During the time I’ve been a follower of Jesus I’ve seen and experienced many tensions within the evangelical bit of the church. There can be something very positive about these tensions; sometimes they force us to reconsider our received beliefs and practices, they force us back to the scriptures with less-blinkered eyes and they result in maturity and growth, not just for individuals but for whole sections of the church.
Some of the tensions I’ve experienced include those such as Conservative v Charismatic in the way we live out our faith, those who believe that we are called to Evangelism v those who see Social Action as our priority, and those who prefer a more Contemplative style of worship to the (apparently) noisy excesses of Charismatic worship.
One of the very real dangers that I have seen developing over the last few years (although I’m sure it’s happened before…”History repeats itself…has to…no-one listens” Steve Turner) is the tension between Orthodoxy…believing the right things…and Orthopraxy…doing the right things.
Jesus himself, always ahead of the game, waded into this particular controversy with the focus of a story he told:
“So why do you call me ‘Lord,’ when you won’t obey me? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then obeys me. It is like a person who builds a house on a strong foundation laid upon the underlying rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against the house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who listens and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will crumble into a heap of ruins.” Luke 6:46-49 (NLT)
Of course, I know that it’s really all about balance (an over-used word); living at either extreme is definitely much less than Jesus intended.
I’m reading what I consider to be a very HARD book at the moment. It comes out of the USA, but is evidence of a welcome departure from the right wing, fundamentalist version of church that has done so much damage (especially where bits of the UK church have imported some of its teachings with a distinct lack of discernment…in my opinion). It’s ‘hard’ for me because it’s very serious about the fact that a person or community living as outposts of the Kingdom of Heaven will adopt a very distinctive, some would say subversive lifestyle. Until I’d read this book I thought I’d done a good job of balancing belief with practice.
I was at first scandalised, then encouraged, when I came across this passage:
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
1 Corinthians 4:20
The term spiritual formation, as it is often used, connotes the practice of solitary introspection, the reading of “classic” books on prayer or monthly visits to a spiritual director. Interest in these activities seems to increase with age and tends to focus, whether intentionally or not, primarily on the interior life of the individual.
While the “inner journey” aspects of spiritual formation are obviously important, they must be held in tension with the need for an active, communal pursuit of the way of Jesus.
If there is a revolution in spiritual formation afoot, it is in our understanding of how the inward and outward aspects of discipleship to Jesus integrate with one another.
“Outward journey” practices, like service, help us recognize where we need further heart transformation in order to love more courageously.
Inward journey disciplines, such as prayer, when done appropriately, make us more aware of the Spirit’s promptings to express love in action.”
From: ‘Practising the Way of Jesus’ by Mark Scandrette
Scandalised because it appeared to criticise an element of my Christian journey that has become central to my life and work (and the things about increasing with age!); encouraged because once I got my brain in gear I realised that this is not how I live my life.
I guess I’ve never seen an emphasis on the ‘inward journey’ as an excuse for inaction…rather it is one movement in the life of faith…preceding and resourcing the ‘outward journey’.
I have found my spiritual roots in, among other things, lessons learned from Celtic monasticism. Here the monks gathered together in the monastery to prepare and gain spiritual treasure to carry out into the world beyond…in the Northumbria Community we always spoke of the Cell and the Coracle as emblems of this movement, of the rhythm of the tides of Holy Island that enclose the island for a while before opening again, allowing us to take the causeway out to the wider world beyond.
Although I have sometimes been disturbed by more recent ‘joiners’ of the Community who appear to fit Scandrette’s escapist description, the DNA of the Community that I grew into always practiced the balance of cell and coracle, of monastery and mission.
It’s a hard balance to maintain if you see it as an either all situation, but the monks of old demonstrated the wisdom of seasons of increased relationship building with God and one another to equip them for the demands of mission and work in the wider world…sometimes these may be extended times when we concentrate solely on one element, at other times we move between times of inner and outer journey in the course of every single day.
Scandrette’s most powerful point is that which reminds us that our struggles and failings as we seek to be Jesus to our friends, family and the ‘stranger’, cause us to become aware of weak and damaged areas in our lives, which in turn forces us onto the inner journey of discovery and healing with the Holy Spirit, equipping us for the return to active service. This is how we grow…