I mentioned at the end of the last post the 12 Marks of New Monasticism. Now, let me start by saying that one of the reasons this thing fires me up is because I think that Primive Salvationism had the whole New Monastic thing going on long before Bonhoeffer coined the phrase and before people started exploring it. It may interest you to know that Booth likened his soldiers to versions of modern day St Francis. Someone else has likened the concept of Booth to the itinerant preaching friars, folks who were right in the muck of society relieving poor but also igniting faith and hope in the Lord, Jesus. Click the link for a book that is a good read about ‘New Friars’ – related to new Monasticism. I hope as I go through these you’ll see the similarities. It is interesting that throughout history, God has often used monastic movements to revive the church. Here is a looks of the 12 Marks of New Monasticism. The bold type are the ‘marks’, the rest is my commentary:
1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
This may seem like a strange turn of phrase, but you have to realise that when monasticism has been at its most vigorous (ie outwardly missional as oposed to inward ascetisism), it has always been again the context of forging alternative society to the world around. As I’ve said, this is especially true with regards to the Romanising of Christianity. For the first 300 years of its inception, the early church was a marginal movement amongst a marginal people. The gospel thrived at the grass roots mainly because the ‘top’ would see it as too distasteful. The reality is that Christendom church is well and truly over for urban settings, especially poor urban settings where people have long lost the point of going to church entirely.
Relocating to places the ‘Empire’ would rather have us forget is not only a way to side up with the poor, but a positive way to deal with the marginalisation of the Christian faith in an increasingly secular world. Christian faith ‘proves its salt’ in these places. The state establishment of the Christian faith has always led to a ‘gentry’ church, a church of privelege and power. The height of this was surely the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and the witch hunts etc. Not exactly a great portrayal of the Christian faith. Truth is that the radical gospel of the Kingdom of God flies in the face of the standards of the world.
2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
When it comes to voting, I vote Labour or when in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (Alba gu brath!!). Both are parties of the centre left with political agendas which recognise the responsibility of caring for the needy and poor. I was dragged up through a local authority council estate in the benefit culture. My family weren’t spongers, they were hard working and dog poor. Initiatives like Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit etc etc brought many families who were brought up in similar places up and over the bread line. Leaving aside any issues surrounding, this has been a lifeline for many families.
Why do I start there? In essence, I believe that we see in the early church as revealed in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters a new race of people who cared for one another in a way that went beyond the extra mile. The early church was mutually dependant….there was equality and NONE WERE POOR. I think this is more significant than we realise. I’ve been in churches where it has been obvious that people in the church have been poor and others are rich. I’ve been in churches where I’ve sought to ensure that poor brothers and sisters were cared for. As a whole, the church doesn’t always get that we are a separate race and nation. Yes we care for one another, but that love also spills out in generosity to our wider communities. Old monastic places were literal places of refuge and provision for the poor. A new monasticism has the same commitment, but also ensures that those of the family of faith are cared for too.
Some people go as far as common purse, some communities chose poverty for the sake of others less fortunate, and some still engage in the relief of the poor, but like I say, important not to miss the brothers and sisters in favour of those who aren’t part of the faith community. In the West we have such an individualistic approach to possessions, treasures, wealth etc. The counter cultural community of Jesus is the sole community…yes, the sole community….that have the potential to model to the world how to care for the poor among us. Communism is essentially ‘Christian wealth distribution’ gone wrong and corrupted. Its a devil perversion of how a Christian community can potentially function showing the world a differnet pictre, singing a different song. We need to step up to the plate in this area and model this to the world.
3) Hospitality to the stranger
Again, this touches on the individualism of the West. ‘We don’t go about other people’s houses’ is the mantra of pride in many parts of our nation as if thats a great thing. This is amongst our friends! How often to we give hospitality to the stranger then?
I remember as a young lad this being an automatic thing flowing from Jesus. I remember as a 16 year old lad encountering a young guy, few years older than me, who claimed to be in need of food. I thought nothing of it to take him home. Of course we live in a dangerous world, we must take some care, but we also live in a world where many are lonely and need the care of strangers. Hospitality, especially to the stranger, must be one of the most under-rated disciplines and graces of Chrisitan discipleship in these days. If we are not comfortable with people in our homes, there are other ways to be creative in hospitality. The important thing to ring in our ears that is in welcoming strangers we may just find that we are entertaining the angels or Jesus himself!
There is also just the intimacy of sharing a meal, of sharing our space, our heat, our light, our space with another. Here is a Celtic blessing on hospitality for the stranger:
Seeing a stranger approach,
I would put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place,
and look with joy for the blessing of God,
who often comes to my home
in the blessing of a stranger.
What an adventure…give it a go! Be safe, but be adventurous. Start with a neighbour, perhaps.