinity School of Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. It is presented here by permission by the author. Dr. D.H. Williams is Professor of Religion in Patristics and Historical Theology at Baylor University, Co-Director of the Center of Ancient Greek Studies at Shandong University, and a Sustaining Member of the Ancient-Future Faith Network.

It is no great observation to say that the Protestant experiment with ancient tradition is still in process. Given the ecclesial diversity within evangelicalism, it is hardly surprising that a predictable hallmark of those communions drawing on the ancient church is its unpredictability.  Reading from the common lectionary, incorporation of certain liturgical elements and the attraction to patristic interpretation of Scripture, using quotes from patristic theologians– these figure most prominently across a broad spectrum of churches, many of which are looking for a centering of Christian faith and practice.

One result of evangelical openness to a broader and deeper historical awareness has been an acknowledgment that the construction of the Christian life must go beyond the re-experiencing or renewal of conversion. Another is that there are ancient “tools” or approaches available in realizing the journey to holiness.  While there is much to gain from patristic spirituality, it will nonetheless have points unfamiliar to us. For instance, at the time in which Christian spiritual practices were becoming generally established in the fourth century, the premier role model for Christian men was not the good husband and father, but the faithful celibate living at home or in the desert as frugally as possible.  Asceticism, not the family, was the best ground for growing in Christ.  Jesus himself set the higher standard in literal form: “Whoever loves father or mother (or a son or a daughter) more than me is not worthy of me.”[1]

For the early church pertinent material for spiritual formation was found in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.  In this, Augustine says, “one will discover in it a perfect pattern of the Christian life designed after the highest standards of conduct.”[2] Among the dozens of commentaries and series of homilies on this gospel, the Beatitudes took priority as the treasury to which one should search for the language and precepts of walking gracefully.[3]  We are supposed to “burn with an inward desire of hungering and thirsting after righteousness;” that is, actively “seeking for righteousness, as opposed to some mere longing or fleeting desire of wanting it.” [4] So too, only the pure of heart may see God,” which Gregory of Nyssa couches as “the divine image formed in us through the purity of our lives.”[5]  As a kind of epitome of all the Beatitudes, Matt 5 concludes, “Be perfect (τέλειοι) as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).  Since the term “perfect” in Greek derives from the word for goal (ends, means), human actions are understood in relation to ends; an understanding inherited from Greek thought.[6]  It is what the early church and ancient moral philosophy called the final or highest good (summum bonum).  To strive after the “perfect,” was meant, not only as an ideal, but also as an obtainable goal, as Paul clarified it: “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (II Cor 7:1).

It is instructive to see how Christianity, despite its many theological differences with classical Paganism, shared a certain amount of philosophical infrastructure within Hellenistic rationality.  The rise of intellectuals within Christianity in the second century inform us through their texts that there was already in place a well-developed system of moral formation in the Graeco-Roman world.  Christian apologetic texts often played on a shared expectation of justice and wisdom.  Athenagoras made his argument that victimizing Christians with false accusations does not comport with justice.[7]  Likewise Justin stated directly, “Justice mandates that you inquire into the life both of him who confesses and of him who denies, that by his deeds it may be apparent what kind of man each is.”[8]

Continued…

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Christian Counseling and Spiritual Direction: Bridging the Invisible Divide

Donald Richmond:

2011_06_SpiritualDirectionFathers William Barry and William Connolly, in their highly respected The Practice of Spiritual Direction, have written one of the most widely accepted definitions of this discipline.

“[Spiritual direction is] help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”[1]

Who could not agree with this definition?  It is informed, concise, eminently practical, and enticingly flexible. It is precisely this flexibility that commends it as an effective bridge between spiritual direction and Christian counseling.

Christian counselors and spiritual directors are increasingly being trained in each discipline. Schools like BiolaUniversity (with Rosemead School of Psychology and the Institute of Spiritual Formation both on campus) are flourishing. Unfortunately, although there certainly are some very important distinctions to be maintained between these two disciplines,[2] there are also a number of items that commend a seamless integration of the two. Common distinctions between the two disciplines may be highlighted as follows:

Spiritual Direction                               Christian Counseling

Ancient                                                           Modern

Wellness focused                                         Illness focused

God focused                                                 “Man” focused

Wrestling                                                       Resolution

Waiting                                                          Working

Spiritual /Biblical                                        Psychological

Personal                                                        Professional

Process                                                         Product

Although this is a brief and broad overview, the apparent dissimilarities between the two disciplines are amply demonstrated.  Spiritual direction is a very ancient practice, whereas counseling, including Christian counseling, has supposedly only arisen since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Counseling has been illness focused and intent upon resolving problems.[3] Spiritual direction on the other hand does not in any way assume that people come for direction because they are experiencing some form of illness or problem. Instead of a problem, spiritual direction is focused upon our potential in God, prayer, listening and discernment.  “Wrestling with God” is more important than the resolution of any particular issue one may be facing. Further details highlighting the supposed distinctions between Christian counseling and spiritual direction need not be made, although we will return to this issue at the conclusion of this article. Anyone trained in both disciplines understands and respects these distinctions.

My problem, however, is with the artificiality and arbitrary nature of these distinctions. The dissimilarities are not as dissimilar as we may think. We may be showing these dissimilarities too much unwise respect[4]. When properly understood and applied there are seamless similarities between the two disciplines, especially when referring to Christian (i.e., Biblical) counseling.

If we accept the definition proposed by Barry and Connolly, Christian counseling and spiritual direction are virtually the same. As a spiritual director and Christian counselor I can utilize this definition and its applications in either discipline. These similarities are the focus of this article. The purpose of this exercise is to not only demonstrate their similarities, but, by outlining the similarities between the disciplines, return the focus of Christian counseling to its roots in spiritual direction. To be more specific, one might consider Christian counseling as a subheading under spiritual direction. This will have a powerful impact upon those who come to us for spiritual direction and Christian counseling.[5]

Ancient and Modern

One of the primary distinctions between Christian counseling and spiritual direction is the antiquity of direction and the modernity of counseling.  Spiritual direction has been around for thousands of years, predating both Christianity and Judaism,[6] whereas Christian counseling is supposedly a “Johnny-come-lately” response to the psychoanalysis of Freud and others.  Spiritual direction is, indeed, an ancient practice. Christian counseling is, as understood, a relative newcomer. There are difficulties with this analysis, however.  The writers of both the Old and New Testaments were both shrewd spiritual directors and effective “Christian” counselors. Christian counseling, as a means of resolving intra and interpersonal issues, is clearly found in the biblical texts.  Christian counseling was imbedded very clearly within the priority and practice of spiritual direction as we examine many biblical texts.  Both functioned simultaneously and seamlessly.  Similarly, the monks of the 4th and 5th centuries were not only effective spiritual directors, but capable Christian counselors. Their understanding of the human psyche was profound.[7]  The collected writings of the Philokalia and elsewhere bear ample witness to the psychological (or soul) sophistication of these spiritual directors.

Long before there was psychoanalysis, Christians harnessed the process of Confession in order to help others experience catharsis and transformation. At its best, modern psychology, and Christian counseling in particular, can be seen as a form of Confession. Other examples might also be cited that challenge the assumption that there is a modern/ancient distinction between Christian counseling and spiritual direction. Does this arbitrary distinction (although having some measure of truth) really matter? It only matters if one assumes a dissimilarity between the disciplines and a blind embrace of Enlightenment rationalism as is commonly applied to the practice of theological exegesis and its practical outworking in the theory and practice of Christian counseling.  It only matters if, while maintaining certain elemental boundaries, we do not believe that our clients deserve a more cohesive approach to counseling that reaps the benefit of the long history between these two disciplines.

I, for one, do not accept such arbitrary distinctions, and believe them to be counterproductive to those who come to us for help. And, once again, Barry and Connolly’s definition in no way excludes Christian counseling being seen as a form of spiritual direction.

Wellness and Illness

It is an obvious fact for any Christian Counselor or spiritual director that the people who come to us are a mixture. Matthew Fox acknowledges this reality in his important (yet, in my mind, theologically questionable) Original Blessing. Larry Crabb bears similar witness with his reference to our being a “glorious ruin.” The Bible, as well as Church Tradition and dogma, affirms the same. At their best, sociology and psychology do not contradict this position.  History and personal experience bear this out.  Using the Methodist quadrilateral as our reference, Scripture, tradition, reason and experience all attest to the fact of humanity’s dignity and depravity, wellness and illness.  Such is the condition of every human being (apart from Christ who did not sin) who is created in the image of God and yet fallen.

Why then do we suggest that spiritual direction tends to be more wellness oriented (i.e. everyone needs spiritual direction, ill or not) and Christian counseling tends to be more sickness oriented (i.e. most people do not go to counseling unless there is some form of a problem)? It is my belief that this senseless dichotomy exists because we misunderstand both the focus and function of Christian counseling and spiritual direction.

A case can certainly be made that spiritual direction is primarily focused upon how a person can more effectively listen to God, respond to “Him,” and grow in grace.  On the surface, one need not be sick in order to experience God on an ever-deepening level.  As St. Brigit of Kildare has said, “Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head.”[8]  Contrary to this, the common understanding of Christian counseling does imply illness as being the critical issue in therapy. Gary Collins opens his magnum opus with “I never thought there could be so many hurting people!”[9]  Larry Crabb suggests that his form of “Biblical Counseling” has a great deal to do with “stubborn problems.”[10]  A perusal of the literature of Jay Adams also focuses upon how the biblical text can address humanity’s manifold problems. Problems, sin, and sickness, are center stage. (And, on some level, must always be.)

I have no basic argument with either position. Spiritual direction and Christian counseling do have the focus and function that have been hinted at. Nevertheless, this view is both somewhat restrictive and unnecessary. Both of these reflect a cultural bias that is ill-informed. In both cases, people approach us who are a mixture. This is a “given.”  Christian counselors and spiritual directors know this.  There is nothing profound about this assertion.  Would it not be more productive, however, to understand that spiritual direction and Christian counseling both share the common focus, function and goal of having our clients know and experience God in such a way so as to further develop a sanctified life?  Aren’t both wellness and illness inherent to both disciplines? Cannot a focus upon the resolution of “sickness” (the Christian counseling product) be seen as the process of spiritual direction whereby, whether the problem is resolved or not, growth in grace and the experience of God is advanced? Listening to God and responding to what is communicated does in some way involve “digging” our ears and “purging” our hearts — both of which have distinct parallels to Christian counseling and spiritual direction.  Both practices share a great deal of common ground.

God focused and “Man” focused

It seems to be a simple equation to which everyone attests:  In spiritual direction we focus upon the prayer-focused listening disposition we must develop in order to discern the words, will and way of God, whereas in Christian counseling we focus upon the person who is front of us, their need, and how we (at best) hope to help the client achieve a godly solution to h/er presenting problem.

These distinctions, while moderately factual, are manifestly not functional. Even when we earnestly strive to keep what some perceive to be the very distinct professional boundaries between spiritual direction and Christian counseling, we cannot help but see the overlap and intersection between them.  In practice the boundaries are repeatedly blurred. Both Christian counselors and spiritual directors will focus upon God and the client.  Both will pray.  Both will be involved in the process of discernment. Both will rely upon the Holy Spirit.  Both will consult Holy Scripture and the traditions of the Church. Both will attend to issues of wellness and illness in the hearing and healing process. Both will involve one Christian coming to another for help and direction.

The jurisdictional province of spiritual directors may principally address our relationships with God, while Christian counselors may principally address how we can overcome certain problems in our lives, but both focus upon what might be termed both “spiritual” and “direction.” Are there any problems that are not essentially “spiritual” when we understand the nature of the Fall? Doesn’t even the mature practice of spiritual direction suggest that at times “dark nights” (always reflecting socio-psycho-pneumatic realities) must be addressed through the prayerful and careful use of psychology? And we must not forget that our “dark nights” do not always fall into neat spiritual or socio-psycho-emotive categories. Doesn’t even Dr. C. G. Jung suggest that most of our psychological problems are religious in nature and resolution?

Spiritual direction and Christian counseling are also often non-directive in their approach. This does not mean that either the counselor or director will not at times appeal to the Bible, or other Christian courts of discernment, to address an issue.  What it does suggest is that counselor and director will both have such a profound respect for the person and action of God so as to allow the client to make those choices that s/he decides to make. Christian counselors and spiritual directors cannot force issues, although expectations, goals and discipline are inherent to the practice of each charism.  In some way both disciplines are a “hands off” enterprise that depends not only on professional training and personal skills, but, more so, upon the Holy Spirit who is ultimately the agent of transformation. Both are exercises of faith, hope and love. The borders between Christian counseling and spiritual direction are at times exceedingly thin, at best.

It seems to me that the (at times) artificial “God focused” or “Man focused” boundary needs instead to be seen as functioning as a continuum where, depending upon the need of the client, the Christian counselor or spiritual director is led to utilize one approach above the other in order to help achieve the purpose(s) of God.

Let me be blunt: with proper understanding and training, a director is a counselor when required and a counselor is a director when required. Spiritual direction might be used as Christian counseling just as Christian counseling might be used as spiritual direction. It often depends upon where the client is “at” at any given moment.

Wrestling and Resolution

One of my favorite stories from the Old Testament is of Jacob wrestling with God. Apart from a host of personal applications, I have also employed this story in both “secular” and “sacred” settings, with Christians and non-Christians, and as a spiritual director and Christian counselor. In both Christian counseling and spiritual direction there is the constant holy tension between wrestling and resolution. The words of St. Augustine of Hippo illustrate why. Augustine wrote “the heart is restless until it finds its rest in [God].” All of us have known such restlessness.  If we are believers in Jesus Christ we have also experienced that peace that puts an end to sinful and/or senseless striving.

In spite of this, if we are honest, we also know that we are works in progress, always wrestling and always finding resolution in, by, and through, Christ and his liberating gospel. This holy tension between wrestling and resolution, between seeking and finding, between abject poverty of spirit and the bountiful riches of the kingdom of God are the staple of the Christian life.  They are both central to spiritual direction and Christian counseling.

Why do we suggest that wrestling is the domain of spiritual direction while resolution is the domain of Christian counseling? The answer certainly does not reside in either the nature of spiritual direction or Christian counseling. The answer resides in who we are as human beings, particularly those of us who live in the Western world. We live in a society that worships instant gratification. As inheritors of the scientific Enlightenment we are programmed to think that if there is a “problem” we need to “solve” it as soon as we can.  In some ways, this is a useful paradigm.  If I am dying from some disease, I certainly hope a miracle resolution will come in my lifetime. If the electricity is out, I hope that it can be fixed as soon as possible. If I am hungry I want to eat.

This simple framework does not always work, however, in either Christian counseling or spiritual direction.  We tend to pigeon-hole, compartmentalize and, consequently, fragment. We have come to think of therapists as “problem solvers” and directors as “guides” or “friends.”  In our thinking a guide or friend does not need to have “answers,” they just need to be there. In Christian counseling it is similar. A friend or guide may be good, but people come to counseling to get “real” help, and not generally to have the Christian counselor “be there.” We must remain mindful of these expectations, as faulty or limited as they may be.

Nevertheless, in spite of these social expectations, a case can and should be made for a crossover between spiritual direction and Christian counseling. To me, even given the commonly understood wrestling/resolution paradigm, such a crossover is natural and necessary. Both counselors and directors would agree that in each respective field there is the need for both wrestling and resolution. Moreover, if we understand that all of life is the proper jurisdiction of God and that there is a fluid relationship between what we would deem to be the natural and spiritual, the secular and the sacred, the competent director and counselor must “flow” with the need of the client.[11]  The compartmentalization of disciplines we have inherited, while offering some good, has also damaged how we see people and how we approach the practice of spiritual direction and Christian counseling.

Spiritual and Psychological

The human person is a single, unified, being. The artificial divisions we make between body, soul and spirit, between head (thinking), heart (feeling) and hands (acting), between spiritual and socio-psycho-emotive are (while at times useful) arbitrary when involved in the care and cure of souls —- whether as Christian counselors or spiritual directors. We are approached by the whole person and it is the whole person to whom we must attend.

It would be simple and safe to say that we are spiritual directors and that we only deal with the “spiritual,” or that as Christian counselors we only deal with the socio-psycho-emotive. Personally I am not sure where the division of disciplines in theory, practice, or life, begins or ends. Where does one draw the line? Of course professional competence must be respected. People who come to us must not be duped into receiving something for which they did not ask. We do need to be attentive to the norms and expectations of our society. Nevertheless, in practice and in principle they are one.

The life of Martin Luther is a good example of what I am suggesting.  It is well known that Luther had a spiritual director during his tumultuous years as a struggling monk. He suffered with what some people have come to know as “scruples.”  Obviously his struggle with “scruples” had some distinct socio-psycho-emotive overtones. It might also be said, in spite of the profound debt we owe this reformer, that Luther was certainly not the most balanced of human beings.[12] At least one author has carefully documented this imbalance.[13]

This being the case, what would you do with Luther if he came to you for assistance?  Is his problem spiritual “scruples,” psychological trauma, socio-religious environment, or some mixture?  Obviously Luther’s problems were in some way a mixture, and he needed both spiritual direction and Christian counseling. Certainly it appears, if we are to believe both Erikson and history, that Luther had some unresolved problems with his father. This may have been at least part of the source of his anxiety over thunderstorms, demons and authority.  As we all know, anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand.  Luther’s “scruples,” albeit related to anxiety, may also have been tied to a profound sense of his guilt and the fear and depression that resulted from it.

Culture and religion also played a role in Luther’s problems. All of these issues were interconnected.  The “spiritual” and the socio-psycho-emotive were all wound up into who Luther was.[14] All of these needed attention. All of these are the proper province of trained counselors and directors.

Personal and Professional

There is an ongoing debate as to whether Spiritual direction should be considered a profession. Further debate centers upon whether directors should be certified and receive financial remuneration for their services.[15] In keeping with cultural expectations, however, Codes of Ethics are provided by such groups as Spiritual Directors International and The Center for Sacred Theology. And, although these Codes are not mandated, they certainly are strongly encouraged. On the other hand, Christian counseling is often considered to be a profession with distinct training provided to those who wish to exercise their ministry through this discipline.[16]  Christian counselors also have Codes of Ethics, depending upon the Association or Society to which s/he belongs.

These distinctions were greatly influenced by the history of each discipline. Spiritual direction was commonly provided by laypersons which were empowered with a charism appropriate to the exercise of this gift and ministry. Although pastors or priests (primarily through the administration of the sacraments and the pulpit) exercised some form of direction, it was the “common” people who often filled the role of directors. The revival of interest in this discipline in the 1970’s also understood that one need not be a “professional” in order to provide effective soul care. The care of souls was one of a personal (i.e. friendship) nature. Counseling, however, was and is seen as being more “professional.”  Even pastors and priests, although they may have had very little training in either discipline, are now seen as professionals whose responsibility it is to provide both direction and counseling.[17]

The breakdown between the “personal” and “professional” becomes evident in several ways. First of all, the division is artificial. When engaged in Christian counseling, while boundaries must be honored, one does in some important way befriend the client.  This is especially the case with Christian counseling that may take place within a church or a parish.  However, even outside of the church or parish, some measure of “friendship,” of the “personal,” cannot be entirely avoided. Nor should it be avoided. Many positive changes occur when we embrace the factor of friendship.[18] The implications of such friendship certainly had (and has) socio-psycho-emotive implications.[19] Second, the designation is arbitrary. “Personal” care transports “professional” practice. Relationship is one the most persuasive mediators of effective care. Many people embrace change — and are transformed — based not simply upon our professional skills, but also upon the personal safety that relationship affords them.

The importance of friendship (with proper boundaries being observed) and relationship are critical to both ministries. Finally, the designation is abstract (impractical). It looks good on paper, but the professional/ personal paradigm does not work.  This is especially so when we understand that both fit the Barry/ Connolly definition, both have Codes of Ethics, both often include training, both involve “friendship,” both address similar issues, both have similar goals, and (in many cases) both involve the very same people.

Process and Product

In our society, as stated in a similar fashion earlier, people look for the end product. “What will we get for our investment,” we ask.  This is in some ways reasonable. If we buy a new car, we want to know that we are getting good quality for our dollar. If we invest $5000 on a new laptop, we want to know that we’re getting what I have paid for. This applies to almost any investment, including Christian counseling and spiritual direction.

However, as with the other subheadings, there are problems with such a division. It is true that direction may be more concerned about the journey. Spiritual formation is a life-long process that, quite likely, will continue for eternity. Hearing God and effectively responding to the Divine will is crucial to this process.  Nevertheless, counseling shares similar concerns.  While a person may come to me as a Christian counselor with an addiction problem, this does not mean that I must restrict myself to “addictions.”  The similarities between certain addictions and the spiritual life are abundantly evident.

As a Christian counselor, as one who has been approached for addictions counseling, I am morally and ethically compelled to provide the counseling for which the client came. However, as I am dealing with Christian counseling, I may need to move into the field of spiritual direction as the spiritual elements of certain addictions are manifestly and abundantly obvious.  Am I breaching any ethical codes if I am honest about the “spiritual” process we may need to use in order to achieve the product which the counseling originally sought?  I believe it was Dr. Carl Jung who said to Roland H.[20] that unless he (Roland) had a “profound religious experience,” he could not be delivered from his debilitating disease.  Thousands of alcoholics have found Dr. Jung’s suggestion to be absolutely correct. So have I.

This illustration applies to many, if not all, the non-organic disorders we may find in Christian counseling. While people may approach the counselor for a particular product (help with anxiety, addiction, depression, anger, marriage, dysfunctional family, etc.), this does not in any way preclude the possibility that the process by which we seek to arrive at the product may be distinctly “spiritual” and stray into what has commonly been assigned and accepted as direction.

Conclusion

There are numerous writers, familiar with both disciplines, who caution us regarding the integration I (and others) am proposing.  In Care of Mind/Care of Soul Dr. Gerald May writes “The primary danger in bringing [Spiritual Direction and Psychotherapy] together is that mental and emotional concerns may kidnap the gentle spirit of attentiveness required of both director and directee.”[21] While acknowledging “many similarities” between the disciplines,[22] he nevertheless questions (if not condemns) it because such a holistic approach requires “maturity and vigilance.”[23] May is quick to add, however, that we are “unified being[s],” and a “balanced attitude” is required.

Similarly in his cautionary article in Christian Counseling Today on “Psychotherapy and Spiritual Direction: Reflections and Cautions on the Integrative Path,”[24] Dr. Gary Moon expresses several concerns regarding such an integration. He writes that we should “avoid importing rich resources across disciplinary boundaries that are only nominally understood […],” “dramatically” increase “training,” encourage “graduate schools” to offer more “formalized training” in this integration, and be careful to abide by ethical guidelines.[25]

These cautions by both May and Moon are well taken.  Caution is always wise. Proverbs tells us that the person who hastens with his feet errs. Nevertheless, one can at times be too cautious. Conservative theology has taught us that the process of theology can sometimes move too slow as well as too fast. It is balance, Spirit inspired balance that is biblically informed, to which we must aspire.

May, cited above, encourages such a “balanced attitude.” It is this “balanced attitude,” to the end of honoring our clients as “unified beings,” at which this article takes aim.  Similarly cautionary references to “attentiveness” and “maturity and vigilance” are qualities any Christian counselor or spiritual director must aspire to attain and maintain. There are cautions that must be observed. Ethical and moral boundaries must be respected.

With this in mind, we would be wise to ask ourselves how and if we can bridge the divide that many have suggested exist between Christian counseling and spiritual direction.  The fruit of such a task will richly benefit our clients and parishioners with a blessing that neither discipline could offer on its own.

[1] Barry, William A. and Connolly, William J. The Practice of Spiritual Direction. (Harper San Francisco, n/d) p. 8.

[2] Hedberg, Thomas M. and Caprio, Betsy. A Code of Ethics for Spiritual Directors. (Dove Publications, 1992) p. 5 – 6.

[3] A very clear illustration of this is Christian Counseling by Dr. Gary Collins (W Publishing Group, 1988). While oversimplifying this important and useful book, it appears that, even from a brief scanning of its contents, Christian counseling is about the resolution of problems.

[4] Fr. Francis Benedict, OSB, Abbot Emeritus of St. Andrew’s Abbey, suggests that these two disciplines must be blended in order for effective direction to be provided. He goes on to suggest that the emphasis upon distinction may be unduly influenced by the “need” for professionalism and professional recognition.

[5]  It is to be understood that when an integration is proposed throughout this article, that the Christian counselor and spiritual director will have had sufficient training in each discipline.

[6] See: A History of the Cure of Souls by John T. McNeill. (HarperCollins, 1977).

[7] I believe the Rule of St. Benedict is a wonderful example of this. He understood the socio-psycho-pneumatic needs of people.

[8] Sellner, Edward C. The Celtic Soul Friend. (Ave Maria Press, 1985) p. Dedication page. Emphasis mine.

[9] Ibid. p. 15

[10] Crabb, Larry. Effective Biblical Counseling. (Zondervan Publishing House, 1977) p. 16.  It must be noted in quoting this, however, that this book represents the early Crabb. Since the writing of his profound text, Inside Out, Crabb has steadily moved toward the priorities, principles and practices of spiritual direction. If anyone presents an integrationist model for Christian counseling and spiritual direction within the evangelical community it is (with some reservations on my part) Dr. Crabb.  Evangelicals owe Crabb an enormous debt of gratitude.

[11] I think that a good example of the wrestling/resolution paradigm, that should in fact be a wrestling and resolution paradigm, can be found in the writings of M. Scott Peck, most specifically The Road Less Traveled and The People of the Lie. I am now given to understand that he has a new book out that deals with demon possession/oppression in his clinical practice. Demon possession is another very clear example of where spiritual direction and Christian counseling (psychology) meet.

[12] A case might be made that a great many “saints” were not terribly well balanced human beings.

[13] See: Erikson, Erik. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. (W. W. Norton and Co., 1993).

[14] The life of Luther capably illustrates how, even when one has serious problems, the grace and calling of God can help one overcome one’s shortcomings in order to accomplish God’s purposes.  I am also reminded of J. B. Phillips who, while experiencing what we might deem to be clinical depression, overcame this debilitating problem in order to translate The New Testament in Modern English without chemical intervention. Similarly, Charles Spurgeon also suffered from severe depression and yet went on to be one of the world’s greatest preachers.

[15] I am grateful to Spiritual Directors International for drawing ongoing attention to these issues.

[16] An exception to this rule is pastors/priests whose ministry and role require them to be both SDs and CCs with, in many cases, very little training.  Parishioners come with many needs to the pastor/priest and require both Christian counseling and spiritual direction.  Thankfully, especially over the past thirty years, pastors/priests are being provided more training in these areas.

[17] I do not always agree with this, however. Properly trained and ordained/commissioned pastors and priests are, of course, professionals. Our responsibilities as priests do, at times, have a sacramental dimension that closely parallels or provides spiritual direction. Moreover, Christian counseling is inherent to the office of a priest who functions as a pastor. This may range from simple encouragement to more exacting forms of counseling that may require either more precise training and/or referral. Pastors and priests are professionals, but this does not mean that s/he is qualified to provide the direction and/or counseling that is sometimes required of them. Thankfully, many schools are providing more training.

[18]  See: Hunter, George C. The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. (Abingdon Press, 2000) p. 47 – 55.

[19] Ibid. p. 69 – 70.

[20] When we advertise ourselves as CHRISTIAN counselors, my assumption is that people approach us because they want a particular emphasis in their counseling.  They most likely are Christians —- and this should be ascertained as early as possible. However, some people might approach us, knowing full well that we are CHRISTIAN counselors, without any personal commitment to Christ.  This does not mean that we should not address issues related more strictly to spiritual direction, IF, through the process of Christian counseling, we find that a “spiritual issue” is in some way impeding the resolution of a socio-psycho-emotive problem.  The opposite is also true. If a person comes for spiritual direction but we find that a socio-psycho-emotive issue impedes “spiritual” progress, we must also address this — either through our own care (if trained) or through referral. Using Jung as an illustration, Roland H approach Jung for a psychological problem, but Jung provided him with a “spiritual” solution.

[21] May, Gerald G. Care of Mind/Care of Soul. (HarperCollins Publishers, 1982, 1992) p. 15.

[22] Ibid. p. 14.

[23] Ibid. p. 14.

[24] Moon, Gary. Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls: A Guide to Christian Approaches and Practices (InterVarsity Press, 2004).

[25] Ibid. In the original document I was sent, these cautions fall on page 9. In the book, which I have not seen, they likely fall on the last few pages of Dr. Moon’s article.

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Simply Jesus

Donald Richmond:

“And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip…saying, Sir, we would see Jesus.”                                                     –St. John 12: 21, KJV

Simlpy-JesusThe greatest need today is for people to see Jesus. Individuals, local assemblies, denominations and the Church Catholic all ache to see and know him. Christ is the hope of ages and help to all who call upon him in faith. The wise seek Christ.

Individuals need to see Jesus revealed to and in them through all of the complex machinations of what it means to be fully human in a broken world. Families need to see Jesus in and through all of their ardent loves, trying ambiguities and painful losses. Local assemblies, with all of their worshipping blusters and blunders, with all of the complications of living in and as community, need to see Jesus. Regardless of our positions and our postures, whether well-or-ill-conceived, Jesus needs to be seen in our denominations. The Church Catholic must see Jesus or we have absolutely nothing to say. We, in fact, have no being (or purpose in being) without a vision of Jesus. He is revealed, or our existence is ridiculous.

The Church, in all of its expressions, is about Jesus or it is about nothing. Oddly, altering this perspective only slightly, the Church is about Jesus or it is about everything and anything that is non-essential and divisive. If we do not see Jesus we speak what we want, constructing our own Babel. Of course, as we know and have seen, the absence of clear sight (seeing Jesus) has resulted in a massive amount of cluttered speech (speaking Jesus) that is highly confusing and conflicted.  We each go our own way, doing our own thing, because we do not see Jesus.

This is our greatest failure. We do not speak Jesus because we do not see Jesus. As such, we do not communicate Christ, we communicate Christianity. There is a difference. At its best, Christianity is Christ seen, spoken and lived. At its worst, Christianity is man-made religion. Although we can stretch an emphasis beyond the point of reasonability, our failure comes down to making choices between Gospel or Epistle (Letter), Christ or Church, Relationship or Ritual and Encounter or Evangelism. Of course I must emphasize that these polarized choices are slightly exaggerated to make a point.

There is a difference between Gospel and Epistle. The former, Gospel, communicates the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, return and overarching priorities and purposes of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is, so to speak, about him. Epistles, on the other hand, outline inspired yet interpreted understandings of how the living Christ intersects with specific church communities within fixed historic and cultural contexts. Although both communicate the word of God, Gospel suggests an immediate perspective, whereas Epistle suggests an interpreted perspective. Christ, while culturally relevant, is of cosmic importance. Epistle, on the other hand, is culturally conditioned with current applicability. Gospel, over simplifying, discloses Christ whereas Epistle discloses community. One of the critical problems of the Church is that we have lost sight of Christ and, while seeking to communicate his person, we have inadvertently communicated (at best) his message. Of course, a message that exists apart from the person who communicated the message, who in fact is The Message, compromises both the proclamation and the person to whom it was originally attached. It does not work. When we lose sight of Christ, we all-too-frequently communicate church. Epistle is Church, whereas Gospel is Christ. People need Christ, and church only as an extension of his Holy Spirit in the community of believers. “What would Jesus do?” is a far better question than “What does Paul say?”

There is also a difference between Christ and Church. Christ is the message of the Church. There is no other message, and there is no other purpose or power for our existence, beside Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles is, in fact, a history of the actions of the Holy Spirit through the community of believers. The Epistles are little more than inspired Christological interpretations as applied to specific church settings. The Church is therefore the Spirit-infused body of Christians whose calling is to communicate Christ through word and deed. We do not share Paul, or the church, we share Christ. All too often we bring people to meet the Pastor. All too often we bring friends to church to meet the people. All too often we bring people to church to hear some measure of well-delivered and orchestrated proclamation. But what we should be doing is bringing people to church to meet Jesus Christ. To be sure, pastor, people and proclamation are important. In fact, given the economy of God’s mission and method, they are vital. Nevertheless we do not come to church to be Christianized, we come to church to encounter Christ — to “see Jesus.” We come for encounter with God! Without such an encounter, Church is excruciating boredom.

Differences also exist between relationship and ritual. Certainly there are rituals involved in any relationship. The marital relationship has a set of rituals by which we generally abide because, in fact, good rituals revive and renew romance. The Church in its relationship with Christ also has its rituals, Holy Baptism (more later) and Holy Eucharist (more later) being but two of many. However, rituals can also replace relationships. We can maintain structures of relationship without having the substance of romance. This is when ritual becomes dangerous. One church in which I served had so many rituals, with a set time, place and process for these rituals, that the relationship with Jesus Christ was almost entirely lost. People went through the entire process without ever getting to the heart of the matter. I found it darkly humorous that this church never came to understand why their membership was so spiritually ignorant and that so much backsliding occurred. The reason was clear: They had catechesis without Christ. CATECHESIS was written so large (process) that Christ was minimized (Person). They at best knew the Catechism, but knew very little of Christ. They had a philosophy of Christianity but did not embrace the person of Christ. Ritual can have the same dangerous and damnable impact. Ritual can renew romance or it can retard romance. And, sad to say, any and all Church ritual – even God-ordained ritual – can become a relational retardant.

Differences exist between encounter and evangelism, and our current emphasis on evangelism has become highly problematic. Over the past number of years we have harped upon “seeker sensitive” and missional mindsets. (It must be noted, as well, that recent trends in Worship have often emerged from these misguided mindsets.) The “seeker sensitive” mindset is wrong on at least two counts: (1) its grossly misguided theological underpinnings that communicate little more than concessions to our “me-centered” contemporary settings and (2) to “come as you are” almost invariably means that you will “leave as you were.” With “me” as the focus, Christ cannot be found. If I focus on “me,” there will be little room for “He.” Similarly, the function of our evangelistic practices often overlooks having a sustained encounter with Christ. Evangelism is a Christian imperative. It is not a new idea. It does not need “missional” repackaging — with business model orientations and strategies. The “New Evangelization” should, in fact, not be “new” at all. Sharing our faith IN CHRIST is a result of an encounter and relationship WITH JESUS. Evangelism is a response to WHO WE KNOW, Jesus, and his imperative for us to “GO” (Matthew 28). Evangelism is an expression of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Our greatest need today is for the Church to see and speak Jesus; nothing more, and certainly nothing less. Without seeing Jesus, we have nothing to say. Without seeing Jesus, proclamation is purposeless. Without seeing Jesus, proclamation is poisonous propagation.

And seeing Jesus provides us with our greatest opportunity. IF Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, if he still lives and speaks, Jesus can continue to be revealed (even in the midst of our shortcomings and sins), people can be redeemed, churches can be re-formed and nations re-claimed.

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