I highly recommend Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Many of Willard’s books are incredibly helpful but difficult to read—this book is accessible to many. It’s a modern classic on spiritual transformation. I would like to share a quote from the last chapter. Speaking about spiritual formation in the local congregation, Willard says,
“What characterizes most of our local congregations, whether big or little in size, is simple distraction. The oft-noted “failures” of many kinds that show up within them are not the fundamental problem of the church life today. They are much more a result than a cause.”
By contrast one of the most helpful and profound statements I have read in recent years for the understanding of the contemporary church life is by Leith Anderson. He notes,
While the New Testament speaks often about churches, it is surprisingly silent about many matters that we associate with church structure and life. There is no mention of architecture, pulpits, lengths of typical sermons [or sermons!], rules for having a Sunday school. Little is said about style of music, order of worship, or times of church gatherings. There were no Bible, denominations, camps, pastor’s conference or board meeting minutes. Those who strive to be New Testament churches must seek to live its principles and absolutes, not reproduce the details.
Those details simply aren’t given.
Now you might ask yourself, “Why does the New Testament say nothing about all the matters to which the usual congregation today devotes almost all its thought and effort? Answer: Because those matters are not primary and will take care of themselves with little attention whenever what is primary is appropriately cared for. Pay attention to the “principles and absolutes” of the New Testament church and, one might suppose, everything else will fall into place — in large part because “everything else” really doesn’t matter much one way or the other. To fail to put the focus on those principles and absolutes, on the other hand, is to wander off into a state of distraction, which is where most of our local congregations actually are. They wind up majoring on minors and allowing the majors, from the New Testament point of view, to disappear.
“… what they seem to regard as essential and what they devote almost all their attention and effort to, has to do with human, historical contingencies that are attached themselves to individuals brought up in a certain way. They of course love those contingencies, and they love the dear ones who have shared life with them within the contingent forms. And because the contingencies are dear to us — often there is much associated with their past — we mistake them for the treasure of the real presence of Christ in our midst, and we spend most of our time concerned with the historical accidents or contingencies of our group, even trying to urge them upon others as essential to salvation, or at least as what is best for us and for them. No wonder we are distracted from the path of spiritual formation in Christ.”
Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. (Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 2002).
Church Life and Leadership Associate
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