In recent years, my desperate and growing desire has been to reconnect with the ancient nature of the Christian faith, to feel a genuine connection to the kind of Christianity that was expressed and experienced by the Apostles who walked with Jesus and by those who followed after the day of Pentecost when the church was born.
My reasoning has been that, for too long, I had been involved in an expression of church with only one hundred years of history. Why is that a big deal? Well, tragically, most of the history specific to the Pentecostal faith tradition was thrown out in the early 1980’s because the new generation of leaders seemed to have no capacity to carry the depth and strength of the Spirit of God at work in their midst, making it all the more shallow and causing churches and leaders to be prone to adolescent know-it-all behaviour when comparing themselves to the rest of the "church universal".
When I first became a part of a cutting-edge Pentecostal church in Western Sydney in the late 80’s, it was nothing out of the ordinary for the Spirit of God to display Himself in power through regular salvations, spontaneous healings, powerful deliverances and the genuine manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit through ordinary believers as normal expressions of a church gathering.
Oddly, or so it seemed to me at the time, over only a handful of years, all of these practices were slowly relegated to the back room or were dissuaded in public gatherings altogether. And slowly, but surely, the new generation of leaders who had no capacity to carry the depth and strength of the Spirit of God at work in their midst, lost what God had given and began to replace Him with a lot of razzle-dazzle to fool their congregations into thinking everything was still alright.
The fact is .. it was not, and still is not, alright!
We may be seeing bums on seats en-mass in some mega-churches, but what we’re not seeing en-mass are generations of Christians who are true disciples of Christ, understanding His ways, living out the nature of His Kingdom on the earth and who are cultivating their lifetime love-affair with the One who will soon be their bridegroom.
We don’t know how to pray. We don’t know how to engage with the Scriptures so that they lead us to an encounter with the Word of God; that is, the person of Christ. We don’t know how to order our days so that we dwell in the awareness of the presence of God, making Him the priority of our lives. We have no real clue about spiritual practices that will sustain us and we are lost when it comes to the formation of intentional community because we have become so used to the sterile world of anonymous church attendance.
So, by now I’m sure you’re asking, what’s brought on this "riff"?
Well, I dropped by Willow Creek’s "Reveal" blog again this morning to check on their progress, only to read this remarkable quote from a reader’s comment on Greg Hawkins’ most recent post. Deb Lorier wrote:
"A.W. Tozer summed this condition up years ago in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, "We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. This loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. BUT THE ALARMING THING IS THAT OUR GAINS ARE MOSTLY EXTERNAL AND OUR LOSSES WHOLLY INTERNAL."
She goes on to say, "Our seeker churches are a mile wide and an inch deep. The heartbreak is we have nurtured a whole generation of believers, especially our children on ‘God Lite’."
It’s because of my growing awareness over recent years that our faith experience is largely "a mile wide and an inch deep", that my desire for a reconnection to the ancient nature of our faith has been sparked. My search is, in truth, a desperate desire for God Himself. I don’t care how He comes packaged, and I don’t care how I find Him (so long it’s within the boundaries of the Christian faith as expressed in the Holy Scriptures) … I just want God! I want Him in great depth and rich substance, and not in the froth and bubble of our charismatic and Pentecostal churches where we’ve been led to believe this is the best God has to offer.
So, as I survey the landscape of almost all Christian faith traditions, whether they be Protestant, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, in order to find men and women who, across nearly two thousand years of the Christian faith, have managed to maintain the production of consistent fruit as it relates to living in intentional community, 24-7 prayer, safe spiritual practices that lead to a daily cultivation of an individual’s love for God, the value of times of silence and solitude, and the high priority of doing the "work of God" from a place of obscurity, I keep coming back to one group of people who have proven it all, year after year for nearly two thousand years, and that is .. Christian monastics.
Now before you respond with an "Oh God, here he goes again", please hear me out, because there are strong reasons why I am involved in the investigation of Christian monasticism.
For the record …
• I do not want to become a monk, but I do want to learn from those who are.
• I do not want to become a hermit, but I do want to glean from those who are.
• I do not want to live in seclusion, but I do believe it is important to experience regular times alone with God.
• I do not want to live my life in silence, but I do believe it is important to experience regular times of restrained speech in order to listen and clearly hear God.
• I do not want to chant psalms, but I do believe in the power of using the Bible and the psalms as a basis for prayer.
• I do not want to pray the Office in Latin or even become a Roman Catholic, but if contemporary prayer books help to formulate regular encounters with God across my day, then I will be humble enough to use them as a framework for prayer.
• I do not want to lock myself away from the world in an enclosure for the rest of my life, but I do want to commit my life to a group of people living intentionally in community.
So, why Christian monasticism? Well, let me share a story that is the foundation of a deep conviction of mine.
It was 1994, during the early days of what we called the "Renewal". Most knew it as the Toronto Blessing. It was a time when it seemed clear that God was wanting to bring not only renewal, but revival to His church. I remember during the early days of that Move of God, our little church was visited by R. Edward Miller, one of the earliest westerners to be a part of the Argentinian revival. He told us remarkable stories of how the Renewal was only the early stages of what they first experienced some fifteen years earlier and that it led to full-blown revival because of the apostolic leadership of a group of men who, to this day, still lead a revival that continues to impact Argentina.
From there I joined the staff at was then called Christian Life Centre Mount Annan, a church that was kind of like the "Toronto" of the Asia-Pacific rim. We had had over one hundred thousand people through our doors in only a couple of years to drink deeply from a well of God’s presence. But part way into this move of God, it became clear He was changing some things and that we had better learn fast if we were to sustain what God had entrusted to us, all the while following His leading to transition.
One of my key pieces of prophetic counsel to the Senior Pastor of the church was that "we had best humble ourselves and reach out to learn from the men and women in Argentina who already know what it takes to sustain a national revival for more than fifteen years (at that time)." There seemed to me to be no point in looking for guidance to those who were also in Renewal because, like us, none of them had any experience in the next stages of a move of God like this. We were the blind leading the blind.
But, even after personal discussions with the likes of Randy Clarke and Guy Chevreau that confirmed my growing conviction of our need to reach out to the leaders in Argentina, we did not. As a result, within three years of me giving that prophetic counsel, we lost the Renewal and revival still seems a far-off "hope deferred".
However, it seems to me that God is bringing us a second chance in this hour. But this time He’s presenting it in such a way as to help us find all the necessary tools to sustain what He’s wanting to bring.
See, revival is not the reward. Renewal is not our reward. New forms of church are not our reward. HE is our very great reward .. and I for one am prepared to do whatever it takes to find Him in a sustainable way, through the cultivation of a friendship with God that becomes renewable every day of the rest of my life.
So again, why Christian monasticism? Well, it seems to me that God is again presenting us with the opportunity to humble ourselves by approaching those beyond our limited experience, to have them help us find a way to live a life wholly devoted to God.
• If God is speaking to us about intentional community, the monastics know how to do it.
• If God is speaking to us about 24-7 prayer efforts, the monastics know what it takes to do it.
• If God is speaking to us about reprioritising the pace of our lives, the monastics have chosen to do it.
• If God is speaking to us about regular encounters with His manifest presence, the monastics know all about it.
• If God is speaking to us about employing spiritual practices, the monastics have perfected these over hundreds of years.
• If God is speaking to us about living sacrificial lives full of social justice and intercession, we must see that this is already the monastic life.
Do you remember me telling you that I was watching the National Geographic Channel on pay-tv a couple of years ago when they ran a promo which featured something that astounded me and triggered an encounter with the Lord? As a reminder, here is the text of that promo:
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
In case you had trouble, here it is correctly spelled with its profound truth revealed:
According to a researcher at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself but the word as a whole.
At the time, seeing this on my TV screen triggered an encounter with God that still resonates with me to this day. When I realised that the need to have the first and last letter in the correct place was like Jesus being the "Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end", that’s when God said at the time, "I don’t care how it all goes together in between, so long as Christ is first and last."
All I know is this … I don’t care how the truth and wisdom is packaged. It’s really only us that worries about the details of the form. But, if Christ is first and last, and the monastic’s truth and wisdom is already producing the fruit of what God is trying to open to us today, then I’m going to humble myself to listen, learn and practice what they’ve proven .. at the very least in principle and value.
I genuinely don’t believe there would be any contemporary relevance to us starting to chant the psalms in our charismatic or Pentecostal environments. I also don’t believe there would be any contemporary relevance in wearing monastic robes or trying to build gothic enclosures to house our "new found truth". I believe that to take the entire "monastic package" and just replicate it wherever we are, is to miss the point.
However, to take the package, and to rework the "spelling" so it makes sense to a contemporary audience, all the while being certain to glean and apply the wisdom, values and principles of Christian monasticism, at the same time making sure that Christ is absolutely first and last and not the form itself, then this, I believe, will go a long way to us discovering what it’s going to take to regain what we’ve lost .. especially what we’ve lost internally, as A.W.Tozer said.
In fact, if Tozer’s quote is still resonating within you .. that is, "We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. This loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. BUT THE ALARMING THING IS THAT OUR GAINS ARE MOSTLY EXTERNAL AND OUR LOSSES WHOLLY INTERNAL" .. then I encourage you to humble your heart and to learn from those who have consistent and proven fruit .. regardless of whether their packaging is to your taste or not.
As charismatics and Pentecostals, I believe we have much to learn from Christian monastics. However, we must make sure it’s not the form, but the goal of Jesus Christ Himself being first and last in all that we learn, that becomes our filter and our benchmark of discovery.
Maybe then .. just maybe .. God will bring us what we’ve desired for years; a move of His Spirit to rival all others that have gone before. But this time, through our humble learning and application, may we be made ready to sustain the Move of God to come, having learned from those who have gone before us, as to what it’s going to take for us to do so.