From 2015 to 2018 I preached a series of messages on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. This messaged was preached in 2017. Article 18: Spirituality.
Article 18 is a follow up article to article 17 which talks about discipleship. Part of discipleship is spirituality. The term “Spirituality” is used a lot more often these days than it was in the past. In the past, there wasn’t a large distinction between being religious and being spiritual, but as more people leave churches while still maintaining a part of their faith commitment, a bigger distinction has been made. Being religious is often associated with our institutions and being spiritual is often associated with a personal understanding.
In talking about spirituality, we assume that people consist of (1) a physical body and (2) a spirit that God breathed into us to give us life. This gives each person at least two parts to their existence, a physical part that is somewhat easy to understand and a more mysterious spiritual part. Spirituality describes what we believe about our spiritual lives or spiritual existence.
While there are many different beliefs in the world about spirituality there are also many different ideas about spirituality within the Christian community. The church has been influenced often over the centuries by different philosophies. It has led to questions of Jesus’ divinity: Was Jesus completely human or completely spirit? Is the human spirit good and incorruptible and the body corrupt and evil?
Article 18 aims to define more clearly how Mennonites understand Spirituality.
From the first paragraph of article 18 of our Confession of faith: We believe that to be a disciple of Jesus is to know life in the Spirit. As we experience relationship with God, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ take shape in us, and we grow in the image of Christ. In individual and communal worship, the Holy Spirit is present, leading us deeper into the wisdom of God.
There are 3 ways that our confession focuses on Spirituality: (1) Imitating Jesus so that our lives look like Jesus’ life, his death and his resurrection (2) the Holy Spirit’s active role in a believers life so that we become spiritually fruitful and (3) how spiritual disciplines train our spiritual lives.
Within our congregation, we will likely find that everyone here has a slightly different idea of spirituality. We are all influenced first by Mennonite spirituality, but we also mix it with what we learn from Radio, TV, YouTube, books, Facebooks and magazines. Our confession doesn’t speak for or against other ideas of spirituality. Not every new thing is necessarily good or bad. The focus is not on addressing modern cultural influences directly, but putting 3 large pointers directing the Mennonite believer in a specific direction that will allow us to test new and different philosophies. Or, as it says in 1st John 4, test the spirits.
The disciple Stephen was killed by stoning for confronting the religious leaders and declaring Jesus as the Christ. In his last words, Stephen forgave the crowd. Saul, who later became known as the apostle Paul, begins his journey to faith at this stoning by helping the people who were persecuting Christians.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:3-12 NIV
A lot Jesus’ teachings described what God’s Kingdom looks like and it was often upside down from what life looked like on earth. Many who are considered great people in the world are not great in God’s Kingdom, and many who are considered nothing in the world are considered great in God’s Kingdom.
From our confession: By confessing Christ and receiving baptism, we are brought into a new relationship with God through Christ. In God’s love, our whole life is freed, transformed, reordered, and renewed. In loving and knowing God, we experience communion with God and allow more and more of our life to be conformed to the way of Jesus–his life, death, and resurrection. We yield ourselves to God, letting the Holy Spirit mold us into the image of Christ. As individual Christians and as the church, we are called to be in relationship with God, reflecting the way of Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit. We are to grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head of the church, through whom it is built up in love.
Our spirituality is defined by Jesus and a key part of our belief is that when we receive the Holy Spirit and are baptized, we begin to be transformed so that our lives start to look like Jesus’ life. Mennonites have applied this understanding in that we believe that we live like we are already in God’s Kingdom. For example, when Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers” he meant that we should be peacemakers now because we are children of God now, not later after we die. Also, we imitate Jesus in all parts of our lives, not just in a church building on Sunday mornings. Being a peacemaker, means being a peacemaker while you drive your car and while you talk with a telemarketer.
As we test spiritual philosophies, the first test is that it must conform to Jesus.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.John 15:5-8 NIV
Is it possible to be baptized and then die spiritually? Yes. When you stop bearing spiritual fruit, you are dying spiritually.
From our confession: We draw the life of the Spirit from Jesus Christ, just as a branch draws life from the vine. Severed from the vine, the power of the Spirit cannot fill us. But as we make our home in Christ and Christ abides in us, we bear fruit and become his disciples. When we are in the presence of the Spirit, we also keep in step with the Spirit and show the fruit of the Spirit in our actions. Our outer behavior matches our inner life.
Some spirituality that we encounter in the world around us distinguishes spiritual experiences from regular life where a person’s spirituality is measured in the quantity and quality of the experiences. Some people come to Sunday morning church worship to get the spiritual experience, and while worship is part of Christian spirituality, you’ll likely die spiritually if Sunday morning is your only form of spiritual life. Christian spiritual life is measured by fruitfulness and is found not just in worship experiences, but in all parts of what some consider “regular life”.
Spiritual fruitfulness is pictured like a good tree bearing good fruit. The good fruit also become good trees that bear good fruit. The New Testament illustrates this in two ways: (1) Calling people to become disciples of Jesus and (2) demonstrating changed lives.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.Galatians 5:22-26 NIV
You should remember that the fruits of the Spirit exhibit themselves primarily in times of trouble: Are you suffering from sickness? While you might look and feel terrible, joy is the fruit. Are you being irritated at work? Kindness is the response. Has someone cheated you while playing a game? self-control. Is your son disobeying you again? Gentleness.
A second test for spiritual philosophies is asking if it produces good fruit in all parts of your life.
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.1st Timothy 4:7-8 NIV
Most of us understand physical fitness better than spiritual fitness. When I was in high school, I always thought that body builders must live exceptionally well considering their strength and discipline. When I went to a University recruitment event, I visited the actuarial sciences table. Actuarial sciences, if you don’t know, is basically statistics for the insurance industry. They had a computer with a set of screens that told you your life expectancy based on your habits. For example, if you smoked or didn’t smoke, exercised or sat at home all day it would tell you if you would live shorter or longer. Well, I choose the profile for a body builder, eating great and no smoking, working out every day. When I looked at the result I was surprised to learn that body builders have a relatively short life expectancy. I played with the program for a while and found out that someone with a very average life style with moderate regular exercise lived the longest.
The point I’d like to make is that spiritual disciplines do not replace living life. Just like we shouldn’t live life in a gym building strong bodies just to look good. The goal of spiritual disciplines isn’t to have a good looking spiritual life to make other Christians admire your spiritual biceps. We practice disciplines to prepare us for living life to be fit enough for doing the work God called us to do and actually get the work done.
From our confession: Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, study of Scripture, reflection on God, corporate worship, singing hymns, simplicity, witness, and service are training in godliness. Such disciplines open us to a growing relationship with God and to putting ourselves more completely into the hands of God. Disciplines are also preparation for times of testing and of suffering. If we practice the presence of God in calmer times, we find it easier to know God’s presence in difficult times.
Mennonites have traditionally emphasized studying scripture and simplicity, although we tend to practice simplicity less than before. Despite these emphases, a mature Christian will practice all disciplines in a balanced fashion.
We test all new spiritual disciplines with how Jesus practiced his disciplines: Does the discipline increase our dependence on God? Does it deepen our relationship with God? Does it prepare us for testing and suffering in our lives? At some point, it would be worthwhile to do a more in-depth study on spiritual disciplines and how to practice them.
It is important to remember that we don’t understand the full picture of spirituality, but we do know that healthy spirituality produces good fruit. It is too easy to become conceited about our own spirituality, where we think that we understand everything and then ironically, fail to produce the fruit of the spirit and forget to show gentleness, kindness, forbearance, love and joy. Instead of critiquing each other’s spirituality, let our focus be on helping each other have lives that produce fruit. Teaching each other how to be disciplined. There are 3 things that someone should notice in your spiritual life: (1) Your life is always being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, (2) your life is bearing fruit because it is filled with the Holy Spirit and (3) your life has regular practices that keeps you and helps you become spiritually fit.
From the last paragraph of article 18: We are convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, for God can use both joy and suffering to nurture our spiritual growth. In this age, Christ in us is our hope of glory. We look forward to that time when our partial knowledge of God will become complete, and we will see face to face.