The Emergence of Evangelical Discipleship: Learning to Walk with Jesus - page 5


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From the Spring 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Emergence of Evangelical Discipleship:
Learning to Walk with Jesus

by Tom Schwanda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Formation
and Ministry at Wheaton College

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  Scripture: Scripture has always been central to the Christian faith. Because evangelicals affirmed the divine nature and inspiration of the Bible, they believed that it contained God’s dynamic and transformative word. Reading Scripture could make people wise, alert them to sin, and offer them the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. People were warned not to neglect Scripture; it could correct and comfort anyone in need. Scripture was read, prayed, studied, and preached; it formed the basis for commentaries, created the themes and images for hymns and letters, and became a source of conversation among people from every walk of life because it contained guidance for Christian living. Similar to many Christians in the early and medieval church, they prized humility and cautioned that a corrupt mind would distort the interpretation of the Bible. They approached the Scripture in both a literal and a historical manner but realized, especially in reading Old Testament passages, the need for a spiritual or typological reading. Other writers instructed people to read passages slowly, meditatively, dwelling over a few verses to soak up the maximum meaning. Engaging Scripture was often combined with other spiritual practices, especially prayer and fasting, to sensitize the readers to God’s presence in their daily lives. Each individual had a personal responsibility to come to know Jesus; all people were expected to search the Scriptures for the truth that would liberate them.

  Spiritual Practices: Early evangelicals inherited the Puritan threefold classification of spiritual practices: (1) the closet or secret and personal prayer practiced by a single individual, (2) private prayer cultivated within a more intimate social structure, such as a family or religious society, and (3) public practice, which was the broadest gathering for nurturing of one’s faith with others, particularly in worship. Spiritual practices were highly prized because they had the potential to bring individuals or groups of people into God’s presence. Proper motivation and focus was critical. Because ministers and friends alike understood that spiritual practices were about God and not about the individual, the person would seek to come with the best posture of his or her heart. Many ministers served as spiritual guides for those who sought counsel through letters or personal sessions. Common wisdom recognized that it was not possible to create a standard rule that would guide everyone. Rather, flexibility and experimentation were encouraged with the reminder to consult one’s own temperament. Evangelicals engaged many spiritual practices still commonly used today, such as reading and praying Scripture, prayer and fasting, keeping a journal, meditation on creation, spiritual friendship, family worship, self-examination, spiritual direction, retreats, public worship, celebrating the sacraments and listening to sermons. But they also included forgotten practices: public days for prayer and fasting around national or state emergencies and the preparation displayed especially in the Scottish communion weekends.


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