I spent a couple of hours at the Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts yesterday. The Shakers, a religious sect founded in 1774, came together around the belief that they would usher in the Millennium and see the return of Christ. They were called ‘shakers’ because they matched their personal piety with worship that included ecstatic dancing and singing. They lived in communes where everyone worked as able, but where the ‘family’ was the group. Marriage was not permitted and those who ‘converted’ were separated, their children raised by the community. In their spiritual pursuits they lost sight of orthodoxy and within a few decades had drifted into mysticism, rejected the deity of Jesus, and denied the reality of the bodily Resurrection. As I sat in their meeting house (church) I ‘listened’ for echoes of their fervent singing and tried to imagine their dancing. To the end (that particular village finally saw its last inhabitant in 1959) they maintained a rigid separation from ‘the world,’ but the great tragedy was their spiritual delusion.
How do we keep a fresh, living relationship with God, the Holy Spirit as part of our lives while remaining anchored in orthodoxy? That question persisted in my mind after that visit and into this morning. Rigid dogma and rejection of anything that hints at ‘new’ will lead us to a stale, dry ‘faith’ without the power to confront the culture or to change us into the people of God! Casting off the body of thought that the Church has confirmed through two millennia will set us adrift, likely to end up on the shoals of a shallow spirituality based on our ‘experience’ that cannot survive the storms of life which inevitably come our way.
Thomas Oden, A Change of Heart, made an interesting journey. Born into a pre- WW2 conservative rural Methodism in Oklahoma, he was educated in seminaries where his mind was infected with humanism, replacing the Gospel with social activism. He became enthralled with Marxism and progressive political change. In his encounters with others of faith and in his honest reflection on the limits of human ideologies, he heard the call of the Spirit and turned, in the second half of his life, back to Jesus Christ and the foundations of ancient Christianity. He makes it his goal not to reach to create the ‘new,’ but to affirm the Scripture’s wisdom for life, valuing the weight of the collective thoughts of those who have gone before us on this Way.
This word speaks loudly to me as I think about life, Shakers, and truth. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:6-10, NIV)
One of the areas in my own Christianity that was woefully lacking was the appreciation for the breadth of the Body of Christ and the value of learning from those who have gone before. The strength and weakness of Pentecostal experience that shaped me was the emphasis on individual spiritual experience and the ignorance of the developed wisdom of the church from centuries past. It was, at least to me, as if God fell silent in 100 AD, only to speak again as the 20th century dawned! In fact, He has never stopped speaking, making the Scripture alive, keeping the Gospel’s transforming Truth alive in the hearts and minds of those who loved Him. I am thankful for the fervent faith that was handed down to me and for the foundation of doctrine that has helped me to grow in the Word.
Don’t be deluded by your own ‘visions’ to the exclusion of the wisdom of Christ’s Church. Here is a word from the Word. “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. “ (Colossians 3:12-17, The Message)
Lord, call us to a living faith that is anchored to the Rock. Amen.
On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand!
His oath, His Covenant, His Blood –
Support me in the o’erwhelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He, then, is all my hope and stay.