Keeping Spiritually Fresh
Sometimes things just come together – what I am reading, what I am listening to, and what I am discussing with others.
This week I have been catching up on the White Horse Inn podcasts, listening to the excellent current series on Worship:
I have also been listening to an excellent address given by the Rev Ian Hamilton at a fraternal this week in Glasgow. His theme was “What is the Church For?”, and his emphasis was that the church is the gathered assembly of God’s people engaged in glorifying God collectively in their worship. This was in counterbalance to an inaccurate evangelical idea that the church assembled in worship is of somewhat secondary importance, and the main purpose of Sunday worship is to teach God’s people and encourage them. Ian emphasised that it is when we are worshipping God and glorifying him in our collective devotion that we will be most blessed.
Then I was at a local church meeting where the theme was “Keeping Spiritually Fresh.” The video and teaching materials, (from an Anglican source), suggest that there are six ingredients for a healthy devotional life:
- Keep an open Bible.
- Be ruthless with sin.
- Think much of Christ.
- Pray often.
- Make the most of other Christians.
- Maintain a regular quiet time.
Now these in themselves are excellent things, and I commend all of them. But they are essentially individualistic and pietistic. What is missing? The very emphasis that Ian was underlining, the place of corporate worship on the Lord’s Day – the ministry of the Word, Sacraments and Prayer. We sometimes call them the ordinary means of grace.
In Reformed theology and practice it is more usual to speak of piety than spirituality. In Reformed practice piety is not merely individualistic, it is rooted in our union with Christ and the expression of that union in the collective worship of the church:
“We believe that the way in which Christ communicates the benefits of His mediation to those who are united with Him “are all his ordinances; especially, the Word, sacraments, and prayer” (WLC 154). That is to say, the means of our spiritual growth—the very engine of Presbyterian piety—is worship.”
(A Heart Aflame: Understanding Presbyterian and Reformed Piety by Dr. Sean Lucas; accessed at https://www.covenantseminary.edu/a-heart-aflame-understanding-presbyterian-and-reformed-piety/ )
Modern evangelicalism is essentially individualistic; it struggles to find a place for the corporate worship of God’s people on the Lord’s Day, sitting under the authoritative preaching of the Word and celebrating the Lord’s Supper. This is why in the USA among so-called evangelicals church attendance averages once or twice a month. Church worship services are side-lined - twice a month rather than twice on Lord’s Day.
What we need to keep us spiritually fresh and maintain biblical piety is not an either/or approach but a both/and approach. Commitment to and worship in the local church each Lord’s Day is the primary and essential means to maintain spiritual health.