A Simple Example of Exorcising the Demon of American Spirituality from Our Understanding, by Pr. Rossow

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.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


A Simple Example of Exorcising the Demon of American Spirituality from Our Understanding, by Pr. Rossow — 8 Comments

  1. Excellent post. Thank you.l
    There is no true spirituality except that which comes down to us from the One True God through the Father Son and Holy Spirit.

    There IS other spirituality that is not of God, the spawn of a “spiritual realm” opposed to Him and desires our souls, working with siren songs of false teaching which all need beware and shun!

  2. Instructive, thank you. Should I stop calling Oprah a spiritual guiding light for the generation? Will you be addressing “mission” and “leadership” and “ecumenical.”

    Is the word you meant for your title “Exorcise?” Not to excoriate you.

    – Pedant

  3. I also believe people confuse “spirited” with “spiritual,” meaning the more “lively” something is the more “spiritual” it is, say, as in worship.

  4. Pastor Rossow, you are just… awesome!!! I was taught to do this very thing (long ago, & far, far, away)!!! What pain & error it saves us, when you apply what your article above states. It is like a math problem, to ck your answer, work it up from top to bottom & bottom to top. If “spiritual” doesn’t make sense when you plug in, “Holy Spirit, third Person of the Trinity, Who is worthy of our worship & praise”, & doesn’t line up with Sola Scriptura, it is the world’s idea of ” spiritual” not “our Lord’s idea, the Holy Spirit, third person”! Knowing this saved me several times in the UW university system. (the sprinkle, confirm, marry & bury mindset, crowd fall prey to all sorts of vile teachings)!
    Your articles are such a joy to read, and what I was taught then, still applies today, as you so lovingly stated in this post!!!!! Thanks bunches!

  5. Thanks so much for your words of wisdom. I have really enjoyed reading your posts on The Brothers site. Do you anticipate being at the Symposium in Ft. Wayne this January? My wife and I are planning on attending again this year. If you’re there again, we hope to see you again.

    God Bless your continued faithful service to Him who provides us with all good gifts —


  6. My friend Neely,

    Yes I will be at the symposium and look forward to renewing our aquaintance.

    Also, I will be a part of a panel at the LCA (Lutheran Concerns) conference the Monday of Symposia week.


  7. When in Christ everything is “spiritual” earthly endevors and otherwise because before you were in Christ you were spiritually dead and nothing was spiritual. In Christ planting a tree becomes a spiritual activity. Grwoing up I saw an abundace of spirtual activity at our church in divine servies and when folks taught bible class, mowed the lawn, drank beer together or raised a new building. What freedom there is in The Gospel, God save us from pietism!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.