So far in our study we have examined two concepts of perfection and how they are related to each other:
Conditional perfection is referred to as justification, salvation, righteousness or holiness to name just a few ways this idea is expressed in the Bible. This state of perfection is given to us by God based on our faith in Christ. It is a perfection that is the same in quality as the perfection Christ attained through His perfect obedience (I Peter 2:22). It is the standard we will be judged by. God, in judgment, will look at our conditional perfection and accept us because of it. It is the status that enables us to now approach God with confidence in prayer and worship. It is the status that gives us the courage to serve and please God despite the sinful flesh we inhabit. His promise in Christ is that one day we will shed our outer garment of imperfection and will actually become what we are only considered to be at the moment.
Conditional perfection is a status that we are given by God; a status that God sees when He views us; a status we will be judged by. Actual perfection is what we and others see in ourselves. Actual perfection is the status of perfection we achieve through the help of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, the church and our own submission to these tutors and enablers. Actual perfection is the way of life we choose to pursue when we become Christians.
We are considered perfect based on our faith in Christ, and this guarantees our salvation and hope of heaven. Being this way prompts us to pursue actual perfection as a lifestyle. It would be ridiculous and foolish for the one who receives this conditional perfection (at baptism) to then go back to the imperfect lifestyle that originally condemned him. The only option available to the one considered perfect by God is to pursue actual perfection before men as a witness of faith and as an offering of thanks to God.
For a non-Christian to do this would be frustrating and hypocritical because perfection through human effort is impossible. But for the Christian, the conditionally perfect one, this is a valid lifestyle choice because it affords him an opportunity to achieve two goals:
- The pursuit of actual perfection is a powerful witness to those without Christ because it sets Christians apart from all others.
- It is a wonderful instrument of praise because the effort involved in this pursuit honors God.
Therein lies the difference and purpose of these two ideas. Let us now look at how the Holy Spirit works in creating these states of conditional and actual perfection.
The Holy Spirit and Perfection
Much of the religious programming produced by charismatic groups actually perverts the work of the Holy Spirit. The use of Hollywood style production values using lights, sensual music, manipulative staging, emotional appeals, etc. is done to create a "spiritual" experience which these groups claim is proof that the Holy Spirit is working and present in their ministries and assemblies.
Many churches are being affected by this because they want to have exciting worship; they want people who attend their services to feel something; they want to prove that they also have the Holy Spirit in some recognizable way. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being excited or feeling something because of one's faith. These are legitimate spiritual desires and needs. The problem arises when churches try to manufacture these experiences through human, fleshly ways rather than through spiritual, biblical ways.
The many efforts to change traditional worship styles stem from the false notion that if we can create some kind of "feeling" at worship (due to the music, the presentation, the introduction of new elements like drama or soloists or worship teams, etc.) then somehow we will be more spiritual and thus more satisfied. The true results of this kind of manufactured approach to heightened spirituality is twofold:
People who manipulate spirituality in this way become spiritual snobs. They begin to see their value as Christians rise because they have a superior spiritual level produced by their "different" worship style. This, of course, leads to division because anyone who does not use their approach is somehow inferior spiritually.
We see this kind of thing happening in the Corinthian church where the brethren were misusing legitimate spiritual gifts and, as a result, were creating disorder that Paul had to address in his first letter to them (I Corinthians 1:12; I Corinthians 3:4-6). No matter, whenever spirituality is falsely characterized or misused, division ensues. We see this happening in our own brotherhood today where labels like "progressive" and "traditional" are being attached to different congregations. When this happens, it is only a matter of one or more generations before there will be a visible separation between those who ascribe to one view or the other. It is a shame, because both sides are right in a way and wrong in a way.
Those who see themselves as religious progressives are correct in that there needs to be a constant effort to make the faith relative to each new generation. They are wrong, however, in thinking that superficial changes (and in some cases unbiblical ones) will address the need of the modern culture to know and experience God in Christ at a deeper level. This is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit, not stage techniques or multimedia shows, and certainly not by compromising God's Word to increase attendance numbers.
These brethren are correct in holding that any change that compromises Scripture is dangerous and not worth the short term gains that might be produced. They are wrong, however, in thinking that the way that they have culturally adapted New Testament worship and practice is the only way that these things can be done. I have seen many different groups (Asians, Africans, Carribbeans, etc.) adapt the practice of New Testament Christianity in ways that we (North Americans) would think strange, but are perfectly within biblical guidelines. Rigid traditionalism does not represent the Spirit's presence any more than progressive emotionalism does.
And so, manufactured spirituality leads to a kind of "Christian elitism" which is most visible in our brotherhood in the progressive/traditional lines of division being drawn these days.
Another result of manufactured spirituality is...
Loss of Faith
Faith comes by hearing the words of Christ, Paul says in Romans 10:17. If this spiritual principle is applied and extended, we can also say that loss of faith comes from hearing words that do not come from Christ. It is sad to note that those who pursue manufactured spirituality and create the elitism that seems to come with it, also produce a lot of burned out souls.
Case in point, the International Churches of Christ (also known as the Boston Movement) whose spiritual elitism based on their narrow focus of "personal discipling" created an incredible number of baptisms as well as fast growing assemblies for which they took great pride. However, their manufactured spirituality also created the most serious division among Churches of Christ in the last century.
At the height of their success in baptizing new members, one statistic rarely mentioned was the high drop-out rate of their members. Some estimates put the number as high as fifty to sixty percent. This meant that to sustain their rapid growth they had to baptize ten people in order to keep three or four, and those who dropped out were not simply people who quit because they loved sin and went back to worldly living; they were people (in the most part) who loved God but were so emotionally scarred by their experience with these groups/cults that in many cases it required special counseling and the passing of many years to heal their sense of guilt and anger.
Manufactured spirituality is dangerous because it has power, but lacks many of the edifying qualities of true spirituality.
The phenomena that takes place in many denominational charismatic churches will begin to creep into the "progressive" churches in our brotherhood as well. Charismatic churches experience a constant drive for greater stimulation in order to get the spiritual "fix" that everyone wants. As a result, services get longer and more numerous. Worship becomes more elaborate, even outlandish in some cases (e.g. bands, plays, pageants, parades, etc.). Eventually the ones caught up in this cycle have nowhere else to go "emotionally."
It is no wonder that so many blues, jazz and pop singers learn to perform in churches. These people eventually leave because they realize that they are providing a form of non-paying entertainment, and they could do the very same thing in true show-business but get paid for their efforts and talents. Unfortunately, non-performing members leave also, but for them it is because they are burned out emotionally. The manufactured spirit can bring them no higher so they quit.
Congregations in our brotherhood who think they are innovative because of their progressive brand of worship do not realize that others have blazed this trail before them and found that it was a dead end spiritually. If the spiritual experience you crave or are having has not been created by the Holy Spirit, then your religious feeling is illegitimate and can lead you to pride or loss of faith.
In the Bible, the purpose of worship to God was not simply to create a feeling in the worshipper. Feelings (gratitude, relief, awe, remorse, etc.) were byproducts of the worship, not the purpose of it. People who come to worship should be coming to offer praise, thanksgiving, and to unburden themselves of the worry and anguish caused by their own failings and the difficulty of living as Christians in a fallen world. Simply looking for a pleasant experience or stimulation is looking for the wrong things. All of this is not to say that there are no feelings and experiences that result from worship, but simply to emphasize the fact that this is not the reason we worship and not the goal for those who plan and organize public worship for their church.
You may think I have wandered off here, but I have not. The original point of this chapter was to demonstrate the relationship between the Holy Spirit and perfection. Here, then, is the point: legitimate spiritual feelings and experiences within the Christian are generated by the Holy Spirit as he or she receives conditional perfection and pursues actual perfection. In other words, being considered perfect by God in Christ; the knowledge, contemplation and the sharing of this priceless gift is what gives rise to the experience of gratitude, the feeling of peace and the emotion of happiness.
These are the legitimate feelings of the truly spiritual person and are produced by the knowledge of and response to the gospel of Christ which is spread by the power and agency of the Holy Spirit. No music, lights, group, show, spectacle or huge crowd can create within me the feelings legitimately produced when I respond in faith to the cross of Christ. From the very beginning of time the Holy Spirit has worked in concert with the Father and the Son to not only bring the cross to bear, but also to guarantee that the good news of the cross is spread throughout the world.
The spiritual experience awakened in me by the cross of Jesus is timeless and limitless. Its effect humbles rather than puffs me up. It joins, not separates, me to all other believers. The cross offers my spirit an endless capacity for joy, thankfulness and pleasure, and renews my faith with every reminder of it.
In addition to this, pursuing actual perfection as my personal spiritual goal brings harmony into my life. Harmony between myself and God as I strive to please Him. Harmony between my conscience and myself since I know that I am right before God (because of conditional perfection) and I do what is right as I pursue actual perfection.
I now consciously seek harmony with others and myself because I now seek for peace, I now bring the good news, I now am salt and light and no longer walk in the darkness. This pursuit of actual perfection creates a harmony that results in what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: things about me that are a cause for joy, peace, love and other good things that not only I experience, but others can see and experience also.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit helping to produce these things in me I become a channel of God's blessings for others, a conduit for "spiritual feelings" that others can experience. This is the way that Christians begin to experience God and share that experience with others. Worship, true worship, takes place when individual Christians who experience God legitimately in this way, come together and infuse their singing, their praying, their fellowship, their communion, their preaching, their giving and their service, with the spiritual feelings that the seeking for perfection in Christ has produced in them.
When this happens, there are no more progressives or traditionalists, all are one in the Spirit and there is no pride, no division, no loss of faith, but rather the building up of the body in love. This is the relationship between the Holy Spirit, perfection and our experience as a church.
- Use the text to discuss the following questions:
- How do you define perfection?
- How is perfection attained?
- Describe conditional and actual perfection.
- How is the pursuit of actual perfection a powerful witness to those without Christ?
- The text discusses two problems associated with adding activities and other human derived elements to worship to heighten the spiritual experience. Use the text to discuss these two problems.
- The following questions relate to the discussion of loss of faith.
- How does Romans 10:17 state we gain faith and what is an implication?
- How can worship lead to a loss of faith?
- What is the purpose of worship and how does it impact our spiritual feelings and experiences?
- How does Jesus' response to the Samaritan woman in John 4:24 relate to the Spirit's role in our pursuit of actual perfection and how does this verse impact on the concepts of elitism, progressives, and traditionalism?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?