Biblical and spiritual formation is the process by which a Christian looks more like Jesus over time. It is the growth of a Christian from an “immature" faith to a “mature” faith. This process of formation is never accomplished; there is never a moment in the life of a Christian when a person has “arrived.”
There are no one-size-fits-all programs for growth into Christ-likeness. There are, however, clear biblical mandates that aid in the spiritual formation of the Christian. These spiritual disciplines include practices such as learning and reflecting upon scripture; praying; offering sacrifices of time, treasure, talents, or thanksgiving to God; fasting; meeting together with other Christians; and participating in the life of the Church (1 Tim. 4:6-16; Matt. 6:1-21; 2 Cor. 9:7; Heb. 10:25).
Our emphasis on the “biblical" component of our spiritual formation highlights the fact that the primary story with which a Christian aligns his or her life is the story of God’s work in history contained in the Bible. The Bible tells the story of God’s interaction with the world: God’s attempts to restore creation, deal with evil and sin, and draw humanity back to himself after we broke relationship with God and were held in bondage to sin and evil. It is the Bible’s authoritative witness to Jesus’ life–the one who calls Christians to be transformed into his likeness–that gives credence to its own authority over the life of the Christian. It is also the life of Jesus, as seen in the Bible, to which we hope to conform. The Brethren have historically referred to the Bible as God’s “outer word.”
Calling this process spiritual does not mean that we emphasize the intangible, non-physical aspects of ourselves, but that we emphasize the agent who is responsible for Christian growth: the Holy Spirit. As Brethren, we believe that we have been blessed with the Holy Spirit so that we might live as Jesus lived, and be conformed to his likeness (Rom. 8; 1 Cor. 3:16; John 14; Gal. 4:6). The Holy Spirit enables transformational growth through the bearing of virtuous “fruit" in our lives as we spend time cultivating a relationship with the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26). The Spirit comforts and counsels Christians as they walk with God, and reminds them of Jesus’ life and teachings (John 14:15-17, 25-26). The Spirit’s presence in the life of the Christian encourages him or her in faithfulness and the pursuit of Christ-likeness and love (1 John 3:23-24; 4:13). Without the Holy Spirit, our efforts are exhaustible and limited. With the Holy Spirit, we can do things even greater than Jesus did (John 14:12). At all levels of The Brethren Church, we desire to do everything through the empowerment and leading of the Holy Spirit, from the most structured event to the most spontaneous time of praise or service. The Brethren have historically referred to the Holy Spirit as the “inner word.”
The end result of this biblical and spiritual formation is that we become a community of people who, as new creations ourselves, take part in the new creation that God began in Jesus. We have our inner and outer lives conformed to Jesus’ own, and, as Brethren, we are able to say with Paul that “it is not [we] who live, but Christ who lives in [us], and the life [we] now live in the flesh [we] live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who has loved [us] and has given himself for [us]" (Gal. 2:20). In the end, the “outer word” and the “inner word” work together to shape us into the “living word,” Jesus Christ.