I learned a simple but profound little exercise from Dr. Nagel while at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He taught us that whenever we see the word “spiritual” in Scripture we should understand it to mean “of the Holy Spirit.” Try this little exercise and you will find that a significant little piece of false American Evangelicalism’s catechesis on you will be exorcised from your soul, much to your advantage.
I was reminded of this little exercise/excorcism while working on the sermonette for our midweek Advent service tonight. Our Advent theme is “Meditating on God’s Word in a Busy World” and each of the three services is based on one of the thre terms from Colossians 3: “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Tonight the focus is on meditating through spiritual songs.
American Evangelicalism and the natural theology of the old sinful self have taught us that “spiritual” means other worldly, ethereal wisdom, free-floating and generic thoughts that rise above this world and the like. Those notions are only half true. Defining “spirituality” in such a way leaves us with a piety of striving to rise above the earthly and mundane which is an exercise that can be done apart from Christ and the Holy Spirit both of whom ironically are described in Scripture as coming down from heaven to us. True Biblical piety is not about us rising to God but Him coming to us. As Lutherans we know from Scripture that the true faith is about God coming to us in Christ, in his word and sacraments and also in the Holy Spirit. We also know, teach and believe more clearly than any other denomination that faith and knowledge are born of the Holy Spirit. Translated into the discussion of spirituality, all this means that true Biblical spirituality is not other worldly but very much this worldly and of the Holy Spirit that enters into us at baptism. The vague, other-worldly spirituality of American Evangelicalism leads one away from Christ and the Holy Spirit he sends into us and into the empty caverns of our own spiritual thoughts and desires
Therefore, when Paul says we are to dwell richly in the word of Christ by singing spiritual songs to one another, he is not endorsing the “Praise and Worship” ethereal-raise your hands and wave to Jesus-kind of new age spirituality. Instead he is encouraging us to sing the songs that were composed by the Holy Spirit in His Holy Scriptures. Realizing this our midweek service tonight is filled with the canticles of the scriptures (e.g. the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis). These are truly “spiritual” songs because they are “of the Holy Spirit” and written by Him.
Brothers of John the Steadfast and all our readers, try Dr. Nagel’s little tip for understanding the word “spiritual” and you will most likely find a nasty little bit of false evangelicalism exorcised out of your spirit.