The Church has historically been on the front lines of fighting injustice. Whenever there has been a major need, Christians are nearly always the first to respond. It’s in our DNA. When we live in the image of God, we are hyper-aware of the wrong in this world and strive to make things right by partnering alongside the Just One.
One of today’s injustices we’ve been exposing over the last several weeks is what I’m calling The Loneliness Epidemic. Americans are ranked amongst the loneliest people in the world, and the consequences are catastrophic.
Loneliness is an injustice. A life deprived of significant relationships goes against everything of what it means to be human. So this begs the question: How can Christ’s body fight the injustice of a friendless life pervading our American culture? How can the Church remedy the loneliness epidemic?
Most people would say the remedy lies in some sort of methodology: “We need a new church model! We need an innovative small groups strategy! We need some kind of service that brings people together!” While that certainly seems reasonable, the remedy to the loneliness epidemic cannot be found in more programs. The pervading feeling of loneliness in our culture is due to a worldview and consequent lifestyle that do not put friendship at the top of their priority list. Unless this distorted worldview is addressed, programs will gather individuals together, but won’t necessarily guarantee communities of persons.
Thus, the remedy requires us to discover the hidden potential behind the most fundamental human relationship. The remedy is found in a revolutionary articulation of friendship that prioritizes community at the top of one’s values. The remedy requires us to completely rethink friendship – to undergo a renaissance. And this renaissance of friendship can be found by simply looking back into Church history.
The revolution begins by rediscovering spiritual friendship.
This gorgeously rich view of friendship climaxes with a 12th century monk named St. Aelred in his treatise aptly titled, Spiritual Friendship. Much of Aelred’s thoughts on friendship were influenced by other philosophers and theologians before him (anticipate some really nerdy blogs on the historical development of friendship later on), but his largest influence comes from Jesus’ words in John 15:9-17. It is from this passage that spiritual friendship is introduced—and I suggest getting very familiar with it, because we’re going to be spending A TON of time with these words.
Here’s what Jesus says:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”
– John 15:9-17
Whenever we put anything through the purifying filter of the Gospel, the result is always so much grander and extraordinary than its original, Gospel-ridden rendition. It is from this passage that Jesus does just that with friendship. If Jesus’ words are truly taken seriously, then according to Aelred, the resulting friendships are the greatest joys we could possibly experience on this earth, coming only second to a friendship in Christ. Aelred firmly believed that the Christian faith could radically transform human friendship, and even raise it to new heights.
Sounds pretty great for a culture steeped in the loneliness epidemic.
• • •
Here’s where we’re heading. We’re going to begin exploring the depths of spiritual friendship by looking at St. Aelred’s thoughts, in addition to some of my own study and engaging with other people’s work on the subject. In the grand scheme of things, I have found that all the content on spiritual friendship boils down to these three core values:
- Befriend The LORD
- Befriend The Church
- Befriend The World
These three values provide the framework for the wide variety of content we’re going to cover that makes up what I call The BFFs Church, when the body of Christ embodies friendship as God intended.
Hold on to your horses. It’s about to get crazy.