Posted by: Billy Marsh | February 19, 2008

Reflections On True Spirituality: Session 13 (Part I)

Edith and Francis SchaefferNow we come to it at last. The final installment of my “Reflections on True Spirituality“. I’m glad to have eventually finished, but my study of this book and its topic will not cease by any means. Christian spirituality has always been an interest of mine, especially growing up under a mentor who was very inclined to define and live out what it means to walk with the Lord day by day in this world. Terminology such as “walk with the Lord”, in his case, stood for much more than simply lingo for the spiritual disciplines. His use of such phraseology represented an intimate, mystical union of the saint with the Savior; thus, what was sought after was a communion with God that instinctively and inevitably overflowed into every aspect of one’s life.

The culture, though it is growing less and less Christian, just so happens to be progressively becoming more and more “spiritual”. And sadly, I believe young people are being swept away by this movement out of a response to the staleness and plastic portrayal of Christian living that recent generations have displayed. Fortunately, Schaeffer forsees the development of today’s current trends and closes his book with a chapter on how to function as the community of the saints in a church setting.

In my own opinion, chapter 13 which is titled, “Substantial Healing in the Church” could be better understood under the heading “Church: Communion and Communication“. But I know that Schaeffer was trying to retain some consistency in his chapter titles, plus, I didn’t write the book! Still, “communion and communication” are the two words that seem best to summarize the main content of Schaeffer’s thoughts in this section. Again, we must keep in mind that he is writing in Part II of True Spirituality with the purpose of showing how believers ought to live in different situations in light of the grace of God, the finished work of Jesus Christ, and the agency of the Holy Spirit. He begins with the premise: “Just as our bodies are our means of communication to the external world, so the church as the body of Christ should be Christ’s means of communication to the external world (145).” Do not think that he is elevating the efficacy of general revelation over special revelation. Schaeffer is only trying to show that the revealtion of God in the Scriptures was meant to be manifested and demonstrated by the bride of Christ, the Church. This, therefore, must be an external thing; the truths of Scripture were not meant to be locked up inside some theologian’s corner office or a pastor’s study. Doctrine is supposed to be enacted in the community of the saints before the watching world. Schaeffer goes on to say:

Every single generation should be able to look to the church of that generation and see an exhibition of a supernaturally restored realtionship, not just between the individual and God, though that is first; but between man and man, in the church (146).

According to Schaeffer, because of Christ’s triumphant work on the cross in overcoming the results of sin for those who are saved by his grace, man is restored in three ways: he is reconciled to God, restored to man, and restored to himself. But in the case of the life of the Church, Schaeffer wants to focus upon what type of community is now available amongst believers. In affirmation of the universal, mystical union of the saints, he adds that we must not be content only with that reality. There must also be an explicit, visible communion of the saints. Schaeffer writes,

What should the church consciously be then? The church consciously (and my emphasis is very strongly on the word consciously) should be that which encourages its members in the true Christian life, in true spirituality . . . . It should encourage them in freedom in the present life from the bonds of sin, and in freedom in the present life from the results of the bonds of sin. It should encourage substantial healing in their separation from themselves and a substantial healing in their separation from their fellowman, especially fellow Christians (149).

Moreover, due to the proper communion of the saints, the truth (doctrine) is visibly exhibited. The internal realities take shape and form in the external world. Thus, Schaeffer posits that the church ought to teach, in general, two things. First, the church should promote sound doctrine, the Word of truth. And second, the church should teach a practice of the existence of God, “and a practice of the reality of and the exhibition of God’s character of holiness and love. The church cannot merely teach these things in words; we must see the practice of these things in the church as a corporate body (149).” Here is where communication comes into play. It is the natural overflow of the holy communion of the saints. A healthy body of believers will communicate the gospel in both word and deed; it is unavoidable.

Therefore, Schaeffer says that the Church must take seriously holiness, love, and communication; and, we must seek to do this as a corporate body, not only as individuals. There must be a fervent and zealous love bred inside the individual Christian for the corporate body of Christ. If the Church fails to tend to the internal needs of the body and to nurture the family of God, then how will the world ever fully understand what it means to be saved and redeemed by the finished work of Christ on the cross? Furthermore, this point means that we must take into account both the nature of our message and its medium or method. We must be wise and precise with respect to how we communicate and carry out the Christian life to a world that is blinded by unbelief.

I will leave you with this example and thought provoking question from Schaeffer and will pick the discussion back up in Part II. Here Schaeffer is arguing for the need for the contemporary church to recover an awareness of the supernatural universe in the corporate body:

If I woke up tomorrow morning and found that all that the Bible teaches concerning prayer and the Holy Spirit were removed (not as a liberal would remove it, by misinterpretation, but really removed) what difference would it make in practice from the way we are functioning today? The simple tragic fact is that in much of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ–the evangelical church–there would be no difference whatsoever. We function as though the supernatural were not there (150-51).

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Responses

  1. “Liberals” misinterpret the Bible according to fundamentalists. “Fundamentalists” misinterpret the Bible according to progressives.

    Maybe it would be more fair minded to say that progressives and conservatives have different interpretations.

  2. Well, I can only comment so much on your response since you are speaking towards the quote from Schaeffer. Within its context, “liberals” for Schaeffer in this case is representative of the protestant liberalism that became prominent in the first half of the 20th century. This approach is not equivalent to what we would refer to the liberal theology which we know of today. Moreover, Schaeffer’s critique of the “liberals’ ” misinterpretation has to do with a certain academic theological method that sought to do away with supernaturalism such as angels, spiritual warfare, and even miracles, all the while still trying to affirm the content of the gospel message.

    With respect to your suggestion concerning a “fair-minded” approach to labeling varying interpretations as “different” instead of “right” and “wrong” ones, I would say that a misinterpretation is a “different” interpretation. When Paul tells Timothy in 2 Tim 2:15 to rightly handle the word of truth, I do not believe it to be “fair-minded” to approve of interpretations of the Bible that are much more than merely nuanced conclusions. In this case, Schaeffer is talking about the removal of certain doctrines that completely undermine the orthodox Christian faith, which in Jude 1:3, is worth contending for.

    As far as answering the question regarding whose interpretation is then right, I would have to begin at a basic level of arguing for epistemological objectivity in language and the “ethics” of literary interpretation which cannot be fully addressed in a comment box. If you would like to dialogue more, I am more than happy to communicate with you through email. Just send me one through my tab above under “Contact Billy”. Thanks for your insights. In Christ, Billy


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