24 July 2007

Growing in Faith

Early this month I sent out an email to half a dozen or so people at Messiah, asking them to work with me on the question of how we can most effectively offer high quality Christian education to all members of Messiah. Not that we are not offering some excellent opportunities already. But the question always remains: How can we do better?

In my opinion the apostle Paul’s statement of his goal for spiritual growth among the Christian community in Ephesus has never been excelled, and ought to be the mission of every church:

… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12,13)

What do we mean by spiritual maturity? A poll by the Gallup organization suggests nine characteristics of what this looks like. People who are seeking to be spiritually mature:

• are more likely to gave a daily time of private prayer;
• feel a genuine sense of the presence of the presence of God in their lives;
• report that their religious experiences are a source of strength, personal growth, and the healing of inner conflicts;
• tend to have a greater sense of inner peace, to feel more joyful and happy, and are less likely to feel depressed;
• are more humble, less likely to exhibit an inflated sense of self-importance;
• are far more often engaged in compassionate helping acts to others;
• are less racially prejudiced;
• are far more capable of forgiving people who wrong them and of being constructive, reconciling members of society;
• are more favorable to church involvement in political activity in order to right wrongs in society. (Herb Miller, The Parish Paper, September 2007)

Whether or not you agree with all nine of these characteristics, there is no question that an effective program of Christian formation can be of huge benefit to each of us as individuals, to the church community, and to the wider life of society as a whole. The curious thing about it is that all of this only happens as long as we continue in the process of growth. Again, the apostle Paul recognized this about himself:

I do not consider myself to have ‘arrived’ spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ Jesus grasped me. My brothers [and sisters], I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honor of my high calling in Christ Jesus. All of us who are spiritually mature should set ourselves this sort of ambition, and if at present you cannot see this , yet you will find that this is the attitude that God is leading you to adopt. (Philippians 3:12-15, J.B. Phillips translation)

So if we were to add a tenth mark of spiritual maturity, it would be this:

• recognize that their journey towards spiritual maturity is a life-long quest.

It looks as though our little task force has a tall order ahead of itself. Yet, by God’s grace and the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, I hope it will prove of significant worth in leading us all towards the measure of the full stature of Christ.

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