By Dan Walters
Are you spiritual? This question is necessary because the New Testament teaches that not all members of the Lord’s church, not all baptized believers, are spiritual. Contrary to certain denominational doctrines, a person does not immediately change from being carnally minded to being spiritually minded at the point of conversion. He does not receive some miraculous infusion of the Holy Spirit which transforms him into a spiritual person. Paul told some of the members of the church in Corinth that they were “yet carnal” and that he could not speak unto them as “unto spiritual.” He used the instances of “envying and strife, and divisions” as proof that these brethren were not spiritually minded (1 Cor. 3:1-3). In speaking to the Galatians Paul directs “ye which are spiritual” to restore any brother overtaken in a fault (Gal. 6:1). This implies that certain brethren were spiritual and others were not.
It is also true that certain “things” are spiritual, while others are not. Paul told the Corinthians, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” He had preached the gospel to them and he asserted his right to financial support. The gospel is here regarded as a “spiritual” thing, and financial support as a “carnal,” or material, thing (1 Cor. 9:11). In Ephesians 5:19, Paul speaks of “spiritual songs” to be used in worship, thus implying that not all songs are spiritual. A song might be of a secular nature, and so it would not be spiritual, but carnal. Nevertheless, the song might be harmless and appropriate for a Christian to sing at certain times. For instance, the song “Happy Birthday” is a carnal song. All songs used in worship should be spiritual in nature.
Basically, the spiritual is that which by nature or association is invisible and immaterial, while the carnal is composed of, or associated with, matter. Since all matter is doomed to perish, and spirit is not, we might say that the difference between the carnal and the spiritual is the difference between the temporal and the eternal. There is certainly such a thing as spiritual evil; Ephesians 6:12 mentions “spiritual wickedness in high places.” But most references to the “spiritual” in the New Testament involve that which is good – that which is associated with God. So we shall confine ourselves to a discussion of what it means to be spiritual in the positive sense.
Abraham was a spiritual giant because he could see beyond the physical realm, the environment that can be detected with the five senses, and could appreciate the invisible, eternal things of God. He desired a heavenly city, “a city which bath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). With the eye of faith, he could see future events promised by God as if they had already been accomplished. Most importantly, he had a correct sense of priorities: he placed a much greater value upon heavenly things than upon earthly things.
Although a Christian should be spiritually minded at all times, we are specifically taught that our worship to God must be “in spirit” (John 4:24). When we sing, pray, or take the Lord’s Supper, our bodies must be necessarily involved. But the emphasis should not be upon form, or ritual. While being careful not to overstep the bounds of God’s authority, we should be primarily concerned with our mental attitude during worship. It is the spiritual meaning of the song, of the prayer, and of the Supper that should occupy our attention.
Men often confuse form with substance. While a student at Harding College, one of my professors attempted to impress upon our minds the spiritual superiority of worship at Harding and at the College Church, as compared to the small-town and rural churches that many of us had previously attended. This gentleman was rather “cultured” and he preferred great formality in worship, including the almost exclusive use of the “great hymns” (i.e., those which did not include a chorus, were slow and stately, did not have a bass lead, etc.). He did not consider the fact that most of these songs were written by nonChristians and were intended to be sung to the accompaniment of a pipe organ. They were to him “more spiritual.” The few times that I attended the College Church in Searcy, I found no evidence of abundant spirituality. One sermon I shall never forget had for its text something that Pat Boone had written! The student body at Harding included the good and the bad, but I do not recall that the lives of my fellow students and of my teachers reflected a spiritual level any higher than that of the average congregation in Possum Trot or Hoot Owl Junction. The singing at Harding was more acceptable to the musicians; the preaching was more acceptable to the grammarians. But was the worship more acceptable to God? I am content to let God be the judge.
What can we do to help make our worship more spiritual? For one thing, we can take the emphasis off of fine church buildings, preachers with great secular learning, and highly trained singers. We can talk more about the Christian’s personal relationship with Christ and how that true worship must proceed from the heart. We must make it clear that when we read and study the Bible this is Christ’s way of revealing His will to us, and that a Christian must have a desire to grow in knowledge, in faith, and in love in order to reach spiritual maturity. It must be understood that this process cannot be limited to the assembly, but must be a continual effort of each individual Christian every day of his life.
Each Christian in a given congregation is at a different point in his spiritual growth. This growth will continue as long as life itself. When a Christian stops growing, perhaps believing that he is totally spiritual already, then he begins to die. There are things that contribute to spiritual growth, and there are other things that are the enemies of spirituality. Carnal worship of the kind practiced by the Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant churches is such an enemy. It is a reversion to the carnal ritualism of the Mosaic Law. People who favor this type of worship feel that they must have their statues, pictures, elaborate architectural forms, pomp and ceremony, and instruments of music in order to make them feel close to God. Under Moses’ Law, such material aids served a symbolic purpose; but shadow has now given way to substance. We now experience the spiritual reality of Christ. To go back to the “weak and beggarly elements” is like a healthy young man depending upon a crutch to help him walk. It is not only unnecessary; it will cause him to grow weak so that he cannot function without the crutch.
The greatest hindrance to spiritual grow among members of the Lord’s church is materialism, or “covetousness,” as the New Testament expresses it. This hindered the worship of God’s people even in Old Testament times. God spoke these words to Ezekiel concerning the condition of the Israelites: “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness” (Ezek. 33:31). This is the sin that keeps Christians from putting God and His kingdom first in their lives. One Christian puts a greater value upon making money than upon worshipping God; so, he works on Sunday instead of meeting with his brethren around the Lord’s table at the appointed time. He may try to salve his conscience by coming to the evening service and taking the Supper at that time. Some say he has no right to do this; others stoutly defend his right. But we are missing the real point which is, did this brother put the Lord first? Parents will miss the services to take their children, some of whom are also members, to school affairs. They will forsake the Lord to hear a denominational preacher deliver a baccalaureate, and then, wonder why their children later forsake the Lord permanently for worldly interests. Young Christians will go on a senior trip or some other out-of-town excursion and will make no effort to locate a church on Lord’s Day morning. Such is evidence that these Christians are not spiritual, but carnal. They are carnal because of their love of money or love of pleasure. Christians must be made to understand that everyone must choose whether to serve God or mammon. Those who go through life trying to serve both are only deceiving themselves. We do them no service by winking at their behavior.
Another great enemy of spiritual growth is the prevalent belief that only the leaders in the church need to attain a high degree of spirituality. Most of us do only as much as we are expected to do. If the young man who is planning to be a carpenter or a lawyer is not expected to know as much about God’s will as the young man who is planning to spend his full-time preaching, then he will not devote himsef to a study of the Bible. If the young lady who knows that she is not permitted to become a public proclaimer of the gospel is allowed to believe that she is thus relieved of the responsibility of understanding the more profound points of religion, then she will continue to be satisfied by the “milk” of first principles and will make no effort to digest the “meat.” It must be emphasized that the individual responsibility of a Christian to grow in knowledge is not dimished one whit by the fact that he will never be an elder or a full-time preacher. Spirituality is more than mere knowledge, but it cannot exist without a knowledge of scripture. That is the foundation upon which it rests.
To be spiritual, it is necessary to be led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14). The Spirit does not lead us today by supernatural means, but by the written Word. A knowledge of all spiritual things may be obtained by a study of God’s book. It is a deadly mistake to confuse spirituality with a vague mysticism or transcendentalism. So-called knowledge of spiritual beings and laws which is based upon mere human speculation is a fraud. A person who claims such knowledge, as did the ancient Gnostics, is deceiving himself. By intruding into the unseen without scriptural guidance, a man is walking in darkness and is cutting himself off from the nourishment which comes only from Christ through His Word. Such a man will become “vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” and will never increase “with the increase of God” (Col. 2:18, 19). His supposed spirituality is in fact carnality.
Spiritual perfection is only to be found in the Godhead. The more like Christ we can become by concentrating upon His example and His teachings, the more spiritual we shall be. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Guardian of Truth XXV: 12, pp. 179, 186-187
March 19, 1981