So begins my Spring Semester, and it promises to be a doozy. My first class was Historical IV: Modern Church, and we began with a discussion of the background of the Modern Church (i.e., end of the Reformation, beginning of the Englightenment, etc…), which is probably a good place to start. During the discussion, I was able to ask a similar question to the one I had prompted a couple posts ago, and to which my brother-in-law was ever so kind to give some good push-back. Namely, how can an inward and intense devotion to God be institutionalized. Based on his reply, I think I can make some distinctions and re-address the problem.
It would be prudent to recognize the errors in the extreme positions and search for a more virtuous solution. The error of the Pietists (and their Evangelical heirs) is to institute a love of God. While it is definitely a major theme in Scripture, and it is the goal to which all Christians should strive, it is impossible to maintain and easily leads to schism.
The other error is the opposite, it is to be satisfied with Christians “just showing up.” Again, the evidence for this is seen in the constant refrain throughout Scripture of the primacy of sincerely loving God. God doesn’t want your sacrifices, he wants a sacrificed heart.
What then, would be the virtuous mean? I’m really not sure, but my guess (which is good as any at this point) is a focus on Christian maturity. That is, one must view the Christian life in a more dynamic way. Evangelical’s know this as most models of Sanctification are progressive (minus Keswick and Wesley), but the tend to focus so much on the “event’ of justification that this progressiveness is lost (note: this is a very brief and inadequate summary, but bear with me).
What does this look like? Well, for one it calls for wisdom. Spur those who are lackadaisical on to maturity, and comfort those who are anxious. Create a Christian culture within which Christians, messed up as we all are, can grow. Don’t cut off the withered branch too soon (besides, that’s Jesus’ job, not yours), but nurse it and care for it. I suppose the problem with a Christian culture in the past was not so much the culture, as much as the immaturity of the leaders who became impatient with the weak and obstinate.