Saturday, July 19, 2008

Experience as Retreat

The experiential is a dimension of almost every renewal movement in Christian history. And likewise there is a natural counter-progression in our history:

Spirit-led=>Structure driven
Revelation (or reemphasis on previous revelation)=>Tradition
Equality in leadership roles=>Rigid roles and segregation

From time to time, we have to turn back, reexperience, renew, refresh. It's like a "retreat" for whole religious movements. Mountain-top experiences renew us, bring us into the presence of our Savior, call us to face our fears, our inadequacies, our priorities, so we can return to life in a new way. Many retreats climax at moments of spiritual "crisis," calling for one to make a decision and more forward in life a transformed creature. I find in my own life I need a healthy dose of these experiences to correct for spiritual drift in my own life.

But as with any mountain top experience, we can't stay there. Retreats and pilgrimages are but way stations on our journey, and then, having had the experience, we head back out, walking life's road until we start to dry-out, harden, calcify, and need out heart "strangely warmed" again.

I wonder if the Emerging Church Movement is a retreat for the global (or at least Western) church. For many churches and Christians are feeling dried out, drifting from their course, hardened and cold, and need the experience with Christ to restore their passion and heart. But then Emerging, like the mountain top, is a temporary experience. One which should change us, reset our course, renew our hearts, challenge our fears, inadequacies, failures, priorities. One which should re-introduce us to our Jesus, and call for a crisis, a decision point. Deconstruction is one such challenge, one that is often laid by reformers who see the current structure to be built with the wrong materials. Revisiting how God has worked in our collective past (a theme for many of my own personal retreats) is another. We can't stay on this mountain and pitch tents, as Peter wanted to. We have to come down, there are demon-possessed folks needing our help.

Retreat, return. Retreat, return. Whether Reformation or Great Awakening, we needed it in the past. Maybe God has provided yet another, if we are willing to journey with Him.