Sunday, December 30, 2012

Measuring Spiritual Maturity

Recently, I followed a link to a "Christian maturity quiz," curious how exactly one would measure in an online test someone's unseen connection to God. As expected, it was pretty ridiculous. The questions were things like, "When someone cuts you off in traffic, do you (a) pray for them, (b) curse at them, or (c) hope they crash and die?"

So this got me looking around the web and it turns out that trying to develop Christian maturity tests is a big business. Reading several of them, it seems that they tend to do little but repeat the tired canards of our American Christian culture:

- Do you read your Bible every day? If so you get extra maturity points in these quizzes. (It never asks if you read it properly, or if you understand it, or explains how Christians reached maturity before they all had copies of the Bible--which accounts for 90% of Christian history).

- Do you pray every day? Again this gives you points...never mind if your prayers are selfish or if you do not believe what you are saying, etc.

- Do you believe in X (where X is some particular theological interpretation of that particular website or denomination)? Again, you can't be spiritual unless you agree with the theology of the person writing the test! Even if that theology developed a dozen centuries after Jesus...

- Do you always let Jesus rule your thoughts/live your faith on Monday/care more about Jesus than yourself/insert other vague spiritual sounding statement here?

- Do you read only Christian books and listen to only Christian music, or are you friends with the godless masses?

This is typical of the Western church. We want to metric and test everything to the umpteenth level, as though scoring a "You're a Role Model" on some five question online test made by someone you'll never meet is somehow indicative of your relationship with Christ.

No, spiritual maturity is not so easily measured as this. But I do think there are two things that are actually useful if you want to determine your spiritual maturity.

1. IS YOUR FAITH BIBLICAL, OR CULTURAL?

Everyone who believes in Jesus does so either for mostly Biblical reasons or mostly cultural reasons...the culture being Christian culture of our day. The difference between these two approaches is a sign of maturity, for most believers begin their journey of faith due to cultural reasons: either they were raised in church, or a church converted them. Most people then stay in "church culture" for their entire lives, and church culture is the thing which they use to determine what to believe about an issue.

Spiritual maturity, however, comes only when one allows Biblical principles to overcome allegiance to Christian culture: when someone hears a Biblical argument which goes against the view they have been taught in their church culture, are they willing to abandon their current belief and accept the Biblical one?

People always say yes to this...but it is a rare person who means it. Below are several examples.

If you we presented with strong biblical evidence that...

- the Genesis account is not meant to record the number of days of creation, are you open minded to abandoning young earth creationism?

- drinking is okay in moderation, are you open minded to abandoning your teetotalling philosophy?

- communion is meant to be taken every week, are you willing to insist upon this change at your church?

- Christians should not be armed, are you willing to sell your gun collection and stop hunting?

- Christians are to take care of immigrants, are you willing to abandon your border security political views?

- the rapture will not occur but that everyone will be here until the end, would you change your eschatology?

- life begins at fertilization and the birth control pill can cause abortive effects after this point, would you change to condoms instead of the Pill?

- homosexuality is wrong, but homosexual marriage is no less wrong than remarriage after divorce, would you change your stance on this political issue?

- as a pastor, your church's method of evangelism/small groups/worship is not in line with biblical principles, are you willing to face the wrath of the church by changing it?

I am not endorsing the above beliefs necessarily, nor am I saying that the Biblical evidence for the above is or is not strong. I am simply trying to get a measure of your spirituality. Because IF you were able to be shown such evidence from the Bible and you still would not change your mind...well, then that means you care more about your cultural viewpoint than about what the Bible truly says.

This is the first sign of spiritual maturity to me: do you really, honestly, want to know what the Bible actually SAYS so that you can form your belief system...or (like most) do you want to keep believing what you believe, and just want to know how to make the Bible appear to agree with you?

If you are not open to changing your beliefs to match the Bible, then you are not spiritually mature--because you care more about what is acceptable in modern Christian culture than what is actually in the Bible.


2. WHAT ATTITUDE DO YOU HAVE?

In Galatians 5:22, Paul tries to describe the sign of spiritual maturity...what does it look like to be a Christian walking by the Spirit? He says, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control".

We tend to see these as a checklist--indeed, I have before written about these, and thought "we'll I have joy but still need to work on self-control...". But as Richards and O'Brien point out in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (fantastic read btw), Paul does not use "fruit" as a collective noun but a singular one. In other words, he is not listing 9 fruits of the spirit that we should follow, but rather one fruit for which Greek had no single, encompassing word. Thus he describes it as a "love-joy-peace-patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness-gentleness-self control kind of fruit." Meanwhile he says in the prior verses that the flesh's lifestyle is easy to define, being filled with sexual immorality, idolatry, fistfights, anger, divisions, envy, no drunkenness.

So what fruit are you bearing? I ask not how often you attend church or how often you pray or study the Bible, but rather I ask you how people from your life (work, family, friends) would describe you? Would they say, "He/she is a good person, but sometimes they yell in anger/get jealous/are blasphemous/have sex outside of marriage?" Or would they describe you using words like patient, kind, and peaceful?


I believe that if you look at these two things in your life, you can have a good measure of your spiritual maturity. Are you willing to abandon your long-held beliefs--especially those which your Christian culture has taught you--when confronted with new Biblical evidence? And are you a person who most would describe using words similar to Paul's description of spiritual fruit, or Paul's description of worldly life?

2 comments:

  1. Hi Michael
    Wow! I was looking for some info/tests/articles on maturity after my mum challenged me about it. I was getting fed up with inane outward tests, and then I found your article.

    Word for word, your work sums up what I have felt but been unable to enunciate. I have been so frustrated with the pressure put on people to do outward things like read the Bible everyday when what counts is living it out.

    I know this is an old Post but I just wanted to say how thankful I am to you for writing this article!
    Blessings,
    AM

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  2. There are Mormons that would be described as having love joy peace patience kindness gentleness faithfulness goodness and self control. Does that make them spiritually mature?

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