A Noble yet Necessary Spiritual response...in a Post-Modern Worldview

As all Christendom approaches the Passover celebration for our Jewish Brothers and Sisters, and Easter reflections within the Christian community of Saints, I was moved recently to focus upon Messiah’s humility that was learned through His suffering. Our Holy Scriptures truly speaks to Messiah’s humanity has the Son of Man in an evil and ungodly society. Please consider the Word of God:

9. But we do see Yeshua [Jesus]—who indeed was made for a little while lower than the angels-now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by God’s grace He might taste death for all humanity. 10. For in bringing many sons to glory, it was only fitting that God, the Creator and Preserver of everything, should bring the Initiator of their deliverance to the goal through suffering. Hebrews 2: 9-10 [The Complete Jewish Bible]

8. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things, which He suffered. Hebrews 5: 8. [The Complete Jewish Bible].

Much has been talked about historically and theologically as to the need for Messiah to suffer on the Cross-for sinful humanity. [We can discuss these multiple reasons at another time]. But what I wish to present to you is the example of a disciplined spiritual man who boldly demonstrated the lost spiritual discipline of Biblical Asceticism.

By its basic definition, the term Asceticism means practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline. [http://www.merrian-Webster.com], accessed March 18, 2010.

Asceticism as a chose path in a free society such as America somehow isn’t an attractive alternative nor often discussed if not taught as one of the major life-long disciplines of a disciple of Messiah. Researchers and theologians see our current age as Post-Modern. By Post-Modern, I am referring to the multiple conditions; the intention in describing the economic, religious, political and cultural state by each of us now must contend with, as did Messiah in the First Century. In some schools of thought hold that Modernity ended in the late 20th Century, and thus was replaced by Post-Modernity. For us today, Post-Modernity can mean our personal response to a Post-Modern society, and its multiple conditions which make it Post-Modern. [http://www.answers.com], accessed March 18, 2010.

In an overview of a well-written and very interesting article, which was entitled, “Asceticism and The Hopeful Self”, author Gavin Flood list four major aspects about the Ascetic Lifestyle that I hope to highlight for your edification. In order to embrace the complete essence of this article, I strongly recommend you reading it in its entirety at: [Cross Currents; Winter 2008, Vol. 57, Iss 4, p. 481-497, 17 p]. I would like to add before listing and briefly discussing these four aspects of Asceticism, that well within our Judaic-Christian credo is a well documented, multi-generational pattern and examples of Asceticism that was taught and practice by Followers of God the Father, and disciples of His Son Jesus The Messiah of all Nations.

Asceticism entails:

· The Paradox of The Will

· Asceticism is Teleological

· Asceticism’s performance is to be measured (Objectively)

· Asceticism involves the Recapitulation [a concise summary-the way of the Messiah] of tradition.

Paradoxical- It is only through an act of the Will that the ascetic seeks to destroy the will. An example is to die of self-will in order to take on the Will of the Heavenly Father.

Teleological- All learned spiritual habits and disciplines are directed toward a greater future course and or purpose as opposed to life in the present. Example: The coming glorified Kingdom of Heaven.

Always Performed- the inherited mind of Messiah, meaning living in the present world, yet not have this world [culture or system]. Living a lifestyle that seeks to reverse the evil flow, pull, impulses and powers of this age.

The internalization of learned Ascetic practices- Life-long disciplines obtained and mastered as a disciple of Messiah. Prayer, fasting, study and servant-leadership obtained through humility. Those before us have handed all of these disciplines down in this Judaic-Christian Faith. It is within the life-long discipline of following the examples of Messiah that three major objective behaviors are demonstrated before the godless culture of ours. They are self-evident: Love, Self-Mastery and a life of Prayer.

We are Servants of the Most High, not Consumers

Of the many negative if not evil pulls and impulses that wars against the saints in this age, one is the most subtle yet the most deadly of all others, the spirit of Consumerism. This spirit quickly denies any hope for an Ascetic lifestyle in our Post-Modern Age. Believers, who are addicted to this pull, will not heed the message that God intends for this age. Our ever seeking for the next better thing has taken on a greater sin such as Idolatry. The spirit under girding the spirit of consumerism drives many toward objects of their desires and passions. These learned behaviors falsely deceived many into believing that to obtain things-they somehow will obtain happiness and satisfaction. In reality, our experiences do not attain the hoped for level of excitement, power, or sexual satisfaction that we sought through our interaction with the coveted items. Our response-we gets rid of it, only to seek after something else.

As noted by Eliezer Diamond in the article entitled, “The Way of Torah as Askesis, An Ascetic Conceptualization of The Life of Mitzvah”, this Post-Modern unhealthy learned cycle of behavior is a form of an addiction, which is very self-destructive. It not only harms the individual, but others as well. Spiritually, a lifestyle of getting and spending leaves little room for self-reflecting and character formation. [Cross Currents; Winter 2008, Vol. 57, Issue 4, p 563-577, 15p].

Our author writes that one comes to this world through God’s Grace with a mission to fulfill God’s will. It is by the process of Spiritual “rebirth” or regeneration that one begins to realize one’s humanity in the midst of a Perfect, all Wise and Divine Creator. The 2,000-year-old question is how do we in a Post-Modern culture bring about this self-transformation, which is necessary to offset this current evil pull(s) of this age? In closure, I leave these four worthwhile yet practical tools for the Body of Messiah to strongly consider.

· Recommitment to Biblical Literacy – Learn, study and develop a deeper understanding of the Torah of Truth, The Prophets and The Writings, as well as the New Covenant of Messiah.

· Learn The Spirit of God behind His Holy Word as it was written in its cultural context, and just how that initial message is very relevant for each of us today.

· With the Ministry of The Holy Spirit of God, seek within the Holy Scriptures for the clearly listed Ascetic elements that God has provided for all of His Children that are willing to learn what the requirements are toward a lifestyle of self-restraint, simplicity and honor.

· Finally, the challenge of an Ascetic Lifestyle is [Kavvanah] which means maintaining the spiritual mindfulness expected as God teaches His sons and daughters to see that our journey is a perpetual process of being trained for God’s eternal purposes. This is obtained through the revealed self-knowledge and character formation that can both result from the fulfillment of the Living Word of God made alive within these earthen vessels…now!

Charis-Shalom

Brother Alonzoe’ Thornton, M. Div.

Sharing the Light of The Messiah…until He Returns.

http://thecalledoutones.ning.com

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Comment by Michael Shanlian Ph.D. on March 22, 2010 at 10:32pm
Greetings Alonzoe,
Interesting article. Josh McDowell & Bob Hostetler offer the following definition of postmodernism: “A worldview characterized by the belief that truth doesn’t exist in any objective sense but is created rather than discovered.” Truth is “created by the specific culture and exists only in that culture. Therefore, any system or statement that tries to communicate truth is a power play, an effort to dominate other cultures.”

You are right. We need to recapture the spirit of Asceticism in a post-modern world that avoids absolutes or any truth claims. Rationalism only accepts what could be proved. Existentialism accepts that which is experienced. The Ascetic was a combination of rationalism and existentialism. They had evidence that Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again. They also had the witness of the Holy Spirit living in them. This drove them to develop a deep relationship with the Savior and to minimize worldly distractions.

Post-modernism is void of rationalism and existentialism. It is a self contradictory system. It denies that any truth can be known and those who try to force truth on others are dangerous. They are trying to force the idea on others that their view of non-truth claims is the real truth. They are guilty of the vary thing they deny.
The Ascetics understood that peace and fulfillment is based on disciplining the flesh, being self-aware and serving others based on the Christian model. Post-Modernity promotes sophistry. It promotes a materialistic worldview. Possessions are elevated above people. Self-gratification over self-denial.

Post-modernity has crept into the church. That is why we cannot worship and serve God with reckless abandon. Our allegiance is split between God and mammon. Great Job!
Comment by Christopher R. Dockrey on March 20, 2010 at 8:54pm
Dr. Henry, good comment on being careful not to pigeonhole the church. To clarify, when I speak of the church in this context, I am speaking primarily of my own personal experience and interaction with churches and Christians in American culture. That is a very limited perspective, so I want to be sure that I am not misunderstood as speaking of the universal church in our day or even the American church in general. Also to some extent, I write as one who tries to learn from people of previous generations, both in personal interaction with elders and reading historical and biographical accounts. In this way, I try to broaden my generational perspective of the American church and its culture to be compared with the culture at large. But as I am ever-growing in knowledge and grace, I too may be guilty of pigeonholing the church at times.

Also what you mentioned to distinguish sanctification as a process from sanctification in the positional sense is very important, in my opinion. My own experience is that these two are often confused as one thing, with the positional aspect being the central emphasis. I don't personally know of any churches (not to say they don't exist) where sanctification as a progressive work of grace is taught. I think many are still reeling from the legalism of the past and therefore avoid this topic altogether, or perhaps don't understand it. I see this distinction as being key to providing a doctrinal foundation from which the Church (universally) can build spiritually.

Brother Alonzoe', thanks for this article. You've inspired me. I may have to eventually write a similar one, not to overshadow what you have written, but so that we might sharpen one another in this area, and hopefully that others could participate in the discussion.
Comment by Dr. Henry, President of the AOCI on March 20, 2010 at 3:00pm
I think we are all saying the same thing but saying it differently. In the final analysis Christians must be careful not to take a "the world makes me do it" philosophy or a "defeatist" attitude. Each one of us must "individually" and "personally" cooperate with this thing called the Sanctification process (on the progressive aspect and not the positional one). We can blame the culture all we want, but the word of God provides the answers and power to live this "separate" life for Christ. We should also be careful not to pigeon hole the church (which I myself am guilty of doing also). It all comes down to your "individual" passion for following the messiah and doing it because we love Him. And trying to do it with all of our hearts, all of our minds, and all of our strength.....but then again, which one of us have not utterly failed at giving God "All" within a given day? I know I fail daily. Therefore I must first understand His Grace first, prior to the Law. Disciplen? Yes. Doing the right things without understanding His grace? No. Good article to enforce the needed disciplens in many individual Christian. May we all take personal responsibility in serving Messiah. Amen.
Comment by Alonzo E Thornton, D.Min. on March 20, 2010 at 8:30am
Good Morning,
Grace and Peace to you both, Dr. Henry and Brother Christopher. Thanks for you most recent feedback on this matter of Asceticism in a Post-Modern era. The motivating aspect of the article was based upon the context of the Cross-that Messiah endured for all of sinful flesh. If not for Messiah’s ascetic discipline before a 1st century godless culture all of the souls would be lost. Record does state that the pattern of discipleship that was practiced by Rabbi’s [Masters, Sages or Teachers] toward those who were under the tutelage of a Master wasn’t patterned after the very ways, and or customs of the culture that it was to transform. Below are the various thoughts that I was reflective on as I transposed the initial data on Asceticism.

· The Passion of our Master throughout His earthly walk as the Son of Man living in an abode [earth] that wasn’t like The Eternal realm. It was His ascetic lifestyles that enable Him to experience all that we have too, yet without sin. The eventual death of our Messiah via the cross was only possible a very special only begotten of the Father.
· As disciples of Messiah, we too must embrace the assigned cross that the Father requires for each of us. This is in order to learn self-denial and humility as a servant to the Father and His Kingdom.
· Modern Christendom has lost the overall culture war because she has become like the very culture by which she was commanded to transform. There are very little noticeable examples of Morality and Godliness in our culture. Of the many articles about this matter, one that I just received last night is: [We’ve lost the Culture War, written by Brannon Howse for TBC Extra, Feb. 2010].
· Modern discipleship isn’t taught nor is it practiced like was taught/practiced in the 1st Century. There is a major difference between the organic aspect of Biblical discipleship training that is geared to transform a culture, as oppose to an organizational aspect of obtaining and maintaining membership for the institutional church. [For a good article on 1st Century discipleship, see: First Century Discipleship, by David Bivin, Jerusalem Perspective Online: Published:01 Jan-2004].
· And lastly, much of our Christian faith and practice is so far removed from the Day of Pentecost experience that many of us today have not yet truly embraced the full aspect of the Faith that is Kingdom driven as opposed to the ruling or most dominate culture.

Charis-Shalom
Brother Alonzoe’
Comment by Christopher R. Dockrey on March 20, 2010 at 1:55am
On the spirit of asceticism, I believe this too is a danger. I think living a balanced spiritual life involves accurately assessing where our pitfalls are, and remaining consistently aware of them as not to make provision for the flesh. Certainly the flesh can rejoice in what are commonly regarded as fits of carnality as well as the mutilation of the flesh itself, masking as righteousness. Whatever weaknesses exist in us are common to mankind, but not every weakness is common to every man. And sin is sin.

I also think there is a danger in enforcing a religious code to restrict the liberty that we have in Christ. Old time "Pentecost" is a great example. But still we must acknowledge how someone uses their liberty is a definite indication of their level of spirituality. This is not to say that those found to be more spiritual have a special place of favor with God - certainly not! All Christians are at various levels of spiritual development, and the truly spiritual person will not be prone to boast on his "spirituality", but will rather assist in the encouragement of others toward maturity.

Yet if we are really following Christ, there still should be a progressive and definite pursuit of and devotion to Christ as is evidenced by - not a life that is hardened against the feeling of the infirmity of the sinner - but a life, as was Christ's, "separate from sinners". A life demonstrating God's eternal life that was shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, proving that we are indeed His disciples. If we try to get there simply by rule-mongering, we are deceiving ourselves, but if we, by the grace of God, avail ourselves sanctifying power of the Spirit, we can and will "grow up into Him".

Having said all that, I don't know how we can get past a major cultural shift in Church mores, such as can be contrasted with what are common manifestations of worldliness so prevalent and even acceptable in the Church today. It is obvious to me that we find ourselves culturally deficient because, though we are not of the world, it is not always apparent to those outside the Church. Of course this isn't a new phenomenon. It was addressed centuries ago in the Scriptures for our admonition, but I still see us incrementally trending in the wrong direction in America. And at some point, something's got to give.
Comment by Dr. Henry, President of the AOCI on March 19, 2010 at 10:46pm
All great points indeed, and at the same time, one must be careful not to be consumed with a "spirit" of an "Ascetic" life. As we all know, their was a group of Jews who where so Ascetic that they missed their Messiah. They where so far removed from society they couldn't even recognize Messiah if He rang their doorbell. Jesus "ate and drank" with the sinners. Maybe its because the neither the T.V. nor the sinner really have that effect on me. In fact, it doesn't even offend me if a non believer uses profane language. Why? Because that's the way sinners act....LOL....we can't expect them to have the "Power" to live righteously, can we? In the final analysis, it all comes down to what really effects you personally. I can watch 5 minutes or 5 hours of TV and know what I believe, why I believe it, and will stand on the Word with strong conviction. My point here is what I just stated.....it all boils down to what you individually permit or not. The book of Romans clears this issue in determining that some Christians faith is actually weaker than others. So what we chose to allow or not is a matter of "personal choice" and of course as long as what is allowed is not directly and emphatically pronounced as "sin". So with this in mind, we should be careful then not to live so far removed from the world that we miss experiencing it and witnessing to the glory of God. We are "In" the world, but not of it. I remember growing up in a pentecostal home and people where throwing out their TV sets. Their are some who would label the "internet" as evil. Again, its really how you apply it and how you use it. Good blog brother. Keep writing!
Comment by Christopher R. Dockrey on March 19, 2010 at 2:59pm
Brother Alonzoe', excellent article! There are many points I could comment on, but I'm just going to pick one: the spirit of consumerism. You hit the nail on the head here.

I think this spirit is more encompassing than we realize at times. It is not just the desire to acquire possessions in a futile attempt to attain happiness; it is also largely brought on by the inundation of advertisement, the inescapable sales pitches which shape the mind's attitude towards lifestyle "enrichment".

Most Americans I know have the TV on at every waking hour, constantly bombarding their consciousness with various messages on how some product will make them feel better or gain some kind of status in life. I noticed this about myself a while back. I almost felt antsy if the TV wasn't talking to me, and we have no idea the capacity of such an invention to mold our perception of reality and to alter our values, gradually changing our culture.

Some researchers have remarked that television actually puts people into a kind of hypnosis where the mind becomes more susceptible to suggestion. I personally believe this to be entirely correct, even if that sounds over-the-top. In fact, that is the idea behind advertising - to influence you in such a way to let your guard down so you can be persuaded to spend your money. When your mind is in a state of passivity, you are in a state of weakness in which you have voluntarily given up your will to think critically.

I know not everyone thinks like me, but when I go into someones home and the first thing I see is this movie screen with everyone gathered around it, something in my conscience takes offense - not that I am judgmental of the people themselves (I was almost raised by the TV), but I sense this grief in my spirit as people give themselves over to this contraption that seems to have become a shrine of some sort, while it spews out constant propaganda, conditioning them on which opinions they should have, which foods they should eat, or how best to spend their time, which drugs will make them feel better, etc.

Practically speaking, I believe it is impossible for a person to live an ascetic lifestyle in an atmosphere of noise and distractions. You just can't do it. I'm not trying to enforce any kinds of legalistic rules about television, but am simply pointing out that this is a primary factor in conditioning people to be self-absorbed and unspiritual.

I'll leave you with a quote from the Head of the Church. Though he was speaking to people in another age, I believe his message is quite applicable to many Christians in the Western world today.

Revelation 3:

16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

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