On a recent hike with my dad he casually threw out an idea, “Next year is the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I wonder if anyone will have any bold predictions for where we are headed as a church?”

Great question. I wonder too. I have no bold predictions. But maybe I could offer a timid one, actually, rather a hope. Consider a movement that is genuinely ecumenical in breadth and deeply formational in focus.

Imagine a gathered people, meeting all across the country with the primary purpose of cultivating disciples of Jesus with the resources and tools to genuinely take people deeper into life with God, where honest transformation into the image of Christ from the inside out is a living reality, all the while respecting and incorporating the historic richness of the ways God has interacted with his people throughout the ages. What would it look like for a local church fellowship, at its foundation, to embody the work of Renovaré, not in name, but in treasure.

To be sure, there are many wonderful churches doing many wonderful things these days. But I am constantly meeting people who really want to move deeper in the spiritual life only to find themselves orphaned, lonely, and isolated from any local Christian fellowship.

And so, in these next two essays, I’d like to briefly explore what an ecumenical and formational church movement might look like. I’ll start with looking at a holistic vision of Christian life and faith and six of the historic expressions of the Church. Much has already been written on this subject, so I won’t go into a formal teaching, but I would like to offer a few very brief thoughts on the relevancy of these streams in this place in time and history. Then in the next essay I will work with what spiritual formation can look like fully embedded in the life of a local congregation.

But first a little history.

In 1998 my father, Richard Foster, published the book Streams of Living Water. In it he outlined six historical movements of the Christian Church. These six “streams” had been the impetus for founding Renovaré—the Contemplative, Holiness, Evangelical, Social Justice, Charismatic and Incarnational traditions. When this book was written, many Christians were “siloed” within various denominations, each holding different expressions and movements of God, and often unaware of the treasure the congregation across the street held. The book was intended to introduce the local church to the historic, holistic Church and the richness of ways Christians for two thousand years had been encountering God. As Chris Hall, Renovaré’s current president likes to say, “The Holy Spirit has a history.” (For more information on the six streams see The Six Streams.)

As Renovaré began, its core teaching was centered around the availability of God’s kingdom here and now, offering a practical strategy for spiritual growth (the spiritual disciplines) and a balanced vision of Christian life and faith (the streams).

The Contemplative Tradition
Prayer-Filled Life: Our Heart’s Steady Attention on God

Prayer is the primary practice of Christians and much good work is being done in this. What is immensely practical and exceedingly helpful in this tradition today is prayer as an interactive relationship with God that involves our listening as much as our talking. God, you see, speaks most clearly in silence.

There remains a desperate need and longing in humans simply to be still and know God. Our society is literally dying from the assaults of noise and distraction that are so characteristic of modern culture. And while this practice can be done alone, I’ve found there is something very powerful about a gathered people waiting on God in the quiet. A Sunday service is a perfect place to invite and teach people to be still before God. Spiritual maturity is nearly impossible without a regular practice of silence and solitude. These have significant long-term implications, not just for an individual’s formation into Christ-likeness, but, for society at large. People learning to live unhurried lives – living like Jesus, at ease with God, themselves and others could truly transform our world.

The Holiness Tradition
Virtuous Life: Responding with Integrity

Holiness is one of those words that is largely misunderstood and comes with incredible baggage for most people. To be blunt about it, legalism is not holiness. Social morality may be a byproduct of holiness, but it is hardly the point. Holiness is not about making sure our external life looks acceptable, like the Pharisees, rather it is an inward condition of the heart that overflows into our choices. Holiness is simply living a life that functions well.

We start by being open to the idea that Jesus is a realistic and practical teacher who really understands human beings and offers us a helpful way to live.

A congregational culture bathed in holiness offers the world a beautiful expression of people seeking to live lives before God and offering their choices as a voluntary sacrifice of love. In the contemplative tradition we learn to listen, and God is so good to impress upon us individually and corporately simple and small ways for us to begin practicing holiness. Things like choosing honesty, love of neighbor and integrity of speech. How about avoiding the latest gadgets and fashion to reduce impediments in our relationships with the poor and as a small way to address the oppression and slavery used in the production of these goods? We can learn to forsake the idols of impression-management and people-pleasing as an act of submission before God. We can gracefully help one another to rightly order our sexual lives, rejecting our culture’s dehumanization and objectification of the other. Or maybe for a group the task could be to collectively analyze our choices about food and alcohol consumption, freeing ourselves from its dangers and as an act of solidarity with the hundreds dying today from the grip of its excess.

A church culture that knows and practices holiness offers the world little glimpses into the abundant life Jesus invites us to experience. And dare I say, these simple practices of aligning our actions with our heart’s desire to be pleasing before God can actually be kind of fun.

The Evangelical Tradition
Word-Centered Life: Living the Life-Giving Message

“Evangelical” is another one of those tricky words. Linguistically it is often used to reference voting blocks more than anything else. So we have to work a little with what this tradition actually is about.

Think of the Word-Centered Life as three planks:

  • The Bible
  • Proclamation of the Word
  • The Living Word—God still speaking to His people

I’ll briefly address two:

The Bible

For the majority of Christian history, the only access people had to the Bible was from its being read in a Church service. It’s now estimated that the average American household has four Bibles. While this cultural exposure has had a tremendously positive impact, it has also created some genuine problems. While the Bible is well established in society as a potentially helpful tool for instruction and comfort, it is also known as a weapon of power, destructively used to incite arguments and oppression. In talking with people, both Christian and non-Christian, I’m increasingly surprised at the level of baggage many have with regard to the Bible. There’s this strange muddle of immobilizing guilt that the mere mention of the Bible brings. Of course for some it is a reminder of their bad choices, but for many it’s a nagging sense that the Jesus life is simply unattainable, or that they can’t make sense of it, while for others it’s that they don’t take enough time with it in the way they think they should. And so the mere mention of the Bible is like reminding someone of the cluttered closet they keep meaning to clean.

Of course the obsession with treating the Scriptures as purely an exercise of the mind and intellectualizing it as you would a textbook isn’t helping matters either.

So let me offer a few ideas that might be helpful for local congregations. We want to teach people to live into the words of Scripture; practices that encourage slow reading of the text, Lectio devina or memorization for the sake of living into it, rather than accomplishment.

As Eugene Peterson says, “Readers become what they read. If Holy Scripture is to be something other than mere gossip about God, it must be internalized.”

The Bible has the potential to be an incredible gift to the human race, not something we worship as a rigid answer to all of life’s ills - rather it can lead us to worship, inviting us to live into the divine mystery and to implicate ourselves into the story. We are invited to follow and obey – a great joy for the living of our days.

Proclamation of the Word

“Evangelism” is another word that comes with a lot of baggage. Essentially with this we are inviting and training others to live a deeper life with God. We live in a day and age where systems and formulas are met with suspicion, and honestly, they are not helpful. What is helpful are human relationships, not the bait and switch kind like a sort of salesman for God, rather, genuine care for one another. We want to absolutely reject the practice of dehumanizing one another in the name of God. Manipulating someone to agree with us so we can carry the trophy of a saved soul may be one of the most destructive forces that will keep others from following Jesus. Instead of following the corporate playbook for garnering new consumers, we live in relationship with others and share about our life with God as God leads.

The obsessive growth model with a blatant disregard for genuine life-long discipleship is a genuine problem today. Emphasis on conversion without offering others our commitment to follow though and the means that help guide people into a life of apprenticeship with Jesus potentially has a long lineage of leaving people confused and hurt. We simply share and teach what we know as authentically and honestly as we can. Love is the order of the eternal here and now Kingdom Jesus offers to all of humanity.

Flowing Together

Think of the streams as facets of one river, each informing and adding to the other in a variety of ways. For example, the Contemplative Tradition offers insight into ways to read Scripture. The Holiness Tradition informs how we can approach the Bible for life and wholeness. Integrity of heart and stillness of life with God enable us to simply be with people and engage in their lives. Here we see how the Contemplative, Holiness and Evangelical streams can feed and enrich one another.

In my next essay I’ll work with the remaining three streams and then provide a vision for a genuinely ecumenical and formational Church.

Now Underway: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? First, choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

Learn more >

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