Saturday, May 23, 2009

Another Take on Christian Perfection

I encountered this interesting discussion of Christian Perfection while thinking about Arminius' comments in the previous post. This is a Mennonite perspective bringing an Anabaptist view of Holiness that seems to address the issue with civility and maturity. While it is relatively short, the author, Robert Friesen, sums up his conclusions rather well. Following is his conclusion with a link to the full article.

Christian Perfection - Robert Friesen

The Scope of the Call To Be Teleios

The call to be teleios is addressed to all believers. With the call to enter the kingdom comes the call to be one of the teleioi. It is a call to discipleship. The teleioi are to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus, who came to show us the Father, is the example to be followed. The perfect ones are willing to take difficult, radical steps to follow their Lord.

Characteristics of the Teleioi

The teleioi are wise and possess knowledge which the immature do not have. This wisdom is not equivalent to what the world considers wisdom nor is there knowledge based on superior intelligence. Because of the Holy Spirit's enlightenment they are able to receive and understand the kind of solid teaching which Paul calls meat as opposed to milk (the elementary principles of the Gospel).

The wisdom and understanding of the teleioi is evident in their actions. They are able to distinguish right from wrong and they live according to what is right. The wisdom of the teleioi is knowledge turned into proper action in life.

The teleioi are those who love God. This love is demonstrated in a life of discipleship. They love their brothers and sisters in the Church and desire to use their Spirit-given gifts to edify them. They also love those who are not in the Church. Their love, in fact, extends even to those who are their opponents.

The teleioi are not portrayed as those who have attained absolute perfection. They always strive toward perfection and are not content to settle for less. The English word "mature" is often a good translation, but even that word does not catch all the nuances of the Greek teleios. The English "perfect" may be too absolute, but "mature" may be too mild. Jesus did not call us simply to be 'mature' as our heavenly Father is 'mature'. We consider people mature even though they have many imperfections which need not necessarily be changed. The teleioi have never arrived at their goal. They are mature, but they are moving on to a greater maturity. Because of this problem of finding the best word, the new translations use both "perfect" and "mature" to render teleios in different contexts. {31}

The Process of Becoming Teleios

The New Testament is clear that the teleioi are involved in a process of growth. Tomorrow they should be more closely conformed to Jesus' example of perfection than they were today.

The teleioi are dependent upon the rest of the body of Christ for the process of growth. All the members of the body have responsibilities to have others to mature. They carry out this work with the enablement of the various gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to the Church.

Paul warns that the work of teaching may be hard, wearisome toil. It is not a small task. He also indicates that teachers need to be wise. But it is not the world's wisdom that is needed. In order to do the work of the Church and to bring people to maturity, teachers need God's wisdom. James indicates that when the teleioi feel a lack of wisdom they are to pray with perseverance to God who will give the required wisdom.

In Colossians 4 Paul indicates that prayer can help to bring people to maturity even when a person is absent from the ones he prays for. This labour of prayer is an important task in the work.

The New Testament indicates that trials and suffering may be the context in which maturity is produced. It is essential that a person recognize these situations as possibilities for growth and use them as such.

In answer to the question "Who are the teleioi?" we must conclude: The teleioi are obedient disciples of Christ. The process of becoming teleios is a divine (i.e., God-empowered) process mediated by the members of the body of Christ in the context of prayer and love.

Christian Perfection by Robert Friesen