As a Theology Professor, I was pretty good at teaching Scripture from a purely academic perspective; it was my job after all. I would never denigrate academics, quite the opposite, in fact. Yet in the academic environment, I had the nagging realization that we were doing an excellent job of training the next generation of teachers of the law, but not such a great job of teaching and training men and women to be ministers of the gospel. You see, dear reader, there is a fine line there, between placing our faith and trust in our own knowledge and academic skills, and placing our faith and trust in God, and the two kinds of faith are not the same thing.
Now that I am no longer in that environment, when I come across a student who is preparing for the ministry, I encourage them of course, but I also warn them about this peril. Some see it right away, others are quite sure that I have gone utterly mad… par for the course, I suppose.
A few years back I met a young Seminary student who was so very bright. He could cite chapter and verse for most any subject, he could give a philosophical analysis of everything, he knew pretty much everything. He was so very confident in his knowledge, in his analysis, in his insight. However, it quickly became obvious that he had no conception that anything he had learned about the teachings of Scripture had any relevance whatsoever to daily life. Actually, he wasn’t even entirely sure that he was a believer, but he was sure that he was going to be a Professor of Theology one of these days.
And he probably will, and that is the danger I’m talking about.
We can all study the Scriptures as an academic discipline, but the study of Scripture as a spiritual discipline is something different. Of course it is important to have a fundamental knowledge upon which to grow spiritually, but our foundation is built upon Jesus Christ who is the Person of the living Word. Our foundation as Christians is not built upon the letter only, and that is where many go wrong.
Traditionally, many of us have been taught that to grow in the Faith, we need to spend time in prayer and in the Word; that we need to go to Sunday School and be in worship every Sunday. I’m not going to say that this statement is wrong, but I will say that it isn’t nearly good enough.
Here’s what I mean:
Prayer and Study are two different spiritual practices, and that is how it has been taught for over a thousand years, but they need to be done together. Sunday School isn’t a bad thing; I’m actually teaching an adult class right now. Yet it has one great flaw, do you know what that is? There is no contemplation or concept of anyone ever graduating. Since no one graduates from Sunday School, it simply cannot be something that makes disciples for Christ, because the whole point of making disciples, is to train people to become makers of more disciples. This, Sunday School as we’ve traditionally understood it, delays indefinitely true discipleship, and that must stop.
As for attending corporate worship on Sundays, I think we should all be doing that. I realize that some have had a bad experience in the past and may not wish to attend again. I get that one, and please know that I have seen quite a lot over the years, and some of it hasn’t been very pretty. I have seen congregations that I would never recommend to another person, yes. However, I have also seen congregations that were beyond amazing. Please don’t let the bad behavior of another flawed human keep you from worshipping God in another congregation: Forgive your errant brothers and sisters and move on in the Lord. Otherwise, you let those people hurt you over and over again; ask God for the strength to forgive and move on, and I am confident that He won’t let you down.
I also realize that plenty of people simply cannot find a congregation that lives up to all of the person’s exacting requirements; oh, how often I’ve heard that one. Please remember that the rest of us are no more perfect than you are and be willing to forgive us our inadequacies. I’m sure you can find a group that will welcome you and be willing to forgive your inadequacies in return.
I’m sure you’re wondering what all of this has to do with spiritual practices, and that’s a fair question right about now. All of this has to do with the way we approach things, with our attitudes about spiritual things. In our next post, I’ll show you what I mean in practice.