Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thou Shalt Have A Quiet Time

Through seminary, I was successfully indoctrinated that a quiet time or personal devotional time was mandatory in the life of a committed Christian. It is supposed to be a concerted, consistent time of prayer and Bible reading, reflection, and meditation. It should at times be accompanied with singing and other means of worship. One professor's mantra regarding the personal devotional time was, "If you don't do it here, then you won't do it there." Another professor quipped, "A quiet time is quite a time."

Most professors, chapel addresses, and other seminary students loudly proclaimed the sinfulness of failing to have a daily quiet time. I would often be asked by my well-meaning seminary brothers, apparently trying to hold me accountable, "Brother, did you have your quiet time today?" May God have mercy on your soul if you slept late that morning.
Nevertheless, Chris Ortiz out at The Chalcedon Foundation, blogging on an interesting perspective by Martin Selbrede on this issue, makes a provocative claim.
I thought I'd look up some representative claims regarding a personal quiet time and see if anybody--anywhere--supported the notion with anything other than what I said they were using (to wit, making a weak, out-of-context inference from a verse concerning Jesus praying away from the crowds that pressed on Him). None of the sources provide a single command in Scripture concerning the doctrine of a personal quiet time. The Great Commission says we are to teach the nations "all things whatsoever I have commanded." Where God did not command, we have no imperative to teach (especially to teach something as a binding obligation!). Teaching the necessity for a personal quiet time is to teaching something that God has not commanded (since no command in Scripture concerning it exists -- anywhere).
Frankly, I have toyed with the notion of whether or not a personal quiet time is an absolute spiritual necessity. To oppose the practice or even question the legitimacy of it invites rancor of the cruelest sort, that "you just aren't spiritual." Does failure to have a daily quiet time equate to the most abominable sin and does having a quiet time make you more obedient?

Often, in my counseling with other Christians, I use the daily devotional time as a litmus test for that person's spirituality, and I wonder if it is such an effective barometer anymore. What about obedience? Faith? Serving others? Confrontation of personal sin?

Ortiz makes a broad, sweeping assertion that the quiet time is not commanded anywhere in Scripture, nor does Christ really give Christians an example to follow. He cites Mark 1:35 and its parallel, Luke 5:16, and refutes that these verses teach a quiet time.
The text does NOT teach us that Jesus had a quiet time, and He certainly did NOT have a quiet time in the sense that people would, because He didn't lack for intimacy with the Father ("I and the Father are One"), and He elsewhere states (John 11) that His open prayers are for the benefit of those around them hearing His words, and not for His own benefit at all.
Ortiz also quotes from, interestingly, an article from the Southern Baptist Conservatives of VA, A Personal Quiet Time with God:
"[The article] provides a similar inferential scripture (not a command or instruction) when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Jesus went alone to be with His Father (Matthew 26:36), and so should we." There are several surprising things about this citation. Jesus's time with His Father was anything but quiet (He sweated blood and cried out to God in anguish), it wasn't private (a stone's throw from his disciples was about 20 yards so they could hear Him)..."
The events of the Garden of Gethsemane are nothing but proof-texts to give credence to, as Ortiz points out, an unsupported doctrine.

However, Ortiz's article is far from comprehensive. The one Scripture that popped into my mind that was totally avoided in the article was Matthew 6:6.
But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
It is surprising that Ortiz overlooked this passage of Scripture, because this is typically the verse that I have often heard quoted in defense of a personal devotional time. It is easy to see how one could extrapolate having a quiet time from this passage because Christ is teaching in contrast to the way the hypocrites pray, standing in the synagogues, babbling so as to be heard by all and have their apparent spirituality "approved" by passers-by. So, having a quiet time may not be unbiblical, it certainly could be classified as extra-biblical.

Ortiz cites several sources that offer Scripture-less defenses for maintaining a quiet time, and I confess my evidence is purely anecdotal. Nevertheless, it seems that Ortiz may be simply parsing words or jumping through semantic hoops to decry this spiritual discipline. As Ortiz notes, we are commanded in Scripture to pray and study the Word, but the modern notion of a quiet time is not commanded...or is it?

Sincerely,
Tony

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Here are my thoughts about it. I believe having a quiet time (devotional time, whatever you choose to call it) with God daily (if at all possible)is very important and fully biblical. I don't believe in quiet time as a daily ritual, an item to scratch off your to do list for the day with a relieved conscience that you've done your duty and now you can move on to other stuff. That would be pretty useless. I mean a quiet time as a set apart period of time when you dedicate your plans to God, ask Him to lead you, you commit to Him and fill your mind with His Word.

I am sorry I don't have time right now to check out the link you mention (http://www.chalcedon.edu/blog/2006_12_01_archive.php#116596220817909582)
But I honestly would hardly think that Jesus praying away from the crowds is a "weak, out-of-context inference". Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience in His humanity, not using His divine prerogatives, to show us how we should live and how we can use the means of grace God puts at our disposal. He took time to pray, even for hours. Do we need it any less?

I think there are many biblical grounds for having a time set aside for God, not just the fact of Jesus praying away from the crowds. The psalms are full of them, I think. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." (Ps. 119: 11) "I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word." (Ps. 119: 15, 16) Psalm 119 is really full of such thoughts. So are many others, and I am sorry I can't quote more. How would one meditate on and remember and delight in something if he doesn't take time to put it into his mind?

"And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for though, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee." (Ps. 9: 10) How would you know His name, that is know God Himself, if you do not think it important to store in your heart what He has said, what He has done? God obviously considered it important enough to speak to us, since He gave us the Bible. We need to have fresh heart dealings with God daily, cannot live "from memory". We need to "seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually, remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgements of his mouth" (1 Chronicles 16: 11, 12).

So I don't believe in it because of some tradition, but I believe it is fully biblical. It would be arrogant of me to feel I don't need to make time to pray and commit my day to God, and to read and meditate on His Word.

That being said, I admit I am guilty of not being consistent enough and feel ashamed of that. I am not nearly as disciplined as I should be. But that is where I am aiming. And many things could be shared from experience about what a mess a day can be when I feel like I'm too busy or have supposedly more urgent things to do than to take time for God.

So that's where I stand. :-)

Brindusa P.

Streak said...

Wow, this one hit me at a personal level. I grew up Baptist and attended the Baptist Student Union in college where quiet times were brandished like business cards (or clubs).

As a former Baptist who doesn't attend church any longer, I see this very differently than most of my Baptist friends and family.

First, I am not completely convinced that this emphasis on the "personal relationship" is historical and actually fear that it encourages a level of self-obsession or self-feeding that likewise encourages individualism (in an oddly, and yet quintessential American conformist way).

Despite what one of my friends continues to tell me, the ones who talk the most about their quiet times seem to have a much harder time making moral connections beyond the personal. Instead of making them more "convicted" about broader questions, it pushes them more narrowly. So, in our cultures debates about difficult moral questions like the environment, poverty, torture, etc., my quiet time friends seem fixated on homosexuality and swearing.

Admittedly, my sample might be small, though I did grow up in this context. FWIW, but thanks for posting this one, Tony.

Tony said...

Hi Brindusa!

It is great to hear from you again. I still owe you an email, don't I?

Thank you for your perspective. I wrote this article intentionally neutrally to draw differing opinions.

I really feel like Ortiz is playing on words. He may be writing from an attempt to skirt his own responsibility to God or possibly to address the legalistic nature at which the quiet time is often approached, as some kind of measuring rod to determine spirituality. From the Gospels, I see Jesus many times in concerted prayer to the Father but not necessarily consistent, which is where in America in Baptist circles the emphasis tends to be placed, but rather I see Jesus persistent in prayer. He prayed at night, during the day, slipping off to be alone, retreating to the wilderness; basically whenever the mood struck, not rigidly at this certain time until this certain time and then beating oneself up if it should be missed (or inviting the criticism of others, who want to hold you "accountable").

You asked, Do we need it any less? I couldn't agree more. Christ in His walk with the Father does provide for us a perfect example of how we should walk with Him and if Christ prayed then even more so we should.

You also said, It would be arrogant of me to feel I don't need to make time to pray and commit my day to God, and to read and meditate on His Word. I agree and I think this is where you and I and Ortiz diverge.

I believe the main point of Ortiz's article is to escape the legalistic side of having a quiet time, not to escape it altogether, because as Streak has noted above, it does lead to the rampant individualism that characterizes American Christianity.

It has done us no good to deemphasize community in our churches, at least over here.

Any further thoughts? :)

Tony

Tony said...

Streak,

I miss not having the picture of your dog.

The emphasis on the personal has done a great detriment to evangelical churches. Historically, I would say the emphasis on the personal aspect of faith began in the 1800's with the advent of revivalism.

Evangelists such as Torrey, Finney, and Sunday called for personal decisions, calling those whom they felt the Spirit was leading to make a decision to sit on an "anxious bench." Not to mention the invitation, which I would classify as extra-biblical as well. Baptists fall more in line with charismatics and pentecostals than their closer doctrinal neighbors Presbyterians and Methodists over the invitation.

There was a heavy reliance on emotionalism which led to the deempahsizing of community placing greater stress on the individual; hence, the clarion call of the Baptist invitation, "Have you received Jesus as your personal Savior?"

You would think the personal emphasis would lead Christians to think more for themsleves, but in my estimation, it has had the opposite effect, leading us to think more as a Borg-ish collective.

Where is Captain Picard when you need him? :)

You and I once talked about this before, but I think also it was an untintended consequence of the Reformation, the unleashing of the individual; especially the believer as sole arbiter as what is good and right.

Maybe that is why the SBC is so divided over the doctrines of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, decidedly man-centered doctrines.

Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Frankly, I have been afraid to comment on your blog for fear I might "unbridle the flesh" again.

Any other thoughts?

Streak said...

I wonder why the picture doesn't appear? Something with all this beta stuff, I am sure.

We really are talking on the same page here. I have no clue how to combat this, but it does seem like individualism has, like celebrity, invaded the church. Of course, as a historian, that seems unavoidable, since despite the language of church v. world, the church has always existed in the context of the world.

In conversations with my texas friend (he and i essentially grew up together) what intrigues me about the quiet time is how he conceptualizes in the context of morality. He seems to think that the church need not grapple with certain issues of morality because those are not the business of the church. You know, how capitalism interacts with poverty, how American functions in a broader global context, how the environment relates to a Christian context, etc.

He says that the church is to encourage people to pursue this personal relationship and in that, God will communicate the proper moral perspective.

I think that is how we get a church obsessed with sexuality and oblivious on the environment and global poverty. But that is just me.

That is enough for tonight. I need to go cook. You are always welcome to comment at the blog and you have not said anything that didn't need to be said. I have had several people (not necessarily religious friends of mine) who have commented on your reasoned and measured responses.

Have a great weekend.

Tony said...

Streak,

Thanks for coming back by and for the kind words. I find we agree more than not.

Same to you, have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Hello again.

"I still owe you an email, don't I?"

Well, I guess you do :-) but write as you can or want to, there's no pressure. As I explained in my last e-mail, I was just a bit concerned that you might have misunderstood what I said in the previous one. If there was no misunderstanding about that or if it's clarified now, all is fine and I'm glad. :-)

I'm writing again here because I have some questions. I know I'm not part of the group of people that usually post here. You obviously know each other pretty well and know what you mean, but since I'm an outsider, I don't get some things. Or maybe because I'm not American. So I'm just asking this to understand what you all mean. Maybe you are just too refined for this simple mind of mine. :-)

Tony, you refer to "the rampant individualism that characterizes American Christianity". Just what do you mean by that more exactly? What is wrong with "Have YOU received Jesus as YOUR PERSONAL Savior?" This one really puzzled me. Saving faith IS a matter of the heart. People are not saved collectively. God elected individuals, Jesus died to pay for individual people's sins, the Holy Spirit convicts hearts individually and everyone is responsible for himself to obey the Gospel. Can one hide behind his family, his church, his religious group, his nation...? Everyone will stand before God individually. God wrote and gave the Bible for the common individual to be able to use his own mind under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, "the Spirit of Truth", to understand what God is saying. God saved INDIVIDUAL people even in the Old Testament. He made a covenant with Israel, but not all physical Israel had a living relationship with Him. Only those that brought sacrifices with PERSONAL FAITH IN THE FUTURE COMING MESSIAH did.

The emotionalism and tactics used by Finney and so many nowadays have no basis in Scripture, in my opinion, but there was a very strong personal dimension of faith even before these people showed up with their methods. Spurgeon didn't use these 'raise-your-hand', 'come-forward', 'music-in-the-backbround' 'psychological-pressure-appeals', but he urged his listeners to PERSONALLY call on Christ right were they were, in their hearts (and other before him did too). God doesn't need us to use humanly devised methods to put pressure on people's emotions, if you really believe He uses His Word and He is able to give saving faith and to create repentance in individuals' hearts, all you need to do is to proclaim the message faithfully. I am quite familiar with the above-mentioned methods because they are extensively used where I live :-(. (I don't even know for sure WHEN it was the exact time when I was saved, but I doubt that it was when I raised my hand, I think I was more delighted then that the pastor saw me and pronounced God's blessing on me, rather than trusting Christ in my heart. I know I trust Him now though. :-)

So my question is, can you please explain more specifically what you mean by this rampant individualism that both you and Streak regret exists? :-)

By the way, I used capitalized words not to scream to you all over the internet, I kept getting a message that my tags were not closed, though they looked like they were to me. Sorry for that, maybe I don't know how to use it right. So I just capitalized for emphasis.

Brindusa P.

Tony said...

Hi Brindusa,

I am glad that you stopped back by! I appreciate the compliment about my being refined and all, but I am just a little southern boy. Now Streak, his mind IS refined! I would reccomend you visit his blog, but it is decidedly American, so you may not get too much out of it.

Honestly, I do not have a problem with the personal devotional time. I tried to critique the article from the Chalcedon website as neutrally as I could. I felt the author was jumping through to many hoops too prove his point.

I have always taken the hermenutical position that if it doesn't directly contradict Scripture, then we must approach it with a level of charity lest we become either one of two extremes; legalistc, which the devotion often becomes, or antinomian, as I feel Chris Ortiz views the quiet time. The quiet time may not be directly commanded in Scripture as we see it in modern verbiage, but I think Ortiz's argument was simply semantics.

We are commanded in Scripture to pray, read and meditate on the Word, etc. and we are lauded regarding the virtue of it. Is there overtly a problem with formulating it as a "quiet time?" No.

To be fair, Streak and I have been having an ongoing conversation regarding the personal aspect of faith. We should be VERY personal in our faith!

Nevertheless, the personal aspect has had some unintended consequences. American Christianity (and particularly Baptists) is (are) very egocentric. There is no real problem with "you" trusting Christ as "your" personal Savior, because He is.

But the emphasis on the personal often unwittingly causes Christians to corporately overemphasize sins of a personal nature. It then weakens the church's corporate response to sins on a more comprehensive scale, such as poverty, the environment, greed, and on a more global Christian perspective, persecution. (Hence, an undue concentration on sexual sins, at least here in America.)

If you would like to read more about what I am talking about, Dan Edelen is one of my favorite "God-bloggers" at Cerulean Sanctum. He has blogged extensively in his "Being the Body" series; really good stuff.

Streak and I have been having this conversation for several weeks now, so you did miss a good portion of the context of our conversation, and jumping in the middle, it may have seemed as if I was disparaging the quiet time.

As you and I get to know one another better, you will see I often entertain different viewpoints, not necessarily to adjust my own, but rather to help myself understand what I believe better.

I won't go into a lot of the deleterious effects revivalism and emotionalism have had on American Christianity; from your return comment you seem to have a pretty good handle on that already :)

And you are welcome to comment and join in any discussion going on in my blog! I would be blessed to have you as a "regular!"

Sincerely,
Tony

Streak said...

I don't know Brindusa, obviously, so am responding only to what I see here.

One curiosity, btw, and this may not be Brindusa's perspective at all, is that the emphasis on the individual is often minimized in contemporary conservative christian circles to make room for the Christian nation idea.

But there also seems to be an interesting combining of the issues of salvation and christian living. I don't really pretend to understand the issues of salvation, but would suggest that historicaly Christians participated in "christian living" as a communal act more than they have an individual act.

The individualism I see in the modern church is, as Tony notes, an unintended offshoot of the Reformation. No one here thinks that the Reformation was bad, in fact, I understand completely why the corruption of the church had to be challenged.

But the emphasis on the personal communication (I don't think personal relationship comes until later, btw) had unintended consequences. It has slowly, but surely, pushed us away from the communal to a place where everyone is his/her own interpreter of the Bible and everyone has his/her personal communication from God. That can produce some spectacularly bad theology--as Tony has highlighted in his last post.

But it can also produce what I see as a compartmentalization effect. Since each individual believer is the holder of his own theology, they get to decide what is right and wrong for them. The community has decided to only address sexual sins. The individual can be not gay, for example, but drive to church in a polluting and dangerous vehicle, work 5 days a week in a perfectly legal but environmentally polluting, poverty producing job--and there are no questions asked.

I will elaborate more, but feel like I am blathering at this point. Sorry

Tony said...

Streak,

I hate it when you blather. It gets my blog all soggy.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Tony and Streak, thank you for taking some time to answer. Thanks for the suggested reading, I hope to give it some time when I can. I probably need to do some reading around to really understand better some parts of what you're saying. I'm not sure I REALLY get it all at this point.

As for who I am, Streak, I'm an Eastern-Europe Calvinist independent Baptist wife and mother. :-) I'm not too fond of labels in themselves, but I use them as a shorter way of communicating... For instance, I didn't get my convictions from Calvin at all, but since that's a convenient way of resuming what the doctrines of grace are, I use the term 'Calvinist'.

My husband and I are trying to stay as close as we can to the Bible and give up anything we realize is wrong doctrine or just man-made tradition. At the same time we do not want to compromise the least bit of what is really biblical, in any area. We are at this point struggling with or trying to grow in the area of not compromising anything, being bold for what is really biblical truth (whether some may call us legalistic or narrow-minded) and at the same time not being more 'narrow' than the Bible is and showing love. I'm not sure we've found the balance yet, but that's where we pray the Lord will take us.

Brindusa P.

Chris Ortiz said...

Dear Sir,

If you would have read the introductory statement more closely, you'd of seen that the "article" is from an email written by Martin Selbrede (Chalcedon Vice-President) to a friend. It was posted on the blog with his permission. It was not written by Chris Ortiz.

For you to overlook such an obvious item casts a measure of doubt over any further analysis. This is made apparent in the fact you neglect where the onus lies in this discussion. If "Quiet Times" are not explicitly commanded in Scripture - and by your own admission fundamentalists make it appear so - then the burden is on you to demonstrate it.

You attempted to do this by referencing Matthew 6:6; but if that is the strongest text for your position, then you're on morass. The text is not a commandment to have quiet times. Christ is making it clear that His followers are not to imitate the Pharisees in their boastful public praying. They should do things in "secret" - where God alone will see.

By seeking private prayer, as in washing one's face during a fast, a Christian is acting in humility. That's the intent of the text. However, one has not sinned by having quiet times either. What was being addressed by Mr. Selbrede is what you admitted to: the abuse and resulting condemnation of the teaching.

Mr. Selbrede is not suggesting a decrease in prayer. You should not equate "prayer" to the fundamentalist legalism surrounding "quite times." Selbrede is a man of prayer. His comments address the issue in a way that's needed. But, again, this is simply a correspondence between he and a friend.

Tony said...

Mr. Ortiz,

Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I always welcome comments on my blog.

You sir, I am afraid, have failed to read closely. The introductory statement of your post does not say that it is personal correspondence used by permission; only an interesting perspective by Mr. Selbrede. If there was ample indication that Mr. Selbrede allowed his personal email to be posted, I would not have offered any comment or analysis on my blog, given that it was personal.

Your comment betrays even further semantics. I agree with you that the quiet time per se is not commanded. But is this not simply assigning modern terminology to an accepted and biblical practice? We are commanded to pray and study God's Word; what is wrong with combining those practices and calling it a "quiet time?" Forgive me, but it does seem your post is simply playing word games. If you are decrying legalism regarding the quiet time, then just say it. The other commenters in this thread certainly understood it this way.

If you had read my post as closely as you have called me to read yours, which incidentally I understand your quotation of Mr. Selbrede on this, but again your post was ambiguous as to the citation, you would understand that I was decrying the same abuse and brandishment of the practice as you (Mr. Selbrede?) were.

Further, you criticize my referencing you as the writer of the post; by quoting Mr. Selbrede, do you not claim some ownership of his viewpoint by quoting him?

You also criticize my use of Matthew 6:6. However, I see in your comment, you said, They should do things in "secret" - where God alone will see, is there not sufficient implication here for the modern notion of a "quiet time?"

Privacy and prayer are assumed in Christ's teaching here as well as humility.

Moreover, I made no personal attack on Mr. Selbrede as you imply. I did not call his spirituality into question as you suggest; only the calling of the quiet time into question, which again, if you read the post clearly, I was affirming.

One further comment I made in the original post that you overlooked, as you have so diligently called on me to demonstrate the command to observe a quiet time, was that I did confess my evidence was purely anecdotal, not scriptural.

Again, thank you for taking the time to comment. May God bless you and your ministry, Mr. Ortiz.