MEMBERS: Are Spiritual Disciplines Biblical? (Transcript)

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Jon Moffitt: There is definitely a lively discussion coming in off of the spiritual disciplines podcast. This is one we did early on when we first started Theocast, and ever since then I’ve taught on it a lot. I’ve had a lot of dialogue and we even had a podcast back in the day that was pretty critical of my stuff on spiritual disciplines, which is fine. I hope people heard the tone in which we were trying to communicate here. The last thing we want to do is come across mean or arrogant. I’m not mad at these men. I don’t agree with the way in which they’ve used their resources. There’s even a modern book today—probably the newest book is by David Mathis, Habits of Grace who uses Reformed language. He says it’s Reformed means of grace. But he says in his introduction that he’s not offering anything new that hasn’t already been written. He definitely references those three authors that I had mentioned before. It’s a dumbed down version of those books.

People have asked me if I think that’s a good book and he quotes those guys…

Justin Perdue: The only thing I’ll say is I do tend to get concerned when we feel the need to change language that has stood the test of time. Maybe that’s just because I appreciate that kind of thing: history matters, church history matters a lot, and nothing happens in a vacuum. There needs to be a lot of evidence. The burden of proof lies with you if you think that we need to change terminology that’s existed for centuries in terms of the ordinary means of grace. I understand we can repackage and try to communicate things in more understandable ways, and maybe that’s what David’s trying to do. Again, I haven’t read the book.

Jon Moffitt: One of the things that I really didn’t say in the regular podcast is that even Don Whitney’s book, I really do take a lot of problems with how there are so many Reformed guys out there, or Calvinistic guys, that promote this book and say it’s a really good book and you should read it. I feel like it’s an attack on the means of grace. The thing that we should be protecting, which is spiritual maturity and how it happens, this is a direct attack on it. Just going back to that paragraph that I read where he says this book examines the spiritual disciplines of Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude—he’s saying, “I will maintain, the only road to Christian maturity and godliness past is through silence and solitude.” That is monasticism. I have a really big problem with that because it’s just not in Scripture.

Justin Perdue: At best, it undermines the saints’ confidence in the means of grace. At worst, it’s a direct attack upon them. I would agree with that and that is concerning. I know I say this all the time and I mean to come across in any kind of bad way, but one of the things that I see in people regularly who began attending CBC where I pastor, and even some people who end up sticking with us, is something that we have to detox people from: the notion that everything else that happens Monday to Saturday in their own private lives and in small groups are what really matter; that somehow, if we prioritize the Sunday gathering we will be anemic as Christians. That if that’s what we do, we will lack terribly, but if we really have rigor in our accountability, if we have rigor in our meeting with men or meeting with women, if we have rigor in our personal devotional lives, then that’s really what’s going to move the needle. To that, I could not disagree more strongly.

It’s not that those things are unimportant. It’s not that they are not helpful in any way. Of course, they can be. I would say that sometimes they’re not helpful at all, depending on what’s happening in those contexts. I think that they’re rarely as helpful as we think they are. I think the Sunday gathering, based upon biblical witness in terms of what happens there and what we’re instructed to do, is the primary thing. It is the thing that will move the needle over the course of a Christian’s life. I don’t really care how you proceed any given service; God ministers to us in ways that we do not fully comprehend when we gather and assemble with the saints. We’ll look up in five or 10 or 30 years, and we will realize that God has done something and He has done it through these means. That’s the testimony of the witness of Christians through history.

I could riff a long time on like what you and I and every other Christian really need, which is to gather with the saints on Sunday because Monday to Saturday has beaten us up. Everything wages war against our faith, and we need to come and be given Christ and have our faith sustained and stirred and strengthened and confirmed anew on Sunday. I think it’s why the Lord gave us the gathering.

Jon Moffitt: Let’s compare the two systems. Spiritual discipline system, how you grow in maturity and godliness, is highly individualized. A lot of it has to do with what you do alone: personal Bible, reading, prayer, journaling. Just going back to some of the lists: stewardship, fasting, silence, solitude, journaling, learning, simplicity, submission.

Justin Perdue: What do all these things even mean? A lot of these things are so vague.

Jon Moffitt: You can find the verses for some of these. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Justin Perdue: Oh, my gosh.

Jon Moffitt: You know what I’m saying? Even being wise with our money. Yes, I agree with that, but there’s a difference in saying that’s biblical and this is the way to maturity. One, how much is required? How much must I do? What does Scripture say my involvement is with this? When it comes to the means of grace, we are told they gathered once a week, at least, to hear the word read, to hear it preached, to receive the Table, to receive fellowship, encouragement, to bear each other’s burdens, and to pray together. At least we know that at minimum, you need to be doing that. Hebrews even says, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves as such as you were doing.”

Justin Perdue: As is the habit of some.

Jon Moffitt: It’s very obvious at a ground level that when we say means of grace, we have a pretty strong biblical argument for saying God gifts teachers and uses them for the work of ministry, the church is then trained, and then builds itself up in love. That’s the growth mechanism that God uses—not only growth, but it’s the church discipline mechanism. It’s the church protection for those who are weak, it’s for those who have burdens, it’s for those who need help. What the spiritual disciplines does is it’s basically the difference between someone who works out in a gym by themselves and understands that they’re bodybuilding themselves versus someone who understands that they are a part of a team, and the team is only as strong as everybody functioning together. It’s this individualization that I think robs people of hope, of other people’s gifts, they can’t find rest, they don’t ever do enough, and it creates unbelievable amounts of judgmentalism in people. That’s what I was starting to get into in the regular podcast—I didn’t have time to finish—but there’s no way you can argue the spiritual disciplines somehow create unity within a body. I think it creates diversity and that’s sad.

Justin Perdue: I think the way that so many things are turned into a discipline, like you were talking about: silence, solitude, sacrifice, even how we use our money. I don’t know even what it means to call that a spiritual discipline. I’m so with Don Carson that we need not speak in such a way where we turn every act of obedience into a discipline. No, this is actually just the outworking of the Holy Spirit’s work in you. This is the outworking of a life of faith. This is the fruit being produced by God’s Spirit through the ordinary means, and we’re called to do this stuff. This is our duty and our responsibility, and we should put effort toward doing it.

If that’s what we mean, to put effort toward being loving or put effort toward thinking well about money, that’s fine. But it’s just unhelpful and unclear, at best, the ways that I think this is written about. It’s not that we don’t ever do anything on our own. I like your team analogy where you said that everything that we’re doing, we’re doing it with the team in view, versus just trying to build ourselves up to be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.

I even think about our jobs as pastors, Jon, when we prep sermons. There are a number of hours spent in solitude with God’s word praying, reading various things, thinking about things, and crafting a sermon. We’re going to deliver that on Sunday morning to the saints. But that discipline—I’m happy to use that word. Sermon prep is a discipline. It requires discipline and fortitude, and you’ve got to plow, you’ve got to work, and it’s hard sometimes. Why do you do it? You do that discipline, you do that work for the sake of the building up of the body because this is something that God has told us to give attention to. We are to give attention as pastors, 1 Timothy 4, to the public reading of Scripture and the teaching. 2 Timothy 4, preach the word in season and out of season—we’re giving attention to this stuff. So even the discipline of sermon prep is for the sake of building up the body. I think that kind of perspective would help a ton in this whole conversation about spiritual disciplines if we are always thinking about wanting to be used by God to build up the body, and to build up my brothers and sisters. Now we’re on the biblical track of being used by the Lord to help others mature, and to be used to build others up being the goal of my life, because that is what the church is called to do.

Jon Moffitt: We say this all the time, but I just go back to Galatians 5. “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” I understand they call it spiritual disciplines, but a lot of the lists that’s being given there can’t be argued as spiritual. They look fleshly. They look like you’re using the flesh to somehow manipulate maturity.

Justin Perdue: Like you said, it’s very monastic. It’s very ascetic. It’s monkery. I think that’s a good analogy.

Jon Moffitt: Hopefully this is helpful. I would encourage you to read the articles and go through the series. If you’re a member, you have access to the four-part series I did. In part two, I deal with spiritual disciplines, but I do an entire series on what is Reformed spirituality. That’s available as well. I’d encourage you to listen to that. We have several podcasts that we could link into there.

Anyways, we had a request to do this and so hopefully this was helpful. For those of you that are listening, please engage with us, ask questions. We would love to have any follow-up questions regarding something that may be confusing.

I will tell you that I feel very strongly that we stand in the Reformed tradition of the confessions that they understood the means of grace to be the primary means by which we grow and pursue. There are other things that are helpful that God can use, and they even mentioned that Bible reading is helpful, but the primary way in which God engages us is the public corporate reality. I feel safe standing there.

Justin Perdue: And we are free in Christ. I might even put it this way: rather than viewing Bible reading and prayer. Bible reading and prayer are the things that come up over and over again—and we didn’t even bring up Cotton Mather, the prayer closet, closet time, and all that, and we could have. I don’t mean to introduce a new thing for the listener so you can go look it up.

I’m thinking about Bible reading and prayer. Those things in the corporate context or ordinary means of grace, which we absolutely partake of, and in your private devotional life can be incredibly good. But the way that I would encourage us to think about it is not to put the yoke of slavery on ourselves with respect to Bible reading and prayer, but to remember that in Christ Jesus, we have been set free unto all good things. We’ve been set free unto righteousness. We have been set free to read our Bibles. And we have been set free to pray. We have been delivered from the dominion of sin and we’ve become obedient from the heart. Now, we do things because we actually want to do them. We read our Bibles because we’re grateful to God for saving us, and Christ is sufficient. We want to read God’s word because we have it in front of us. What a grace and kindness that is. We’re going to pray because we need God. We’re struggling, we’re sinning, or we’re just anxious, and we want to talk to our heavenly Father who loves us, and we can cast our burdens and anxieties upon Him. We know that He is powerful and that He has us, and that He hears us. A prayer in that sense is the outworking of the life of faith. I think those are healthier perspectives, and they tend to be less burdensome when we look at them that way.

I’m a guy that reads and spends time in prayer most every morning of my life, and I have to battle a very legalistic impulse on the days when I don’t do that. Because like everybody else, I fall into the trap of thinking that I blew it this morning or things aren’t going to be as good. I remind myself that no, life is demanding at points. I have a wife, I have children, and I have a church to love and lead and care for. Actually the more godly thing may be that I was working on this thing for the sake of the congregation, or I was doing this for my wife or my kids, and it means that I didn’t have time to read this morning. Because we just reason ourselves into bad places in terms of how we think about all this stuff. We are free.

Jon Moffitt: The closing thought Paul has on this is to walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. People always translate that, and even John MacArthur writes this in his commentary, as Paul meaning Bible reading. The problem with that is that there’s no way Paul means Bible reading because that couldn’t apply to that context. It doesn’t work.

Justin Perdue: If he does mean Bible reading, he means the public reading of Scripture because nobody had their own Bibles.

Jon Moffitt: In the concept of walking, what he’s saying is we live in the reality of our union. We live knowing that we are safe and secure in Christ, and that Spirit reality is what keeps us centered and off of the temptations of the flesh. When you feel the temptation of the flesh, you can say, “No, I am a child of Christ. This would dishonor God. This would hurt others.” You’re walking by the Spirit as if the Spirit is there with you speaking into your head. You are allowing your union with Christ to motivate you to fight against the flesh versus what Paul says in Colossians that all these aesthetic works that we try and use are of no value of stopping the works of the flesh.

I think that’s spiritual disciplines: walk by the Spirit and how best to continue to have the Spirit engaging in you, that as far as walking in that reality. How about Ephesians 4? Training by the elders and teachers of the church to prepare you to walk by the Spirit.

Justin Perdue: Galatians 5:25. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Then what comes next? “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Let’s walk by the Spirit. What would that look like in the mind of Paul the apostle? Don’t become conceited, don’t provoke, don’t envy, restore people, be gentle, bear one another’s burdens and sorrows.

That’s not what we think. We think to walk by the Spirit is to train yourself with certain habits. That may be a piece somewhere down the line, but in the minds of the apostles, it’s these corporate realities of loving each other. This is to walk in the Spirit.

Jon Moffitt: As always, we encourage you to find rest in what Christ has done. You need to go hear about it, need to receive it in the Table, you need to observe it in baptism, you need to pray together, hearing each other on your behalf, being held up by the ministry and prayer, so that you can then have the energy to then love and care and show patience and kindness.

As always, please find your rest in Christ. Those of you who are weary and say you’re bad at spiritual disciplines, my encouragement then is to go to the well and receive that which is there—and it’s called grace. It is your means by which you can receive it. If you can’t find a church that is giving out the gospel, then move and go find one. Go get fed.

Justin Perdue: A lot of jobs are remote these days.

Jon Moffitt: That’s right. Thanks for listening. Thank you for your support. Honestly, we legitimately could not afford to do this. It costs quite a bit of money. There’s a lot of hands that are involved in editing and preparing and getting us all set up. Thank you for allowing us to afford to do this. Ending in our fifth year, going to be going into our sixth year and our second year with Justin and Jimmy. I’m excited about that. Stay tuned.

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