The Church of the Spiritual Orphans

“A man who is travelling in a wrong direction, has all the trouble and gets none of the good of his journey.” – John Cassian

The modern “Discipleship Movement” has left a bitter taste in many mouths. Certainly the aptitude for abuse which was realized in many of those churches is a legitimate concern to have when broaching the issue of spiritual mentoring. Admitting that does not in any way excuse us, however, from addressing the serious issues that exist in the modern church with regard to the spiritual development of individuals. The spiritual growth of children is entrusted to their parents, but from the point of earliest adulthood forward, modern Christians seek accountability from their peers and receive instruction almost exclusively through impersonal means (i.e. from a pulpit). I would suggest that neither of these practices is in the best interest of the believer.

The rugged individualism of the West in general and America in particular has lead to a belief that your soul is in your own hands and in the hands of God. To place it in anyone else’s hands would be to abdicate somehow our responsibility for it and surrender our control. In reality though, the inability to accept direction is nothing short of arrogance. The truly humble person accepts that there are those in whose hands his or her soul might be better off. This does not equate to the total abdication of responsibility, only the acceptance of guidance.

There have been attempts to correct the arrogant misconception. Some have formed small groups which allow for community and accountability, as well as mutual guidance. Others have opted for a more personal means, electing to have peers in whom to confide and to whom to confess, affording the same courtesy to their peers. Yet both of these practices fall short.

If two men are climbing a mountain, the one who is higher up holds the rope for the one below, supporting him and pulling him ever upward. If two men are walking through a forest, the one who is ahead calls directions out to the one who is behind. If two students are going through school, the one who has had the class already tutors the one who is currently taking it. It would be insane to have two men at the same point on a mountain and expect one to pull the other up. It would be unreasonable to have two men standing at the same point in the forest and expect one to tell the other what is ahead. It would be pointless to have two students who have never taken the class and expect the one to tutor the other. The same flaw exists in any peer support system. The growth is necessarily stagnated by the shared developmental level. Nothing can substitute for an older, wiser mentor.

What would the church look like if spiritual infants were adopted by parents rather than orphaned? At some point it isn’t enough to teach generic lessons from a pulpit. At some point it isn’t enough to confess sins to someone who doesn’t know how to overcome them any better than you do. At some point it isn’t enough merely keep faith alive. It must be nurtured, it must be attended to personally, it must be labored over, it must be loved into maturity by those who are already mature. What would a church look like that embodied Titus 2? The old women would teach the young women what it means to be good wife. The old men would teach the young men what masculinity really means. The body of Christ would take responsibility for itself, not in some nominal, disinterested way where the right hand says, “I sure hope the left hand doesn’t fall off,” but having instead a genuine anxiety for the well being of all.

The concerned Christian should always have one eye forward to see where good Christians have gone before and one eye back keeping faithful watch on those who are coming up behind. In that way we can stand in one unbroken line, on one unbroken path and never have to fear, as John Cassian says, travelling in the wrong direction and achievingnothing.

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