Spiritual Stages of Growth

As Christians we all grow at different rates and go through stages at different times in our walk with the Lord. Not understanding these stages creates the majority of conflict, judgment, backbiting, sinful conduct and splits within Church congregations. Meeting a Christian, who was not where I was, or vice versa, who seemed to understand at a greater depth than I did, upset me. My sin nature was at work. On one hand I was angry with the one who believed and acted as a child in the faith and on the other hand I envied and felt less than in the presence of someone I thought to be “better than myself.”

From the time we are born until we die each of us will go through various types of developmental stages including spiritual development. For instance, we obviously go through a series of physical stages. We are told by scientists that once every seven years dramatic changes take place in our bodies. Think with me of the physical state of a new born, then a seven-year-old, a fourteen-year-old, a twenty-one-year-old etc. We would not expect the same degree of physical maturity from a seven-year-old and a twenty-one-year-old, would we?

In addition to physical changes there are also mental changes. Piaget is well known to educators for his theory of cognitive development. Piaget asserts that people develop cognitive capacities to meet needs that emerge at different ages and continue throughout life. The person meets these needs in different ways during different stages of life…..Thus one would expect a vast difference between a fourth grade class study of geology and an undergraduate course in college in geology. The fourth grade class would be geared for the cognitive developmental stage of the child as would the college course be geared for 20 year olds.

According to Eric Erickson we go through numerous psychosocial stages of development. One stage pertinent to my age (between 40 and 65) is called “Generativity verses Stagnation and self-absorption.” If between 40 and 65 years of age I negotiate this stage successfully I will have come to a place in life where I will reexamine my life, ask the hard questions of myself, and make mid-life corrections. Out of my life experiences I will be concerned for my community and be free for a life of care and concern for others. After negotiating this final stage in life, age 65, labeled stage of integrity, whereby I can look back on my life and have a sense of satisfaction knowing that I lived life well. If however, on the other hand I do not negotiate this stage successfully and become stagnated and self-preoccupied; I will find myself at age 65 entering the final stage of life called the stage of Despair, as I come to terms with what my life could have been.

Spiritual development is the same. We are told in Romans 8:29-30 to “be conformed to the image of Jesus;”and in Ephesians 4: 14- 15 “we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.” As we have seen in previous posts, this being conformed cannot be done in our own efforts, but by the Holy Spirits’ leading and enabling us to grow. Philippians 2: 13 states “For it is God who is at work within you helping you want to do His will and then helping you to do His will.”

Spiritual growth in knowledge and wisdom is a process. We are shown in Isaiah 28: 9-10 how we learn, “line upon line…, precept upon precept…, here a little there a little.” And we all learn at different rates, plus we internalize and integrate different principles into our lives at different rates. So I may have internalized something you have not yet internalized and vice versa.

Scott Peck proposes 4 Stages of Faith development.

Peck contends that most all young children and perhaps one in five Christians fall into Stage I. These people seem generally incapable of loving others. They may pretend to be loving but are essentially manipulative and self-serving. In truth they are what one might call a Pseudo-Christian. Some may be quite disciplined in the service of the church in order to get their needs met. Thus they may rise to positions of considerable prestige and power even to become influential preachers.

From time to time people in this stage get in touch with the chaos and conflict of their own being. Most people just ride it out unchanged. A few take their own lives and some convert, if you will, to Stage II.

Such conversions are sudden and dramatic. It is as if God has reached down and grabbed that soul and yanked it up a quantum leap. Anything is preferable to chaos so people in Stage II are willing to submit themselves to an institution for their governance by principles and laws. But they have not yet understood the spirit of the law (grace). Consequently they are legalistic, parochial and dogmatic. God to them is almost entirely that of an external, transcendent Being. Transcendent meaning so far above us, so independent of us. Although they consider Him loving they generally feel He possesses and will use punitive power against them. They are threatened by anyone who thinks differently and so regard it their responsibility to defend the law. The law to them is more important than the relationship.

Frequently people in Stage II begin to question the inconsistencies they see between imposing the law and walking a walk of love and grace, thus they move into Stage III. This is considered a questioning phase. To on lookers it appears the person has backslidden. These questions are a required beginning of an emptying process. Emptying oneself of preconceptions, prejudices and the need to control others. Individuals generally remain stuck in Stage II because they do not doubt deeply enough. Stage III would be considered a period of time when the person begins to own their own faith. To summarize Stage III, people begin to seek truth for themselves.

Peck contends that one out of 20 Christians move on into Stage IV. This is a period that is not easy to define. These people are extremely aware of mystery. They acknowledge the enormity of the unknown but rather than being frightened by it, they seek to penetrate ever deeper into it that they may understand more. They are most acutely aware that as Christians we are collectively called to community (a unity of love) and realize that what divides us into warring camps is precisely the lack of this awareness. Additionally they have become practiced at emptying themselves of preconceived notions, prejudices and judgments. They know that we are to all be one in Christ.

Our most pure example of a Stage IV person is Jesus Himself. Jesus was criticized for associating with drunkards, tax collectors, and sinners. Jesus emptied Himself and became a servant to mankind, seeking the lost, encouraging and giving life to the down trodden, loving and healing the mentally and physically ill.

The angriest Jesus became was at Stage II people who considered the law more important than relationship to people. He encouraged people in Stage III who were struggling with their faith rather than judging them. The disciples were clearly those of “little faith” but Jesus said it didn’t take great faith, just faith as large as tiny mustard seed would do.

Jesus commissioned us to Love God, Love ourselves, and to Love others; in fact, love others as Christ loved us. He called us to community: to come together in unity of the Spirit. Whether we are from any one of the many Protestant denominations or any one of the Catholic denominations all else is non-essential to salvation except who we say Jesus is and our relationship with Jesus. We can all fellowship with each other as we fellowship around Jesus.

Peck contends that people in Stage II understand people in Stage I but cannot relate to people in Stage III. Similarly, people in Stage III can relate to people in Stage II but cannot relate to people in Stage IV and so on.

Which stage do you want to be in? That answer will either propel you into a greater spiritual maturity or keep you stuck. Paul encourages us in Hebrews 5: 11 – 6 to not be “partakers only of milk, a babe…solid food is for the mature ….we are to leave the elemental teachings and press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.”

And in Philippians 3: 12 – 16 we see a very motivated Paul speaking of “pressing on in order that he may lay hold of that for which also he was laid hold of by Christ Jesus….and reaching forward to what lies ahead…
he presses on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you press on.

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| January 10th, 2011 | Posted in Author's Weekly Blog, Author's Weekly Blog |

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