When I left off my bacon was being saved by a Roman Catholic woman…a 17th century Roman Catholic woman no less. What I learned from her plugged a lot of holes in my understanding of putative Charismatic theology…she put some things in order, and made many of the floating pieces of Charismatic thought and practice fit together in a much more sensible way…and just as important that order made the areas where it had gone off the rails exceedingly clear.
I came across the teachings of Madame Jeane Guyon in this wise: While in the Navy at the training command in Rhode Island I visited a little home prayer group/church who had a “book store” shelf for their members. On that shelf I saw a book with an interesting title I had never seen before, “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.” Since I was in the market for something that could relight my spark, I bought it though I never got around to reading it until two or three years later. One day on the waning of a crisis of faith moment I noticed this book I had had for years and had never read, so I figured why not see what it was about.
It is funny the way grace can blindside you….hiding in plain sight for years until the perfect receptive moment….and then just a tiny nudge. The “Depths” destroyed me, shredding my dogmatic sureties like a pressure hose destroys toilet paper. Without belaboring the full content I’ll just mention a few of the the main things I took away from that book, things with me still.
1. The purpose of the Christian life is nothing less than Divine union. We are meant, as St. Peter said, to be partakers of the Divine nature, or as St. Paul said to grow to the fullness of measure of the stature of Christ.
2. That union begins in the cross, and the secret of the cross it this; no man can crucify himself, not even Jesus; another has to it for us. The cross is not given to comfort us, but to kill us. The cross or crosses we receive are gifts from God Who knows what it takes to subdue and destroy our sinful nature so that we may die to ourselves and live unto Christ.
3. All that we are, all that we love, even our most cherished religious experiences must enter into the tomb dead, and only what God resurrects is permitted to exit the tomb. We must die to everything, that Christ might be all in all.
4. The cross and the tomb requires our grateful abandonment to God, to trust Him to know what it will take pleasant, unpleasant, to make us Christlike. Our trials, our crosses are surgeons tools and we should embrace them with joy.
But all is not so bleak. Our wounds are answered in the wounds Christ bore for us. They are not the simple the marks of Divine retribution for the sins of man, for our sins, but rather they are the very places where our lives might be grafted into and His life may flow through and transform us.
This was precisely contrary to the name it and claim it doctrine of the Charismatic movement which had come to reject all suffering as of the Devil, reasoning from the position that Jesus paid the price of everything so we had only to stand firm in His established victory to gain the victory for ourselves in any area of life.
Madame Guyon thought it presumptuous to tell God what He should and should not do for us, rather we should cast ourselves upon Him and then receive all that comes as the gift of a loving Father Who knows what we need to be make like Jesus. He knows the crosses that work our healing….that work our death to ourselves and our corrupted self-seeking will.
Basically, in this teaching she pointed out where the Charismatic Movement had gone wrong in one major regard. It wanted to live in the power of Pentecost without the inconvenience of the Cross and tomb.
5. Another thing she taught was that it was not always the best thing to study the Bible, though it could be very good to read it prayerfully. That is to say…lots of us have been taught to dig into scripture to ferret out new truths, gather ammo for defeating our theological opponents, fill our heads with tons of biblical tidbits and quotes primarily to impress ourselves or our friends. But in her view, that was not the best way to approach the scriptures.
She suggested our minds were a mess, and as good as study was, and as necessary as it was, our efforts are hamstrung absent a cleansed mind, a mind shaped by it. She said, the scripture should both be prayed, and read without an intellectual agenda. It should be read, if for no other reason than to let its words flow though our minds like cleansing waters.
So I spent several months doing just that…reading the Bible cover to cover, praying it as I read, just letting its words wash though my mind, not in search of any polemical ammunition, not following any rabbit trails of idle curiosity…just simply reading and praying the Scripture.
I stopped making demands of God, though I still had questions. I repented my anger and accepted that dry seasons, and unanswered questions could be gifts too. To the degree I understood what I was reading I determined to embrace my cross come what may, regardless.
That’s the high points of what I learned from this Catholic…this woman who inspired Catholic saints and holy men like Francis LaSalle, and Fenelon. She inspired Protestants like George Foxe, who wrote Foxes’ Book of Martyrs and the started the Quakers, who in turn inspired John Wesley the founder of the Methodists. I was even surprised to learn she had inspired the likes of Hudson Taylor, Watchman Nee, and Jesse Penn Lewis (a renown preacher in the Welsh Revival).
I thought if there was hope for the Charismatic movement getting back to what mattered and moving forward it the way that was needed, it would be by embracing the path taught by Madame Jeane Guyon…of course she also taught that Protestants should return to the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church….I wasn’t convinced on that point…but I was convinced that there was great wisdom in places I never expected to find it…places I would never see until I put aside the many faceted mirror of my own “religious” self-preoccupation.
The path of the cross was the path of self denial, self abnegation, of death to the world. It led only to the tomb The power of Pentecost was God’s business, and it could only work with power when it’s possessors were completely dead to themselves and alive to Christ…that is to say…what received genuine power was that which was surrendered to the cross and to the tomb and was in due season raised up again by the power of God.
Pentecost absent the tomb was disordered and open to much immaturity, deception and manipulation.
I had some answers about what had “gone wrong”, now it was time for me see what this new path held for me…a Charismatic committed to receiving all with thanksgiving, even if it meant an end in complete obscurity. God knew what could make me like Jesus. I would not object to any medicine or therapy no matter how painful, or how long that got me there.
As it turns out…that a whole lot easier said than done…”yea, the sturdy dreamers answered, to the death we follow thee,” but I discovered, even when you fail, there are rewards for just trying, and trudging on up that rocky slope towards Golgatha.