Streams of living water

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: . . . .All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when. 1Cor 12:1-11

The world is fractured, splintered, separated by race, gender, social class, wealth and lack of wealth. The body of Christ is likewise fractured, splintered and separated by denominationalism, polity, and tradition. God, however, is a God of unity through diversity and God desires that each person’s unique gifting be brought to the table and used for His Glory and the common good of the body.

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Contemplating this concept the children’s story “Stone Soup” comes to mind. The legend says that during a time of great famine people hoarded their food and would not share. One day a stranger came to the village and was turned away because no one desired to share their food. He assured them that he had all that he needed and indicated that he was going to make stone soup. He pulled out a pot added water, brought it to a boil and dropped in a huge stone. The people of the village began to gather. The Stranger said some cabbage with stone soup would be hard to beat. Soon a man appeared with a cabbage. Then the stranger said, “I remember once having stone soup with cabbage a little salt beef. Then another villager appeared with the beef. And so on the stranger went with potatoes, onion, carrots, until indeed he had made a wonderful delicious stone soup.

In many ways the Body of Christ is like the village folk, having gifts or food, hoarding it and not sharing, isolated, alone, and hungry; desiring more. The body of Christ, just like the villagers is driven by selfishness and self preservation, but, it is so limiting, restraining, restrictive, and yes, even divisive. God desires so much more for the Body of Christ. He desires that the body share communally, our gifts, our food, our faith and even our traditions. As the body shares it becomes the better for it. God desires that the body partake of and participate in Streams of Living Water.

Richard Fosters does a consummate job of examining what he determined is the six major traditions of spirituality in Christianity: contemplative (prayer-filled life), holiness (virtuous life), charismatic (Spirit-empowered life), social justice (the compassionate life), evangelical (Word-centered life), and incarnational (sacramental life). Each tradition like tributaries that flows to the great Mississippi River represents a stream that should flow into and feed the Body of Christ.

The Contemplative Tradition

The first stream is the contemplative tradition which highlights the prayer-filled life, yearning for “a richer, fuller practice of the presence of God”(25). This tradition focuses on one’s prayer life drawing one away in solitude. This time of solitude is a time that should precedes public ministry. Before Jesus began his public ministry, before he called the twelve, before he did any miracles he spent time in solitude. Exemplars include; Antony of Egypt, John the apostle, and Frank Laubach. Perhaps, the best summary of the contemplative life is “the steady gaze of the soul upon the God of love” (49).

As one gazes upon God, one becomes “beautiful of soul” (48). “Beautiful of soul” is one of the best descriptors of the contemplative tradition. The process to become “beautiful of soul” is through fire and love which produces these fundamental characteristics or movement; love for God, peace, delight, emptiness, flaming passion, wisdom and transformation.

Becoming “beautiful of soul” produces four strengths in ones Christian walk. The first strength is drawing one back to their “first love”, it continually calls one back to the beginning. Secondly it demands more than a cerebral ascent, intellectualism will not suffice, and it demands surrender of one’s soul. Next it stresses the centrality of prayer with silence it brings the understanding that pray is both essential and primary. Finally, it produces solitariness a consistent ceaseless turning to God and finally aloneness with God.

The Holiness Tradition

The contemplative life forms the foundation for one to walk in the holiness tradition. This tradition stresses the virtuous life and focuses “upon the inward re-formation of the heart and the development of ‘holy habits’ . . . . the erosion of moral fiber in contemporary society” (61). At the core of the holiness tradition is “being ‘response-able,’ able to respond appropriately to the demands of life” (82). Holiness is “sustained attention to the heart” (83). This attention to the heart forms and transforms the personality. It also affirms the sacredness in everything, goodness in the human body. Additionally, holiness is “progress in purity. . . .loving unity with God” (84).

Phenomenons of the Holiness tradition are Phoebe Palmer, James the brother of Jesus, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer as a modern-day example of this tradition gave the body of Christ Stations on the Road to Freedom (72). This poem provides four components of the spiritual life that will give one great freedom. Those components are discipline, action, suffering and death speak indicative of the Holiness Tradition.

The Holiness Tradition is about a “life that functions as it should.” The major strength of this tradition is its emphases: personal transformation, purity of heart, character formation, and growth in grace. These emphases assist in the process of establishing “holy habits.

The Charismatic Tradition

The Holiness Tradition and its ‘holy habits’ helps the Charismatic Tradition to operate at its best when the two are in tandem. The charismatic tradition promotes the Spirit-empowered life, it “focuses upon the empowering charisms or gifts of the Spirit and the nurturing fruit of the Spirit”(99). The crux of the charismatic tradition is the fact that, a believer life is not lived under their own strength, but are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Its key representatives are Francis of Assisi, the apostle Paul, and William Seymour. Seymour as a contemporary representative is an insignia of this Tradition. Seymour embodied living his life under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. “Seymour. . . .harnessed the power released in glossolalic worship to break racial, gender, and nationalistic barriers and offer the world a historic opportunity for genuine healing and reconciliation” (113).

According to Richard Foster, “there are no ‘noncharismatic Christian” (125). There are four major strengths of the tradition. The first deals with and corrects the believer’s propensity “to domesticate God” (129). Secondly, it cuts to the chase weak, ineffective, powerless practices. Third it challenges the body to grow spiritually. Finally, it gives one a gifted, empowered life to witness for the Lord. The charismatic tradition is about a “life immersed in, empowered by, and under the direction of the Spirit of God.” It’s important because “through it we are empowered by God to do his work and to evidence his life upon this earth.”

The Social Justice Tradition

As The Charismatic Traditions empowers the believer to do God’s work, The social Justice Tradition stresses the compassionate life that “focuses upon justice and shalom in all human relationship and social structures” and “addresses the gospel imperative for equality and magnanimity among all peoples” (137). The Social Justice Traditions embodies Matthew 22:37-40, the love of God and neighbor. This tradition removes barriers, of ethnicity, culture, and class. The Social Justice Tradition is where The Holiness Tradition is brought to bear.

Foster chooses John Woolman, the prophet Amos, and Dorothy Day as examples of the Social Justice Movement. John Woolman, a Quaker, was instrumental in the abolition of slavery. Woolman’s quest for social justice began early risking, personal wealth, comfort, and friendship. The effect of his message was lived out in his life and mirrored by his denomination. One of the most notable acts of social justice is personified by the North Carolina Friends Yearly Meeting became slave holders so that their members could disentangle themselves from the practice by donating the slaves to the Yearly Meeting. They used a loophole in the law of North Carolina to virtually free slaves who could not actually be free because of the numerous laws to protect the institution of slavery in the state. As an institution the Quakers freed itself from the horrors of slavery and supersede others by instituting reparation to its former slaves.

As seen in the life of Woolman the struggle for social justice encroaches upon three areas; personal, social and institutional. The essence of this tradition is embodied in “mishpat, hesed, and shalom” (167). Justice, compassion, and peace, embody a sense of totality of the human existence. Justice, compassion, and peace are the framework that provides six strengths of the Social Justice traditions. Those strengths are “right ordering of society”, enhances ecclesiology, bridges personal and social ethics, makes Christian love relevant, provides a basis for ecological concerns, and “holds before us the relevance of the impossible ideal” (178)

The Evangelical Tradition

The Social Justice Tradition that allows one to manifest the love of God to hurting humanity presents that one with a unique opportunity to proclaim the word of God. Which segues into the Evangelical Tradition, which focuses on the word-centered life the proclamation of the evangel, the good news of the gospel and addressing “the crying need for people to see the good news lived and hear the good news proclaimed” (188). The primary thrusts of this tradition are: faithful proclamation of the Gospel, centrality of scripture, and confessional witness (219). The four major strengths of this movement is the call to conversion, discipleship of nations, commitment to biblical authority, and sound doctrine.

Foster illustrators are Augustine of Hippo, the apostle Peter, and Billy Graham. Billy Graham is the consummate icon of the Evangelical tradition. Graham was the international organizer of Youth for Christ before emerging as a world evangelist. He preached over three hundred crusades. Graham brought integrity to the ministry of the itinerant evangelist via “The Modesto Manifesto” (212). Graham advocated cooperating ecumenically which is termed “cooperative evangelism” (213). Notably, Graham labored for the reconciliation of the races. Equally notable was his use of every form of media for the proclamation of the Gospel. According to Foster, Graham’s greatest contribution to The Evangelical Tradition was the training of itinerant evangelist.

The Incarnational Tradition

The last tradition, the incarnational, stresses the sacramental life and focuses on “making present and visible the realm of the invisible spirit,” addressing the “crying need to experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life” (238) The Incarnational Tradition is practiced by invoking the “manifest presence” of God into the circumstances, establishing a sacredness of work, and a focus on family life.

Its examples are Susanna Wesley, Jesus, Bezalel, and Dag Hammarskjold. Foster selected Susanna Wesley as the historical example because of her “immersion in the details of daily life: finding God in the details and serving God through these same details” (237). Susanna Wesley exemplified the Incarnational Tradition as mother and educator to nineteen children, most notably John and Charles Wesley. She demonstrated the tradition in the midst of the calamities of life in relationship to her husband, embarrassment of her daughter pregnancy, lost of home via fire, and lack because of her husband’s lack financial management. Susanna Wesley in every way exemplifies the Incarnational Tradition.

The Incarnational Tradition wrestles with the tension between spiritual and material. The tradition shows the complementary position of the spiritual to the material. There are seven strengths of this tradition. The first, the tradition shows that God is concerned and with the believer in the mundane of earthly living. Secondly, the incarnational tradition delivers the reader from a spirituality that would allow or cause one to divorce from the conundrum of daily living. Third, being incarnational makes daily work meaningful. Fourth, the tradition corrects the Gnostic belief that “spiritual thing are wholly good and material things are wholly bad” (266). Fifth, the sacramental life draws us God ward. Sixth, the believer’s becomes a “portable sanctuary” (267). Finally, the practice of the tradition deepens our stewardship of the earth.


The body of Christ is and should be the antithesis of the world. The world is splintered, separated, and divisive. However the body of Christ is called to unity, wholeness. Presently each of the great traditions operates independently, separately, and individually, as though their traditions operate in the totality of Christ.

Foster introduces Streams of Living Water by saying “the mighty flow of the Spirit is how sovereignly God is bringing together streams of life that have been isolated from one another for a very long time”(xv). Foster suggests that each of the streams is the response to or a correction of a teaching or experience that has been neglected. Thus we have the various streams.

Paul tells the Church at Ephesus that each individual is not an island unto himself, but that in community they would grow to maturity. Ephesians 4: 26 expresses this concept superbly:

For because of Him the whole body (the church, in all its various parts), closely joined and firmly knit together by the joints and ligaments with which it is supplied, when each part [with power adapted to its need] is working properly [in all its functions], grows to full maturity, building itself up in love.(Amp)

Just as Paul told the Church at Ephesus they were not islands unto themselves. Foster tells the body of Christ that the Traditions are not islands unto themselves.

Foster introduces Streams of Living Water by saying “the mighty flow of the Spirit is how sovereignly God is bringing together streams of life that have been isolated from one another for a very long time”(xv). Foster suggests that each of the streams is the response to or a correction of a teaching or experience that has been neglected. Thus we have the various streams.

However, just as the lakes turn in to tributaries, that run into rivers, that eventually run into the sea. So does the Tradition trace it way back to the three major branches of Christianity; Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. The three major branches of Christianity finds its way back through Papal Ascendency, Ecumenical Councils, and the Birth of the Church to its fountain head, Jesus Christ.

Each of the traditions is a stream that finds its life and meaning in Jesus Christ. However like the villagers in the children’s story “Stone Soup” each traditions live isolated, insolated, and anemic lives, because it refuses to flow in the fellowship of the spirit and allow each joint to supply. Each stream represents an aspect of the nature of Christ and the call of his body to be in the world while not of it. Every stream is traceable to its source, Jesus Christ the Righteous. Each stream has a contribution that is needed to make the satisfying, edifying “Stone Soup” of the Body Christ.

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