“We are beggars, this is true…the Gospel bids us to hold the sack open and have something given to us.” Martin Luther
Martin Luther, in the Weimar Edition of his works, referred to the Vita Passiva, the Receptive Life. In contrast to vita activa (active life) and vita contemplativa (contemplative life), vita passiva turns our focus away from ourselves and towards receiving the free gifts of Christ through the Holy Spirit. This, Luther argues, is the proper way to approach the Scriptures.
We just began our seminar on The Receptive Life (vita passiva) with Pastor Paul Arndt at the Lutheran School of Theology. This is the third seminar we’ve hosted in only five months at a school still under construction! The pastors are eager to come and learn, even without proper classrooms. Some pastors have traveled seven days by bus to learn from Pastor Arndt. Between these local seminars, Reverend May has also traveled to Zambia and Tanzania to lead seminars and distribute books in Swahili and French.
For now, the pastors are being taught in a temporary pavilion. We have applied for building permits but some things take much longer in Africa than in the West. We are currently using the Administration building (completed this past April) for housing and dining and hope to begin construction of the Library in January, which will provide a teaching space for over 100 people. Please pray that the process may go quickly and without much trouble!
Pastor Arndt is visiting from Michigan, USA, along with his wife, Faye, and youngest son, AJ. Pastor Arndt’s two older sons, Josh and Jacob, will be joining us soon as well. After this two week seminar, there will be a five day youth seminar that Pastor Arndt will also lead.
The Receptive Life seminar focuses on the means by which the Holy Spirit forms pastors in the Lutheran Faith. The pastors are trained in Luther’s model of Vita Passiva as a guide to the study of the Bible. Martin Luther, using Psalm 119, defined the means as prayer (oratio), meditation (meditatio), and trials (tentatio). Much has been written about this last little word, “tentatio”. Luther used the German word Anfechtung, and neither the German nor the Latin seem to have a very good translation into English. Many use something like “agonizing internal struggle” or simply use the Latin or German to communicate the meaning.
Personally, I wanted to learn more about how we should view affliction and how God uses it for our good. In the longest of the Psalms, King David repeatedly asks God to deliver him from afflictions which come to him because he is meditating on God’s Word. “Tentatio”, that internal struggle, comes to us because we pray and meditate on God’s Word, which puts a target on our backs for the devil to attack us. The devil leaves us alone in our sin and has no reason to pursue those that are perishing, but attacks those that pray and meditate upon God’s Word. The devil’s intent is to cause us to doubt God’s promises and drive us away from God’s Word. But Luther said that God uses that affliction to drive us to find comfort in God’s Word. David professes in Psalm 119 that it’s only AFTER his affliction that he keeps God’s Word:
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (verse 67)
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statues. (verse 71)
Paul echoes this in Romans 5 as well as 1 Corinthians 1:8-10:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
Pastor Arndt is also careful to point out that the Real Teacher is the Holy Spirit. David repeatedly asks for understanding in verses 73, 125, 130, and 169.
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. (verse 169)
The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. (verse 130)
Jesus repeats this when thanking the Father in Matthew 11:25:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”
Like the Psalmist, we should pray for the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Scriptures (oratio), to meditate upon them (meditatio), and to comfort us when “soul struggle” comes (tentatio). This is a continual cycle that the Holy Spirit uses to form us into followers of Jesus.
Pastor Arndt has developed a simple, tactile system to convey this teaching. Using the Psalm 119 Prayer Cycle, he leads the pastors through daily prayer, confession, and reading of the Bible. He has taken them through three sessions. The remaining seven will complete the weekly cycle, and will take the pastors through the six chief parts of the catechism.
In Africa, these simple tools help overcome language barriers and allow people to use their sense of touch to reinforce what they hear, read, and speak. Pastor Arndt’s teaching (which has been translated in Swahili) helps the pastors not only learn and memorize the catechism, but also creates a framework by which they are able to meditate on God’s Word and teach it to others.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. Psalm 119:176
Like David, we are sheep gone astray. But the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures calls us to repentance, gives us the gifts of Jesus, and opens our eyes that we may see wonderful things in His Word.
To learn more about Pastor Arndt and the Psalm 119 Prayer Cycle, visit www.TheReceptiveLife.com