Monastic, Anabaptist, or what?

Ever since Stanley Hauerwas discovered John Howard Yoder, the Anabaptist influence in United Methodism has been a strong voice.

The IRD posted an article about the recent visit by Shane Claiborne to an Indiana UMC clergy gathering. (I could not attend as it was held during a time when bi-vocational folks often have conflicts.) The article reminds me why I am not a fan of IRD. It’s mix of politics and religion is distasteful to me. The article lapses into talk radio screed at times.

The author of the piece, however, does provide some more thoughtful comments about Claiborne in the comment thread of the article:

I tend to enjoy Mr. Claiborne’s insights and his consistency in carrying out his life. We live in a world mostly bereft of true localized community and charity; the Simple Way and others are a shining beacon on that front. However, I fear his pursuit of being counter-cultural and “radical” is off base, as we can see in some of his over-the-top statements against the “powers that be” who are doing a good job in their God-given vocations. My great fear is that he is picking and choosing what old traditions he finds are convenient and useful–they serve him, he does not serve them. For example, I don’t think the New Monasticism is monasticism at all. True monasticism accepts the authority and teaching of the Church (this is why it occurs in high church traditions of Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism, which have a strong understanding of apostolic authority/continuity and catholicism). The Simple Way is not a monastic community; it’s an Anabaptist one. That’s how it functions, except that members join whatever churches in the neighborhood that they desire.

The New Monasticism has some traction in the UMC. I think questions about what it is and what traditions it draws upon are good ones for us to discuss.

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4 thoughts on “Monastic, Anabaptist, or what?

  1. Interesting article re New Monasticism. I think this is where we have a misunderstanding of what being monastic has been in the past. In the UK we had two different flavours during the Dark Ages – one was Celtic and the other Rome influenced.

    The Celtic tradition was untouched by the influence of Rome. The Roman influence didn’t cross the Irish Sea or venture much north of Newcastle in England. As a result we had two different ways of being Monastic. The Celtic way was one centred on the Monastery as a place for re-charging before going outwards to the people where they lives amongst but were very different from them. The Roman method was very different in that it became largely centred and isolated within the Monastery – surprise, just like many of our churches are today where all Godly is defined by the Sunday event and within a church building.

    So, Claiborne’s take on Monasticism is very much in line with the Celtic model, one that is incarnational, one that is counter cultural and transforming. The suggestion/accusation that the New Monastics are selective in what they adopt or reject is something that all renewal movements have done… just think Methodism at the very beginning when it was intended as a renewal of an Anglicanism that didn’t want anything to do with the impoverished lower classes. The whole idea of being a product of the Reformation is to be constantly reforming.

    It raises many questions: do we keep all traditions regardless and stay the same or do we rediscover previously discarded ones and have a renewed appreciation and value? Claiborne and others will err on the side of rediscovering many old, discarded ways – and are probably more traditional for it. The trouble is many denominations are no longer a renewal movement within society, but a static institution instead…. quite un-Biblical in fact.

    Our established denominations are very much in the same situation that Wesley spoke out against…. comfortable and self-preserving to such an extent that dwindling numbers and commitment by our congregations and Ministers are often the fruits of missing the point.

  2. Actually, when you look at Celtic monasticism, it is the least-counter-cultural type there is. The Celtic monastics were more willing to incorporate pagan, tribal, and other cultural mores for the sake of spreading the Gospel–even to the point of initiating tribal rivalries and wars. This contrasts with say, St. Boniface (who came from the Roman model), who cut down the German oak of Thor (counter-culture). We must also not neglect that the Roman and Celtic approaches co-operated together, being mutually beneficial. Much of the significant distinctions made between “Celtic” and “Roman” Christianity are a myth used to justify picking-and-choosing your authorities, just as the IRD author said. I also think you should give that author some slack; you never know what kind of editorial decisions were made in the publishing of the article. Having some experience in similar work, I dare say that his comments more clearly express his true sentiments. When you look at actual church history, this is what you find. While I agree with Andrew that we need to pick up some old discarded traditions (the Oxford Movement comes to my mind, but hey, that’s just me), we need to have an accurate picture of our goals.

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