Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Christian Spiritual Formation:
Beginning a journey together toward the image of Christ

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:1-2)

At Cascade Hills, we are preparing to enter into a nine-month cycle of spiritual formation together in the context of small groups (which we call Home Communities). This will be the first year that we'll use Home Communities for the purpose of intentional spiritual formation.

In the past, we've focused on creating loving community and on teaching, both of which bore fruit. We now find ourselves in a position to put the things we know into practice in the context of loving community. This will be a journey of discovery for all of us.

Let us begin with an attempt at clarity.
  • Christian spiritual formation is the ongoing process of being conformed to the image of Christ.
  • The goal of spiritual formation is restored wholeness: a healed fellowship between God, humanity, and creation.
  • Spiritual formation is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit, but involves the participation of the individual person.
  • Spiritual formation is nurtured and supported in the context of covenant community.
Spiritual formation is an ongoing process, one that is undertaken over a lifetime of following Jesus. It passes through different stages as we mature, though we will often revisit similar terrain. Eugene Peterson once called this process "a long obedience in the same direction," a thoroughly countercultural prospect in the age of fast food and faster information. We ought to expect results, but not perhaps in the timing or the form which we would like.

The goal of spiritual formation is to be conformed to the image of Christ. Christ is the image of God and at the same time the picture of human wholeness: what we would look like restored, reconciled, renewed, whole. As we are conformed into the image of Jesus, we find ourself being healed. Part of this healing includes a return to a radical other-centered way of life, one in which we pour ourselves out for the sake of others. To be conformed to Christ is to cease to be the center of our world, allowing God to send us as bearers of love and grace to all within reach. As we attain to maturity in Christ, we increasingly experience restored fellowship with God, one another, and with creation itself. We become part of God's restorative presence in the world (just as is Christ), a sent people that point beyond ourselves to God.

We are not the primary actors in spiritual formation. This process occurs as the mysterious and powerful work of the Holy Spirit. The image of Christ is not something that can be attained by rigorous self-control, a multi-step program, or frenzied activity. We are conformed by the breath of God which dwells within us, the gracious life-giving gift received upon the occasion of our baptism and reception into the covenant community of God's people. And yet this transformation does not occur without our knowledge or permission, but rather as a divine-human cooperation: a yielding of human will to the subtle direction and power of the Spirit.

And lastly, spiritual formation is nurtured and supported by the presence of others on a similar journey. As we undertake this lifelong process of being conformed to the image of Christ, we find that others we encounter along the way become part of the shaping process. We learn to love, to forgive, to share, to work, to give. We find that the more that we resemble Christ, the more we seek out community and the more community forms around us as fruit of the Holy Spirit. Together we learn the truth about ourselves and celebrate the joy of fellowship with God, others, and creation.

Next, we'll look at the nature of Cascade Hills Home Communities and look for ways of participating together with others and with God in the process of spiritual formation.

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