“Your Majesty [Nebuchadnezzar] looked [in your dream], and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth…
“In the time of those kings [represented by the feet of that statue] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces” Daniel 2:31-35, 44-45.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” Matthew 28:18-20.
Point by Point
- Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence, has given me hope
- Her historical outline matches my view of history; “Yup! It’s been about that bad…”
- I hope because maybe the mess we’re in is a precursor to a great time of needed change
- Maybe it is even bigger than Tickle has seen; what about all the lost disciplines of Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline?
- Looking at the Foster’s disciplines, one by one, fully 8 of 12 have fallen out of practice and we do not do the other 4 so well either
- Tickle’s four protestant Christianities have much to learn from each other
- We all have much to learn in rediscovering Foster’s nearly lost but critical disciplines
- Whatever happens, we had better stick close to Jesus, without whom we tend to make junk
- This must be a less cerebral and more experiential Christianity
- We may even be led by unlikely heroes, superstars who turn to simplicity and submission
- Then again, maybe Tickle is all wrong and big, deep change, if any, is many years away
- My task is pointing the way to a future with the discernment I have been granted, regardless
From the limited response this post generated, I am guessing the topic is either too new/out of the blue or just plain outside people’s frames of reference.
(Remember, if what I post does not interest you, faithful readers, you can always suggest I comment on what you find interesting by telling me what that might be!)
Anyhow, Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence, has given me hope because it offers a plausible explanation for why the Christian faith in our time is so splintered, so turned-in, so individualistic, so private, so obstinately divided over many, many things. It does that for me by presenting a picture of a history in which Christians, muddling through some truly awful times, have often gotten things wrong, even for long, long periods, but who then came to a crisis during which some of what was wrong was lost along with some of what was good, until a very different Christian expression came to dominate the social landscape, getting some things right and much else wrong for another long, long time. “Yes!” says I. “That looks like the Christian history that I know.”
The view expressed in The Great Emergence also gives me hope because sometimes good things that have been long lost to the main stream of society (preserved only in some ancient backwater) can be recovered just when those good things are dearly missed and sorely needed. Take, for instance, Richard Foster’s twelve “disciplines” which have been lost to all but a few Christian groups for over a thousand years.
Tickle sees four basic, somewhat overlapping Christianities today.
- Social Action
- Renewal (Charismatic)
How many of Foster’s twelve disciplines, which were all early marks of the presence of God and doorways to God’s liberating power in the ancient church, are encouraged, are given structural support and are regularly practiced within any of Tickle’s four groups or, more specifically, within your Christian community or mine?
- Meditation: most evangelical Christians are dearly afraid that this practice is some sort of doorway to eastern mysticism; with most liberal Christians who practice some form of meditation it probably is! Only the Catholic regular orders (the monks and the nuns) and some Quaker communities encourage, structurally support and regularly practice this discipline.
- Prayer: most Christian traditions give some support to prayer, but in many churches it is practiced out loud only by professionals; lay-people are left to recite little rote phrases and doggerel verses at meals which are supposed to pass for communication with the One who loves his people. It seems that in many traditions the professionals are afraid the lay-people might say something wrong so they discourage those actually living the life of faith from praying out loud.
- Fasting: only the Catholic regular orders give any credence and structural support to fasting, an important Christian behavior which was to resume and be practiced by all Christians as soon as the Bride Groom had “left” (Matthew 9:15). Caught up in Jesus’ denunciations of the fasting of “the hypocrites,” most Christians today do not know whether they should fast and if so when or when not. Churches which support and encourage fasting in any context: few to none.
- Study: the denomination of my youth, the Presbyterians, are good at this discipline and give it plenty of encouragement and structural support. Many other Protestant denominations have caught on to its value and in recent years, more churches in more places have added adult classes, at least on Sunday mornings, which provide learning and which encourage further study. This is very good, however, one discipline a life of faith does not make.
- Simplicity: lost to most Western churches for centuries, this discipline is practiced by some in the communal churches (Mennonite, Hutterite, etc.), by many Quakers and by the regular orders of the Catholic Church. We desperately need to rediscover, encourage, and practically support the practice of this discipline in our daily lives, both for our own well-being and as an attractive sign of the kingdom.
- Solitude: there may be some in the Quaker fellowships who support solitude: I do not know for sure. There are individuals who, apart from their Christian communities have discovered the immense value of times of solitude. But what traditions “support and encourage:” we’re back to the Catholic regular orders, the monks and the nuns.
- Submission: we western individualists know nearly nothing about this discipline which is discussed and encouraged in at least half the New Testament letters of Peter and Paul. This discipline is the home of the practice of the common purse, discussed in a third of Paul’s letters and practiced to some degree by most if not all of the early Christian communities of the first Christianity, well into the fourth century. Who structurally supports, encourages and practices this discipline? Only the Catholic regular orders.
- Service: as surely as study belongs to the Presbyterians, this discipline has always belonged to the Methodists, to their great credit. God is on the side of the poor and we all have much to learn from those brothers and sisters who have long since rolled up their sleeves. Again, though, “one discipline a life of faith does not make.”
- Confession: not the mechanical thing with the booth and the mumbled rote phrases, heard through a dark grate that some Catholics still do. How does this true Christian discipline actually, practically, work and what powerful difference does it make, when shared, one believer to another as the New Testament exhorts?
- Worship: if you do not count any aforementioned denominational traditions, there have been many recent gains in worship in some of the other churches. In recent decades some have rediscovered full-throated praise as opposed to mumbled hymns! There is much, much more to be done within this arena to bring healing and power to those who live the life and to bring liturgy to life!
- Guidance: again, we are pretty much tossed back to the Catholic regular orders, which means common people, living the life of faith, since they (we) are neither monks nor nuns, have no access to a church which practices this discipline as a rule and gives encouragement and structural support to members who seek to develop this discipline together.
- Celebration: if I need to go back and re-read Foster to try to figure out what he means by this discipline as opposed to his #10, then I guess I do not know of any church that encourages and supports its members as they seek to practice this mark of the power of the church. Perhaps the Spiritual Renewal (Charismatic) churches know something about this one. We all need this, at least, I think we do.
My denomination of origin practiced only four of these disciplines in any self-conscious and/or intentional way, and only one of them very well. The rest had long been lost or so downplayed and devalued as to be barely even be the object of lip service. Indeed, most of these doorways to the power of God were lost at least 500 hundred years ago when Protestants withdrew from the Catholic Church. At least half of these ways toward powerful, fruitful life were lost to the common folk of the church for the last 1500 years since many of these practices disappeared into the monasteries as the Goths, Viks and Huns overran ordered Roman society. We need these disciplines back if this next Christianity is to truly set out signposts toward the gracious kingdom.
Jim and Dave, the most regular “commentors” I have, each made good points this week. Like the ancient church at Ephesus (Revelation 3:1-7), modern Christianity of every stripe has been caught up to one degree or another in “pursuing the task,” to the detriment of “why?.” Losing the motive, the point of it all, is, of course, easily done. “Love God with everything we’ve got and our neighbor as much as ourselves” in all we do is not hard, it is impossible without continual connection to the One who loves us. Because we are continually in and out of fellowship with our Abba, our efforts as well as our results will be mixed and inconsistent at best. Yet our inconsistent results are not an excuse for not trying, nor is it all right to sit in the seat of the scornful and judge as though we were not also often in the wrong. We are.
Jim also hopes we will shift from the more theoretical framework and ethos of reformation Christianity to something far more experiential. I agree. I am reminded of the old story of John Wimber – if I have this wrong, please correct me if you know it better – when he attended protestant services soon after his own conversion to Christianity. He had read through the New Testament and found modern protestant worship experiences to be missing many things he had read about in the story of the early church in Acts. He asked a lay leader in the church about these missing elements, things like prophesying, tongues, healing the sick, raising the dead, etc. His question was, as I remember it, “When do we get to do the stuff?” He was assured that Christians still believed in those things; they just did not do them any more. In other words, “we provide no structural support nor do we encourage nor regularly practice ‘the stuff’ any more.”
Many Christians wonder where the power of the gospel we read about in the New Testament has gone. Folks, “the stuff”-ing has virtually gone out of the faith. In a new paradigm we will need what the charismatic Christians, including Wimber’s Vineyard followers know about “doing the stuff.” We will all need to submit ourselves to their authority on these matters just as we need to submit to our social action brothers and sisters on what gritty service is all about and our liturgical brothers and sisters on the incredible power of well-aimed and timed liturgy/celebration and to our conservative brothers and sisters on a deep respect for the authority of the story of God. And if eight of twelve ancient Christian disciplines have been nearly lost to almost all of us, we all have much to discover together.
Jim rails against legalism, including all the divisive attitudes and activities which drive for doctrinal purity based on a proof-texting appeal to the authority of Scripture. Tickle says one of the greatest changes in each paradigm shift is the method by which the community fixed its certainty, its authority. Proof-texting, the method of the passing-away Christian expression, has certainly failed us over and over –this is a subject which could easily take up several posts all by itself. She wonders how Christians will determine what is helpful and what is not in the new time. In this context, she gives an honorable mention to N. T. Wright and to the “story of God” approach to authority. I agree with her completely. Proof-texting is always subject to massive manipulation, but the story of God can be known in its own context by any and every believing community. The story of God gives sound guidance when the Spirit testifies with power through the authors’ intended meaning, the Word of God.
Dave agrees with Jim about the love motive and the end to squabbling but adds that it would be good to see examples of a new Christian ethos becoming evident among those who are well-known in society. Yes. In a culture which is so enamored by a star system, many heads would surely turn if we began to see large numbers of “stars” laying down their crowns in order to serve the King. It would be hard to ignore, wouldn’t it? Ralph Nader recently wrote a truly interesting and provocative book, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us. Perhaps the super-famous, spreading their wealth among many small things and choosing to live simply might serve as an early signpost to great changes in our Christian community just as 95 theses nailed on a door in Germany heralded the last great period of deep change.
No one asked me, “Trace, how are you so sure this big change is actually coming? Just because it has happened before each time at around five hundred years does not mean it will happen again or happen now.”
Well, of course, I am not sure. I only hope that the present greyness and Babel-confusion of conflicting voices within Christianity is a precursor to radical, sorely needed change. I hope the future is not like the present, dreary, inharmonious cacophony, decade after decade. Yet, perhaps Christians are not ready to groan out loud for God’s spirit to move powerfully among them. Perhaps we are nowhere close to a time of great and possibly good change.
Still, based on a discernible pattern from the past and on my disgust with the state of present Christian chaos, I am speaking and writing and preparing as best as God has given me wisdom and knowledge, to shape an uncertain future. A hundred years before Luther’s awakening, his most cogent (and dangerous) ideas: salvation by faith through grace, the sufficiency of the biblical testimony for salvation, direct intercession to King Jesus in prayer, etc., were expressed quite elegantly by Jan Huss, a Bohemian cleric and university professor. Huss’ ideas flowed quickly from Prague to England where they were picked up by John Wycliffe, one of the first major influences on Luther and Calvin a hundred years later, before the Great Reformation can be said to have begun.
If the time of deep change is still many years away, then what am I called to do now? I can only speak and write now and hope that by God’s grace the best of what I have to say survives in some form and becomes a positive influence by which others will be guided during the coming changes.
Ecclesiastes 1:11 reads, “Cast your bread upon the waters that after many days you will find it.” Most expositors agree this saying is an ancient version of our “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” which, if expressed prosaically would read, “Invest in ventures which will take your wealth far over the sea, out of your control, and eventually you will earn a profit from what you have risked.”
This is my time to spread ideas like “bread on the waters” of our moment in time. If God honors that investment with a profit someday, then glory be to God!
Lord, lord! When I think of how far we have wandered from the fullness of life in your body over the past two millennia, I am utterly amazed at your patience. You know of all the power and peace of mind and strength in numbers we have misplaced and yet you patiently, lovingly, wait for your people to discover their own poverty and their impotence; you gently give us all the time in this sad world to realize that we can again reach out and restore, in your love and truth, all that has been lost: not easily, not overnight, but in time and with the blessed healing, prodding, empowering and discerning help of your Spirit.
Forgive us, Father for wandering off like sheep and for often mistaking ourselves for the shepherd. We would be found, Savior. We ask to be brought together as one sheep-fold again. We would remember and rediscover all it means to be the whole/holy Body of Christ, spreading joyously across the face of the earth.
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1 Back to PostPresbyterians have long prided themselves on being the educated denomination. In the 1992 film, A River Runs Through It, the Presbyterian pastor’s older son announces he is “seeing a girl.” The father wants to know her family’s religious affiliation. When he is told they are Methodists, the dad remarks, “Oh. Methodists… Baptists that can read…” That is a (pride-filled!) Presbyterian joke, through and through.