What is Eusebeia?

The Philosophy Behind the Rule and The Order of Eusebeia


Eusebeia is pronounced something like you-seh-bay-ah with the accent on the second syllable (on "seh"). It and its related forms are very common Greek words for godliness, piety or devotion. It is translated by a variety of English words such as piety, godliness, reverence, religion and devotion. Corresponding adjectives would include pious, godly, reverent, religious and devout. Eusebeia is used in the New Testament primarily in the Pastorals and the second epistle of Peter. Here are some of the more significant uses of the term:

Many other terms in the New Testament are quite similar, e.g. godliness and holiness. Christian virtue is not a quality that can be summed up in only a word or two. More than one term is useful to try to describe the whole. The whole is best represented in the person and character of Jesus Christ. The design behind The Order of Eusebeia is to strive to become more Christlike (Gal. 2:19-20). The rule is a balance between Christian ethics and Christian spirituality for the purpose of spiritual formation. The foundation behind the rule is nothing less than the Christian faith and all of its major doctrines. Some similar statements that suggest the mission and vision of The Order of Eusebeia would include:

Eusebeia is only one of many terms that might have been chosen to describe our mission and vision in a nutshell, but it is a very appropriate one. It is impossible to summarize one's Christian obligations in a mere word or two. Probably the broadest words would be "faith" and "love". The concern which The Order of Eusebeia is trying to address is the whole of what the Christian's life ought to be.

Many approaches to the Christian life or Christian spiritual formation are mostly correct in what they affirm, but they are also one-sided and deficient in other areas. A concerted effort has been made in the writing of the Mission Statement and the Rule for The Order of Eusebeia to avoid this difficulty. Let me illustrate with some examples which, I admit, will have some overgeneralization in them, but that is difficult to avoid due to the brevity of the description. The "social gospel" of a century ago focused very heavily on justice and corporate approaches to the kingdom of God. There was an underemphasis on individual redemption, personal piety and responsibility. The alternate thinking which soon developed was "fundamentalism," which left social concerns untouched until Carl F. H. Henry's grounding breaking work appeared around the end of World War II. Fundamentalism and conservative Protestantism in general has often stressed a "quiet time" approach to spirituality which is good, but insufficient to nourish a deep Christian ethic. Most monastic forms of spiritual life, and much of Roman Catholic approaches, put heavy emphasis on liturgy and set forms of devotion, but at the same time avoid engagement with the world or wink at violations of Christian morality. The result in places like Central America has been the radical Marxist extreme of "liberation theology." Contradictions also emerge due to one-sided approaches to the Christian life. On the one hand, some may lift their hands in worship and say: "Thank you Jesus," but at the same time be a supporter of war, violence and public policies which disenfranchise the poor, promote oppression around the globe or exploit the environment. Others may speak eloquently for peace, human rights and equality, but fail to grant those same rights to millions of unborn children.

Many more examples could be given, but there is clearly a need for balance in the Christian life. Private devotion is needed to nourish the soul, but we must love our neighbor in more ways than intercessory prayer. Christian service must be the trademark of one's life in the community, while participation in corporate worship and the various ministries and missions of the church are also essential. In all of these one must have Christian character. Christian character is what we are on the inside which results in the outward actions others see. The defining limitations for all of the above is Christian theology.

The argument here is that Christian spirituality and Christian ethics must work in conjunction with one another, both being built on the foundation of Christian theology. This is nothing new. If you read almost any book on Old Testament or New Testament ethics, you will find the frequent affirmation that religion and ethics are inseparable. The Old Testament prophets often proclaimed that those who offered sacrifices were not pleasing to God, because they were robbing and doing violence to their neighbors. Jesus condemned some of the religious leaders of his day for unethical behavior, often done in the name of God. In recent decades we all have heard of or know of examples of religious leaders whose private lives were a scandal, even though they may have appeared to be pious in prayer and preaching.

Who is a spiritual person? Who is a godly person? Who is a holy person? In a class I teach on Christian Spirituality and Spiritual Formation I have my students survey people for an answer. The answers are always extremely diverse. I am of the opinion, though, that the person who visits a sick neighbor and takes them food is as spiritual as the person who does a week-long fast. Those who work for justice and who serve others through their secular job can be as godly as any televangelist (and maybe more so). The mother who teaches her children to pray is as holy as any monk whose life is one of long vigils in meditative contemplation.

In the five major divisions of the Rule, we think you will find a fair balance--between the private and the public, between the individual and the corporate, between belief and action, and between worship and service. Due to the variety of circumstances of life and due to the differences of personality, some individuals will end up stressing one area over others. That is to be expected, as long as there is not a serious deficiency in another area. Please give the Rule of Eusebeia a try. Adapt it to your particular needs and tastes and give the glory to God, through Christ and in the Spirit.

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