And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb 10:24 – 25
The third component of the trio of intentional approaches to reading the Bible proposed by Richard Foster in Life With God is the practice of reading with the people of God. In tandem with reading the Bible with our hearts and minds, the fullness of spiritual formation is realized when we bring to bear the experiences of the whole of the Christian community on our reading practices. We do not stand alone as followers of Christ, we are members of an extended family who can be enriched by seeing the truths of the Bible through the passions and perspectives of others. We read through the experiences of others, knowing their stories and immersing ourselves in their lives.
The Christian community has recognized the value of reading together throughout its history. We have all benefitted from the lives of others as we are cognizant that we are all in this life together. Korean believers teach us about prayer, the persecuted church enriches our perspective on faithful endurance, and Africans offer their unique perspective reconciliation. These are among the experiences that contribute to our understanding of the kingdom message and aid in our spiritual transformation as their reality puts meat to the bones of the experiences in the pages of our bible. These experiences are conveyed through a number of traditions that are seen through the centuries.
The Contemplative Tradition
Christians have a long history of reaching into the deep well of God’s grace through a prayer filled life. The more time we spend in the presence of God in prayer the greater extent to which His grace and goodness will permeate our lives. Like the others, prayer is but one component of whole of Christian life and is not meant for most to be practiced to the detriment of our social justice calling.
The Holiness Tradition
Far from the impression of morality police that the title suggests, disciples of Christ are called to a holiness of heart. Jesus was rightly critical of God’s people who hearts had become darkened as they practiced and enforced moral scrupulousness as a measure of the spirituality. We are transformed from within and it is a changed heart that turns toward God, not simply ethical practices.
The Charismatic Tradition
Contrary to church divisions that diminished the whole of the gifts of the spirit depending on their outward expression, the life filled with the Spirit as Jesus describes in John 7:37-39. The streams which will emanate from the spirit-filled believer will take numerous forms from which we can learn and benefit. We know that the gifts are not evenly distributed but rather, given to specific members within the community for the good of the whole. To silence some gifts is to exclude some members from full participation in our community.
The Social Justice Tradition
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8-9
Clearly God expects His agents to be active in the ways in which He chooses to right the wrongs of our broken world. We do well to consider that one of the reasons that the new heavens and new earth tarry is that God elects for us to serve His purposes of righting these things rather than simply applying His own supernatural intervention. Our purpose is to promote the Shalom that is only truly possible through Jesus, to be truly at peace with both God and man. This tradition helps us to temper the exclusivity that can be generated through holiness being translated as personal morality. That morality must also be measured by its impact on social justice.
The Evangelical Tradition
The evangelical tradition is more than a label, it is a mission statement. Prior to Christ, the good news of the kingdom was mediated through God’s chosen people. They fell into purely human traps that obscured the message. Jesus threw the doors open once again and invited all people into the kingdom to be a part of its life. The evangelical tradition contributes an emphasis on personal conversion, fidelity to the Word, and evangelism and discipleship. These bring structure to the Christian life but can never do so at the expense of the seeking of Shalom or the expression of the gifts.
The Incarnational Tradition
To be incarnational is to allow the life of God within to be seen in outward expression. Can you be seen by others to be a child of God without words? Transformation of our hearts changes our facade, tearing it down and restoring to other eyes the image of God that was a part of the original design.
Reading with others is much more than simply taking turns in our small group settings, it is inviting the experiences and ideas of others to contribute to our understanding of the kingdom message in the Bible. It shifts and sharpens our reading lens, giving us new perspectives on the ancient texts. God has formulated these experiences to contribute to the dynamic transformation of His people, transforming us into the image that he originally intended and preparing us for an eternity together. How have these experiences contributed to your spiritual transformation? Can you contribute something that will help a brother or sister grow today?