The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22b-23a, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” including the capacity to contentment (Philippians 4:11b) is basic training for all Followers of the Way. It is quickly obvious, as the Followers of the Way of Jesus are warned by the Apostle Paul, to exercise discipline as to avoid certain “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21). I call these practices conduct that trivializes the witness of Jesus Christ. Paul names them, “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (NRSV Galatians 5:19b-21a). Not that Paul considered these practices sinful – still he elevates them to the same type of warning as against sin.
The Reforming Church is vigilant to practice its conduct in a manner that reflects well on it service, mission, and ministry. Its constant drill is the practice of the Fruit of the Spirit with adequate coaching. This is not something the Reforming Church leaves to individual discretion.
I served in the Army, going through basic training in the spring of 1971. As I experienced it, basic training was to prepare every soldier for a 24 hour period of combat. At that level of training, the focus was on conditioning and fitness, the skill base was focused on individual combat, and the knowledge base was focused on the chain of command and military deportment. It was intense, focused, rigorous and exhausting; but after basic training, while I would have hated to have been sent into combat with only the training I had at that time, I realized I was in the best shape of my life and I knew what the Army expected of me.
Similarly, in the Reforming Church, Followers of the Way of Jesus are trained to practice the various foci of the Fruit of the Spirit. The Reforming Church recognizes that the conduct of the Followers of the Way matter, and it isn’t just a matter of being nice.
It is a unique feature of the Reforming Church, to teach, coach and practice the various foci of the Fruit of the Spirit. Here are the components of the curriculum the Reforming Church employs to prepare Followers of the Way.
- It is essential that the leaders be well versed, practiced and committed to embracing and demonstrating the Fruit of the Spirit in their own lives. This training is preliminary preparation for leadership in the Reforming Church as they will become the mentors, instructors, and trainers for the Followers of the Way.
- As the failure of a Follower of the in the Way can be shameful, the curriculum design, without ignoring the failure, is to avoid judgment and shaming and to use failure as an opportunity to consider alternative responses to the stress that resulted in the failure.
- This means the curriculum design includes confession – a repentant admission to failure. Inclusive is also of the exercise of wise mercy which offers another way.
- Every Follower of the Way accepts in their lives a mentor who will be available to coaching and guidance.
- Every Follower of the Way engages in deep spiritual reflection during this training, focusing on these essentials.
- Whatever other components as may be necessary, the necessity of this training is ongoing. This means that every Follower of the Way is in continual preparation.
This would be bare bone, as far as design goes. I would welcome any conversation about how to flesh out curriculum design as I have proposed.
It seems to be that there are three different curriculum tracks:
- Love, Joy, and peace: Living with yourself
- Patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and self-control: Living with others
- Faithfulness and contentment: Living with God.
It’s funny, as I write this, I feel as though I am being pedantic and maybe meddling. But I feel this is of utmost importance, especially in this day and age when the misstep of a single Follower of the Way, as has been demonstrated, again and again, diminishes the witness of the entire Church, distracting it from its purpose to serve God. And because I am being pedantic, I especially want to avoid any notion that I present myself as the perfect mentor, or better than others. It is absurd.
Another corrective I feel I need to add I offer as a reflection. I am cautious as to not intend a legalistic, work-righteousness plan. The only thing I would prescribe is that leadership will always be chosen among those who have evidenced in their lives a genuine practice of the fruit of the Spirit.
In this regard, I offer this. During the reading of Psalm 46 at a memorial service this past week, I found myself reflecting on verse 4, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High” (NRSV). I found myself thinking of a river, the Glad River, which springs from the throne of God. It is a source of refreshment for all in its basin. Some who wade into its current are suddenly filled with fear for it is swift and can be turbulent and dangerous. Their attention is focused on what is downstream. They find themselves in a struggle for life looking away from God. Others wade into its current and begin to swim upstream with curiosity and wonderment. Their eyes are on the prize – they believe the joy and hope the Glad River promises is worth all the energy and effort to swim against the current.
God’s mercy embraces everyone. Some are not aware of it, some deny it, some accept it but find themselves in a disorienting struggle and some are energized by it. Everyone in this continuum is embraced by the promises of God.
What I mean to say about this as it relates to the basic training the Reforming Church embraces, it is not to cast judgment on anyone all along the continuum of human experience. All have fallen short, and yet God does not abandon anyone to his or her failures. And yet, the conduct of Followers of the Way of Jesus matter. This basic training is to prevent, as much as possible, any behavior that distracts the church from its mission.
The last word is this, in spite of the conduct of the Followers of the Way of Jesus, God’s purpose will neither be undone nor falter. I write this because I know that God’s purpose does not depend on Followers of the Way or the Church. And knowing that the victory is won already, surely it suggests exemplary lifestyle for Followers of the Way.
Next week I will write about the disciplines of love, joy, and peace.