A Call for *Public* Spiritual Disciplines

dcBooks on practicing the Spiritual disciplines typically have about a dozen topics. For instance, Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life lists ten: (1) Bible intake (in two parts), (2) prayer, (3) worship, (4) evangelism, (5) serving, (6) stewardship, (7) fasting, (8) silence and solitude, (9) journaling, and (10) learning. Likewise, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline enumerates twelve disciplines under three orientations: inward disciplines include (1) meditation, (2) prayer, (3) fasting, and (4) study; outward disciplines involve (5) simplicity, (6) solitude, (7) submission, and (8) service; and corporate disciplines consist of (9) confession, (10) worship, (11) guidance, and (12) celebration.

Because Scripture does not publish an authorized list of disciplines, an exhaustive list cannot be produced. Even a cursory reading these two lists invites comment on the best way to think about practicing the habits Jesus commanded. Is worship only corporate? How is solitude outward? Does solitude have to be silent? Whitney and Foster discuss these questions in their books with different emphases based on their different theological and ecclesial backgrounds. (As a Reformed Baptist it’s not surprising that I find Whitney’s book, full of Puritan Spirituality, the better book).

But what makes both of these books the same is their challenge to individuals to grow in personal godliness. Indeed, both books highlight the personal model of Jesus, a man who  undeniably practiced the spiritual disciplines and taught his followers to do the same. In short, personal spiritual disciplines are part and parcel of faith in the Lord.

That said, personal disciplines are not private disciplines. As Foster rightly identifies there is both an outward and corporate aspect to the Christian’s spiritual life. Understanding this interpersonal dynamic, Donald Whitney wrote a companion volume, Spiritual Disciplines within the Church to correct the hyper-individualism  fostered by an unbalanced concern for personal, spiritual disciplines.

Third Horizon in Spiritual Formation

Still, I wonder if there is something more that ought to be stressed in the spiritual formation of a believer? Is it possible that those who attend regularly to Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, and even fasting may be incomplete in their spiritual development? Could it be that there is a third horizon—the first two being the individual in relationship with God (worship) and the individual being in relationship with the church (fellowship)—that must be developed in order for a man or woman to walk worthy of the gospel? Continue reading

Practical Counsel for Growing in Grace

discipline“Discipline yourself for godliness.”
— 1 Timothy 4:7 (NASB)–

Recently Donald Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky) answered a series of questions for Desiring God‘s podcast, Ask Pastor John. Dr. Whitney, who is arguably the foremost authority on evangelical spirituality, has been studying and teaching these materials for over twenty-five years. His book  Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is a modern classic and an illuminating study for growing in grace.

If you are not familiar with the Bible’s prescribed disciplines for spiritual growth, or you are and have not read his enlightening book, I cannot commend it enough. In the meantime, if you would like a primer on the disciplines or a refresher for why they are so important, take 30 minutes (or 5 seven-minute segments) to listen to his answers to these five questions. (I’ve included a teaser quotation from each interview). Continue reading

Take Up and Pray: Learning to Pray the Scriptures from Donald Whitney

prayDonald Whitney has just released a new book on prayer, Praying the BibleLike his earlier books spurring Christians towards love and good deeds (especially Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life), this little volume is sure to encourage believers and provide a pathway to greater, more fervent, more consistent prayer.

As I read the book at the end of last week’s prayer meeting at the SBC, I walked away with fresh encouragement to take up the Scriptures and pray. I am sure any believer will experience the same thing if they pick up this little book (89 pp.). To encourage you to pick up this book, let me give you a sense of Whitney’s argument coupled with his ‘tweetable’ prose. Continue reading

Scripture is Our Guardian and Guide to True Worship (Sermon Notes)

True Worship is Revealed By God

Yesterday’s post considered the way Exodus 32 warns us of false worship.  It confronts the many ways we (unintentionally) bring ‘golden calves’ into our worship services, and it makes us ask whether or not the elements in our worship are biblically-grounded or not.  Today, we aim to make a positive argument for true worship based on the ‘Regulative Principle.’

Moving from Old Covenant to New Covenant, we should notice that God is just as interested in true worship in the church-age.  The difference is the location of that worship–in the Spirit-filled temple of the gathered church, not Solomon’s temple made of stones.  On this John 4 is helpful.

In John 4, Jesus pursues a conversation with a sexually-dysfunctional Samaritan woman. This is a great passage on the subject of missions, evangelism, and salvation unto all peoples.  But it also speaks volumes about worship.  Tucked in this context, we see that God is still seeking worshipers who will worship Him in Spirit and Truth (v. 24).

To which we may ask: How do we worship in truth?  Exodus 32 has shown us what false worship looks like, but where do we find true worship.  Put simply, I would say that the whole counsel of Scripture is required to worship aright.

Now, this question has been debated much in church history.  There are some who will say, that the church is permitted to do most anything in God’s name, so long as it does not violate the teaching of Scripture.  This has been called the “Normative Principle.”

Conversely, others have argued for the “Regulative Principle,” which asserts that the church should do no more than what is commanded and/or explicitly modeled in Scripture.  This second approach has, in some cases, been taken to the extreme.  Some have argued that instruments, for instance, find no place in the New Testament and thus should be removed from worship.  Others, more moderately, have made adjustments such as allowing for amplification and powerpoint in their services, even though Scripture says nothing of these things (although a raised platform and assistance in understanding the text in Nehemiah 8 may give support for amplification and powerpoint–just saying).

The perpetual challenges of contextualization make this debate very challenging.  Nevertheless, based on the seriousness which God takes worship (cf Exod 32), it is a conversation worth having.  My point, from the text in Exodus 32, is simply that we ought to have a principle of regulation, that arises from the text in all that we do.  Creative freedom in worship seems to be what Exodus 32 is against, and it actually proves that such “freedom” results in the ultimate slavery (death). By contrast, when churches submit themselves to Scripture, they experience the freedom of the Lord, who descends upon the gathered church, and as 2 Corinthians says, where the Lord is there is a Spirit of freedom.

A Baptist Argument for the Regulative Principle

On the subject of the Regulative Principle, I have not found much that is immediately helpful–if you know of something, please let me know–but in a Baptist Press article from 2003, Donald Whitney, now professor at Southern Seminary (Louisville, KY), and author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Lifegives a number of helpful points.  Let me quote a portion of his article, Worship Should Be God-Centered and Biblical

The regulative principle of worship in essence says that God knows how He wants to be worshiped better than we do, . . .
”He has not left us in the dark about that and has revealed in Scripture [alone] how he wants us to worship Him, what the elements of worship are to be. If He has done so, then those are the things we must do and we should not bring any of our own ideas in addition to that.” 



 Biblical elements of corporate worship include preaching and teaching the Word of God, prayer, the public reading of Scripture, the singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and celebrating the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 

The regulative principle rules out extra-biblical elements such as drama, clowns and the like.

Whitney pointed out that many Baptists today practice what is known as the “normative principle” of worship. The normative principle says that corporate worship must include all biblical elements, but believers also are free to include things not forbidden by Scripture. 

This approach is dangerous because God’s will is known only through His special revelation, . . .

We don’t know what honors God except that which He has revealed, . . .  In areas like worship where He has revealed His truth, we may not go beyond the bounds of that. 

[Significantly, Whitney ends his article by pointing us to the Scriptures, quoting from even from Exodus 25-30, which serves as the true pattern that was broken in Exodus 32].

In the end, Scripture must be our guardian and our guide!  God has not left himself silent on matters of worship.  He does not want creative expressions borrowed from the world.  He wants his creation to worship him according to his Word.  He is not looking for new ways to know him, explain him, promote him, or seek him.  He has given us his word and his Spirit.  This is sufficient.

To those who interpret the world through lens acquired from the world, this seems foolish and weak. But indeed, it is the wisdom of God.  May we again press into know the Lord, and trust that we will not be dissatisfied.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Who Seeks Discipline? The Seventh Mark of a Healthy Church Member

Really, who seeks discipline?

In our pleasure-seeking culture and churches so inundated with the gospel of self-gratification: Not Many! Yet for those who know Christ and are known by him, discipline is not a pain to be avoided, but a necessary and blessed part of the Christian life.  As Thabiti Anyabwile shows in his chapter on the subject in What is a Healthy Church Member?,  formative and corrective discipline are actually “means of grace” that lead to life, liberty, and eternal happiness (cf. Heb. 12:3-11; 2 Tim 3:16-17; and Matt 18:15-20).  For a biblical perspective, consider these wise words:

Proverbs 3:11-12: My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Proverbs 9:9: Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.  Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

Proverbs 27:5-6: Better is open rebukethan hidden love.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

With that said, seeking discipline is not easy.  It requires the work of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a God-given boldness (2 Tim 1:7).  Still, while we depend on God’s work in us, there are practical ways that we can grow, as we trust God to work in us as we seek him.  Here are five:

1. Personal Discipline.  Practice the personal spiritual disciplines on a regular basis.  These include Bible intake (reading, meditating, memorizing, studying), prayerr, evangelism, giving, and others.  An excellent resource for developing these personal disciplines is Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Discipline for the Christian LifeDon’s website is also a treasure trove for resources on cultivating a life devoted to Christ and his word.

2. Informed Discipline.  Learn more on what the Bible teaches about Church Discipline.  You could do this by doing inductive Bible studies on some of the key bibliclal passages: Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; Hebrews 12:3ff; and by reading a good book on the subject.  An excellent introduction to the topic is Jay Adam’s book, simply titled, A Handbook on Church DisciplineOther resources can be accessed at the IX Marks website.

3. Formative Discipline.  Avail yourself of every form of Bible teaching and discipleship that your church offers.  If you are at a church that loves and labors to teach the whole counsel of Scripture, why wouldn’t you?  Church discipline is not merely corrective, it is also constructive, and one of the best ways to grow up in Christ is through the regular intake of Bible teaching available at your church. 

4. Corrective Discipline.  Memorize the steps of Matthew 7:1-5 (as it pertains to the individual in corrective discipline) and Matthew 18:15-20 (as it pertains to the steps of the church in cases of corrective discipline).  This action step builds on step 2, which requires an informed understanding of God’s reasoning(s) for church purity and unity.  Corrective church discipline is God’s ordained means for handling sin in the church, and though painful, the end result is good for the offending party and the good of Christ’s church. 

5. Proactive (“Rescuing”) Discipline.  James concludes his epistle with a heart-felt appeal to reach out to church members coming perilously close to destruction.  He says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20).  Ultimately, the aim of church discipline is restoration and rescue, not humiliation and accusation.  Consequently, church discipline cannot be something that we evade; it must be something we  embrace–individually and collectively.  Like James and Jude, we must “save others by snatching them out of the fire” as we have opportunity, all the while “hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).  In this way, we grow together as healthy church members.

For more on the subject of church discipline, check out this months’ e-Journal by the guys at IX Marks.