I was in a Barnes and Noble tonight and dipped into a book by Rebecca St. James—Sister freaks: Stories of Women who gave up everything for God (New York: Warner Faith, 2005). I didn’t get beyond the first page, where I read this quote from Watchman Nee: “Everywhere Jesus went, there was revolution. Everywhere I go, they serve tea” (p.xi). She didn’t footnote it, so I am not sure where she got this from. But two thoughts immediately came to mind. First, what a way to express the difference between us and our Lord: even as committed a disciple as Watchman Nee (though I would dissent from some of his views about discipleship) knew well the difference. The presence of Jesus was true revolution, beside which the French and Russian Revolutions, American and Industrial Revolutions, and all of the political hype of the last few weeks, pale into insignificance. Second, I thought of a remark I read this week in the Miscellaneous Works of Rev. Charles Buck (New Haven: Whitmore and Minor, 1833), which I found in the library of Knox Theological Seminary, Fort Lauderdale. I had never heard of Buck (1771-1815), who was a Congregationalist minister and who once served as the amanuensis of John Ryland, Sr (p.16-17). When I read about Buck’s connection with Ryland I was hooked and went through the entire book. Among other things, Buck published two collections of anecdotes. One of these books contained the following story—and tea is the link with the Watchman Nee quote.
According to the London Anglican evangelical William Romaine (1714-1795), the “glory of God is very seldom promoted at the tea-table” (p.486). Watchman Nee would definitely have agreed! But not so, Romaine averred, when one drank tea with fellow-Anglican James Hervey (1714-1758), who was also a close friend of both John Wesley and John Ryland. “Drinking tea with him,” Romaine observed, “was like being at an ordinance; for it was sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (p.486).
So drinking tea could be revolutionary!