“The tragedy is that Christianity has become ayes-man for the culture,” says Boston’s University’s Prothero. Non-prosperity parties from both conservative and more progressive evangelical camps recently have been trying to reverse the trend…. a sprinkling of Protestant groups known loosely as the New Monastics is experimenting with the kind of communal living among the poor that had previously been the province of Catholic orders.”- TIME, September 18, 2006, “Does God Want You to be Rich?”

Today, as alluded to in TIME, there is a burgeoning interest in such structures due in part to a renewed commitment among the emerging generation to social justice, ministry among the poor, concern for the environment, and other elements of a more holistic, biblical gospel.

However, neo-monastic movements among Protestants are nothing new. Even though the reformers in the 16th century threw the proverbial baby out with the bath water when they overreacted to Catholic orders, Protestants have repeatedly reinvented and reintroduced such apostolic structures throughout the past five hundred years. The most notable thrust came with William Carey, popularly known as the “father of modern missions,” in the 1790s and every succeeding generation has repeated the process, often oblivious upon whose shoulders they stand.

For example, an editorial in Christianity Today, first published in 1988 and republished since, made a compelling appeal to “re-monk the church.” A cover story in the same magazine in September, 2005 gave a fascinating overview of such contemporary movements.

CRM’s InnerCHANGE is just such a neo-monastic structure, a present day “order among the poor.”

Presently, a fascinating issue is what direction will the “emerging church” go? Some of these new missional expressions are evolving toward such neo-monasticism and others toward the church in local form, two structures which are distinct from one another but equally “church” in the biblical, historical and missiological sense. I believe the health and vibrancy of the emerging movement may well depend in part upon its ability to recognize and embrace the distinctives inherent in both structures.

Any hope for the renewal of authentic Christianity in the West will require a plethora of such neo-monastic movements. As in each of the eight great epochs of the Christian movement since Pentecost, such sodalic, apostolic expressions are designed by God as necessities that infuse life, vitality and spiritual power into the broader church and society. They are not aberrations. They are essential.

Leave a Reply