Anglicans often like to think that they hold an important key to church unity. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, there are strong links, both of style and theology, between the Anglo-Catholic wing and the Roman church, and secondly, the Church of England succeeds (if that is the right word) in just about holding together despite a wide range of beliefs across the denomination, many of which are mutually incompatible. Thus, it is Anglicans who will lead the worldwide church in breaking down barriers to church unity, and back into union with Roman Catholics.
I began to wonder about the correctness of this when Matt, a friend of mine whose faith is strongly Pentecostal in flavour and very non-Anglican, started enthusing about some of the great Catholic saints of the Church, such as the Desert Fathers. He and I both have a strong contemplative streak, so when he recommended that I read John Crowder’s “The New Mystics”, I knew that I was going to gain some spiritual food!
Crowder gives mini-biographies of a number of the ancient saints. For example, he describes St. Anthony(around 300AD) as someone who withdrew to the desert to live a life of strict self-discipline, eating only once every few days, and whose spiritual battles gave him great authority and discernment. “Many were converted, and he was known for many miracles. He also had open visions, heard the audible voice of God, [and] cast out devils.”
Crowder’s basic thesis is that, in order to spread the Gospel, we need to operate in miraculous signs and wonders, but that to do this we should focus not on the signs, but on Christ himself. He sees many of the ancient Catholic saints as providing vital insights from whom we need to learn.
Crowder’s heart is to reach people today for Christ. As he writes,
The only thing that is ever going to work is the basic approach of Jesus, a demonstration of raw power. We must realise that this is how the gospel has made every significant advance to date. The biblical outline was never linear and programmatic. It was always experiential and supernatural.
Such radicalism might offend some, but it is not hard to think of examples that have impacted Britain – such as the Methodist revival of John Wesley in the mid-eighteenth century, and the ripples that flowed out from the Azusa Street revival, which launched Pentecostalism at the start of the twentieth century. He writes stirringly:
Today’s postmodern generation is calling out for intimacy, reality, and relevance. They are not seeking a religion of distant theological theory. They want hands-on interaction with a tangible, emotive God.
As those in Pentecostal churches seek their experiences of God while learning from the ancient Catholic mystics, it is possible that union in the worldwide church might come from a very different direction than many Anglicans might be expecting.
I spent last Saturday at a men’s day in Greet, a few miles north of Cheltenham. As I sat there with about twenty other blokes I thought, this is where I am meant to be at this particular time. The entire weekend was one of great blessing, through this group, the Kingdom Renegades, and through the ministry at Trinity Church.