Like many people these days, I’m a bit of a mutt, spiritually speaking. My parents grew up Lutheran, and I was baptized in a Lutheran church in southern California early on. While living in Guatemala City we attended an interdenominational church with a pastor who was Presbyterian. During brief stints in Los Angeles and Dallas, we were part of the Evangelical Covenant Church. As a teenager, after our family moved to a largely Mennonite area, I was confirmed Methodist. In college, I joined an evangelical megachurch.
Among my favorite spiritual writers are Presbyterians, Catholics, Quakers, Anglicans, Mennonites, Baptists, evangelicals, and of course, fellow mutts. It’s all very complicated, I know.
Here in San Rafael, Costa Rica, like much of rural Latin America, there are basically two categories as far as religion goes: evangelical and Catholic. Not much room for mutts is what I’m saying.
Maybe you’ve found a category that fits you like a glove, or maybe you were born into one and have never had reason to question it. But increasingly, we Christians aren’t sure where we fit. Have you noticed that even churches belonging to specific denominations are leaving those details off their building signs and website banners? We’re not sure which labels to align ourselves with, or even whether labels are good for anything in the first place.
For all these reasons I found Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster to be very encouraging. The book is about what Foster describes as the six traditions, or streams, of Christianity through history:
The Contemplative Tradition (the prayer-filled life)
The Holiness Tradition (the virtuous life)
The Charismatic Tradition (the Spirit-empowered life)
The Social Justice Tradition (the compassionate life)
The Evangelical Tradition (the word-centered life)
The Incarnational Tradition (the sacramental life)
Foster’s burden is to show that these six streams, at their best, strengthen each other. They’re not to be pitted against each other, but instead just emphasize different parts of the Christian life and faith that we should all, in some measure, embrace. But rather than viewing each stream as a valid and interrelated expression, doesn’t it seem that we Christians have all too often huddled around those who see things the way we do, doing whatever necessary to avoid and/or de-legitimize everyone else?
While reading through the New Testament not too long ago, I was struck by just how insistent Paul, Peter, John, and others were about the utter importance of unity within the Church. Evangelicals may do a good job of preaching what the Bible teaches, but without social justice folks in the mix, the teaching runs the risk of remaining abstract. Similarly, social justice Christians are all about taking action, but without contemplatives by their side, they’re probably going to burn out.
In the end, I think the Bible is clear in teaching that God has created us and continues to mold us each differently and that the reason he does this is that together we are the body of Christ – not a homogeneous bunch of feet or hands or heads or small intestines.
Basically, I guess what I’m saying is this: if I’m a lung and I continue to spend all my time with lungs and together we pick fights with those good-for-nothing hearts and kidneys and spinal cords and tonsils and ligaments and kneecaps, I shouldn’t be surprised if the body is sick. On the other hand, when I’m able to recognize that by their very existence hearts and kidneys and spinal cords and tonsils and ligaments and kneecaps and every other unique and irreplaceable part together enable lungs to do what only lungs can do, we might all be a lot better off. And when the parts of the body are working in harmony, there’s no telling what might happen.