Many contemporary thinkers believe we should discard everything we know about church and the ancient structures that formed Christians in their faith for centuries. They insist the whole system of religion needs a complete overhaul. Traditionalists often won’t accept anything new. They fear changes to what they’ve always held as true might invite impurity and chaos. How does a sincere seeker decide what to accept?
Test everything; hold fast to what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21
For the longest time, various catechisms have been used to form Christians in the basic tenets of their faith. Due to the limitations of these methods, many Christians today shun formulaic systems. I have witnessed the ravages of this. Our move away from the old tried-and-true doctrinal manuals and into the newer paradigms has created misconceptions—even gaping holes—in fundamental understanding.
Consider the following example from the Lutheran Augsburg Confession. Repentance comes in two parts: in contrition for sins committed according to the Law and through faith offered through the Gospel. Christians certainly hear a lot about the need for faith in the Gospel nowadays, but how often do we hear about the role of contrition leading to repentance?
Surely, problems arise when we adhere too tightly to a Bible- and/or tradition-based framework. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us that spiritual wisdom is always emerging. If we refuse to hear ongoing revelation, we risk quenching the Spirit of God. How, then, can we make room for the work of the Spirit without neglecting sound doctrine?
The Gift of Discernment
We certainly do not want to blindly accept all revelation as genuine. The early church had a means of testing spiritual manifestations to prove whether or not they were of God. Some believers were known for having a strong gift of discerning spirits and the others looked to them for direction. This is good and there is still room to allow for the church to make its judgments. As Christians, however, we all possess some measure of spiritual discernment. Each of us has received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who abides with us to guide and teach us. Direct revelation makes personal conviction possible.
Authority of the Scriptures
Before adopting any new understandings, it’s wise to examine them against the standard of truth to prove their worthiness. The concept of testing or proving is derived from the way metals required a favorable result from testing in fire before meeting with approval. The true test for emerging spiritual concepts is to hold them in front of the gold standard of the Scriptures. According to God’s revealed word, are the things they proclaim true? Or, not?
Retaining and Discarding
To hold fast that which is good, we retain the beautiful things which have proven themselves honorable by testing. We encourage these sound, instructive and useful principles and practices. The multitude may reject them. The Gospel was once charged as a new and upstart movement, rejected by the religious leaders and political rulers of the day. Yet, despite persecution, nothing could cause Christ’s followers to let it go.
Spiritual growth that arrives as a result of emerging wisdom allows for a change in viewpoint. Once we have thoroughly examined a spiritual concept by the test of Scripture and then discerned its purpose, we will be better able to place a firmer grip on it.
At the same time, we discourage and remain aloof from every appearance of doctrine that varies from the sound truth revealed in God’s written word.
Is there an abandoned spiritual practice you are led to resume? Have you been holding onto something that you need to let go?
If you’re seeking a companion to accompany you on your spiritual journey, I offer e-spiritual direction. You can find out more about that here.