As I continue to build good spiritual habits in my own life(it’s slow going, but I can’t give up), my thoughts are often drawn to my church and how we can build healthy group habits, or traditions.
I have discussed in previous blogs our focus on outward practices. I’ll be honest, when I first began thinking about traditions and whether we need them, my first impulse was to think that we don’t. Why should a family of mature believers need to have every aspect of modesty spelled out when such details are not commanded in the Bible? However, as I continue to write and think about traditions within the conservative Mennonite church, I’m beginning to see great value in group habits.
I do see that these outward practices are empty if they are not built around a core of strong inward practices. I know that because of our history of breaking from the Catholic Church, we have shied away from ideas of confession, certain kinds of worship, and taking the Lord’s Supper literally. This fear of our past has driven us toward a more Protestant view, which in our case leaves the inward life mostly up to the individual, and focuses heavily on the appearance and outward actions of the believer.
Yes, we call for repentance and belief in Jesus before baptism and joining the church. Sins of the flesh and mind are forbidden in our standards. That is, sadly, as far as our accountability to one another goes. As long as a member dresses appropriately, avoids certain places, and attends church regularly, we have little or no precedent to seek after their inward spiritual well-being.
I propose that if we are so well-suited (and even dependent on) structure within our churches to remain united, then we should strengthen our structure to include inward practices commanded in Scripture. What would happen if an entire church fasted one day a week? Or practiced hospitality once a week toward the poor, lame, and underprivileged in our communities? I don’t know how a church habit of inward simplicity, modesty, and submission would look, but I know that it would result in outward simplicity, modesty, and submission without any outward practices being set in place.
I write these things as a product of this kind of church system. I too find it very difficult to approach a sister in Christ about her spiritual life, or to find joy in praying without ceasing, or to peacefully submit to my authorities without complaining. Though my pride demands I wait to write these things until I have it figured out, God has reminded me that I need help. We all do. Only when He opens our eyes to the presence of Christ within us can we see what we are capable of.
I write this with prayer and a hopeful heart.
What are your thoughts?