13 August 2014

The Battle over Quiet Time

For many Christians 'Quiet Time' is an important part of their spirituality. They take some time out of every day to read their Bible and spend some time in prayer and possibly reading some other Christian focused book whether it be devotional, commentary or theology.
Some have criticized the subjective nature of this exercise or more rightly what they're criticizing is the abuse of it in how it is perceived by the individual.
No one for a moment is saying that you should neglect Bible reading or prayer. The criticism comes with the perception that a day without it is a day that should be riddled with guilt or that somehow that day will not be blessed or 'right'. It must be admitted that for some it almost takes on a superstitious ritualistic kind of flavour and that of course would be an abuse or at the very least a misunderstanding.
Some are criticizing the emphasis on Quiet Time due to its individualistic and subjective aspects. They would argue the Evangelical church has become far too individualistic in both its understanding of doctrine and its notions of worship. There's something to this of course but the critics often go too far. These are often the same sorts of people that are almost uncomfortable with the idea of Christians reading (and judging) the Bible for themselves apart from some kind of ecclesiastical guidance or structure. They won't come out and say it but it's almost as if they believe that untrained regular people (the laity as they would call it) are incapable of properly studying the Bible. Individuals studying alone, let alone in a group can only lead to trouble.
While this certainly can be the case it is not automatically the reality and just because something is subject to abuse does not mean the ecclesiastical powers that be are now right in restricting use or eliminating it altogether.
The Holy Spirit certainly uses Means to govern the Church and the government of the Church is a critical component. But polity in the end is a form that cannot guard against all corruption. That said it also cannot in and of itself forge the unity in the Spirit we would all desire.
It is the work of the Spirit Himself. God will hold the Church together and no matter what form you wish to create or impose, if it's His will that it be rent asunder you will not stop it. Guarding the flock is not a license for spiritual tyranny.
We can acknowledge the problems with individualism and the modern attitude that is often dismissive of the past. Like Luther we celebrate the individual's reading and interpretation of the Bible while rejecting the 'me and my Bible' attitude in much of Evangelicalism. The problem with the latter is the intellectual divorce from historical context.
My father was part of this camp and as he would share his theories with me he was often surprised when I would point out to him that the very issue in his theory had been discussed and debated many centuries before. We run the risk of being arrogant and foolish if we ignore the past and we're also denying the work of the Holy Spirit operating within the minds and hearts of God's people.
That said much of the past is riddled with error and wickedness masquerading as Christian Truth. As Paul said with regard to Israel, the Church is not always the Church.
But before we can even begin to think about the issues we have to invest the time and energy into learning the Scriptures and how they've been read throughout history.
Quiet Time can be abused but its neglect is also an abuse. Those whose only diet is the Scripture being read and preached on Sunday morning run the risk of spiritual starvation. This is especially true given the state of the modern pulpit.
There's another argument that is often employed and this is with regard to the historical question of literacy. Many would argue that most Christians throughout history have in fact been illiterate and thus the notion that people would spend time every day reading the Bible is ridiculous. We can and should read it but shouldn't feel obliged to do so or guilty if we don't have time.
Again I'll admit if you wake up late and didn't have time to read, or you came home exhausted and fell asleep, I don't think you need to feel guilty.
But I would think as Christians we would hunger and thirst for regular Bible readings. If we don't then we need to pray for more zeal and desire within us to know the ways and paths of Mount Zion. We have lost sight of its glory in the clouds of worldly distraction and are in danger of withering away and failing to persevere.
And yes, one's understandings of perseverance, sanctification or lack thereof are also elements to this discussion. Some whom I would label as Hyper-Solafideists are critical of the notion of Quiet Time. They don't like the idea that we must put forth effort, bear fruit and that our peace and assurance are somehow tied in with an objective vitality. These things can be abused to be sure but a lackluster presumption is also perilous. Those that have reduced the idea of saving faith to mere intellectualism are also likely be to somewhat critical of the idea of private devotion.
With these abuses of 'saving faith' a corollary reductionist view of sanctification can usually be found. In fact in some Evangelical and Reformed circles the idea of sanctification has been almost eliminated.
We need to be careful to maintain good works and these works are defined Biblically not in the language and concepts generated by Dominionist theology. Work is a means not an end and in light of eternity an hour spent reading Scripture is far more valuable than a 'time is money' attitude and the deception that wealth and physical work build the Kingdom of God. I'm referring to the fact that in some circles it's all but insinuated that since work is worship your best served by working hard and let your devotional time be tied to the Church.
It's true that many in the Middle Ages and Antiquity were illiterate and as a result would not be able to devote their time to reading. There are a few things to consider.
First, society tended to be more proximate and notions of time were different. People could attend church more often and hear the word read and preached. Their lives were not separated as they are in modern congregations located within modern Western society. Their lives were not on schedules. As an aside for something to consider when you're laying awake at night... The invention of the clock radically changed the way people live their lives and as wonderful of a tool as it is, I'm not sure the effects have always been carefully weighed. While useful it also means that Western life took on a structure that did not previously exist.
If we all lived within walking distance of our congregation, then daily worship could be a reality. How wonderful that would be, but in order to have it the Church would need to re-think its place in and relationship to the larger culture.
Second, it must be emphasized that even during the Middle Ages the Christians who comprised the Underground Church were always zealots when it came to literacy. God has communicated to us a written Word. We are people of the Book and groups like the Waldensians understood this. There are copious records of underground schools and scriptoriums wherein the Scriptures were learned and copied.
They also spent tremendous amounts of time learning and memorizing Scripture. This is not the out-of-context Bible memorization common among many Fundamentalist groups. No, they memorized whole books and large portions of the Bible, especially the New Testament. It was if they let it soak and absorb into them. For them the Scriptures were the Words of life, the authority in their lives.
The fact that the Roman Church turned to stained glass windows and statuary as 'books of the laity' is little more than an indictment against that false system. The very existence of the Waldensian project condemns both the Roman system and the literacy argument employed against private devotional Bible reading.
This is very much like those who would defend the sanctioned violence of the Protestant Reformers because they were 'men of their times' who took as normative the execution of heretics.
Again the Medieval Dissenters condemn them. They argued both against the Constantinian state violence and the idea of persecution of heresy. A majority is not equal to consensus nor does it grant moral legitimacy.
Quiet Time rightly understood, divorced from superstition is a helpful tool for growth and a means by which the Holy Spirit can enable us to grow.
Some criticisms are valid but in other cases the criticisms expose and unveil deep problems in the theological assumptions of the critics themselves.
As Christians we love the Word of God and any day spent apart from it should rightly vex us. While the New Testament era is not particularly an age of typological symbol and ritual we are left with a handful of means or tools by which God aids us through tangible exercise by which we can grow and draw closer in communion with Him. Apart from Baptism, the Supper and Prayer, the reading (and hearing) of the Word as often as is possible aids us in 'giving ourselves' to the things of the Kingdom.