Prophetic Voices from Renewed Ancient Traditions

I was at a lecture today at the Baptist College of South Wales in Cardiff, curteusy of my training. The interesting thing that came to light (amongst the learning about the Celtic Tradition (which I’m very interested in), the Anabaptists, and the New Monastic Movement), was this idea that prophetic voices have not been lost in the church, despite what many people have been lamenting. Perhaps, instead, that the prophetic voices for the church have actually been there for many years, and from the point of view of history we can see their influence, but we are currently in a time of transition that has never been faced by the church at any time in it’s life which as focused the sights of people looking around for the renewal of church that people know must be happening. They have brought their sights to new forms of church, to new ideas, to a new way of reaching people in this changing time. However, the lectures that I went to today suggest that actually what people are looking for is something with an anchor, but a very, very long tether.

Traditional forms of Anglican church is a complete misnomer. It’s only in the last 100/200 years has Anglican church actually become something distinctive. It’s form becoming fixed at the time of the Enlightenment. The imperialism, and inward-looking view of the time was that we were right, we know how it was meant to be, and this was it. We forget that Anglican churches have always changed with the times; a simple look at the buildings will reveal that. You can see the influence of the Reformation, of changes in theology, of the tractarians, of even the idea that a priest should face the congregations which happened in the 60’s and 70’s.

Today we have church that is in decline. We are not, by all the polls, facing a decline of Spirituality, but a decline of church. This may be post-Christendom, but it is not yet post-Christianity. Yes there is a strong force of secularism that is taking people from all religions, but there are still swathes of people who are looking to believe, and Christianity can still rise to this challenge, especially if it begins to look at deepening the meaning of what Christians do.

We can no-longer simply accept that the Bible Story makes sense to people. We are living in a time where the Christian Story is not being told any more. We are hearing views from the Fundamental, Literalist Right of Christianity which seems to make Christianity incompatible with the modern view, and is being rejected by those seeking faith for something that does meet the challenge, that offers a depth, and a well thought out approach to the modern world, one that wasn’t nailed down by some almost-literate fishermen 2000 years ago.

It is into this arena that some ancient traditions are beginning to speak. The simply, accepting approach of the Celtic Christian that was wrapped around an authentic and strong believing heart, and the search for being a physical protest based on faith of the Monastics. At the heart of both of these was the challenge of what it was to be really a community in this dark world. There is no escape from the noise, from the influence of information overload, for a way to find some silence and peace in the busy lives of the modern-day person. Even as I write this, I don’t write this in silence, I have my music playing, and instant messaging clients flashing for my attention. This is the world that everyone lives in, and the challenge of these ancient renewed traditions is to find a way to be with God.

It has always been the essence of Celtic Spirituality to worship, and to work, and to do it all with God alongside. The journeying of the Celtic Saints shows how they met with people where they were, how they took with them the message of the Life of Jesus, and used it to challenge the prevailing culture of the day (at least, in the early stages.. before kings began to use their conversion in a convert-or-die war). This was coupled with a deep sense of spirituality. One that called them to explore the mystery that was God. They saw it all around them, in the world that God had made, in the way that even the little things were dedicated to God. It is very easy to romanticise the Celtic way, because at the heart of the movement was a strong ascetic approach to God, and to life. They would accept people, and be more involved in the prevailing culture of life, and yet found themselves called to live on the margins of said culture, denying themselves physically in order to better seek after God.

New Monasticism, it seem on reflection, was poorly defined. IT seems to be about living in community, but in a new way. Rather than in the old-style cells or bedrooms, rather creating a community of house-owners who are Christ-centred, and looking at “church discipline” to ensure that others are not straying form the path. In these modern times, we are suspicious of anything that goes under the heading of Church Discipline, and I myself found the idea hard to contemplate. To look at ways of ensuring that Christian Giving was enough, to share financial details with people who aren’t part of my family is something that is very alien today in our individualistic society. The challenges that come out of New Monasticism were that people were finding a way of living by a rule that guided their life, but did not impinge on their life, one that fitted with their already established mode of being, and only challenged their heart, which, through contemplation, led to a change in their spirituality, but not necessarily in anyway that we would be able to discern externally.

As a long-time fan of the more romanticised view of Celtic Christianity, it seems that these two offer for me, personally, the most difficult challenges. It shows that I should deepen that central part of my life that should be dedicated to God, and that should be born out of times of silent meditation on Creation, or His Word, or even the prayers of Saints. It shows that to truly understand what it was, and can be like to live in that world that I must find at the core of myself a way of being that is truly part of culture, and truly a part of God. Not a new challenge, indeed, something that I have spent a lot of time looking at, but rather, how this can turn itself into an expressible Spirituality that is backed by a coherent theology, which in turn is a driving force for action in the world. They also challenge me to re-look at what being in community is, and the nature of guidance verses discipline, and weather or not I should re-examine what should really be the markers of the community that I will at some point in the future be called to lead, and with their help to shape.

All this, and keeping it real. An old term from the 1990’s, but still a truism. It is necessary for me to not get lost in a world of Jargon, and a world of technical description, and still be able to re-tell the Christian story in a way that is lively, and that is interesting. A way that can reach those that do not know it’s message, and that they too can find in it that mysterious call that draws one onward to continue to seek. Somehow I have to find a way to take this message, dust it off, and clean it up, and show it to the world in all the glory and freshness of those that first heard it, and be able to free it from the chains that have weighed it down.

The challenge is too great for one man alone. Helpfully, I am not alone.

~BX