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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Monastery or Marketplace?

The guys at Baylyblog have a post worth reading on modern monastic tendencies in the reformed community - little niches where the saints withdraw from the world and hole up together. David Bayly quotes from a conversation over on the World Magazine Blog where someone speaks adoringly about some of the various options out there...
You don't need to relocate as far as Idaho, you know. You have a couple of choices in 'leaven communities' today:

1) The Dougs (Wilson & Jones) and their men in Moscow have a phenomenal life...

2) George grant and his men in Franklin, TN have a wonderful, similar community going;

3) Robert the Sproul and his 'Basement Tape' men have perhaps the best of all possible worlds (like heaven on earth, I tell you!) in Mendota and Abingdon, VA (two churches to pick from; Robert pastors the Mendota parish and fellow Basement Taper Laurence Windham pastors the other parish;

4) Hidden in the texas Hill Country is tiny Waring, TX where an 80-year-old picturesque country church stands. Each Sunday, that place is filled with several hundred Reformed Christians where Doug Phillips and his men teach, preach, and raise covenant families (the credobaptists among the group).

John, come spend time with this Doug, and you won't feel like you have to move to the snowy country to abide with the other Doug! All four of these wonderful covenant communities are peopled with priceless magisterial Reformers.

This is just the creme de la creme; I mention many more similar churches in my upcoming book.
I think David did a nice job of responding, so I won't duplicate his comments.

Something did strike me, however. Notice all those references to "his men"? Maybe it's just me, but isn't it supposed to be Christ's church? I got a creepy feeling in the bottom of my stomach reading this...

For the record, this is pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum from the type of church we hope to plant in Missoula, MT. But that actually raises an interesting question, because I'll bet deep down we're all interested in the same thing: a deep sense of community.

So what's to keep us from becoming just like them? I think the difference is how those "outside the fold" are welcomed and embraced to participate along with us. We hope to be intentional in engaging "unbelievers", "sinners" - people who are not usually found in Christian churches; you shouldn't have to clean yourself up before you can feel welcome in our midst.

We also believe that true Christian community will be redemptive in the midst of the secular society in which it lives. If the kingdom of God were to come visibly to Missoula, MT, what kinds of things would we expect to change? How would our daily lives, our public spaces, be changed? Our friends at Saint Patrick's in Greely, CO have put some of their thoughts down on paper.

It's probably also worth noting that our definition of "church" includes a deep sense of mission - mission to actually reach out to unbelievers, to meet them on their level rather than waiting for them to come to us. Church without a sense of mission can only end up existing for itself, and as soon as you get there... are you really still the church?

Anyway, these are some of the questions we're wrestling with, and we'd love to hear your thoughts as well...


At 11:40 PM, April 26, 2005, Anonymous Uncle Jake said...

I took a nap when I came home from work because I wasn't feeling good, and now that it is 11:30 P.M., I am feeling better, but I cannot sleep. So what better way to whittle away the time then on the Internet....

I followed your link to BaylyBlog (sounds like something out of Asimov's Robot series), and thought that I could offer a few comments on cloistering.

Aleph> A strong sense of community starts with a strong sense of family. My experiance with this modern monasticism does not extend to reformed circles; but what I have seen in the orbs I have crossed (Chicago, Bozeman), is that a lot of people (not all, or even most) suffer from a lack of a strong experiance of family. Whether in the past (their parents and siblings) or the present (their spouse and children), they have a void that they want filled (the sense of family), and they try to innoculate themselves in an exclusive community. By placing themselves in isolation, they believe that they remove the "temptations" or "causes" or "sinful elements" that had outwardly manipulated their situation into being less than what they desire. But my experiance is that they mistake the symptoms for the true malady, the one that is within. So while they try to mold their sense of family, they are never able to fully experiance family in the way they desire. And not that what they desire is wrong, or right. But my point is that they miss out on the journey, because they "can't wait until we get there."

Bet> This sense of family, properly construed within the context of the experiance of family, leads to a sense of community that doesn't isolate, but instead incorporates. I at least have belonged to a church where when you say "I attend XYZ church", the person you are talking with says "ohhhhh," and quickly changes the subject. I have also belonged to churches where people instead say "oh, what is that like? what do they do there?", etc. Your reputation does proceed you....
And to be honest, for me at least, it was cool being at the first kind of church, because it almost seems to endow a spiritual superiority {paralegalism:)?}. Like you are in God's Marine Corp Force Recon. But then it came to the question, How does it do them (the world), any good, if I am locked up in here? And if I am not doing them any good, am I doing myself any good? So I have come to conclusion that the latter church is better.

Gimmel> That latter church is not L.D.S., but instead is one that incorporates. To illustrate, I will use my current church family. Doctrine is used primarily only to exclude leadership, while it is the tenets that are used to exclude membership, and everyone is welcome on Sunday morning. So I take dual comfort in knowing exactly where my leadership stands, and in knowing that I can argue with a man in Sunday school class over enviromentalism (actually dialogue) or another man over polygamy (definately argue)! And I am never going to be embarressed about asking a waitress at the cafe to come for Easter services (you know, where you hedge and qualify everything about the church).

Dalet> Finally, I have been recently struck by the desire people have to replicate one particular church continually. "Oh, I want to go to a church JUST LIKE Pastor Sponge Bob's church in Megalopolis." Not to discount Pastor Bob, but if his church is working great in Megalopolis, it probably won't work great where you are at. I believe that God custom tailors His churches to meet the individual needs of individual communities (matching the hatch, I would dare say). Instead of pining about Pastor Bob's church, roll up your sleeves and get to work at the church God has given you!

Sorry that this rambled so much. You can tell that I have been away from the classroom, as my brevity is exhausting. You guys do a much better job at being concise, poignant and witty.

Anyways, looking forward to rambling with you this summer. We need to get together and FISH.

At 4:40 AM, April 27, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Great comments, Jake! Thanks!

At 11:59 PM, May 11, 2005, Blogger Steve F. said...

Lots of posts I could comment on, but this one struck a chord.

Adam Hamilton, in Leading Beyond the Walls, asks four questions up front:
1) Why do people need Christ?
2) Why do people need the church?
3) Why do people need this particular church?
4) To whom does the church belong?

The last question gets a chapter all to itself. He states - and I agree - that the church - your congregation, mine, and the one down the street that thinks that both of us are wrong - belongs to Jesus Christ.

So when I read what you wrote - or even when I hear of Rick Warren's church, or his church or her church, the foremost thought in my head is, "Huh? Since when?"

Interestingly enough, I think it's cool that people are reading Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, and finding power in contemporized monasticism. The contemplative life is not a bad life just because folks don't agree with the Catholics who pioneered it. There is much of value to silence and contemplation. That's why I love the Renovare' movement - using the best of each of the major historic traditions of the church.

Lastly, Br'er Hamilton points out that if we are really Christ's church, we better be about reaching those who don't know him, feeding the hungry, healing the broken in body and spirit, and caring for "the least of these" - including those among the least of these who really annoy us. After all, should we be surprised when lost people act, well...lost?

At 8:37 AM, March 03, 2006, Anonymous Frank said...

What a remarkable article, and the ramifications of its content are really fascinating and even more relevant now, in the present-tense context of RC Sproul Jr's defrocking.

Like you it scares me when I hear preachers talk about "my church" and "my people." That kind of talk comes directly out of the hearts of men building their own empires rather than advancing Christ's kingdom. In fact that's exactly the language that Laurence Windham and RC Sproul Jr used with one of their former members when he attempted to leave Saint Peter Presbyterian Church, "You are no longer permitted to speak to my people." Scary.

At 10:14 AM, March 04, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

You are right on, Frank. Great comments. And it goes to show that having all the right theology doesn't insulate us from pride or error (in fact, in fact, in some ways it probably makes us MORE susceptible to pride and certain forms of error). Thanks for sharing...


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