A Vital Truth and a Challenging Word for Today's Church

Christian Monasticism, David KnowlesTHIS MAY BE ONE OF MY MOST IMPORTANT POSTS

Here is a profoundly insightful, long sentence from David Knowles. I was really moved by how it describes one of the GREAT TENSIONS that is core to my own calling and ministry. What is authentic faith? Why does it seem authentic faith is so often missing in the church?

It is from his book Christian Monasticism, pp. 12. It is in the context of why the monastic movements of the 3rd and 4th centuries flourished with thousands of Christians flocking to the desert to find a space and community of deep spirituality.

He sets this desire in the context of the perennial struggle of the Christian faith. What does real faith look like? What does it mean to be a “devout” follower of Jesus? Why would anyone want to be a non-devout follower of Jesus? Is such a condition authentic Christianity?

It appeals to the strong words of Jesus to the seven churches (see Revelation 2 & 3). In particular, it echoes Jesus’ words about the dangers of “lukewarm Christianity” among which is being “spit out of the mouth of Jesus” (Revelation 3:15-16). However you interpret those words, at the least we must agree that lukewarm (non-devout) faith is distasteful (in the extreme) to Jesus.

Here is what Knowles says.  (Note: For easier reading, I have slightly edited his one long sentence so it is several shorter ones.)

In the sequel (i.e. after Constantine the Great made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire) the standards of life and the level of austerity were lowered and the Christian church became what it has in large measure remained ever since:

That is - a large body in which a few are exceptionally observant and devout.

In the church many are sincere believers without any pretension to fervor (devotion, passionate pursuit of God, intensity of faith in Christ).

And, a sizeable number, perhaps even a majority, are on their way to losing the faith.

Or they retain it in spite of a life, which neither obeys in all respects the commands of Christ, nor shares in the devotional and sacramental life of the church with regularity. 

Under such conditions there has always occurred a revolt of some or many against what seems to them prevailing laxity; they choose the narrow way.

Knowles says monasticism was a reform movement to create a space for the full practice of the devotional and sacramental ways of Jesus, while in community with others. It was the desire to experience the Acts 2:42-47 model of Christian faith which was the pretty normative way of faith until Christianity was approved as an official religion of the state.

authentic Christianity, carry the crossOther reform movements arise from time to time in Church History.

The Reformation of Luther and Calvin was such a movement that aimed to restore passion, faith and life together as devoted followers of Jesus.

The Puritan and Pietistic movements of the 18th and 19th centuries were likewise, desires and attempts to reform the lukewarm church of that time.

The Pentecostal movement of the early 1900s - ditto.

From time to time “revival” happens and the church experiences a time of renewal where truth, passion, life together and outreach to the world are nurtured and at times explode in vitality and impact.

The Evangelical movement is itself a reform movement that continually struggles to communicate and sustain a life of deep devotion to Christ, in the context of a community of faith (the church) and its mission in the world.

As a teacher, preacher, leader, mentor, spiritual director and architect of transformative communities - I constantly wrestle with this tension. I stand in that tradition of longing for a fully devoted faith and desiring to be situated in a community of fully devoted followers. When you are in a tradition like that, it can be a let down when we don't live up to the ideals of our faith.

I, like you, are disappointed when the church falls short of what it is meant to be.

I, like you, am disappointed when I fall short of what I am called to be. I want to be an individual in community with other white hot followers of Jesus who are noticeably different from the world. I want to be a part of a church, my friend John  Bernard describes as God-delighting and world-surprising.

To that end I teach, train, mentor and create developmental processes of learning, growth and transformation for followers of Jesus.

Disciple, devotion to JesusTherefore, I will always set a very high (actually very biblical) norm for what our lives should be like. That means there will always be some level of discomfort among the audience, congregation and community. I will always tell you there is more that Jesus wants you to experience and more to which you should desire and strive. I won't ever be content with lukewarm, superficial, Sunday morning, walk with broad road, minimal expectation Christianity.

Because Jesus is not satisfied with that. He always loves you, but that does not at all mean he is always pleased with you. His dreams for your life are much higher. When you do not live into what he died to make possible, his holy love impels him to act in corrective, challenging, transformative ways.

I am called to be a servant of that Jesus. I will always give lots of room for grace, flawed and imperfect attempts, falling short, becoming tired, taking backward steps . . . in other words - lots of space for the messiness of life! But I will always bring you back to the goal, the norm, the desire of Christ and the heart of God.

That is fully formed, deeply devoted disciples who are missional friends of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International

The DISCIPLE acronymn and image was found at this site.