One of the things about which I feel deeply is the character of the church. How the church is perceived and experienced is crucial to its effective witnessing. The Reforming Church is very careful to cultivate its character, both personally – as a follower of the Way of Jesus and corporately, as the Church – so as to be aligned with the way of Jesus. The key word is “to cultivate.” It is something the Reforming Church cannot leave to chance. Extending the “cultivating” metaphor, if the Reforming Church were an orchard it would require mulching, fertilizing, pruning and all assortments or agricultural necessities before harvesting – if it desires a successful harvest. For this reason, the Reforming Church intentionally works on how it comports itself in its witness, ministry, and mission.
It seems that Paul’s letter to the Galatians contains some of this advice. He writes to his foolish congregation, “. . . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (NSRV Galatians 5:22b-23a). Paul’s counsel is to “live by the Spirit” (5:16), contrasting the “fruit of the Spirit” (5:22) with the “works of the flesh” (5:19). Reading the long list of the flesh’s works (5:19-21) it is apparent how destructive the character can be to the church’s witness.
In the Reforming Church, the core curriculum not only counsels love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it becomes basic training for every Follower of the Way of Jesus. The Reforming Church instructs trains and tests the Followers of the Way in the fruit of the Spirit, sending them out, at first, with mentors shadowing them, guiding them, and providing further instruction as needed. This would be in addition to any preparation for commissioning for service.
How might this be accomplished? Besides teaching, the way of the “fruit of the Spirit is instilled in the core disciplines of the church. The Reforming Church develops curriculum offering a continuous track on the “fruit of the Spirit.” And, perhaps most importantly, the leaders of the Reforming Church exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit” in their lives in both their public and private spheres.
One other component of the character of the Reforming Church is contentment.
Several years ago, I set out to upset the conventional greeting. “Hi. How are you doing?” How does one respond to this? The conventional and automatic response is, “Fine.”
When my kids were small I would watch with them on Public Television “Fred Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I was intrigued by the greeting exchanged between Fred Rogers and Mr. McFeely, the Mail Carrier who visited the show every day with a bundle of mail for Mr. Rogers. Mr. McFeely called himself “Speedy Delivery.” Mr. Rogers would always greet Mr. McFeely in a conventional manner, as courtesy prescribed, but Mr. McFeely’s response was outside the box. Mr. Rogers would greet Mr. McFeely saying, “How are you today, Mr. McFeely.” Mr. McFeely always responded, “Happy as usual!”
If you were to greet me today, you would likely hear me respond, “Happy as usual!” Believe me, it is a show stopper. Often, my automatic response of “Fine,” would go without response; but I discovered, “Happy as usual,” almost always gave pause.
Studying French, I discovered one of the words for happy was “content.” I have begun to think of being happy and being content as synonymous.
In Pauline literature, Paul writes to his favored congregation, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (NRSV Philippians 4:11b). This sentiment was set against the backdrop of the congregation in Philippi desiring to help Paul (in prison?). Paul expresses so clearly a wonderful “yes, but” laced with absolute contentment, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (NRSV Philippians 4:12). And not only in his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed this same kind of contentment to his congregation in Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:10) and in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 6:6).
Adding to the list of the “fruit of the Spirit” the disciplines of the Reforming Church also includes “contentment.” This is a confidence that one’s witness to the Way of Jesus can always be managed, in spite of the circumstances; but even more than that, this contentment is fundamental to Godliness. It becomes primary in the character of each and every follower of the Way of Jesus.
In the next few weeks, I intend to expand these 10 concepts at the core of the Reforming Church: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and contentment.