When Christians talk about “spirituality,” we mean life lived by and through the Holy Spirit. And that kind of Spirit-led life was meant by God to be lived in community. Christian spirituality is not like secular approaches.
The longer I walk with Christ, the more I grow to appreciate that fact. I’m realizing how much my view of spirituality has been tainted by individualism.
Yes, the new birth happens individually. When you believe in Jesus, you are born again by the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3-8), and no one can believe in Jesus for you. However, don’t let that beginning fool you into thinking that the rest of the Christian life is just as individualistic. Not at all! For when you believe, the Holy Spirit also joins you to Jesus’ Body: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). And from then on, spiritual growth has a corporate aspect where each member of the Body is gifted by the Spirit to build up the whole Body together (e.g., Eph 4:11-13).
I don’t think I’ve sufficiently appreciated that Biblical insight.
In other words, I’m not used to thinking that my spiritual health depends on my participation in the church. Instead, I’m used to assuming that growth primarily occurs as I do things independently, such as morning devotions, prayers, and Bible study. I considered going to church on Sunday mornings to be important, but it wasn’t central to my thinking about growing in the Lord. Going to church was more like another spiritual discipline I undertook as an individual.
But the more I come up against my many limitations and depend upon my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, the more Biblical evidence about the centrality of both the Spirit and the Church becomes apparent. Writers like T. Austin Sparks, Watchman Nee, and Frank Viola have helped to highlight the importance of the Body…to everything! My perspective has flipped. Or is being flipped. Instead of thinking of the Christian life as something that I do, I’m beginning to see it’s something that we do (which makes divisions and infighting between brethren all the more painful!). We’re in it together. We learn together, suffer together, weep together, prayer together, and grow together. I like how John Driver put it:
“Christian spirituality is, by its very nature, experienced in community. The Spirit is present and active primarily in and through the Body of Christ, the church. Spiritualities that are completely individualistic and private lack biblical authenticity and will surely fail. Sooner or later they are destined to become mere ideologies or ethical systems. But a spirituality that is truly Christian—expressed in life together inspired by the Spirit of Christ—will be nourished in the church, which is a community of the Spirit” (Driver, Life Together in the Spirit, p. 22).
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.