new wine, new discipline

The Quaker writer on renewal, Richard Foster, speaks of a vision in his book Streams of Living Water (2001).

In his vision the different streams of Christianity come together in one life giving stream of water and flow out to bless all Christians and all people.

It would seem that Jesus aside, humans have a hard time embracing things that seem contradictory. And Christians are not much better. So one Christian is evangelical, one is charismatic; another lives out an Incarnational approach, valuing the sacraments, and yet another ‘prefers’ social justice (secretly feeling it’s superior).

We all begin our faith journeys in a stream; for some it’s the evangelical one – strong on bible and doctrine. For others it’s the social justice stream – looking for Christ in establishing just structures in society and listening to the voice of the poor and marginalised. For others, God given reason is paramount, and liberal is not a dirty word.

I’ve been nourished by the charismatic stream. A bit odd for an Anglican, you might think… But the New Wine movement has consistently provided fresh ways to worship and to receive the ministry of the Holy Spirit, whether in vibrant singing, emotional healing or prophetic words.

What might you expect to hear taught at New Wine then? Historically we have zoned in on physical healing, the prophetic, tongues speaking and evangelism, as you might expect from the charismatic stream.

But I go back to Richard Foster’s vision. This year we learnt about the spiritual disciplines, particularly solitude, silence and Sabbath.

In the schema of the streams these would probably come under the Contemplative. Those who most fully model them are spiritual giants such as Thomas Merton (1915-1968) a Trappist monk for whom even the silence of the Cistercian monastery was not enough, and who embraced the life of a hermit.

When your charismatic stream flows with constant contemporary band led worship and tongues singing, it is an interesting corrective to be told that inner transformation is only possible with the aid of the disciplines of silence and solitude.

Of course when you stop and think about it, it makes complete sense. But at first two different streams do tend to pull in opposite directions, like currents in a raging sea.

Silence was both a draw and a threat for me on retreats in the past. I certainly didn’t find it in the charismatic stream, but in the contemplative/Catholic one, if you can call it that.

So to hear at a charismatic conference how to train your body to be transformed through spiritual practices was refreshing, not to say prophetically significant.

The speaker was young (all things are relative but I had 15 years on him). However he had already experienced burn out and a re-appraisal of his life and ministry. Hence the conviction that real change is only possible when we come to the end of our own resources. A bit Falling Upwards actually.

So, has Richard Rohr style spirituality come at last to New Wine?

Not quite. (Rohr, from a Franciscan & Catholic background, writes on spiritual transformation, especially around the ‘second half of life’. He famously refused to address charismatics in the US until, as he put it, they had sorted out their theology of pain. OUCH).

Streams flowing together enrich and make each other more powerful. I can’t quite imagine a contemplative, charismatic evangelical who’s passionate about social justice AND holiness, but I’m very excited by the possibility that many more apparently different streams will start to flow into the great river of God’s endless love, which is ultimately for the healing of the nations.

Jesus prayed his followers would be one, and we’ve made a pretty poor job of it.

Because it takes a certain amount of Christian broadmindedness.  A broad mind, like a wide stream, is willing to embrace diversity in Christian expression. Jesus doesn’t look the same to all people. This might feel like watering down at first, but in fact, it’s an enriching.

It’s not either/or, but both/and/and/and/and.



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