The spiritual disciplines or soul-training exercises we've been discussing all have one thing in common. They're all things that a person can do all alone.
That's a good thing, really. All of us spend a good bit of time on our own, one way or another. Even if we're usually in a crowd of people or a houseful of children, we're often on our own when it comes to exercising our bodies, minds, and spirits.
But being alone isn't enough. God designed us to interact with one another in many different ways. Even a deeply introverted person cannot do everything for himself. And some aspects of our spiritual development must come about in community.
Spiritual disciplines which require the involvement of more than one person at a time are sometimes called "corporate disciplines"--that is, those things we do as a body of people rather than as individuals.
Some of the corporate disciplines may involve large groups of people. For instance, one of the most important things we do is to worship God. "Worship is the human response to the divine initiative," writes Richard J. Foster (Celebration of Discipline, p.158). Jesus teaches, "God is spirit, and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).
Image courtesy of St. Andrews Assembly of God
Over the course of 2000 years, Christ-followers have worshipped God in many different ways. Some of those forms of worship are acceptable to certain believers and objectionable to others. But the form of worship has never been the most important issue. Most important is the object of our worship: we worship God. "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve" (Matthew 4:10). Also important is the attitude of our hearts in worship. We must realize that worship is the act of our spirits responding to the Holy Spirit. We come into the presence of God humbly and adoringly, giving glory and praise and honor to God. The Bible does not prescribe one particular form or formula for worship, but it does require that we worship God alone and that we worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Worship is good for our souls. The action of joining with brothers and sisters and together affirming the goodness and greatness of God is a powerful thing. It is good for us all to be reminded that God alone is worthy of worship. Among many other benefits, worship reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. Sometimes our issues and problems feel so significant that they blot out all other thoughts. The act of worship pulls us back into understanding that nothing supersedes God. No power is greater than his; no love is greater than his; no goodness is greater than his. What a relief to be reminded that our great and good God is on the throne!
Others corporate disciplines involve small groups or just two individuals. For example, confession usually takes place with one person confessing sin to one other person. Some churches ordain individuals to serve as priests; those priests serve in such capacities as hearing the confession of church members. Protestant churches cling to the idea of the "priesthood of all believers" as described in I Peter 2, so any believer may hear the confession of another. Regardless of the particular form that confession might take, it involves more than one person. And what a powerful thing it is for one Christian to be able to confess his sins not only to God but also to another human being! "A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 116).
Our spirits are shaped as we journey through life. If we desire that our spirits be formed into the likeness of Christ, we practice the way of living that Jesus modeled and taught. That way of living involves a loving cooperation with others. What a great thing to have fellowship with other people! Wasn't it good of God to design corporate practices that are so nourishing to our souls?
Question : What soul-training exercises do you practice in the company of other believers? How have they helped you?