Christian Spirituality Lecture by Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, Lecture 1
Back in the winter of 2003, I was blessed to take a course at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, in St. Catharines, Ontario, with Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, who was in St. Catharines on faculty exchange from the Lutheran Seminary in Adelaide, Australia. The course was called Christian Spirituality. I would like to share those lectures with you. I will add each lecture as I recorded them by hand. As I heard Dr. Kleinig teach and then wrote down my notes please understand this is not necessarily what he said word for word but my quick writing of what he said. If you see a phrase and not a full sentence that is because that is what I wrote down before moving on to what he said next. Any theological error should be ascribed to me, not to him. I hope these lectures are a blessing for you as they were for me almost 20 years ago.
Please note: All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version. ESV Text Edition: 2016. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Date: January 21, 2003
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
“I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,[a] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (ESV)
In the West, people are no longer being taught how to meditate and to pray. The first topic of this evening is the paradox of spirituality. For us, everything is turned all around. Dr. Kleinig says that when he looks back on his life, does he see himself as a saint, no, he sees himself as a failure. But if we had eyes to see, we would see Christ in each other, heaven on earth. Dr. Kleinig says he lurches from disaster to disaster. The paradox of spirituality is not that we go up to heaven but God comes down to us. The best summary of our spiritual life comes from the communion liturgy: the Kyrie, followed by the gloria in excelsis. (Lord have mercy, followed by the gloria in excelsis.).
In the Ancient Greek world, if you were a man, you could not walk down a street without someone saying to you Kyrie eleison! (Lord, have mercy!). This is the beggar’s cry. Before God we are beggars. We come into God’s presence as beggars with nothing, but everything to gain. Before God, we receive everything. The night before Luther died his last written sentence was, “We are beggars, that’s for sure.” We start off as beggars in life as babies. In our spiritual life, we start off thinking that we have everything. As we grow older we learn to depend on God, and when we die, in a good way, God takes everything away from us so that we can receive everything from Him. With eyes from God we can see that as our bodies decay, we are coming closer to God in dependence.
The second part is the gloria in excelsis. This was spoken by the angels to the Shepards. This shone down from the angels. Heaven had come to earth. Located in Christ. The gap between heaven and earth has been bridged. Heaven is joined to earth as the shepherds sing.
[I have a diagram with heaven and the angels at the top, with a vertical arrow pointing up and down between the angels and the earth and God’s people. In the Old Testament especially the musicians in the temple.]
Paul never calls Christians, Christians. He uses the titles brothers and saints.
Saints – holy ones (the Jews would have thought of angels in this term-they have access to God’s presence.)
We stand in Gos’ presence on earth as we pray! As we walk into the sanctuary, we are walking into heaven as we worship. And all the angels and archangels worship with us. But God’s glory is hidden from us.
2 Corinthians 4:6-12
“6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (ESV)
In the ancient world they had lamps.
[I have a diagram of a clay lamp with a short handle, a spout where the wick and the flame comes out and the main part of the lamp that held the olive oil.]
The light is contained in an earthen vessel. God’s glory is hidden in the earthen vessel of this human body. The power of God is manifest in our dying. We have a strange status. (You can go to two extremes: the glory without the cross or the cross without the glory.)
The Dangers of Spirituality
We really have the Pharisees wrong. Today we call someone a Pharisee who does not practise what they preached. But if anyone practised what they preached, it was the Pharisees. Jesus did not confront the Pharisees for this. The Pharisees were laypeople who tried to do God’s will in every part of their life. As for the priests, they followed the rules of purity given to them by God so that they could be holy and serve before God in the temple. The Pharisees fasted two days of the week and prayed for 3 or 7 hours a day. They believed God would only come to those who were holy so they avoided “unholy” people. They were right, that they would be made unholy through contact with unholy/unclean people. They are righteous, but they didn’t admit that their holiness was from God. They were not damned by Christ for hypocrisy but for their lack of faith.
Both Pharisee and Publican had to receive everything from God but the Pharisees acted like they were spiritual millionaires. They failed to act as beggars so they disparaged the grace of God. Dr. Kleinig says his life goes from one spiritual binge (trying to be holy) to another. Satan can do his most damage to us during a binge because then we are not relying on God.
- It’s something we do and achieve: We don’t make any spiritual progress through more ______ (anything good) because its all from God. Spiritual ambition is very dangerous. “That was a great sermon!” “That was a great bit of counselling.” It’s all gift! from beginning to end.
- We deceive ourselves. [A diagram of God on one side with notes “light’ and “holy” and Me on the other side with no notes on that side.]. We would like to have intimacy with God.
We most fear intimacy and crave it because in God’s presence we are exposed! (exposed is underlined). We fear our darkness being exposed. The closer we come to the light, the more we fear our sinfulness. We fear that God will either turn away from us or use our sin against us. So God acts on us in a strange and wonderful way. God does not expose our sins but He clothes us with righteousness. The darkness within us God will wait until we are ready to share it and expose it. This is very important in pastoral practise, don’t look to dig things up, God will have them voluntarily share the in His good time. We need to know in life that our partner will not hate us for our exposed darkness. Don’t dig for dirt in your own life or in anyone else’s. We need to wait for God to take care of it.
We want justification and grace without repentance. We are avoiding repentance. Repentance is not feeling sorry but saying you are sorry. It is facing God. You can’t have the coming to life without the death. We want instant painless intimacy. At all costs we avoid pain and hurt. We can’t be a Christian without feeling pain, Christ’s pain and ours.
[Random margin note: The Hammer of God (a Lutheran book) has to do with conversion. Dr. Kleinig says read it and then read it every 2 or 3 years. They are converted from the Law and then assured of their conversion.]
The Basis of our Spiritual Life
The secret for spiritual life is not to start out whee you would like to be, eg. I’d like to spend an hour in meditation a day. If you do that you will fail. Start out where you are! No matter where you are Dr. Kleinig says you need to start out with your weakness and failure.
Both God and Satan are behind spirituality. Satan is very much a spirituality guru. He wants you to go well for awhile and then have you fail so that you will turn to doubt and despair. (The more theology you study, the more Satan loves it.). Satan wants us to operate on our own steam. He does not want us to pray, because then we are drawing on supernatural power and then you are a threat to him. The secret is to begin where you are. He wants you to take on more than you can chew. Then we despair. If we don’t do what we want to, eg. in prayer, it’s not God who loses but us.
We need to say to God we’ve failed and even beg of God for our devotional life.
This is especially true for the seminary student. Here we are at the front line of the battle. The seminary student finds everything harder and we’ve even slipped backward. This happens to every seminary student and their family. The temptation is to quit because we don’t know what is going on.
In church history from AD 250-400 there were mass conversions. People felt the church was going soft and many people became ascetics, leaving their secular lives. They wanted to get their spiritual lives together. The real enemy is not the world but themselves. The temptations out in the desert were worse in the wilderness than in the cities. The young people, 20-35, were told to go back in their cell. You can’t run away from the devil, just let them be, let God fix them up. Coming to seminary means experiencing spiritual failure. The most important qualification for ministry is failure. Prayer then comes as a gift rather than something we have to do.
Spiritual progress is not what we’d expect which is:
Darkness —-> Light
The bookstores are full of this junk.
God revealed himself at Mt. Sinai not physically but in His voice. The people asked…
“20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (ESV)
Moses went from human light to deep darkness where God is. Our spiritual life is a transition from independence to dependence, self-sufficiency –> emptiness, our powerfulness –> weakness, our self-righteousness –> revelation of sin.
There is a funny thing that happens to people before they die (pious people especially). People find that they can’t even pray. They go through deep darkness as all evil deeds come up and their conscience accuses them. And then this lifts and they find a great assurance of salvation. “It is the heat that ripens the harvest.” We think these people are failures and abnormal. It is normal. God is reducing everything to nothing so we can beg. The closer we come to God the more the dark muck comes up so that can be cleansed and removed before a blessed death. The final temptation, the final spiritual attack. Everything we have is a gift. St. Paul says, What do you have that you did not receive?
We can praise God only as we experience His mercy. The glory we have now is hidden, not revealed. Think of a grub and a butterfly. Genetically speaking, the butterfly is already in the grub. We have the same condition. We receive everything we have. Our devotional life is not a matter of anything we do but coming into God’s presence to beg and receive.
Question: Lead us not into temptation?
Temptation into what? Temptation to despair.
Most people see…
Devil (tempts) —–> sin
This is true. Temptation only begins with sinning. You have sinned. Satan starts accusing you of sin and wants you to despair or excuse yourself.
Devil (tempts) —–> sin
—–> despair of God and others
The common form of temptation – despair of others – to destroy our faith of God and others. The devil wants to accuse them through us so that we despair of other Christians and hence the Church. How many congregations have been ruined by grudges between people: pastor or people within the congregation.
Some homework: Do some honest spiritual stocktaking!
- What is your worship involvement (frequency, involvement)
- For married, what is your family devotional life
- For married, what do you do in prayer together
- What is your own devotional life
Kleinig feels people are unrealistic in their demands.