Maturity in our Faith requires no secret or advanced knowledge. Yes, the gospel and the creeds are a great mystery that we can spend a lifetime pondering and studying. But, nonetheless, our Faith is public, knowable, and learnable. The catechism shows us exactly that, and its a wonderful way to learn. But the catechism itself teaches us that maturity is not merely knowing stuff. If maturity were simply a matter of memorizing creeds, or mastering systems of theology, then we might be able to comfortably tackle that project, and move on. We wouldn’t have to get too involved personally, and we could keep things neat and tidy.
But, no, says James K.A. Smith: “Discipleship and spiritual formation are less about building an edifice of knowledge than they are a matter of developing a Christian know-how that intuitively understands the world in light of the Gospel.” (Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.)
Where is he getting that stuff? Mostly from St. Paul: “If I…understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing.” And of course, Jesus himself: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Experiential and Relational
There are scholars who delve deeply into our history and theology, and we need them to keep helping us. And yes, many Christians are woefully unaware of the beauty of creedal theology.
But maturity as a Christian goes beyond even that, because it is experiential and relational. It is to be formed as a people who are growing in love for God and our neighbor. And then to be formed and re-formed by practice. By actually worshipping, and praying, and being together in community, and serving our neighbors. By forming relationships – especially with those who are outcast by the world.
Not really. We naturally avoid other people: “I love church except for the people.” “This world is going downhill fast, I better build my shelter.” “Those immigrants don’t say hello to me, and they don’t help out in the neighborhood.” We have a ready made rationality for avoiding any relationship when we want to do so.
That’s why we’re tempted to think of evangelism as skilled argumentation rather than skilled empathy. Arguments can be won or lost…empathy can hurt us.
That’s why we think of discipleship as merely gaining knowledge, rather than gaining understanding and love of human beings. Knowledge puffs up and keeps me in control. Understanding takes humility and is unpredictable.
Our relational gravity pulls us away and apart…but the Holy Spirit keeps moving us back toward God and our neighbor.
Your Best Thinking Got You Here…
So how do we change? St. Paul writes that he wants us to put aside those notions and to be re-formed by imitating him and others. He empathized with the people he reached out to. He got to know people. He tried to understand his world by living in it. He gave. He listened. He made mistakes. He learned from his experience with people. That’s the kind of thing he wants us to imitate.
Imitation is also kind of humbling, isn’t it? When we try to invent plans and schemes to grow, we end up in trouble. Why is that?
Because when I invent my own plan of growing in love, I’m in the drivers’ seat. There is a saying in AA: “Your best thinking got you here.” When we try to use our unloving minds to solve a relational problem, we will never be able to accomplish that goal.
My best thinking doesn’t get me any closer to other people. Its my best thinking that often keeps me aloof.
But when I imitate those who are already loving others, then I’m on the journey to recovery.
This takes us out of the driver’s seat. Our mind is still involved, yes, but it is in our experiential formation that we truly begin to love.
So lets start small. Jesus said that. Seriously. Jesus said to start small. He said, “one who is faithful in little is faithful in much.”
We have permission from Jesus Christ himself to start small. Our Faith is big, the needs of people are big, our need to grow is big, but we can start small. Love someone today. Love someone who doesn’t love you back. Forgive someone, or begin to forgive. Feed someone. Listen to someone. Help someone. It will be messy, as human relationships always are. But that’s how we grow into maturity.
I’m afraid of this kind of discipleship, but I want to grow. I’m hearing this line in my mind: “I want to walk as a child of the Light. I want to be like Jesus.” Pray for me, and I will pray for you.
Greg is the founder of Anglican Compass (previously known as Anglican Pastor). He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.