In a brilliant display of procrastination from my seminary homework, I’m presenting you with yet another neo-monastic discourse. Now we move from some of the cultural connections of evangelical neo-monasticism to discuss its practical application and historical precedents.
One questions demands our attention above all else: Is this sort of Christian community possible in this day and age? The answer is, of course, yes. Neo-monastic communities are already popping up all over
We need now to turn our attention to historical precedents. The very first comes in Acts 2, in the initial form of the early church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer….All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (vv. 42, 44-47).
A number of things need to be noted in conjunction with this. First, there is no evidence that any of the other New Testament churches operated on such a communitarian basis. In fact, there is no evidence that even the
Now that I’ve rushed through the relevant Scriptural connections much too quickly, let’s get on to the really exciting stuff: church history. Though there are numerous groups throughout history that have exemplified in one way or another the model I’m attempting to resurrect, I’ll only highlight four here: early Celtic missional monasticism, especially the form used by Columbanus; the Franciscan and Dominican movements; the Jesuits; and Zinzendorf’s Moravians. All four of these groups share some combination of a communal lifestyle, a devotional emphasis, and a missional passion.
In the latter years of the sixth century, as the western Roman Empire continued to become more and more of a memory, the territories of Frankish Gaul, originally evangelized by intrepid missionaries such as Martin of Tours, Samson, and Aredius, fell into a spiritual languor. The ruling warrior aristocracies were largely rural-based, and felt no deep connection to the urban Christianity of the old Roman provincial cities. The spark that re-lit the evangelization of Gaul came from an odd source—not
Our second example is more familiar—many have, at one time or another, run across the delightfully enigmatic St. Francis of Assisi, who is well known for a number of things, including stripping down before a bishop, chatting with birds, fish, and wolves, and joining a crusade in order to preach to a Muslim sultan. St. Francis appeared on the scene in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, but even before his advent monasticism had sparked an incredible revival of devotional fervor across
In the turbulent years of the Protestant Reformation and Counter-Reformation of the sixteenth century, yet another order arose in the Catholic Church—the Jesuits. The Jesuits were inspired by
The final example, and perhaps the best, comes from a Protestant group popularly known as the Moravians—Protestant refugees who had fled from persecutions in
These are just a few examples, but they illustrate the neo-monastic vision well. There can be a wild and beautiful power in intentional Christian community, a power that we have largely lost here in American evangelicalism. In a generation where more young people are going more often around the world but at the same time speaking less about Jesus, neo-monasticism could be the spark for a new evangelistic missions movement. It’s worth a try.