You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘DOC: Back to Basics’ category.
We now have covered the “basics” as found in Discipline and Discovery and in the seven recommended disciplines of the Order. There is one more “basic” to which I must give attention, even though it is found in neither of the mentioned sources. I speak of the discipline of silence.
At the very first DOC retreat at Albion in 1945 the retreatants “agreed that at the end of every day’s activities they would keep silence until the first meeting the following morning” (E. H. McKinley, A History of the Disciplined Order of Christ, p. 29). At the second Albion retreat in 1947, “participants were urged to stay with the group in the college dormitories because fellowship, unity and the ‘Benedictine Silence’ between the last meeting of the day and ‘morning watch’, the following day were all considered ‘vital’ to the success of the retreat” (History, p. 48). Although never listed as an official discipline of the DOC, the practice of the Benedictine Silence, as described in the accounts of these first two retreats, has been practiced consistently at national events of all kinds, board meetings as well as retreats. The practice has not been as consistently practiced at the regional level, but still is present in some form in the various regions.
The Western Region of the Order has led the way in respect to the practice of silence. The members of that region have a venerable history of entire retreats devoted to the silence. Francis and Helen Line of California, now gone to glory, pioneered in this endeavor, and Helen wrote a booklet for the Order entitled Creative Silence, as part of a series of booklets published by the Order in the late seventies. Helen was committed to the Benedictine Silence as practiced in DOC retreats, but she felt that more was needed. Since the silence, as practiced at retreats, took place mostly during a period of sleep, she believed the sleep became more important to retreatants than keeping quiet. As she put it, “My belief is that to practice the PRESENCE OF GOD one must be fully awake, and listening for His voice” (Creative Silence, p. 1).
The retreats led by Helen were not absolutely silent. There was just enough talk allowed to “start the flow of the Spirit.” In addition to the times of silent focusing on God and reflection, the retreats included light meals, an exercise time, a “guided” walk in the woods, an hour of working with clay, and an opportunity to express feelings through watercolors. These simple, creative tasks were done together in silence (Creative Silence, p. 2).
I came to know and love Helen Line through our service together on the national board. My admiration for her was tinged with awe, because she was so different in a positive way from all other Christians I ever knew. She and Francis lived with an appreciation for nature that I never fully experienced. And she had a mystical bent that also was beyond my personal experience. The following quotation from her booklet says a great deal about the connection in her soul between nature and silence.
“Searching for answers to some difficult problems I am drawn to my favorite place in my garden, landscaped to catch the full sweep of the Pacific.
I hear the waves breaking on the shore, and the sounds repeat the questions in my mind—why, why? The death of a dear friend, killed in an auto accident, the multitude of requests which came in the morning mail—needs in Lebanon, refugees, world hunger, prison reform, Korean relief, and many others. I am filled with the longing to ease the pain in my heart and the agony of our world.
I scan the long distance down the coastline and am suddenly struck by the beauty of the water, surging in, creating a scalloped edge of lacy embroidery, each wave a work of art. I forget the noise of the breakers—the questions seeking answers. My heart is hushed into silence.
I center deeply within as I watch the transforming power of the water—it seems to flow over me, washing away the hurts of the day—and a sense of God’s presence breaks through, like the waves of the sea. A great peace begins to fill the spaces within me, and I realize I have entered the holy of holies—God is speaking to me. I figuratively slip off my sandals—I know I am on sacred ground. As I internalize what is happening I know a communing with God has been established. It is a mystery, but once you have felt this power you know it is totally real—a reality beyond words. There seems to be an inward flowing of His Spirit into me, and as I listen, an outward flow of creative thoughts rush out to meet Him—we are one” (Creative Silence, p. 4).
Most of us are not gifted with the ability to commune with God through nature and silence in the creative way that Helen Line was. Nor are most of us as mystically oriented as she was. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot experience the touch of God in the silence.
Becoming inwardly quiet always has been difficult for many people; but our present, cell phone, I-pod culture promotes constant noise. Many cannot go to sleep at night without their TV on, and multitudes are uncomfortable with silence of any kind.
In order to overcome this cultural problem, one must determine to do so. And one will not gain much from the experience without a bit of commitment to work at it over a period of time. Since this essay is not intended as a “how to” manual, I will suggest some basic steps for practicing the silence in the briefest possible way. The first, obvious, step is to find a quiet place for meditation where the outer confusion can be silenced. The purpose is not to make something happen, but to allow something to happen. The place does not have to be a lovely garden by the seashore such s Helen Line had. It can be anywhere that we can be undisturbed for a time.
Once we have found and entered our place of silent meditation, we quickly realize that we already have accomplished the easy part. Silencing the outer hubbub is a snap compared to trying to quiet the inner hubbub. But to fully benefit from the silence, one has to win this battle. I am an inadequate guide from this point on. I do not have a stellar record of success at finding God in the silence. A good guide, among others, is The Other Side of Silence: A Guide to Christian Meditation by Morton Kelsey, especially chapters 10-11 (pp. 93-122) that focus attention specifically on the element of silence.
Coming back to the common practice of silence at retreats described above, since it is practiced only between the last meeting in the evening and the morning watch, it often is robbed of some of its power, because most of the hours in question are given over to sleep. This was why Helen Line felt that it was inadequate.
On the other hand, even though the silence is limited to an hour or two in the evening, and perhaps to an hour or so in the morning, the discipline can be quite valuable. To give even those few hours to silence and mediation not only quiets the tongue, it quiets the spirit. It provides opportunity to be alone with God and his Word. But one doesn’t necessarily have to spend the time physically alone. One can silently walk with a spouse or friend, attentive to the often-ignored sounds of nature, communing with one another and God without words.
I know from experience that not everyone enjoys silent meditation. Some refuse to participate, which is all right as long as they respect the silence of those participating. But after many years of study and experimentation, I recommend the practice to all.
I will be out of the country for the next couple of weeks. So I will not be posting anything for that period.
The seventh recommended spiritual disciple of the DOC is ecumenical fellowship. In the DOC “Basic Brochure” ecumenical fellowship is given a broad definition: “recognition that all persons are created by God and are therefore worthy of Christ’s love.”
The Order began at a retreat at Albion College in Michigan in 1945 as part of an initiative by the Methodist Board Of Evangelism (The New Life Movement) under the leadership of Dr. Albert Day. From the beginning a broad concept of ecumenical fellowship was present. “Black, Chinese, American Indian and the white race were included” among the 194 persons who joined the Order during its first year and a half of existence (E. H. McKinley, A History of the Disciplined Order of Christ, p. 35).
A second retreat was held at Albion in 1947. And even then, while the organization still was officially a Methodist organization, persons from other denominations were present. The New Life Magazine, the short-lived magazine of the New Life Movement, reported that the Albion retreatants “represented ‘all shades of theological opinion,’ including Christian Science and Unity” (History, p. 49).
By 1947 the larger Methodist movement headed up by Dr. Day, The New Life Movement, ran out of stream. He left the Board of Evangelism to return to the pastorate in Baltimore; and the Disciplined Order, no longer an official Methodist entity, moved with him.
That change made possible an explicit manifestation of what already had been implicit; namely, that the Order was an ecumenical fellowship in the sense of being interdenominational. Although the membership remained primarily Methodist due to its origins, the Order now saw itself as a fellowship of Christians from any and all Christian denominations. The only commitment necessary was to support the mission, goals and disciplines of the Order. And through the years the Order truly has been ecumenical in that sense.
My personal involvement with the Order goes back nearly forty-three years. I have been associated with the national board for about twenty of those years. I have attended many, many retreats and meetings at both the national and regional levels. And I never have seen anyone fail to recognize “that all persons are created by God and are therefore worthy of Christ’s love.” Nor have I ever seen anyone’s denominational affiliation questioned in a negative way. The members of the DOC have been remarkably successful in keeping their attention on the vows and disciplines of the Order, rather than on personal, narrower commitments. It truly is an ecumenical fellowship.
The sixth recommended spiritual disciple of the DOC is stewardship, which is defined as “response to God’s gracious gifts by responsible use of these gifts in support of worthy ministries and by loyal support of the DOC.” A dictionary I consulted defined a steward as “one who manages another’s affairs, property, etc.” That means that stewardship would be the act of managing another’s affairs, property, etc.” Thus a basic understanding of stewardship can be gained simply by going to a dictionary. Of course for the Christian, stewardship consists of managing the “affairs, property, etc.” with which God has gifted us on his behalf.
Most Christians, when asked about Christian stewardship, will mention money, and/or possessions. And that would be correct. Everything ultimately belongs to God, and we are stewards of some part of it. The Old Testament teaches the tithe, the practice of giving a tenth of all income or property as an offering to God. Although most Christians do not meet that Old Testament standard of a tithe, the New Testament actually calls for a higher standard. Jesus affirmed the moral aspects of the Old Testament law, which include tithing. But the New Testament calls us to give according to the “plenty,” or abundance, with which we are blessed (2 Cor. 8:13-14). It calls us to give generously, willingly, with forethought, and cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:5-7). The New Testament also calls us to give proportionately (Luke 12:48b) and sacrificially (Luke 14:33). Thus tithing is a minimum standard of Christian stewardship.
But to restrict the concept of stewardship to the administration of God’s money and property is too narrow a view of the subject. Our giving is only a small part of our stewardship responsibility. The larger stewardship for which we are responsible involves every area of our lives. Since that is true, the inner life of the believer is especially important. Jesus said, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:18-19). This means simply that the way we are on the outside is directly related to the way we are on the inside. In other words, to be the kind of Christian Christ wants us to be, we must be completely given over to Christ’s indwelling Holy Spirit.
One unfortunate development among some Christians in the Church is a failure to see this larger stewardship. They restrict their view of stewardship to financial giving. And thus they believe that if they tithe, they have fulfilled their stewardship responsibilities. Therefore they not only feel free to do whatever they wish with the other 90% of their income, but they feel no obligation to commit their full time and energy to Christian service. This is quite dangerous according to the teaching of Jesus.
In Luke 14:26-33 Jesus made clear the radical nature of what I earlier called “the larger stewardship.” Our devotion to him is to be so complete that we must not be devoted to anything or anyone else, not even our families, or our own lives, except in a secondary way. Jesus intentionally used exaggerated language to drive home the point: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (v. 26). “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (v. 27). And at the end of the paragraph he declares, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (v. 33).
There are at least two aspects of this larger stewardship here that Jesus clearly did not want us to miss. First is the one I mentioned above. The larger stewardship involves every area of life. In the case of our relationships, they all must be pursued and honored within our overarching prior commitment to him. Indeed that is so true Jesus declared that our earthly relationships must be like hatred when compared to our relationship with him (v. 26). In the case of our activities, they are to be done in a context of taking up our cross and following him (v. 27). And in the case of our money and possessions, they all belong to him. And that leads to the second aspect of the larger stewardship.
The second aspect is that it demands a higher standard. One traditional use of the term “standard” is as a flag. I suspect you are familiar with the traditional idea of armies using standards, flags, to give their troops direction and a rallying point in battle. This was especially true in the nineteenth century. The American Civil War would be a prime example.
I once read a story about a standard bearer who during a battle got a little too far ahead of his company. The company commander yelled at him, “Bring the standard back to the company.” The brave soldier, who was more brave than wise, out of zeal to advance yelled back, “Bring the company up to the standard.”
From a military point of view, the soldier was wrong. But from a Christian life point of view, he had the right idea. Jesus is our standard bearer. He is out ahead of us. And the Church constantly drifts back from the standard, subconsciously, if not consciously. We typically want to bring the standard back to where we are in our spiritual development. One person sets the standard at holding membership in a church and attending services every Christmas and Easter. He or she takes comfort in the fact that others don’t even belong to a church. Another person sets the standard at fairly regular church attendance and takes comfort in the fact that there are others who don’t, and so on. You get the idea. We want to set the standard at the level of commitment that we have attained. But Jesus wants us to move to the standard to where he sets it; and as we have just seen, he sets it at total commitment of self and possessions.
The fifth recommended spiritual disciple of the DOC is witness and service. In the introductory brochure of the Order, this discipline is defined as a “creative effort to share the good news of the Christian faith and to minister to the needs of others.” Since there are two discrete elements to this discipline: “witness” and “service,” I will address them separately.
Among Christians “witnessing” is a term that has many nuances. On one end of the spectrum, some think of it strictly as evangelism. They use some particular, pointed verbal technique to covert people to Christ. On the opposite end, others think of witnessing as “lifestyle evangelism,” which they understand to be living the Christian life before unbelievers with no verbal interplay unless it is requested. And there are many other approaches that lie between these poles. The truth is, both deed and word are necessary. Without a Christian lifestyle that demonstrates the word, the word will have no effect. And the spoken word without the lifestyle is empty of strength. For me, living the Christian life before others is essential, but so is talking with people about Jesus (whether they are believers or unbelievers). Three are two important implications here. One is the necessity for deed and word in all of our witnessing; and two is the fact that not all witnessing is an attempt to convert unbelievers. Sometimes it is a matter of encouraging believers.
Before moving on it is important to mention that witnessing is the responsibility of all Christians. One does not need a supernatural gift of evangelism to be a witness. Talking to people about Jesus is basically the same as talking to them about football or recipes. We talk about what interests us; and Spirit-filled Christians are interested in Jesus.
Now then, I want to turn to three necessities for anyone who witnesses for Christ. The first necessity, especially when witnessing to unbelievers, is sensitivity to the Spirit of Christ. I admire, in a way, those who seem determined to share the good news about Jesus with everyone with whom they come in contact. That is, I admire their dedication and zeal. But I never have been able to function that way. I need to have some reason to speak, some opening in the conversation, and a nudge from the Holy Spirit. As a result, I undoubtedly have missed opportunities to share the Gospel, because I was not sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I regret those occasions; but they were my fault, not his. At any rate, we must commit ourselves to learning how to “hear” the Holy Spirit’s nudges about speaking to another person about the Lord, because it is so easy to fail to “listen” to the Spirit. .
Second, as we learn to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, we must at the same time, develop a willingness to allow God to love others through us. Many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have not done well with either of these first two requirements. We haven’t given much attention to learning how to “hear” the Holy Spirit, and we have not allowed the Spirit to fill us with his love to the point where his love for everyone becomes the primary motivating factor in our lives. But we will never be good witnesses for Christ until we do these things.
Third, we must be willing to take the time necessary to talk about Jesus with those around us and to minister to them if that opportunity flows out of the witness. In other words, if we succeed in learning to “hear” the Spirit, and we are willing to let the Lord love others through us, opportunities to witness will arise. So we must commit ourselves ahead of time to take the necessary time to witness and minister when we have the opportunity. All of us are incredibly busy in this day and age. We always have another place to go, another thing to do; and thus, we feel cramped for time. That is why it is critical that we commit ourselves to taking the time to talk with others about Jesus, because God’s timing is crucial.
Many times people witness to unbelievers by telling their testimony. There is nothing wrong with that; and indeed, the Spirit might move us to do that; but it is not a good thing to do all of the time. Sometimes a personal testimony is effective with an unbeliever; but usually it will be more effective to encourage believers. Many unbelievers have no interest in hearing about what happened to us. Most of them are fairly happy with their lives and have no conscious desire to be different. They are especially not interested in hearing about things we no longer do (e.g., smoke, drink, etc.). In the area of lifestyle, they are much more interested in seeing the positive fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) at work in our lives. So we must rely more on the power of the Spirit in our lives and the power of the gospel in our words and less on what has happened to us.
Speaking of the power of the gospel, we must never forget that Jesus is the focus of our message. The more we speak about him, about who he is, what he did and why, the more powerful will be our witness.
To conclude this part on witnessing, I would like to share, with slight modification, some points made many years ago by Rosalind Rinker in her little book, You Can Witness With Confidence (pp. 33-34). First, have a sincere regard for those to whom you witness as persons. Never humiliate anyone, or be ill mannered in any way.
Second, make the witnessing atmosphere friendly and relaxed. It can be done over a cup of coffee or tea. And the conversation should be as normal as when discussing Major League Baseball or knitting.
Third, seek to speak to the listener’s need, whatever that may be. It is not productive, especially with an unbeliever, to speak about his or her sins. Talk about the positive ways that Christ can meet the person’s needs. Pray for spiritual insight that will enable you to speak a word that will bring comfort, healing, or whatever else may be needed.
Fourth, allow the Lord Jesus to bring his love into the conversation without strain or effort. That is what he is longing to do. Remember that Jesus is the one with the power to heal, forgive and save.
Fifth, Seek God’s guidance in determining where the Holy Spirit already is working in the person’s life. We tend to forget that God is already working in most lives, including the lives of unbelievers. Rinker suggests asking the question, “What do you believe about Jesus Christ?” Then it is very important that we really listen to what the person and the Holy Spirit have to say. She suggests further that this a means of searching “for seeds already planted,” which will guide us in the conversation. What we believe is unimportant until we are asked to share that. And the people will ask if we remain prayerful and listen with purposeful intent.
I am not going to say much about service, because most people associated with the DOC have a solid understanding of what Christian service is. I just want to make a few remarks regarding willingness to serve. I want to talk a bit about the fact that there is a difference between serving and being a servant.
In the parable of the two sons in Matt. 21:28-31, the father of the two boys one day asked each of them to work in his vineyard. The first refused, but later changed his mind and went to do the work. The second son immediately agreed to work in the vineyard, but he never actually did so. In this particular case, the first son (after his immediate refusal) decided to serve his father, even though it was inconvenient for him. The second son (after immediately agreeing) in the end decided that working for his father that day was too inconvenient for him to do.
If we translate the situation of these two sons into categories of those who serve Christ, we have two: those who are willing to serve, even if it is inconvenient, and those who are unwilling to serve, because it is inconvenient. There is a third category: those who presently are serving Christ in some capacity, but who are doing so only at their convenience. They choose when to serve; they chose where to serve; and they choose whom they will serve. In other words, they are in charge. They are serving Christ, but they serve their own interests first. Their service to Christ comes at their convenience. This is serving without being a servant.
Now there is a danger here. It is possible to be too open and vulnerable, too willing to say, “yes” when asked to perform various services. We must not neglect our family or other priority responsibilities simply because someone asks us to do something. Balance is required. We must know when to say, “no.” On the other hand, the true servant is willing to give up his or her right to be in charge, and is willing to allow the Holy Spirit to guide his or her service, even if it occasionally leads to being taken advantage of or manipulated. The true servant surrenders the Spirit the right to when, where, and whom to serve.