If spiritual formation is, indeed, being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others, the ultimate test of our spirituality lies in the nature of our life in the world with others.
Oh my... yes.
Chapter 12 is on Corporate Spirituality. This is a somewhat long chapter, and it's pretty involved, so I'll see if I can make sense in bits and pieces. Corporate spirituality deals with our journey together, as the body of Christ - the church. He uses this illustration about D. L. Moody (145):
It is said that one cold and gloomy day, Dwight L. Moody visited a man who had expressed some interest at one of Moody's meetings. Moody was ushered into a comfortable room with a fire blazing on the hearth. After some gracious preliminary conversation, the man began to argue that it was possible for a person to be a Christian without participating in the life of the church. As he made his elaborate and detailed arguments, Moody leaned forward in his chair, took the poker and pulled a flaming coal from the fire out onto the stone hearth. Moody watched as the coal slowly dimmed and went out. He then turned and looked at the man, without saying anything. After a long pause, the man said, "Mr. Moody, you have made your point!"
We can no more be conformed to the image of Christ outside of corporate spirituality than a coal can continue to burn bright outside of the fire.
On 147 he says, "Most of us already practice some corporate spirituality, but it tends to be very superficial and external. We never move with one another into the depths of our being, where God can do the crucifying work of nurturing us into wholeness." Hmm... yep.
On 148-9 he begins a good section on Maintaining the Mystery and the need for others:
Where one has all the right answers, all the easy answers, all the quick fixes, there is no room for mystery. There is no room for paradox. And if there is no room for mystery there is no room for God, because God is the ultimate mystery.
One part of the genuine spiritual pilgrimage is coming to the point where we let go of our limited concept of God. We let go of that box within which we have enclosed God, and we open ourselves to allow God to be whatever God wants to be in our life. When we do this, we also lose our former awareness and sense of God's presence. We lose our grasp upon God.
Here, you see, is where faith enters into mystery, into the dark night of the soul. And here we need one another, in the strength of corporate spirituality, to encourage, to sustain, to support, to enable us to let go of our control of God, to let God be God, and to dwell in the mystery.
...Corporate spirituality is essential, because privitization always fashions a spirituality that in some way allows us to maintain control of God. Without brothers and sisters to call us to accountability, we will work powerfully to maintain that control...
He then goes into a really nice piece from John 2 about how Jesus uses Nicodemus to explain this. I need to remember this (pages 149-153) - this will preach!!!
On 154 he goes on...
Jesus picks this up later in John's Gospel, when he says to his disciples, "You did not choose me. I chose you" (15:16). There is a radical difference between the two halves of this statement. If we have chosen Jesus, we retain control of the relationship. We determine what role Jesus has in our life. We determine what role Jesus plays in our vocation, in our relationships, in our leisure time, in our recreational activities, in our selection of reading materials, in our choice of movies and TV programs, in our friendships. But if we allow Jesus to choose us, there is inherent in that action a relinquishment of control of the relationship to Jesus...
The relinquishment of the control of our relationship with God to God is the essence, I think, of moving out of our privatized, individualized spirituality and into corporate spirituality...
When we are in control of our relationship with God, when we try to maintain a privatized spirituality, we have to maintain a defensive posture toward others. We have to protect ourselves against them because we sense, unconsciously if not consciously, that there is a fatal flaw somewhere in our privatized spirituality - and anyone might disclose it. I have to keep you at arm's length lest you reveal the weakness, the flaw, in my privatized spirituality.
But if such disclosure is no longer my concern, if I can release that obsessive self-control of my relationship with God to God, then I no longer have to fear you. I can welcome your insights into my incompleteness, because you can be a means of God's grace to awaken me to the blind spots in my life and my relationship with God... You can become a means of transforming grace, and I can welcome you. I do not have to protect myself against you. I can also commit myself to you in your brokenness and bondage and allow God to work through me in God's way, not my manipulative one.
He ends the chapter with this:
"Perhaps one of the questions we need to ask ourselves as we wrestle with the corporate nature of holistic spirituality is whether we're ready to relinquish control of our relationship with God to God. Are we really willing to let God be God in our life?"
And on 157: "It is only in the body of Christ that we are constantly challenged to allow God to be in control of the relationship we have with God. In fact, only as living cells in the body of Christ can we truly allow God to be in control. As soon as we take control of our relationship with God, we begin to isolate ourselves from other cells and become a cancerous, destructive presence in the body."
Man, lots of stuff here. Lots of good stuff. Applicable stuff. This post is probably long enough already.
Peace out; and in.