Building on my previous blog piece, I decided to re-read Philip Spener’s book that outlines his vision for the church of his day. What greatly impresses me is the way he writes with clarity and directness around the crucial question of how we make and mature disciples of Jesus.
His central conviction is that God’s Word will enkindle faith and provide guidance regarding the life of discipleship. However, he argues that preaching is only part of the answer in achieving that end. It can only take Christians so far in their devotion to God.
I believe this is because the focus of the New Testament is centred on the community of faith, the church. It follows that if this is where Scripture places its emphasis, then preaching that is true to God’s Word will follow its lead, and aim for corporate encouragement, unity, maturity and growth. The main purpose of a sermon is to build up the body of Christ. We struggle to grasp this today because of our focus on the individual. Spener understood it entirely.
He proposes that 3 further dimensions are required. Firstly, he encourages diligent reading of the Bible in private. Secondly, he suggests that it is read systematically during congregational meetings. Thirdly, he appeals for a return to “the ancient and apostolic kind of church meetings.” That is, the formation of small groups of Christians meeting in a given locality.
Spener envisages these small groups functioning with the following values…
Wise leadership at the helm
He believed that godly leadership was vital in order to maintain the spiritual health of each group and give it proper direction.
A concern for God’s honour
The primary motive in the establishment of these small groups was a desire to bring further glory to God.
A commitment to practicality
The aim of studying Scripture was to discover its simple meaning in order that faith could be enriched as a result.
A culture of honesty
Group members were encouraged to be open about the questions and doubts they had concerning the faith.
The need to create an atmosphere of grace
Selfish interest was to left at the door; the needs of others had to take priority.
What Spener set out 400 years ago remains a compelling vision for the church today as it seeks to disciple people in the twenty first century.