There are always ideas floating around in the world of church, mission and theology – some of them are weird, some are of little real or practical value, some are brilliant…and then there are those which provoke a deeper conversation. I guess Martin’s blog post that I referred to yesterday is case in point (I’ll let you choose which case I’m pointing at!).
I also came across some thinking recently about how the church responds to the general disarray of the world in a book called ‘The Benedict Option.’ The author, amongst other things, points towards the Benedictine idea of monastic retreat…specifically, the call to model a very different way of being, living and existing in the world. He, it might seem, takes the idea to its extreme, certainly from the point of view of most Christians today, but the stark reality is that every 500 years or so throughout the history of the church, there has been a resurgence in the monastic movement that says ‘look, there’s another Kingdom that we have to try and display in a way that we’re not going to be able to do in the status quo, we have to model something radically different.’ And so, the monastic communities of the Celts, the Benedictines, the Fransiscans etc, more modern movements like the Moravians, the Mennonites and Anabaptists, the Amish, the Bruderhof, the Simple Way, the Jesus Army etc. all experiment in Christian community to explore another way. Some people see those things, and Christian community in particular, as weird and wacky when in fact it has been a regular way of sustaining Christian witness for centuries. We see this especially in countries where Christians are at risk for their faith.
Most groups find it a tall order, and certainly not easy at all. But history and study has shown that, even with elements of ‘corruption’ slipping in, these movements have preserved faithful expressions of discipleship. This, to be honest, is the value of new monastic movements for me. They lower the bar of what we mean by ‘church’ and raise the bar on discipleship and Christian community.
Anyway, the author’s premise is that it is time – the time of Trump, Russian aggression, climate change, warmongering, oilmongering, ISIS, Brexit and the like – to recognise that to a degree, another ‘dark age’ is upon us and we need to give greater consideration to how serious we are about the business of seeking the establishment of God’s Kingdom. The author’s premise is that its too difficult to change the world, and that may be where we part company, because I believe our influence must not just be ‘look at those Christians’, but that we must actively engage. However, I do believe that we have a duty and mandate to manifest the truth that part of the gospel speaks the idea ‘another wold is possible’ and that we’re called to be the answer to our prayer and see the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
I may not agree with the author’s full intention, but this much is clear to me: in the face of the current world climate the Kingdom needs to shine brighter. ‘Flee to the hills’ is not the answer. But neither will it happen with ‘Sunday Christianity’ and where churches are filled with folks hanging on to the legacy of Christendom instead of engaging in an active discipleship. I believe there is a radical Christian distinctive and it’s not one that should separate us in a ‘holier-than-thou’ way, but in a way that does sacrificially display a Kingdom vision. The ‘Christian problem’ is not that we’re not relevant to society …by and large, the church does what people expect it to do and that has its own relevancy. The general public are as caught up in Christendom ideas of Christianity probably even more so than churches! What we aren’t showing them is that there is anything different. The problem is that we’re not counter-cultural enough, and by consequence, we’re not prophetic enough and so we are salt trampled into the ground having lost our saltiness.
Christian community is not Christian Ghetto hid away ‘for fear of the Jews’ like the disciples in the upper room post-resurrection. No, in the way of Jesus, we are cities on hills designed to shine. The community I currently serve is largely hidden. I can’t always find them through the week! How much more do others have no sight of the Christian community in any way, shape or form?
I believe Christian community must be stronger and inclusive, but I also believe it must be locatable, visible and accessible, transformational and alternative. If there is nothing radically alternative about Christian community then there actually is a time to actively pursue a different vision, and to do it with all our hearts. To quote Bonhoeffer again, he said something like this:
“The renewal of the Church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this.”