Spiritual, Material, or Liturgical?

As Christians, how we grow in the grace of God and in holiness? I have heard many answers to this question, however, until recently, most of the answers I heard where heavily influenced by gnosticism (dualism: a distinct separation between material and immaterial worlds). These answers tended to put the process of Christian growth in one of two categories: 1) “Spiritual” or 2) Material. Recently I have been introduced to a third option, the “Liturgical” understanding of Christian growth.Ironically enough, it is often “reformed” types of Christians who tend toward a “spiritual” process of sanctification. In an effort to preserve the doctrine of Sola Fide: Justification by faith alone, a doctrine I firmly believe in, they often separate the sanctifying experience of the Christian from anything material or occurring in actual space and time.

Conversely, many Christians who have a high view of human autonomy and free will tend toward a “material” process of sanctification. Here, habit formation and self-will determine the success or failure of progress in sanctification.

Often these two views are pitted against one another. The reformed person rightly sees the sinful self-reliance of the Christian attempting to self-will his sanctification. On the other hand, the “self-willer” sees the reformed type as completely ignoring actual space and time.

Over the past several months I have found that a liturgical view of sanctification and Christian formation can be very helpful in correcting our natural gnostic tendencies in the West.

Liturgy is repetitive and habit forming. Yet at the same time it is instituted by God to be a means of spiritual growth for his people. Moreover, liturgy follows God’s pattern of “death”, “burial”, “resurrection”, and “ascension” that is inherently supra-natural.

The easiest way to wrap one’s mind around the liturgical pattern of Christian formation is in the person and life of Christ. In his person Christ is of heaven and on earth, fully God and fully man, supernatural and spiritual, natural and body. In his life Christ sets the example of how liturgical living is modeled. He grew in wisdom and stature before God and man by submitting Himself to his father. This submission was both spiritual (he prayed “Not My will but Thine be done”) and material (as he actually did the will of His father).

The liturgical pattern of Christian living is modeled for the Christian each Lord’s day in church. As a corporate body the church gathers together to be called to worship, praise, confess, repent, be assured, commune, and be sent out. It is a weekly pattern of being called and sent by God which should set the pattern of our choices and relationships throughout the week.

Food for thought.

Michael

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