In the search for truth and life, one inevitability is force to grow. But what does that growth look like? A child progresses from crawling to walking, yet, the stages of christian maturation are vague. What is the highest form of spirituality? What does a mature follower of Christ look like, act like, think like?
Christendom has taught for years that the highest form of spirituality has been a aesthetic lifestyle. From this thought monasticism was birthed, caves were tunneled out, monasteries were built and simple robes were sown. It was felt it one truly wanted to serve God to their fullest ability they were to shrink back from the world and dwell within themselves. These groups of people throughout the centuries sought out a mystical expression of their faith separate from the world.
In most other types of Christianity the mystic experience is rated as the highest form of sanctification. In Catholicism the monastic life is the way of perfection, and mystic rapture is the highest attainment and reward of monastic contemplation and service. In Protestantism, which has no monastic leisure for mystic exercises, mysticism is of a homelier type, but in almost every group of believers there are some individuals who profess to have attained a higher stage of sanctification through “a second blessing,” “the higher light,” “complete sanctification,” “perfect love,” Christian science, or Theosophy. The literature and organizations ministering to this mystical life, go on the assumption that it far transcends the ordinary way in spiritual blessings and sanctifying power.
Mysticism is a steep short-cut to communion with God. There is no doubt that under favorable conditions it has produced beautiful results of unselfishness, humility, and undauntable courage. Its danger is that it isolates. In energetic mysticism the soul concentrates on God, shuts out the world, and is conscious only of God and itself. In its highest form, even the consciousness of self is swallowed up in the all-filling possession of God. No wonder it is absorbing and wonderful. But we have to turn our back on the world to attain this experience, and when we have attained it, it makes us indifferent to the world. What does Time matter when we can live in Eternity? What gift can this world offer us after we have entered into luminous presence of God?
The mystic way to holiness is not though humanity but above it. We can not set aside the fundamental law of God that way. He made us for one another, and our highest perfection comes not by isolation but by love. The way of holiness through human fellowship and service is slower and lowlier, but its results are more essentially Christian. Paul dealt with the mystic phenomena of religion when he dealt with the charismata of primitive Christianity, especially with glossolalia (1 Cor. Xii-xiv). It is a striking fact that he ranks the spiritual gifts not according to their mystic rapture, but according to their rational control and their power of serving others. His great chapter on love dominates the whole discussion and is offered as a counter-poise and antidote to the dangers of mysticism.
…A religious experience is not Christian unless it binds us closer to men and commits us more deeply to the Kingdom of God.
-Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, pg104-105
Often the isolated mystical expression of life does make us feel closer to God as get further away from the world. However, if we were to graph Christian maturation, this form of Christian expression could be compared to infancy; where instead of engageing this world one withdraws. It is like a child who is scarred of the darkness in a unlit room will just choose not to enter, instead of turning on the light and entering. And in like manner, the christian after salvation who now clearly sees the sin and depravity of the world comparred to hollyness of God chooses to retreat to a meeting place with God in the closet of his house instead of bringing the light of God into the world. God’s purposes for us is not to flee from this world but to redeem it. We are called to bring order to chaos, not abandon ship. Seeking the Isolation with God feels good because it feeds our selfish wants. And if we come back to the definiton that sin=selfishness then seeking isolation with God apart from the world is not only neglecting our duty to redeem it but it isa willful act of sin. The main expression of the Gospel is to love God and love others. We can do this seeking God in our closet. And just like the child who is scarred of the dark, it may be a scarry proposition for the Christain to enter into this world fearing that the mud of this worlds perversion might stain the white clothes Jesus just gave us. But we have to remember our righteouness does not come from ourselves but from God, and nothing we do can make him dirty.
Jesus prayed that we may become on just as he is one with the Father ( John 17:22). So it would seem that the higest form of Spirituality is not isolation with God, but unity with man, that we do not mature the better we relate to God, but the better we relate to others. Jesus in Matthew 25 says he will judge our relationship with him not on how we treated him, but how we loved the least of these.