Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Necessity of Christian Communities

For a long time, the monastic impulse in much of Christianity was foreign to me. I brushed it off as gnostically ascetic neoplatonism. That was wrong (much I've thought in the past, it turns out, was wrong -- hence the whole "rethinking" series). While I do not uphold celibacy as the best lifestyle for many (certainly it is for some), nor think it is wise for the "clergy," the life together of the monatic communities is something to emulate. As we've been thinking about the buzzword of 'community' at the assembly, it has slowly -- inexoriably -- dawned on me that the only way to reestablish a real, long-lasting, and effective Christian witness in a post-Christian society is to live in semi-monastic community. That this can be done by groups of families, I am sure of. It can even be done with folks who live blocks away (although not too many to walk -- it is interesting that this is a dominant metaphor of the Christian experience, we "walk with Jesus" daily, but it is almost totally disconnected from our actual life, as we must drive upwards of 30 minutes or more to worship together).

The demands of the Christian life cannot be met without the structure and support of a community that shares a common life, common values, common schedules of worship/work/play, and a common aesthetic. This does not mean, of course, uniformity in all those things, but there must be some sort of commonality that links them together. The adoption of morning and evening prayer by a neighborhood, for example, would quickly destroy the demands of greed, avarice, and non-neighborly competition (there is such a thing -- a good thing -- as neighborly competition) that our impersonal, "late" capitalist society places upon us. We speak of these things -- the things that control our lives in the realm of habits -- as forces (the force of the economy or history or whatever); Paul speaks of them as "principalites and powers" that must be warred against and have wisdom spoken to by the Church, which cannot exist only on Sundays, but rather is the foundation of the cosmos since it is the body of the Messiah himself. There are, and never have been, lone gunners for Jesus.

A local assembly cannot just talk about community without radically reorienting their lives to the demands of the Gospel. As much as I enjoy middle-class existence (and I do), it must be subverted to the life-giving programme of the Lord Christ. Spiritual growth is not an automatic thing, such as biological maturity, but rather occurs when we live, work, play, and worship together in God's world -- as, in other words, we are continually connected to the Spirit -- God's own Life! -- and each other -- the Messiah's own body!

The American Church, especially, has spoken enough about the individual -- and we have seen our economy be taken over by usurers, robbers, and crooks; we have seen our cities be eroded by both a corporate culture and an urban culture (often inextricably linked) that fosters death in the inner city, the suburbs, and the countryside; we have seen the family destroyed because there are no ties that bind them more than the progress and freedom of the individual. It is time for the Church, not only to speak of life together, but to live it. To Christ be the glory of a renewed, reconstructed, rejuvenated world.

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