Spiritual Formation

Movements Down Through The Centuries

Over the centuries Christians have emphasized different dimensions of the spiritual life. Within these dimensions or contexts people grew spiritually. These dimensions became known as movements or traditions and are as follows:1

  • Contemplative – In the 4th century men and women fled city life to found cloisters and monasteries where they emphasized the importance of solitude, meditation, and prayer. Antony of Egypt was an early leader of these “Desert Mothers and Fathers.” The church was strengthened by their emphasis upon intimacy with God.

  • Social Justice – In the late 12th century Francis of Assisi and a group of followers abandoned their former lives and went about the Italian countryside, caring for the sick, the poor, and the lame. Countless men and women followed Francis’s, forming the Franciscan and Poor Clare orders. This made a significant impact upon the ravages of disease and poverty.

  • Evangelical – In the 16th century Martin Luther and others proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ after discovering its message anew in the Bible. This message of hope and victory was expressed by clergy and laity in sermons, mission efforts, and personal witnessing.

  • Charismatic – In the 17th century the church witnessed a new outbreak of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men and women who were called “Quakers,” led by the ministry of George Fox. The active presence of the Spirit in the lives of believers became the empowering principle behind scores of conversions. The active role of the Spirit was at the center of their worship, and it propelled them into evangelism, missions, and social concern.

  • Holiness – In the early 18th century John Wesley and his friends formed a group nicknamed the “Holy Club” and began focusing on moral laxity and the need for Christians to overcome sinful habits. They developed a “method,” and the Church once again took sin seriously. They became known as “Methodists.”

  • Incarnational (living out your Christian faith before others) – In the 18th century Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf allowed remnants of the persecuted Moravian Church to build the village of Herrnhut on his estate. Initially divided, the group became unified when they experienced a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit after Zinzendorf led them in daily Bible studies and in formulating the “Brotherly agreement.” The Moravians joyfully served God – praying, evangelizing, and helping others – in the midst of baking, teaching, weaving, and raising families.

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1James Bryan Smith and Lynda Graybeal, A Spiritual Formation Workbook : Small-Group resources for Nurturing Christian Growth. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1999), 27-28.