I have been rereading The Rule of Saint Benedict recently and reflecting on the importance of living within the boundaries of rules and disciplines. Written in the early part of the 6th Century by Benedict of Nursia, a monk who founded a number of communities throughout Italy, the Rule is a guide for both spiritual formation and for living together in community. One of my favorite translations of the Rule is a contemporary paraphrase created by Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove, a leader in the neo-monastic movement who lives in an intentional community in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Wilson-Hartgrove writes in his introduction: "The Rule is more like a sermon than a self-help book...it outlines in very concrete terms what it looks like for a community of people to live their whole lives according to the truth of the Gospel."
As a part of the free church tradition, we are often hesitant about accepting top-down rules about how we supposed to order our spiritual and communal lives. Though we are affiliated with a larger denomination, no person or body within that denomination can step in and control the choices of our community. As a faith community, we are free to make our own choices about how to worship, how to use our resources, and how to serve in mission. This freedom is foundational to the Baptist tradition.
Each member of our community is invited and encouraged to make their own decisions about their faith, to develop their own daily habits and practices to nurture their spiritual lives, and to discern how they feel called to serve. As pastors, David and I are here to support you in this process, but the choices are yours.
This doesn't mean that we don't have rules, though. At CCW, we have a covenant in which we pledge to one another to try to live according to Christ's teachings and to support one another. We have bylaws that govern the way we make collective decisions, empowering teams of volunteers such as the Church Council, our Deacons, or the Trustees to act on behalf of the whole community. Like Benedict realized 1500 years ago, rules are necessary--even in Christian communities.
I also encourage you to think about the rules, even the unspoken ones, that you use to live out your daily life. What time do you get up each day? What kind of diet do you follow? What type of exercise routine do you try to maintain? These little rules inform the person that you are always in the process of becoming.
Do your rules strengthen and empower you live your whole life according to the inclusive and grace-filled truth of the Gospel? Do you have habits and practices in place that help you to be big-hearted, hospitable, generous, forgiving, empathetic, and grateful?
We are free to make up our own rules. We are free to decide which habits and practices nourish us the most. As a people seeking to follow Jesus, though, I believe that we have to create rules and disciplines that form and shape us more and more into the image of Christ.