Traditions of Spirituality - Lesson 7

Recapturing the Great Tradition

Sowing good seed: First steps in recapturing the Great Tradition through shared spirituality.

Don Davis
Traditions of Spirituality
Lesson 7
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Recapturing the Great Tradition

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  • The Apostolic Age, the Ancient Church, the Apologists, and the Great Tradition.

  • Monastic writers have had a significant influence on the development and transmission of theology in the Medieval and Reformation periods in church history. 

  • The postmodern challenge is simply stated: every attempt to describe ‘what it meant’ is in fact only an assertion of what it means to me, or worse, what we will it to mean. Stated in these terms, the real issue comes to light: the question of authority and the locus of the word of God.

  • We should listen with respect to the voice of the past, but we are not bound by it. The teaching of the past must be tested: not by our prejudices; not by its applicability to our situation today (for which it was not written); but by the word of God, the Scriptures.

  • The purpose, elements, and advantages of shared spirituality. The presence of God is usually and normally experienced in the context of Christian community which reflects and reenacts the life of Christ in the world.

  • Dynamic church planting movements embody and defend both the canonical Scriptures and the Great Tradition.

  • Sowing good seed: First steps in recapturing the Great Tradition through shared spirituality.

Dr. Davis emphasizes the ways in which evangelical Protestants, especially those who are only loosely connected to a particular Church tradition, can be renewed and revived through a retrieval of the Great Tradition. Of great interest in this class are the elements, purposes, and ramifications of sharing a distinct spirituality grounded in that Tradition, and what the impact this sharing can have on our individual, family, and congregational lives.

We discuss it. Joe writes a question that if we have no no church tradition, how are we to relate both to each tradition and how are we to embrace the idea of church tradition in history? I mean, in other words, if there is no particular tradition that we have been tutored in or understand that has informed our own spirituality and theology, then how are we to really how do you come to one is what I would suggest. Joe, I'm just stating a question. How would you come to one if you don't have one? Are you you are not participating in a tradition right now. That's right. None of the people in the city will have any idea of what a great tradition is or any tradition, the apostolic tradition, the authoritative biblical tradition, the great tradition, the first five centuries, and then a specific tradition that comes through the history of the church. How would you guys answer that if if if you have no tradition yourself and you're not working with people who have any tradition, what is the best way to reclaim and retrieve the great tradition? Would you say? Yes, you guys have you. How many of you have a copy of the Book of Common Prayer? Have you ever seen it in the in the in the preface of the Book of Common Prayer, which is really, frankly stood the test of time over hundreds of years in that tradition. The very preface of the book says that it is a part of the liberty that we have in Christ, that we are free to define ourselves spiritually as long as we don't contradict the sacred scriptures and the things that Christians have always believed and cherish. So I really personally believe that there is room for anyone who is open to Christ.

It's the reason why we do mission. God, why shouldn't God raise up somebody from the city who could be the next Billy Graham or Augustine or anything? I'm not going to limit anything on God. God can do anything He wants. We should be open to that. We should, frankly. To be honest, Joe, I think we should expect. I think we should plan for. The real issue that I'm concerned with is that we have many people who really have no tradition and they really are toxic to anybody else with tradition. Do you know what I mean? They really don't cherish anybody. They're the most inhospitable people, you know. They don't have a tradition and they despise everyone who has an identity to. I think it's just the opposite. I think Penny won't. I hope she doesn't mind me saying this. Penny is one of the finest students. And to me, she writes stunning papers. She's a part of a church that is Pentecostal, and they are filled with the spirit and love the Lord. To me, I could I could easily see God if you wanted to. Raising up and duplicating the spirituality and the depth in that church thousands of times throughout the city. Why not? I should be open and charitable to everyone, is what I'm saying. If the Holy Spirit is there and it's evangelical, there should be No, no question about this. My fear, though, in this is not that we are worth reproducing, but that we are so shallow that we shouldn't even be playing the game. There are some of us who don't know anything about Christianity, and we're trying to pretend that we can represent the great tradition. And I don't think that's fair either to Christ or to the people who are inheriting what we have to do.

I'm just saying that if you say you are here to reproduce the tradition, if you believe second Timothy two two, then pass down some don't just give them some little nothing. Pass down the apostolic tradition, help them understand what it is and we'll see how God works it out. So I think that if you really are a part of no tradition, I would say in in the second in my final words that I give to you guys, I give some hints in the last session on some things that you can do. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of the appendices in this are giving those who might not have any clue how to really capture the great tradition in worship and in theology, a way to do that. There are dozens of different appendices in, and a whole point of those appendices is to help someone who doesn't have any clue whatsoever of essentially the appendix from appendix 18 all the way to appendix. Really 36 are all dealing with ways that you can really think. Similar to the ways that Christians have thought about the great tradition in terms of worship and other things. So in other words, if you have no tradition, you wouldn't know where to start in terms of sharing what the church has done and how it's understood. Appendix eight Appendices 18 through 36 is a very good place to begin. Okay. Is it possible you asked three questions? I'll read them all and then we'll discuss. Is it possible that the great tradition can retain its fidelity by not only translating items in terms of liturgy to the popular language, but also expressing it in terms of the predominant culture? That's a very wise statement. I mean, I'd like to say something on that.

Your second question, this means the new expression of creed omits nothing of the old. But our text articulates it in a way that draws clear lines in the sense of the particular culture of the churches, of that culture. Can or another way, he says, Can we honor the Nicene Creed, take our place in primitive and in foundations tradition, and yet see it in our own way? You know, can can we can temporize, for instance, the, you know, the Nicene Creed. Can we can we contextualize? I'm curious what you guys think about that. What do you think? That's a very important question. Goes to the heart of everything that I've taught. Can we do it? If there was no word. It's really Gil's question goes to the very heart of how do we make the gospel plain? Garza I really do believe in the great tradition. What I've taught you guys here is everything I believe. I don't think there's that much in Christianity that needs to be communicated. We're free to do all kinds of things, but there are certain things you can never change. Now, all those things, let's say we were translating in a culture that had no word for bread, but bread in their culture was the same as potato bread, and the biblical culture was the same as potato in this culture we were working in. Could I translate? John six I am the potato of life. I could do that. How would you how would you translate then? The Nicene Creed, which is very powerful. What? Because really it is it's one of the it is one of the few documents in all of Christian history that everyone agrees on. So so girls question is very important. Can I change the word that he has begotten, not created? How would I say that in the sincerely language Jesus was begot begotten? Not create it.

That's a very important thing. If you get that wrong, you get a lot wrong. So let's be missionaries for a moment. How would you say begotten not created? Well, see what is really. See, I think you really go to the very heart of the kind of attitudes that we should have as we do this work. We should be open and humble and responsive and spiritual. But see, Gil's question is the what is the movie where, you know, people it used to be the $64,000 question that dates me to now it's big money. Make a deal or whatever. Deal or no deal. That's the deal or no deal. Question now. You know, it is in some ways, if we don't get begotten, not create a clear if we are wrong on that, you could be wrong with the apostolic tradition. That is why this this goes a long way past. This is important. This goes a long ways past. The loving care that you give to those people in vicarage. Let's say you love them, but you're dead wrong in your translation. They can be an error. So are humility and openness. And warmth allows us to be open to them. And I'm a great component of freedom, but I really honestly believe I can say this, Gil, that I don't know if there's an answer to this question, except that we have to be completely vigilant. Yeah, Yeah. But see, see everyone, everyone who is a missionary in this room now will tell you that if there was an immediate answer, we wouldn't. We wouldn't be pulling out here. There's not. This is the very work that Missions has done and struggled with for centuries and centuries. I like the confidence you all have that there is an answer and we can go get it.

It's right there. But when but when push comes to shove, it's a very, very difficult thing to do. And so it's like doing surgery without having never done any before. Now it's like you looking at friends. Is this a gallbladder? What is this purply thing right here? So if you cut wrong, if you don't get it right, you better be right. Don't be cut. No, Nothing you don't understand is what I'm saying. What I am saying. The great tradition is like messing with nitroglycerin. If you mess up, a lot of stuff is going to blow up. If you mess up on this, this is very important for anybody planning the church. Before you say I'm going to change the Nicene Creed. You need to know what That's what you mean by that. You need to be you need to be very careful. Because really, honestly, this is in some ways, the people weren't made for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for people. But guys, we need to hold the doctrine of our Lord with the greatest sense. If there's anything that this whole thing has been about is that there is a core that we have to defend and protect with our very lives. It just means that we should have the confidence that you're saying. But at the same time, we have to be very, very careful in the actual results of what we translate and what we say. I mean, I would be so careful. I am absolutely careful when it comes to these things. I mean, more than careful of not because I don't you know, I don't have confidence. I just don't want to I just don't want to misrepresent the law on any of this. Well, see, the beautiful thing the important thing about Gail's question, while we affirm what you're saying, is that this is precisely what the Roman church did.

It stayed in Latin for many years when nobody spoke Latin. Now, what were they thinking? That no one spoke Latin and they murdered the guy. They burned him at the stake. When Tindale said, I think I'll just put this in the language of the common people. Everybody's talking English. Why don't I just translate this in English? And they. They burned him at the stake. It's a powerful thing. So you're exactly right. See, both of you know what the answer is? Is both the olive, right? There really is no way you can resolve it. We have to be absolutely careful because this is the faith. I believe that was once for all delivered to us. And we cherished it for centuries. But if we can't make it plain, as these two brothers say to see. Gil is asking a strategic question How do I make this playing to the people I'm dealing with if I can't help them at all? So how far can I go? What can I say? What can I say? Sam. What? What? You had some on your. So. So if somebody had never seen, say, sheep before, just think of how much of the Bible is contingent on you understanding sheep, wasn't it? Paul Brooks In a Bible study in one of our church plants, he's explaining around what sheep do. None of the people in the Bible study had ever seen a sheep. So. Yeah. Okay. Since the girl's admission that she's going year one, it looked like she would. She would show him a sheet and she got a little pen hits that make him scoot around like she got calls. US, You know, you look just. You got a penny it, too. You know, you could do things like that.

You could sort of help people understand. But in some ways it's still hard. They've never seen it. What really in some ways, Gil's question goes to the to the very heart of all of this, y'all, how do we make plain and real to 21st century urban underclass people what Tertullian was about? I mean, how are we going to do that? And why should they listen? Tertullian Turismo You and I ain't got no time for that. 30 million. That's pretty good. And we'll see. So y'all are just this is perfect end to this this time. Because really, let's say that I really believe in indigenous people. I believe that we are the ones who need to understand this. And I can't do this myself. I have to train somebody to do it. Can you imagine how important it is for you to get it clear to this guy that you send in? What if you just give them a little shallow? Nothing and they don't anything and they just go into the community and they're just talking about things. They don't know what they're saying, Miss speaking. It puts all the pressure on us who love Christ to really be deep in all of this, in this entire seminar, can be summed up in one word is we can one one phrase, not one word, if we can, really. Become something. Then we can reproduce something. If you can if you can become something, then you are at least in a better position to explain to someone else what it means to share what you got. In the early church understood Christianity entirely in terms of making guilt, questioned guilt without you knowing. It is the question of the early church. How do we take what we have been given and pass it to people who don't have a clue? That's the whole point.

Yeah. To the call. Yeah. See? You See? You know what is so powerful to me? I've always viewed Christianity as a combination of different things. Would you just articulate It really is a fine closing to where we are. Because in a real sense, my intent, I can tell you as a as a as an ending of this workshop, my intent is to see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of congregations come to share spirituality rooted in the great tradition. I'm going to do everything I can to make that plain so they can know what they're doing and reproduce it as credibly as possible. But the problem, the strength that we need on our side is what this brother just articulated a vision, commitment, authenticity. He was compelled by somebody's life, not just their argument. And frankly, even hearing you, you sound compelling. I bet you are not an easy person. I mean, you are compelling if someone is in fact, if someone in fact, has something, they can give what they got. You can't give what you ain't got. That's true. But but this is really important to know that I believe that the great tradition was formed in a culture where the vast majority of our leaders were murdered and killed and burned. Even if we're godly and ready, the world can respond with viciousness and cruelty. We've got to wait. Let me put it this way. It will not be enough for us to be sincere. We will have to be disciplined and studied. We will have to know the great tradition and be able to reproduce it. We have to find a spirituality that is worth reproducing in urban America. That's what it is for me now. Who among us is is packing spirituality that is worthy to be replicated among the poorest family.

What sister in here whose spirituality is strong enough. There some of these sisters trying to trick to really completely give it up and be as compelling in her life as this brother was in our brother's life. Dear friends, I think that we're at a crisis. That's why I wanted to teach this. I don't think that we can just borrow our same old, tired, worn out evangelical cliches and things. I don't think it works anymore. I don't think nobody cares. So we've got to find something that's credible and then get in the business that Gail said and really wrestle. We just going to have to spend our time on trying to make it plain to the poorest of the poor in the violent communities that we serve here in America. Guys, let me say a few last things and then I will push you out the door or you will run out the door, as the case may be on on page one on page 109. One of the questions that Matt said, I'd love to really make this practically aware in my church, How do I do it? There are there are some things I give you a list of things that you can do and some final suggestions. I think that to really begin with, we can really begin to put the apostolic faith and spirituality into practice right away by really actually looking. There is a book. By Robert Webber called worship entering his presence. Worship. Is that the name of the book? What's the name of the skinny little book? Worship journeying into his presence. Journey into his presence. It is it is the finest book to sort of alert you to the way the early church worshiped and what that has for us.

I am convinced that we need to make our life and gathered assembly the center of our faith the way the early church did. And I list a number of different things that you can do on pages 109 and 110. I think we need to really experiment. There are some great resources of like video Bob Webber book and and I think we can experiment in small groups and some, some very practical things. Again, guys. APPENDICES 18 through 36 is filled with very, very practical things regarding a spirituality that is shared in the Christian year. You can you can to me on, for instance, on page 193. Of your book. There is a liturgy that is essentially an adaptation of one of the oldest liturgies in the church. It's what we use. In other words, I think there are some very practical things that you can do if you're really interested in sort of experimenting with this. I think that you should. You should if you're interested in this, you should read many of the articles in the appendices on the observance of the Christian year. The early Christians actually saw themselves very much in sync with the with the Jews. On page 244. On page 244. Here's a great example of the Jewish calendar. Three times a year, God demanded that all the males come to Jerusalem. There was God put them on their own yearly calendar. I think that's very, very powerful. And I think that the Christian year is one of it's a stunning thing. I don't know how many of you guys know that much about the church here. The church here is essentially a reenactment of the life of Christ on a loop. Every year it goes from Advent all the way to Advent.

It goes from Advent and then to Epiphany and then to live, and then the Holy Week and then Easter and then Pentecost, and then Ordinary Time and Ascension Day. It goes through the life of Christ. In the early church did that in order to make the connection real. I think that there is real benefit in that we are going we have we've done a lot and I put a lot of some resources for you guys in the appendices. And then finally, I think that there are some very practical things that you can do in terms of sort of structuring the way you discipline a staff together. We read the same scriptures and memorize many of the same things. We read the same books, We participate in a lot of spiritual disciplines together. We have days of silence and we we have fallow days where we don't work. I'm just saying that there are many practical things that you can do to really help people come to share their faith together. Now, on the very my final thought on page 114, I give a list of different things that you can do there regarding the great tradition. Commit to a spiritual discipline, instruction of an offshoot of a tradition if you belong to one. Quite literally, there is one of my favorite authors on the church here who compares going through the disciplines in the church here to a spiral graph. You'll remember that on page 245. On page 245, you sort of go round and round. And the more you go round and round. The more you can create an image. I honestly believe that that is exactly the way that the disciplines when they are, when they are. To me, ritual is something that evangelical Christians could really learn to.

It is not ritual to me to read the Bible every day with others. It's not ritual to have the Lord's Supper regularly, she says on page 114, y'all. This Vickie Black, she says the repetition is the key to the gift of grace in our lives. Speaking of the church here, she says, like the spiral graphs, layers of single ellipses combining to form intricate spirals, the cycle of the repeating and overlapping cycles of the feast and fast of the church here create patterns of meaning in our lives, giving shape and direction to the events that mark our days. I want to recover, if I can. Among the urban poor people who don't read or carry daytime hours or PDAs, something in their calendars that we all can do together, I think we can really do that through the through the through the church year. We I think that you should familiarize yourself with the great tradition. If you want to read some really solid books, Weber has written a ton of books in the ancient Evangelical Future series. Ancient Future Fate. Ancient Future Worship. Ancient Future. There is another one. Time. Time. We are going to always have some things on our website about this. And I really honestly, if you are part of a tradition, it may be a good time for you to sort of rediscover your tradition if you're a Baptist or a Lutheran or whatever. I think you should begin small and simple. If you don't have a tradition, you can begin with some of the resources that we give. You should reacquaint yourself with what the creeds guys have given you a lot of resources in here, especially the bibliographies that we have given. And I like, frankly, that we we should really expect spirituality to occur in the body.

And let me just highlight what our brother said, that we not stifle the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who can do this, and he can give us all kinds of new ways to apply these things in our own settings. Guys, I really again, I apologize for. For the inadequacy of such a thing. But on behalf of all of us, we thank you for coming. Thank you. Thank the staff. I would appreciate. I think it would be a very appropriate thing to stand. And in the tradition of the great tradition, sing the docs ology. How about that? We'll be done and we finish on time. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Which is a part of our tradition. Right. Here we go. Praise God. From whom? All the things flow. Praise him. All creatures here. Be low, Praise Him all above. He heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and the Holy Ghost are. Me now, maybe the one who gave us the great tradition rest rule and abide with you and give us the strength to share a spirituality that is so compelling that our neighbors and friends in the city will want to join us in our hope of heaven. In Christ. In His name, we pray. Amen. You are dismissed. Go in peace.