Today’s question comes from Janet, a new participant in our blog community. Here’s what she wrote: “I believe you know the path of NEW AGE RELIGION and how the adversary uses everything that ‘sounds right’ to lure the elect away from focusing on what the BIBLE teaches us to stay away from divination, witchcraft, wizardry and the like. There is no way to suggest to people that have these practices in mind that this is really a dangerous path to walk and often times they get so involved with the friendship of the evil one, (and I suppose he is lovable to the weak and the lost,) like Scientology for one, and the like. When and if it ‘feels’ good they don’t realize that they have crossed a line.”
Janet, you raise an important question about how it is that we discern what spiritual practices are good and healthy for us.
Let me begin by saying I hear your concern about the standards we use to guide us in that discernment process. I was raised in a United Methodist Church, and it’s founder – John Wesley – advocated a method that I have used personally for years. Wesley’s teachings pointed to the use of what was later became known as The Quadrilateral. By that, he meant that when we encounter important things in life, there are four things we should use to guide us in our process of discernment: (1) Scripture; (2) tradition; (3) reason; and (4) personal experience. The four legs of The Quadrilateral have been very helpful in guiding me.
As participants in a non-creedal community like the United Church of Christ, we have challenge that creedal communities do not have. In creedal communities, lines are clearly drawn for individuals about what is – and what is NOT – okay. In non-creedal communities, individuals often have different ideas about those standards.
When I’m dealing with two or more individuals that have different understandings, I make two suggestions.
First, I would suggest that an individual NOT participate in a program or effort in which they are uncomfortable. Each person must respect her/his boundaries. They shouldn’t pressure themselves (or be pressured by others) to participate in anything in which they are not comfortable.
Second, if a conversation ensues between two or more individuals who have different understandings of what is – and is NOT – acceptable, I encourage open, respectful dialogue in which each party can share both their personal experience of the matter as well as their concern. I believe it is absolutely essential that people arrived at a position that accurately portrays both what is happening within a program/effort.
If the individuals are not able to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement, we then have something in our church called the Board of Ministry. The Board of Ministry is a team comprised of leaders in several areas in the programmatic life of the church. The Board could hear perspectives and concerns and make recommendations about how to move forward.
While the pastor obviously plays an important role in the spiritual life of the community, it is the congregation – and it’s elected leaders – who frequently decide some of these delicate matters. While this egalitarian way of being is new to some (and often viewed as less efficient as processes offered by other denominations), I can say this: over the first 14 years of my ministry, I have seen the Holy Spirit work in powerful ways through the collective wisdom of the community.
So what about the rest of you. What is your perspective on Janet’s comments?