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New Monasticism: Fringe Christianity?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : February 8, 2008

Recently, the Boston Globe ran an article on New Monasticism. The article was very good–the best that I’ve read.

I want to interact with one section of the article in particular. I’d love to hear your response to some questions that the article raises. Here is a snippet of the article, with my comments/questions throughout:

Not all of their co-religionists, however, are pleased with these new spiritual ventures. Van Steenwyk received e-mails from friends concerned about his “fringe activities,” including accusations that he’d “gotten into bed with the apostate Catholic Church.” Deborah Dombrowski, along with her husband, David, founded Lighthouse Trails Publishing and Research Project in 2002 to counteract the “infiltration” of evangelicalism by “mystical spirituality.” She fears that New Monastics’ contemplative prayer is no different from Eastern meditation, and their openness to Roman Catholicism is only the beginning: “where it’s going is an interspiritual, interfaith, one-world religion, where it all blends together.”

I have indeed received concerned emails. And I’ve been asked (both explicitly and implicitly) to justify our ministry. Sometimes, when I’m feeling tired and vulnerable, the challenges from friends and foes alike get to me. Most critiques I’ve heard fall into two categories: theological critiques and practical critiques.

Theologically speaking, would it be so bad if evangelicals became more mystical? What are the good things that evangelicals could learn from mystical traditions? On the other hand, what good things do evangelicals stand to lose?  

Practicaly speaking, is living in community, practicing hospitality, and embracing simplicty really that “fringe?” It seems to me that these are all VERY traditional things to do…I think that the last 50 years of affluent living in single-family homes is “fringe.” What should the normative Christian life look like? 

Though many Roman Catholics have mixed feelings about evangelicals who adopt a hodgepodge of watered-down monastic practices and call themselves “monks,” some are supportive of New Monasticism. They view the movement as part of a wider rapprochement between Protestant evangelicals and Rome. A half-century of theological shifts on both sides of the divide - Vatican II’s liberalizing impact on the Catholic Church, and the waning of Protestant fundamentalism - as well as the decline of traditional ethnic resentments and an emerging pattern of political cooperation have all prepared the way. Father Jay Scott Newman, a priest in South Carolina, said that the New Monastic movement suggests a profound shift in evangelical identity.

Hardly any “new monastics” that I know call themselves “monks.” And most of us only use the phrase “new monastic” in light-hearted way. Some may be motivated by a sense of nostalgia, or out of a deep commitment to the Benedictine tradition. To me, the movement is more Anabaptistic than it is anything else. But the idea of living in community where you have common prayer and practice hospitality has become so odd to people that it immediately conjures images of monks–who are the only white people in the West who seem to live in community, embrace simplicity, and practice hospitality.  The phrase “new monasticism” is supposed to inspire the imagination; it isn’t a claim that we are replacing the “old monasticism” or that we are, technically speaking, trying to bring back the old practices. Instead, inspired by the monastic tradition and other praxis-based movements of the past, we are trying to imagine a new way of life a the 21st Century Imperial context. 

To some Catholic observers, it is no shock that evangelicals have begun to feel the lack of organized contemplative life and yearn for a bond with religious tradition - they’re only surprised that it took them so long. “Monasticism has been such a powerful thing in the West and the East for so long that it would be very peculiar if it didn’t, at one point or another, erupt in evangelical circles,” said William Shea, director of the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross.

“It’s just too long, too deep, too creative a tradition{hellip}You could call this movement ersatz monasticism, but I would hold back and ask, where might this lead?”

The spiritual disciplines movement of the 80s and 90s added spiritual practices to the average evangelical experience.  But most of that stuff was too individualistic.  New Monasticism doesn’t simply scratch the contemplative itch.  There are several other movements that had a hand in preparing the soil for New Monasticism. New Monasticism sprang up at the point where the spiritual formation movement, the neo-anabaptist movement, the social justice movement, and the emerging church movement intersect.

Those of you who are a part of this movement–or at least somehow connected to this movement–what have your influences been? What brought you to the place where you decided to pursue an alternative way of life in community? 

One final question: Where do you think this movement is headed? 

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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    thevillagechristianchurch 7 months ago
    I am not familiar with many of these practices. I do feel however, that the church could become a lot more of community. Just like the first church in Acts, and how they did life together everyday, and took care of each other's needs.

    www.thevillagechristianchurch.com
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    I visited a Benedictine monastery several months ago. During and after lunch, I had the opportunity to speak to a monk about many things. One of the things we spoke of was how spiritually anemic my particular denomination has become. What we consider spiritual is only a very shallow spirituality. He told me that there were numerous Protestant/evangelical Christians and some clergy who had connected with that monastery to enter in to the spiritual life of the Benedictine order as well as to begin living the Benedictine way of life, which the monk told me is basically nothing more than living out the Gospel in daily life.

    At another Benedictine monastery, one of the nuns discussed with me that the result of Vatican II was that the door of monasticism had been opened to more than just the religious and clergy. It was now open to all Christians.

    I would have never had these experiences if it weren't for a spiritual formation class in which I was introduced to the two thousand year history of Christian spirituality. This is a history that most Protestants and evangelicals do not realize exists. Just as when I was first introduced to historical theology, my introduction to the history of Christian spirituality made me realize that the Protestant/evangelical tradition has robbed many Christians of a connection with their past and the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds the Church.

    I think the submergent (to steal your concept) movement is doing something very important to help Protestants/evangelicals regain something valuable that was lost several centuries ago.
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    I love NM and has been affected and inspired by this movement. It is one of the most encouraging things the Spirit is doing in the western world that I know about. At the same time, there are aspects of NM that I am very critical about. It seems to me that this thing is moving in the classical direction of accepting a two-level-view of discipleship. Historically, it has sounded like this: Some peoples are called to live an alternative life, applying the teachings of Jesus in regard to community, wealth, violence etc, but we most accept that most christians will never live this kind of life. The radical life is for the few, the ones called in a special way. This is also the reason why we have to let the institutional church remain intact, with its hierarchy, mammonism and compromises with the state. We still have to be loyal. The life in the communities are not for all, so we need to be faithful to "the church".

    In this area, I feel ("against" Mark) that there is a vast and overlooked difference between the anabaptist tradition and New Monasticism. Here, radical discipleship is for all, and that is why we need "real" churches that consists of disciples. We cannot support the prostitution of the established church. We cannot accept a two-level view of discipleship. And because of this, we need at least some amount of separatism, moving out of structures that opposes the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

    I would love to hear promoters of NM to explain these things more. Please help me out. Have I misunderstood?
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    I understand your point, and I agree that it is something we should be concerned about. But in my perspective, the way of life we're advocating is more "normal" than the way most Christians live. I don't see living in community, practicing hospitality, sharing some resources, praying with each other, being peacemakers, etc. as a "special calling." I see it as the normal Christian life. Most new monastics I know would agree with this.

    I get concerned with your strong separatist vibe, Jonas. I think we need to think long and hard before we divide with the "compromised" church. Whenever I set myself up against, say, Presbyterians or Methodists or Lutherans, I run the risk of failing to love them.

    Prophets don't exist to damn the institutional church, but to call them to faithfulness. If we separate ourselves completely from our brothers and sisters in some quest for purity, we run the risk of falling into a worse sin than that of compromise.
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    Mark. I understand that you see it this way. But to me, the important thing is not if different people in this movement has the right attitude. I worry about the structures and practices, and it which direction it leads people. Probably Fransiscus and Mother Teresa thought that more all christians should live more like them (and this is the way Shane has put it up to this point as far as I know). But because of the monastic structure in combination with the institutional church, people just don´t get this message. Even the structures communicate.

    I think it is easier to love people if you are separatist, because the structures are oppressing people. You wouldn´t apply your "not-loving" argument in regard to the state, where most christians would feel that you are strongly separatist (you don´t want followers of Jesus to be soldiers, police officers, president and probably they shouldn´t even vote...). This shows that because of love for people, you have to be against some structures. You can separate from unchristlike practices, but still be building relationships to people. Attacking the powers doesn´t mean hating people.

    I reckon that you recognize that historical anabaptism is definitely separatist. If the anabaptist hadn´t been opposed to the corruption of the church even to the degree that they refused to support "the church", we wouldn´t have had any anabaptist movement at all. A non-separatist anabaptism simply doesn´t exist within history, as I see it. Despite the fact that many has this idea. That doesn´t mean, of course, that we can be separatist in the same way. I don´t want to get into Amish isolation, for example.
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    Hi Mark.

    If I can comment on the discussion between you and Jonas, I'm pleased to read you say that the way of life you're advocating is “normal”. That would be a concern that I would share with Jonas.

    However, I'm still tempted to suggest that though it may be unspectacular, it is still specialist, even if just sociologically so. I think that before we could see something like this as genuinely anabaptist it would need to evolve into a new new monasticism. As Jonas said, the structures communicate.

    Jonas, I'm not completely sure what you mean by separatism. I think that, actually, there has always been a non-separatist anabaptism. Pilgram Marpeck would be a good example. So, it might be helpful if you could define exactly what you mean by separatism and how you would see it working our practically today.
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    "But because of the monastic structure in combination with the institutional church, people just don´t get this message. Even the structures communicate."

    Certainly structures communicate. But I'm not sure what new monastic structures you are referring to, Jonas.

    I don't think most people who connect with Missio Dei think that we're being "specialists." Every new-monastic community is different. I know that some go to conventional churches and practice "life together" as an additional thing...is that what you're talking about?
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    Graham, could you uppack this paragraph more:

    "However, I’m still tempted to suggest that though it may be unspectacular, it is still specialist, even if just sociologically so. I think that before we could see something like this as genuinely anabaptist it would need to evolve into a new new monasticism. As Jonas said, the structures communicate."

    If living counter-culturally is sociologically specialistic, then what is the alternative? Embracing the status quo? I'm not sure what you're getting at here.

    And I'm also not sure what you're suggesting with the need for the movement to evolve before it could be genuinely anabaptistic. Most new monastic communities come out of evangelicalism or anabaptism already--they're trying to embrace a community lifestyle, simplicity, and peacemaking. In what way aren't folks being anabaptistic?
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    Mark/Graham. I know "separatist" might not be the best word, I am looking for another one. What I mean is that there are central features of the established churches that are (sociologically) opposed to the way of Jesus, and an inherited result of the process culminating in the fourth century. How the community of the Messiah relates to these structures and practices are a central issue, and we need to avoid supporting practices that leads away from Jesus. Therefore true disciples need to separate themselves from these practices. (Which practices do I refer to? Having a "strong separatist vibe" (Mark) I would include both practices (for example church buildings, hierarchical leadership, baptism without conversion, "worship" without free participation, bad or non-existant church discipline), life-style issues (compromises with mammon, violence, individualism, hierarchy and more) and and "theology" (focus on spiritual realities and dogmas instead of our bodily, earthly existence under God) in the "fallen" church-issues I think we need to distance ourselves from.

    New Monasticism has chosen to appear with a common "face" (the book and the home page and more), which I think was a bad move that leads to other difficulties. And the central stream within official NM seems to be interpreting the movement in line with the older monastic communities. That is also why you need to keep on saying that you are not opposed to the church (see for example the title of Wilson-whatever his name is on the relationship between the communities and the church). Note that "the church" is constantly appearing as something that is outside of the communities that they need to relate to. The communities wouldn´t normally call themselves a church (Missio Dei being a good exception, due to the anabaptist influence?). The communities also seems to be dependent upon the established churches for the administering of the sacraments, and avoids talking about priesthood, the Lord´s supper and baptism.

    I my view, the NM-communites are true churches, but they would to well to understand themselves as "churches" and putting forward there way of life as (roughly) for all. But this would open the doors for even tougher criticism and might close the doors to the platforms of the established church.
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    By the way. I know that there are sectarian tendencies within many christian groups that wants to keep oneselv distanced from other people (even/especially some anabaptists), even from true believers within other churches (often by ignoring their existence). This is IN NO WAY what I am opting for by using the word "separatism". Our separatism should be directed towards structures (the powers), and not towards people. As Jesus seems to have been doing (and is still doing). Marpeck might be the best example in the sixteenth century of this attitude, keeping up the dialogue with people everywhere, but strongly opposed to the corrupt practices of the established church (violence, baptism, bad church discipline). By the way, interestingly, "his" group didn´t survive. Maybe we are not called to build a city (institution) that lasts (Hebr 11), but being God´s voulnerous pilgrim people.
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    This is part of the problem. There really isn't a common face nor a central stream to the movement. What you are seeing is the publisher's facsimile of the movement.

    There are all kinds of groups, though with many common concerns and commitments. Folks love to lump them all in together.
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    Mark. Yeah, but this is not the fault of "the folks". It´s because that people have been trying to marketing NM under a label, publishing a book etc, and there are no voices out there from within the movement distancing themselves from this project, and least none that have reached my ears. It is the same thing with every other denomination-like structure that exists. There are always important differences, but they are downplayed by the hierarchy that seeks a unified movement that they can control.

    Can you relate to what I say about a group understanding themselves as a monastic community or as a church? (Shane for example has said that maybe we don´t need more churches.) Is this an issue for you? And how would you personally feel for example for the chapter in 12 Marks about "humble submission". Would you agree? And doesn´t the whole argument presupposes that "the church" is something that are not present within the community and close related to the structures of the institutional church? And why are many new monastics very "alternative" in relationship to mainstream american society, but not that alternative towards the established way of being church.
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    True. It is the "branding" of new monasticism that is to blame. I wasn't trying to blame "folks" in general...just the "folks" that try to sell books and whatnot.

    Well, consider me a voice from within the movement calling for a recognition of greater diversity. I don't want to diminish what Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove or Shane Claiborne are doing. Not at all. But I think they have failed to push against the centralization and branding of the movement when they should have fostered greater diversity at the national level. I am quite confident that they foster diversity at the real, grassroots level.

    But I'm not convinced that the blame should be placed primarily upon them. And I believe the movement as a whole is too "fringy" for it to matter to most people if the movement centralizes.

    Personally, I'm not sure that the 12 Marks are the best way to categorize the movement. I've talked about 8 core impulses in the communities I've contacted. There are all sorts of people who are embracing some of these 8 core impulses that aren't connected with the networks that Shane or Jonathan have been fostering.

    I am all for "humble submission" within the church. We should all practice mutual submission. But I think that they mistakenly assume that their communities aren't churches. This is where I disagree with them. Missio Dei fits every definition of church that matters to me. Sure, we could be bigger and raise funds easier if we didn't call ourselves a church, but we are one.

    There are MANY communities that I know about that challenge the etablished church. Most of them are very anabaptistic. These communities don't get as much attention. Missio Dei being an example. But we are not alone in this.
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    Mark, I'm sorry that I haven't time for more than hit-and-run comments. It's a great - and important - discussion that you guys are having here.

    When I mean "specialist" I don't mean counter-cultural. On the contrary, I'd argue that many Communitarian groups have simply placed their culture on top of the current one. I meant instead that the sociological structure of many new monastic communities forces "membership" to be limited to the few, rather than the many. This leads to the situation that Jonas rightly laments where we have a two-tier approach to Christian life and discipleship.

    I'm aware that there is a great deal of variety within the NM movement. In fact, I'm tempted to say that the 'movement' doesn't exist outside of the perception of it. This is where I think that Jonas has an important point to make. Is 'community' of 'NM' enough to distinguish these groups? Does an anabaptist, peace-making, Jubilee community really have enough in common with a Just War advocating Catholic group to be perceived to be part of the same movement?

    I have contacts and friends that have been involved in communal Christian living for more than 2 decades. They have mostly flown under the radar. So, of course, I believe that it is possible and desirable. However, I'm nervous that the kind of attention seen in articles like the one above could actually derail a 'movement', when it should still be deciding what exactly it is - and why.

    I'm not sure if any of that makes sense?
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    it just makes sense to me Mark, I mean what more can I say. I feel that coming back to Jesus, looking at the way he lived and trying to model some of those rhythms of life is the way to go. I work with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and we have some neighbors from Holland. Their 2 year old is always coming into our house and our girls are always going into theirs. The other day Karene asked me if it was OK that Maria Elizabeth, their daughter was sitting by me. I told her that she should always consider everything they do, or their daughter does OK and visa versa unless one of us says other wise. We have and continue to pray with them, challenge each other in the disciplines of life that we have chosen to take on and live simply, because we are YWAMers and that's the way it is. That is beautiful to me.
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    Mark. Thanks! What you say sounds very interesting and hopeful. Even though I still have concerns (I agree with what Graham said in his last post), you hand on a more nuanced picture. And you seem to be genuinely aware of the problem, which I haven´t noticed in Jonathan and Shane. (Actually, I would have written about my concerns to Shane, but because of his vast popularity, which he himself has accepted, he has made himself hard to get in touch with.) Where can I read bout your eight core impulses?

    One problem is that when you have created a movement (of course, what God´s spirit is doing cannot be created, but we often try to put it into a box, labeling it etc), it tends to move in one direction and in tends to become more and more controlled by the oligarchy/hierarchy. The only way to opposes the official picture finally becomes to step out from under the umbrella. "NM" is only in its childhood and the future will tell where this is all moving. My feeling would be that "NM" has already moved so strong into the monastic heritage that it will be hard to get groups that relate to the "NM" label to view themselves as churches. This, as always, will cause some conflicts and divisions within the movement.

    My dream is that we could see more churches that were formally independent and avoided connecting to these kind of labels that divides God´s people and creates confusion. In this, I might well be too idealistic...
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    There is great diversity in the Church and rightfully so. There is also great division in the Body of Christ and this is a scandal. We have the hope of Jesus' prayer in John 17 that the Church will be unified as a witness to the world; as Christians we need to be living with this confidence.

    Now monasticism, or people living in intentional community, is as old as Christianity itself and even predates the birth of the Church. It is nothing "new" nor did it ever go away. We must take a historical view of the movement because we are only building on what has preceded us. So, is "new monasticism" on the fringe? No, not unless you take a particularly narrow view of the Church, a view formed by living in our modern North American version of Christendom. Unfortunately, this seems to be the dominant view of the media and many of our Christian brothers and sisters. But frankly, what others think of me or new monasticism is none of my business!

    It seems obvious to me that Christian monastic communities are "churches", but they are also part of the Church. I think the reluctance of some to identify new monastic communities as churches arises from their desire to separate themselves from the typical church they see in American Christendom. That may be understandable, but not necessarily accurate or helpful.

    The "new monastic" communities/churches reflect the diversity of gifts God has given to the Body of Christ. They also reflect the desire of people to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is a good thing. It isn't about who is right or wrong; we are all working out our salvation in fear and trembling.
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    New Monasticism should foster creativity for people. Instead, I see people looking up the "12 Marks" to see if their community fits the "definition" of "new monaticism." And now Jonathan goes around the country with likeminded friends and does seminars on what it means to be "new monastics." This is a great way of discipling people in a particular way of doing new monasticism, but it has the negative side-effect of being rather limiting.

    And Shane's book has inspired all sorts of people to rethink their faith. I've given away about a dozen copies of his book and applaud the life he lives. But it has the negative side-effect of making him into a hero to be praised rather than a brother to be emulated.

    I'm not sure what to do about it. More and more people are asking my opinion about the movement. I feel like I'm a voice trying to encourage a bigger view of the movement. It was in that spirit that I share the following 8 impulses. They were shared as part of my session at the Willow Creek group life conference last year.

    1. Missional Commitment to a Particular Place

    2. Engaging the Margins

    3. Hospitality to the Stranger

    4. Living in Proximity

    5. Sharing Resources (not necessarily all resources, or having a
    common purse, but sharing at least SOME resources)

    6. Resisting the Powers

    7. Intentional Spiritual Formation

    8. Daily Spiritual Rhythms
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    I wonder if some of the question about whether the "new monastic" communities view themselves as churches or not, and related to how they view themselves as being in relation to the church or part of the church or... so on and so forth, might be a good opportunity for people to explore a more catholic ecclesiology. William Cavanaugh writes about this - the ancient church (that is, the attitude that seems to be assumed by the New Testament and early fathers) appears to have viewed local gatherings as a complete church and moreover as THE complete church. The key to this is Eucharist, for it was believed that in the bread and wine it was not just "Christ's body and blood" but the WHOLE body and blood of Christ. Because Christ is the head of the body, the church, the local church is participating in the fullness of the church and the fullness of Christ in partaking of the sacrament.

    I can't help but think starting to conceive of things in a similar fashion today would be fruitful in our context.
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    Just to clarify/follow up.

    These are the 12 Marks:

    1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
    2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
    3. Hospitality to the stranger.
    4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
    5. Humble submission to Chirst’s body, the church.
    6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
    7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
    8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
    9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
    10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economics.
    11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
    12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

    I think the "12 Marks" are excellent. But I deviate from them in my description for several reasons:

    1) Those that gathered for the meeting didn't represent all of the new monastic style communities. And the 12 marks aren't simply descriptive, they're prescriptive. In other words, it sets a trajectory for the future. And I'm not sure that such a statement should be used for the purposes of defining a movement.

    2) The only way in which my list differs is in the following ways:

    * I omit "relocation to the abandoned places of Empire." Why? I've been told that Missio Dei isn't a new monastic community because we're in Minneapolis, which isn't an "abandoned place of empire." I'm not sure that they define that term well enough. And I think that there are abandoned people even in unabandoned places. I think we should encourage intentional, praxis-centered community in all sorts of contexts.

    * I omit "Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation." Why? While I certainly embrace reconciliation, I think that some contexts are still racially homogeneous. I think that this "mark" is a worthy trajectory, but I'm not sure it should be included in a definition of New Monasticism. I hope you understand what I'm getting at here.

    * I omit "humble submission to Christ's body, the church." Earlier on in these comments you should see why.

    * I broaden #11 to "resisting the powers." I think that all nm communities tend to embrace some sort of counter-cultural self understanding of resisting the powers.
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    Jason, it all depends upon your definition of "eucharist." Monastic communities weren't churches, though some "had churches." This all depended upon whether or not the community had a priest.

    In my understanding of communion, every community gathered together in the name of Jesus in a particular context is a church. So when these communities say they aren't a church, but an addendum to the church that functions as a specialized community apart from the church, it does certainly support some sort of elitism.
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    Mark, this question of whether or not a community is a church is vital to me. In fact, you statement that 'when these communities say they aren’t a church, but an addendum to the church that functions as a specialized community apart from the church, it does certainly support some sort of elitism', it reflects some of my concerns above.
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    I struggled with this, practically speaking. The truth is, it is easier for a "ministry" to raise funds than a church. People expect churches to be self sustaining. I get flack sometimes for raising funds at all, but I feel comfortable with the idea of fundraising for ministry. But I don't feel comfortable dropping our identity as a church for simple pragmatics. Too much is at stake.

    I posted an article on the Next Wave a few years ago that delves into the nature of the church here. I think I will repost it on Jesus Manifesto this week because not many people have read the article and I think it raises important issues.
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    Mark,

    Jason, it all depends upon your definition of “eucharist.”

    Most definitely. I'm conflating a lot of theological history here. I think eucharist makes the best parallel because it is (regardless of whether one views it symbolically, literally, metaphorically, so on and so forth) imaged in scripture as Christ's body as is the church. So there's a nice parallelism there already waiting for us in scripture. For certain Protestant contexts it may not be the best metaphor since in many ways in churches having come about after the Reformation the preaching of the word has largely replaced the eucharist as the major sacrament. For my money, I prefer to speak in terms of "word and sacrament".

    I think you and I see things much the same way. I would take it a bit further and say a local communion gathered for worship is not only a church, but also the church insofar as it participates in Christ's body and Christ is indivisible. It is precisely this idea of the mystical communion of the whole body present in the worship of the church (which finds its strongest expressions in Catholic and Orthodox theologies, which is why it's often expressed in terms of eucharist) that ought to enable us as churches and the church to value our connections to sisters and brothers before our place within the nation-state - thus allegiance to the Christians in Iraq comes before allegiance to the United States, who bombs them.

    It ought to avoid being an elitist idea because just as much as MY gathering is an expression of the whole body of Christ, so also is that church in Iraq. There are other ways in which it's helpful to talk of Christ's body as constituted by the whole church in the world, and not just the local church - one of which I find especially powerful is the notion that God's image is too vast and grand to be contained by any one local expression, but it's all rooted (I say) in an understanding of the catholic, that is to say the universal that exists only in its local expressions as the whole body flows from its source, that is Christ (as opposed to the universal of the nation-state which subsumes the local into its own self).
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    There needs to be a place for baptism if we are going to talk about the identity of the early Church and local congregations. I just found out Cavanaugh teaches up here in Minnesota, (St. Thomas) so I am going to have to get on that. My problem with discussion of "early church" vs. today's expression is that it seems to limit the Holy Spirit's guidance to 200 years or so. the idea that the local church was a "complete church" to me seems a bit biased and hard to maintain post Nicaea. What about the "fragmentum" (piece of Eucharist bread) that was passed between churches as early as the 4th century in order to keep unity among the whole of churches? I'm not sure how we can view the Eucharist in one particular location as "completing" the church in any way.
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    I also think leaning on baptism as mystical union with Christ's death and resurrection would also go along way in establishing personal identity within the universal Church. In my mind, this may be a more accessible route in circumventing national borders with allegiance to Christ's body first and foremost. I've read a few articles that take this road. Not sure by who, but Hauerwas is my guess.
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    I like the critique... "the last 50 years of affluent living in single-family homes is “fringe.”

    Reminds of Bruggeman's words in Prophetic Imagination which I'm currently/finally reading. The perceived need for an alternative conscience and perception is not even presumed to be a need in our religious cultures (Christian churches).
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    Certainly, mainline Christendom in the United States could be classified as "fringe" if understood in a historical context.

    I love the way Paul turned fringe on its head in Hebrews 11:37-38. "They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted mistreated- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and in holes in the ground."

    New Monastics haven't yet resorted to living in holes in the ground, yet. When that happens then maybe we can talk about the fringe.
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    Mark,

    Within the 12 marks and 8 impulses you discuss as defining NM I wonder where Scripture is? Perhaps your 8 impulses provide the closest implicit suggestion of its place within the community in impulse 7 and 8 (maybe mark 12 implies it also). I am not saying that the points used to define NM are not biblical, but one of my greatest concerns with NM, missional, and emergent strands of Christianity is how easily the movements could move from a call to restore orthodoxy and orthopraxy into heresy. I guess I am wondering where the authority for the belief and practice of NM communities comes from? Is it based on a postmodern interpretation of Scripture that views Scripture as a book that can mean whatever a particular community ascribes to it, or is it viewed in a manner more consistent with historic Christianity? These are honest questions and concerns regarding a fledgling movement.
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    Adding something about Scripture would be prescriptive rather than descriptive. Every community engages Scripture differently. I can't answer for everyone, but here I hope that Anabaptist style communities will influence other NM communities. Some communities are very Benedictine (which doesn't necessarily mean that they are Scriptural), others are into spirituality but not the Bible.

    I can only speak for Missio Dei. A while back, before we decided to publish the Missio Dei Breviary ourselves, I sent it to Brazos Press as something that could benefit New Monastics in particular and neo-Anabaptist in general. Rodney Clapp had two things he wanted me to do before he'd consider publishing it:

    1) He wanted Shane Claiborne or Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove to co-edit it because I lacked a sufficient "platform."
    2) He didn't like how it was almost all Scripture. He wanted more extra-biblical sources.

    At that point, on principle, I decided to self-publish. Why? Because I didn't want to pad the breviary with extra-biblical sources. Not because extra-biblical prayers are bad (we do have some extra-biblical material in our breviary, after all). But because I felt that a prayer book rooted in the Gospels was provocative enough already. I also challenged the way in which the movement--which has only recently emerged into Christian consciousness--was already becoming centralized and branded. Commodified. And I was a bit shocked (what can I say, I was naive) at how much Rodney Clapp, who has written a lot against consumerism and commodification would so strongly enable the commodification of a movement.

    At Missio Dei, we include Scripture-centeredness in our rule:

    We are committed to centering our lives on Jesus Christ.

    + We will devote ourselves to a careful reading of the Gospel, going from Gospel to life and life to Gospel.

    + We will actively seek to encounter the living and active person of Jesus Christ through the reading of Scripture and through prayer, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to shape us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
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    Mark. I have appreciated these comments very much and the information you have given on NM. Despite the fact that I have had my eyes on this "movement" for a year and a half, much of what you say is news to me, and news that gives me hope and encouragement. Keep up the good work! I get the creeps when christians began to speak about their platform. Seeking to build our platform, wouldn´t that be just about the most un-christ-like thing one could do?
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    It is not always so easy. When you have a message you want to spread it. And if you just let the message pool among people who already buy into that message, you can become elitist. The trick is to promote the message, to let it flow, without it being about you. This has always been a difficult thing to do, but I'm convinced it is harder than ever. Western societies thrive on commodification and celebrity. So the forces of society push movements into having celebrity figureheads, and they love for the message to be easily encapsulated so that it can be easily sold. When you have a commodified message linked with a celebrity figure, you then have a brand. And having a brand is the most sought-after thing in Christendom these days.
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    Michael,

    Yes, of course baptism should be understood as the foundation of mystical union of the church with each other and with Christ, or at the very least that's how Paul seems to have understood it (there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc.). I probably don't talk about that enough - it's more personally difficult for me having come out of a tradition that practiced believers' baptism exclusively and trying to figure out how to relate to people as my baptized sisters and brothers who were baptized as infants - not a small matter considering that I've been attending an Episcopalian church for several months now. So I tend to see baptism as more of a dividing issue than unifying, though it is also certainly true that communion has been such at least since the Reformation.

    Lee Camp wrote a bit in Mere Discipleship about the nature of baptism as the shedding of old allegiances and entering into the new, and he also comes from a position teaching in a school steeped in my former tradition (the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement). Cavanaugh also connects baptism with entering into the catholic kingdom over and against the nation-state, but since baptism and eucharist are so closely connected in Catholic theology I think if he were reading this he would say that anyone who plays baptism and eucharist against each other would be barking up the wrong tree - that they should be seen as practices that flow into each other rather than separate practices.

    A lot of Protestant churches (at least around here) are so devoid of sacramental understanding that either route would probably be mystifying - they're used to the focal point of worship being the sermon (which I personally see as a sacramental act, the interpreting and teaching of the Word, but this has been a new idea to most pastors with whom I have spoken over the past few years).

    My concern for talking about "early church" is not to limit the Spirit's inspiration to a particular era in history (though the church i grew up in actually did that), but to focus on the ways the ancient church dealt with the realities of its time so as to trace the changes throughout history and see how we can engage our world in a way that is faithful to them - not carbon-copy replicating it, of course, but translating and interpreting the ways those who were closest to Jesus followed him into our context, guided by the continuum of the history of God's people from the Old Testament, through the history of Israel and the church, to now.

    I guess going back to eucharist I would say that eucharist makes sense only in relation to baptism - that it's the point at which we re-member (as in re-assemble the narrative memory of) Christ among us, participating in his death, resurrection, and present reality (which is the step interpreters seem to forget) and reaffirm/renew our participation with him in baptism, which re-minds (puts back into our minds) our overarching allegiance to him against other allegiances. Eucharist connects us to a whole host of realities, the preeminent of which is the reality of the full presence of Christ and the whole church as his body, that deconstruct the present reality we inhabit. If the fullness of Christ is present in the eucharist, then it seems to me the fullness of the church must be as well - but that means we are responsible to the whole church, including the church in Iraq many of our sisters and brothers supported bombing.

    Perhaps the "ambassador" image in the New Testament is helpful here - in the ancient world one who came as an ambassador came with the full authority of the ruler who had sent him, as a personal representative - yet in no ways could be simply equated with that ruler. It is the same with us, if we fulfill our function - as "colonies of heaven" representing the presence of the True King.
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    I almost hesitate to wade into these ethereal waters, but I would like to make a bit of a comment, please be kind as I am a newbie to your ecclesiastical grouping. :)

    It seems to me that New Monasticism really isn't all that different from the original variety excepting the permission to have married couples. The societies you are creating in various places seem.. well the same sort of societies that were created all around the world hundreds of years ago. Various forms of Offices, explorations in what worked, what didn't.

    Does that ring a bell at all, or am I just not getting it?
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    You're getting it.
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    Actually, I would push back just a little bit. It is indeed different from the original new monasticism in more ways than just letting married couples in. The big difference is that the Protestants and Anabaptists that are exploring the "new" monasticism is that many of them are doing so in way that resonate with the convictions of their own traditions. In other words, this isn't (as many assume) a return to catholicism or an evangelical appropriation of catholic monasticism. Instead it is being motivated, in our time, by similar stirrings that prompt all monastic movements: an embodiment of the way of Jesus in particular practices.
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    Mark,
    I was thinking of a time before 'catholicism' was around, and people were just figuring out what it was to be Christians. It is almost (to me) as if the Church is exploring that very question again, and these New Monastics, are a sort of example of Christians once again, finding their way.

    (yes, I know there were various types, but i mean before what we call Roman Catholics)

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