Celebration of the Great Tradition and Pursuit of a Balanced Christianity

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The church of Jesus Christ is a beautiful community. You might think to the contrary. Our checkered past of violence, oppression, and gracelessness is obvious, and nothing I need to defend here.

Any local expression of Jesus' followers will make a mess of things from time to time. Find any community or institution filled and led by sinners and chaos will ensue. Are we shocked by this? The bulk of the New Testament wouldn’t exist if everything was neat and tidy. 

Only more reason for Jesus to come and redeem and restore sinners and broken people to himself. If everything is okay with us, and the universe, Jesus’ mission, ministry, and presence today makes no sense. Jesus wouldn’t have said obvious things like: “I came not for the healthy and righteous, but sinners, and those who need serious medical attention (sinners),” (my paraphrase). 

The church of Jesus Christ is beautiful because despite all her limps, wounds, scars, and sins, God pursues her, and is transforming these ragamuffins into the likeness of their Leader, Jesus. 

A second reason the church is beautiful are the ways through church history multiple streams and movements added to the conversation of discipleship. How ordinary churches and people lived out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. 

Pardon my language, but no one movement of the church, has the market cornered. God used his people from the Old Testament prophets, to the apostles of the New Testament, and varying voices and denominations for two thousand years, to add to the beauty of the church. These varying emphases and movements of the Spirit are something to be celebrated and not rejected. 

Visit a church gathering underground in China or in the suburbs of Baltimore and find common hopes and desires. A people coming to grips with their weakness and their need for Jesus to make them new and whole. 

Pick up a church history book and skim the pages. You’ll find God’s people in the first century, ninth century, or in 2018, striving to be disciples of Jesus and glorifying God in their ordinary everyday lives. Attempting to love God and neighbor with all their gusto.

 I’m under no illusions the church has arrived and their isn’t disunity in the family. Jesus prayed for a united church and I don’t think the prayer has been answered, yet. We still have much prayer and work to heal our differences and come together as a united Jesus-centered community. Why we speak past one another online or in person. For another time… 

The benefits of growing up in a non-religious home is you don’t get locked into one way of understanding the Christian faith expressed in the ages. I didn’t have a Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, or Non-denominational jersey to wear with pride. Maybe it’s why I’ve always enjoyed studying church history and seeing the ways God has worked in different periods of redemptive history. In some ways, maybe it’s why I have friendships and relationships with people part of different streams of the church, and outside the church, and we get along. They might say otherwise…

But what I marvel at is despite our sin, arguments, and differences the church still goes forth. It still moves ahead with the power to make disciples of all nations. Case in point: 2 billion Christians on the planet.

We must not be afraid of other traditions because they are foreign to our upbringing, or don’t fit into our current theological constructs. We have much to learn from the past and much to learn from our brothers and sisters from different Mr’s.

Before you start a riot or leave nasty comments below… I don’t suggest all movements are created equal, and every voice has equal weight. Not at all. Much crazy talk in the name of Jesus has been spouted out for thousands of years. 

And yet, I dream and pray for a united church, and a balanced church. A church that can draw from its ancient roots and see the places where they might get out of whack and out of tune with God, each other, and the creation. 

Richard Foster in his book Streams of Living Water offers a helpful overview of church history. A unique voice to the conversation of a balanced Christianity. A church which is humble enough and wise enough to learn from others and the past. 

He suggests in the history the church there are six primary movements we need for a balanced Christianity. All of these streams have something to teach us. Here are the six:

  1. The Contemplative Tradition - prayer filled life. 
  2. The Holiness Tradition - virtuous life. 
  3. The Charismatic Tradition - Spirit-empowered life.
  4. The Social Justice Tradition - compassionate life.
  5. The Evangelical Tradition - Word-centered life.
  6. The Incarnational Tradition - sacramental life. 

Now, these are brief sketches, and church history and church tradition are not nice and tidy movements. Some of these movements have crossover. And, some church traditions could fit in these categories at the same time. 

But what is important about the pursuit of a balanced Christianity is to not fear what we don’t know, or understand. Cognitive dissonance is good. Let’s not come with assumptions that the people and churches represented in these traditions have nothing to teach us. Nothing to offer the larger Body of Christ. Like I said before, I think this is why we have so much division in the Family of God because of fear of the unknown. 

I will flesh out each of these streams in the coming weeks for reflection and discussion. 

Let me end with this…

What these streams will do, if we let them, is offer a Spirit-led corrective for making disciples. A corrective for making balanced disciples of Jesus. What do I mean?

None of these movements can say everything there is to say about Christian faith. Nor should they. We are still dealing with God and Spirit. God is always up to something. 

But what these streams offer is a diagnostic voice when imbalance creeps into our lives and churches. For example:

If you come from a Contemplative tradition and your emphasis is only prayer… what about making disciples, justice, and Word-centered living and practice? There’s a chance, like we’ve seen in history, of a monkish faith that is separated from the world we’re called to love and serve. A world God made and called: good.

What if we are in the Charismatic tradition? Many Charismatics are constantly looking for signs, wonders, and words from the Lord. What about seeing God work in the ordinary and everyday things of life (Incarnational life)? Don’t forget how God has spoken to us in the Scripture (Word-centered life). 

But Word people, don’t forget God is still active and moving in the world, and doing miracles. Social justice people, don’t forget about holiness and prayer. It’s not just about good works, but it’s also about living holy and good lives. 

You get the point. Any body builder who wants to have a balanced body, works not only his biceps. They work the back and legs so they don’t fall over. Anyone who wants to eat healthy doesn’t just eat proteins. They need carbs and other healthy fats. 

Any church and disciple of Jesus who only cares about correct doctrine might overlook the needs of the poor. We need these traditions and streams because I believe our churches are lifting weights and the arms are much larger than the legs. 

Pray with me for a united church. Pray with me for a balanced church where we desire to see people come to faith in Jesus while caring about injustice. Pray for a church that cares about holiness and seeing God in the ordinary stuff of life. Pray for a church that loves doctrine and the Bible while also caring about prayer and warm fellowship with the Holy Spirit. 

See you in the next post...