Saturday, November 5, 2011

On Resisting Spiritual Schizophrenia

Those who deny the existence of God,
or who desire to change ancient boundaries,
risk the future of society,
as though throwing it up into the air
and they watch, with baited breath, as it comes crashing down to earth.
They think that a parachute may appear and,
if not,
that the landing will be spectacular.
The observing theist is left to pray
that God has adequately planned for this
juvenile delinquency.

O Lord, forgive us for lightly casting aside our heritage, for denying the value of old-time religion, for imagining that new ideas are always better and for refusing to seek out the ancient paths to wisdom. Forgive us for the hurt we have done to ourselves, and to others, because of our failure to follow your guidance. Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on us!

The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that one in five persons suffer from mild forms of mental distress. One in ten will suffer a major crisis at some point in their life. One in a hundred will suffer actual schizophrenia. This is an epidemic that is rarely spoken about in our churches. It reveals a crisis in spiritual as well as mental health. Indeed, has deficient theological practice contributed to the poor mental health of Canadians? Have our leaders been seduced by empty philosophies hidden behind high-sounding theologies which promise salvation according to man's wisdom? Is it possible that flawed theological beliefs may have contributed to the lacklustre experience which many have suffered at the hands of the 'mental health system'?

Louis Weil wrote in 1983,
‘Our inherited attitude toward the liturgical act reflects a kind of schizoid state. We hear but do not really hear. The liturgy is an encapsulated experience, entered into in isolation from real human experiences. It does not connect with the real world because it has been shaped by a piety which is often consciously an escape from the pressures of the real world. Liturgical time is seen as ‘holy time’ working according to its own laws, and feeding our hunger and thirst for God. But it does not connect for the great majority of our people with the real choices of daily life.’

So-called 'liberal Christianity' has revealed itself to be nothing but a modern heresy, its chief cause and symptom being an artificial separation, divorce even, between theological study and practice. For many years, "seminary and divinity school students (have) complained that practical courses lack intellectual rigor and that scholarly courses seem irrelevant to their vocational and professional goals. The classical fourfold curriculum (church history, biblical, systematic and practical theology) creates an enormous gap between the academic and practical aspects of a ministerial curriculum. Just as important, this standard curriculum eliminates theology from the core of both practical and academic studies. Theology as a theoretical discipline appears disconnected from the skills needed to be a successful parish pastor. Theology as an inquiry emerging from faith and piety appears to lack the marks of an impartial and critical discipline." - from Making Theology Central in Theological Education by Dr. Ronald F. Thiemann, 1987, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass.

The delayed adolescence of young adults has been widely observed.
Are today's students as prepared as those of previous generations when they enter Bible colleges or seminaries?

In Christian Education and Evangelism, Donald G. Stewart comments that,
“Emotional pressures are adapted to the use of those who wish to impose what to think without regard to how to think…Teaching the young those aspects of religious doctrine which are beyond their intellectual capacity and relevant experience to understand and to assimilate often lays the groundwork for emotional collapse and serious mental disorder of which guilt complexes and disabling fear are the symptoms.”

Jesus saw no artificial distinction between spiritual and physical illness. The New Testament reveals a comprehensive approach in His ministry including healing, teaching and preaching. This suggests a need to consider recombining the medical and spiritual methods of healing that are used in our communities today. We need to recognize all aspects of our health. Clergy have told me that even today, unless they are planning to become a chaplain, they may only receive three or four days devoted to mental health in the whole of their formal education. The care and cure of souls has been neglected and largely replaced by client-centered therapies, removed from the oversight of the church.

Illness or disease is usually attributed to viral or bacterial causes, bad genes, environmental pollution, addiction, substance abuse or simple inability to deal with stress. Yet there is a very real redemptive connection between spirituality and medicine. 'When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.'

Paul counsels us,'Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.'

He also clearly warns that 'the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their nonspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.'

...'For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ we are brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him we were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Our whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when we were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which we were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.'

I write, with trepidation, as one who has experienced the turmoil of coming to Christ in the midst of a mental health crisis. I've known both the ecstasy and despair of faith in the midst of severe illness. I ask the forbearance of the reader. I know some have taken their own lives in their attitude of hopelessness, assuming that nobody cared enough to listen to their struggles and come alongside! I speak boldly yet with humility knowing that many others have similar concerns. Let us open our ears and our hearts to one another.

I grew up with what I always thought was a healthy respect for authority, trying to do my best to obey parents and teachers. When I was at University from 1974 to 1979, society had become exceedingly fractious and rebellious. In January of my senior year I had a dramatic manic episode which required medical care and which left me unable to continue my classes. In March of that year, 1978, three days after deciding to receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I was hospitalized for six more weeks.

I remember singing God's praises in the hospital hallways, but visits from family and clergy didn't stop my feeling abandoned by my Christian friends. I did benefit, later on, from some Holy Spirit-inspired teaching, and received a measure of healing through the ministry of the Order of St. Luke the Physician, but found little practical discipleship training in the Church.

I still identify with the testimony of Horatius Bonar, the Scottish minister who lived in the nineteenth century who wrote in one of his hymns,
'I heard the voice of Jesus say, "Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down, thy head upon My breast."
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place, And He has made me glad.'

It's easy to receive gladness but more difficult to accept love.

The Ancient Paths Seminar (see ) does a good job of explaining the relationship between spirit and soul and body, and can provide room for the Holy Spirit to minister to the seminar participant.

In North America, our crisis involves a failure of our leaders to demonstrate the practice of godly Love. Christians are often ready to give theological arguments or lectures to persons in distress when prayerful listening, guidance and encouragement would be more useful.

For someone who is experiencing a major crisis, the ability to communicate with others can be seriously compromised. There is often awareness on the part of the sufferer that he faces a spiritual problem even if he’s never heard a sermon or darkened the path of a Christian in his entire life. Even today, the well-meaning Christian health worker or chaplain sometimes does not understand that confused religious garbling can be both a sign of illness and at the same time a sign of the struggle toward health. According to Anton Theophilus Boisen, who lived from 1876 to 1965, 'certain types of mental illness could be understood as attempts to solve problems of the soul, and that some patients can find a cure in the power of religion'. Boisen's ideas served as the foundation of modern clinical pastoral education.

The patient's struggle is between good and evil, between light and darkness, fire and smoke, clarity and confusion. The immediate practical problem is not solved by throwing the bandaged person back into society without dealing with root issues. Spiritual counsel and support is essential for a timely healing process. In the person at risk, there is a combined action from diverse internal and external sources, which works toward either disintegration or wholeness.

Christians have generally tried to reach out to those suffering from psychiatric illness, addictions and homelessness through inner-city missions and other agencies. How can we develop and nurture networks between our churches so that individuals can remain connected with the Christian community even while suffering crises?

Some bishops and clergy have failed to provide the biblical teaching and support necessary to combat the schizophrenic tendencies of our post-modern society with its speculative ideologies, but our God is sovereignly able to heal even a double-minded, schizophrenic people. The Lord our God is mighty to save and the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church! He knows what He's doing! The Lord is shaking His Church, moving His people in Spirit, truth and power. May our bishops and clergy share openly with each other and with their people those concerns which God has placed on the hearts of His people.

Servant leadership and the practice of Love as modelled by Jesus is at the heart the gospel! St. Paul cautioned against replacing grace with law. We must not exchange love for 'theological correctness'.

Some of our bishops have refused to allow ordained ministers from other countries to speak or teach here in North America. Yet, is it not a parody of the Christian faith when the descendants of those who received the faith from our missionary ancestors are refused the joy of returning to share with us the lessons they have learned of the Lord. If we say we 'believe in the Communion of Saints' we must be willing to receive ministry from Anglicans and other Christians from outside our local church, parish or diocese. Not only so when we invite them to come to us for instruction, but likewise when they are compelled by the love of Christ to visit us for exhortation or rebuke, without prior invitation, no less! This is just as true locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

While we must respect Archbishops, Bishops and Clergy and Professors of Theology, we do not place them above the authority of Scripture. Their proper authority is limited solely to that which the godly layperson recognizes and allows to be agreeable to biblical counsel. Some Christians have intentionally stayed away from theological revisionism and have chosen lay ministry as being more effective, pursuing self-directed study, welcoming independent counsel and only occasionally partaking of institutional academic teachings.

Does the ritualism which has become commonplace in our churches offer any genuine guidance and sustenance for the Christian life? Are we truly prepared for God to speak and move among us in our weekly and daily worship and service? As lay people, we should not be afraid to do whatever it is the Lord is calling us to say and do especially in those situations where man, whether secular or religious, tries to prevent us. All of us, all who believe God, are called to arise in faith to stand up with the gospel. We’re called to set an example for our fellow believers who need to be challenged to take risks in faith. If those in need around us are starving, it’s unacceptable to sit on the rich food supply. We think we must wait for the food inspector to give a certificate of approval before we can unseal the crate and give out its contents. This is what we often feel compelled to do because we have an unhealthy and unbiblical deference to so-called authority. We must all together recover a spirit of joyful obedience to God. We must speak, pray, shout, sing, demonstrate and declare the gospel truth in all its fullness. Scripture clearly calls all Christians to love and serve their fellows and through them their community. If we are being forced into independence, perhaps the Lord is helping us grow up! How else do mature believers and new Christians grow in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit?

Let us put our whole trust in Jesus!
Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered! (Psalm 68:1)
Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jer 6:16)

Let us work toward structural renewal. Let us repent of our sin and pray for the cleansing, reconciling, restoring grace of the Holy Spirit to be supremely evident in us. Let us share the message of the cross. Let us make known the power of the atoning blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Lord, we ask for revival in our churches and may it begin with us and all who read your Living Word. Let none of us allow ourselves to be separated from God or from those among whom we live. Let us not be double-minded. 'As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, we are, after all, to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We're to bear with each other and forgive one another if anyone has a grievance against someone. And over all these virtues let us put on love, which binds us all together in perfect unity.' Forgive us Lord, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. May God help us walk humbly but boldly through the open doors before us, following gladly those of our leaders who are not afraid to follow the Lion of Judah, the Lord Jesus, the One and only Savior! Dissent, as per Latimer, Ridley, Wesley and many others, is an established Anglican tradition.

The French version of The Canadian national anthem includes the lines,
‘Car ton bras sait porter l'épée, Il sait porter la croix! Ton histoire cette un épopée des plus brillant exploits.’
translated as: 'For your arm knows how to carry the sword, (and)...the cross. Your history is an epic story (filled with) great exploits.'
May God restore His glory and freedom to His people and help us to stand on guard for our country. May we all take our full part in the Work of God: the salvation of sinners and the healing of the nations. Let’s take up our cross, using the sword of the Spirit to make our lives full of exploits for Jesus. Whatever your national origin, let’s stand together for His righteousness and truth.

In JESUS’ Name,
Richard Alastair ..., BSc.
baptized in Loughborough, England
confirmed in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
presently serving Him, (October 2012), in Toronto, Canada

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