Saturday, October 16, 2010

Means of grace vs. spiritual disciplines; private vs. corporate?

Pastor David Wayne (the "Jollyblogger") shares some good and helpful thoughts about seeing "devotions" as spiritual disciplines, as opposed to means of grace. At no added cost, he speaks of the priority of the corporate worship over private devotions.

On the latter: in the comments section, I register some hesitation. Insofar as he is restoring our valuing of corporate worship, and not thinking of it as an intrusion or an optional extra in relation to private worship, I'm right there with him. But I wouldn't actually rate either over the other. I think if you're doing either right, it helps you do the other right; and vice-versa.


Stefan said...

I have to agree with you, Dan, that they are of equal importance.

I've gone through periods when my private devotional life has been almost entirely empty. I've felt guilty about it, which is not the healthy response. But it does take my mind off God and off my own sinfulness, and turn the six days away from church into directionless wandering—and it also negatively affects the way that I hear, engage, and receive God's grace on Sundays.

Prayer and reading God's Word should never be seen as a duty (even though we all do that at one time or another)—and not doing those things should not be a source of guilt (as Pastor David pointed out).

We should not see these things as a law or a duty per se: a performance benchmark for whether we're a "good Christian" or not. But nevertheless, we should crave to pray and read the Bible. As someone once preached, we need to see these things as a duty in the same way that eating or breathing is a duty.

Brad Williams said...


I've struggled with this one, actually.

I know that personal worship and devotion are crucial, and I suspect that you are correct about them being equal.

However, I think two things drive my desire to stump for a more serious corporate worship and maybe skew it to where I place it as more important. One is the lousy way in which I see people interact in corporate worship in many settings. Personal has been so emphasized in our day that people forget we are supposed to be singing to each other, and that a hearty "Amen" is of public benefit!

The other thing is the picture of the corporate worship in heaven when every tribe, tongue and nation is gathered before the throne. That day, brother, will probably top it all. Even those commuter days when I'm weeping at red lights and not even ashamed that the guy next to me catches me. :)

So yes, I'm probably wrong. But I do think that the value of corporate worship for the up building of each other and not just ourselves is woefully under-stressed in most churches.

Rachael Starke said...

Growing out of a dutiful/devotional mindset about both corporate and personal worship has changed so much about how I approach private and corporate worship! Once I began to see corporate worship as a rehearsal for Heaven, I found myself doing things like (*gasp*) praying for my pastor and for the service the night before, muscling through all the logistics of getting four females clothed and in their right minds (especially like tomorrow, on weeks when I have to leave separately at 6 a.m. to rehearse with the music team), etc., in faith that what we were all working so hard to get to was eternally worth it. (Which, ahem, makes the letdown that much harder when the preaching or corporate singing have fallen short of my prayers and hopes.) I'm coming to the same place with personal worship times - they need to have the same sense of need, anticipation, etc. One feeds the other.

Good thoughts on a Saturday night. :)

Christopher said...

Before I got to the second paragraph of what you wrote,I thought to myself, "Uh, aren't they just as important as one another?"

I think (without yet reading his article) that, as Americans, we do value our personal space, personal time. Most would rather pray, read Scripture, do whatever on their own than a group of people. So, maybe he is playing the pendulum swing a bit.

...or I could read what he wrote and make an intelligent comment. But what would be the fun in that?!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

You know, his article brought to mind my former situation, wherein we attended a church for nine years and I found myself rather hungry for the Word of God because it was not well preached or taught corporately. Emphasis was more on music preferences and preaching to the tares rather than the wheat. I thank God that someone donated a large number of (John MacArthur) tapes to the church's library, and we began to listen and benefit from some serious spiritual food. Means of grace seems like a good way to describe it. And my personal times in the Word and listening to those tapes kept me from drying up completely. We have since moved, and are at a church which does preach the Word well. And because of that, I'm convinced that it takes my personal time in the word to a whole new dimension (again, means of grace seems appropriate), as I make more connections.

In an ideal situation, we would all do it well, privately and corporately, and we would be of the same mind, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

(I apologize I'd this double-posts. I seem to be having technical difficulties.)

Mark B. Hanson said...

Because of technology, we have resources available to us that our Christian forebears did not have. Thus, some of the personal disciplines that we routinely practice were unavailable to them (e.g. Reading the Word, Bible Study, Spiritual Reading), especially in the days before the printing press.

So I tend to place a priority on the classical means of grace (preaching, the sacraments, prayer) that have been available to all Christians in all ages.

And it humbles me to know just how fortunate we are to live in an age when we can hear thousands of preachers on demand, own many books, and find almost any piece of information in a few seconds.

CGrim said...

I do think they're both important, but I would hesitate to call them equally important, because they function differently. I think it's best just to leave it at: "they're both important - do them both!" But that's where it's important to remember what David Wayne points out - when you fail, recognize that all these things are gifts that bless, not legal requirements that you will be punished for.

It is interesting to note that, as Mark pointed out above, personal copies of the printed Word is a relatively recent phenomenon. But what a gift!