Previously, I explored the concept that an effective model for the Church in the 21st century could be that of the monastic life--where each person might have a "cell," or a quiet place to which s/he may retire to confront the temptations and trials of life. But monasticism is not just about individual fulfillment. From the early days, monks realized that they needed to band together, to live a common life bound by a common rule, in order to survive.
I think that this necessity to be in covenant or intentional community is essential to Christian life in general. I was reflecting on this thought this morning, and another thought occurred to me: Christianity, or the Way of Christ, is at it's core monastic or communal in nature. Think about it--Jesus called twelve men (and later, women who were named among the early Disciples), who lived with him, ate meals with him, prayed with him, slept in the same room...they did everything in community, bound together by their common devotion to the Master. This led me to the thought that monasticism (or covenant life, call it whatever you want) is inherently part of Christianity, and that, even if monasticism had not been invented in the early Church, it would still have found a way to be a part of Christian history. That is to say, if the early Abbas and Ammas had never wandered out to the desert, if Pachomius had never gathered together his monks, if Benedict and Dominic and Francis and Clare and Xavier and others had somehow all managed to never exist, that monastic life would still have emerged from within Christianity.
There is something about the story of Jesus and his disciples, something about the life they led and the impact they had on the world, that leads us to want to be in community. Eventually, as the book of Acts tells us, the Church expanded beyond this first group of disciples, and the evangelistic mission spread the faith to so many that it was impractical for everyone to "have all things in common." So, it was decided that it was o.k. for some to live "secular" lives--farming, making useful things, raising families, etc., while others would live the monastic life "on behalf" of the Church.
I think the time has come to re-imagine that concept. While not everyone is called to the hard-core, out-in-the-desert-wildnerness kind of monastic life, everyone who calls him/herself a Christian should be invovled in some kind of covenant community (a church, a cell group, an accountability group, a discipleship group...whatever). Covenant community is who we are, it is part of our DNA, and frankly, it's how we grow.
Reading the section in Justo Gonzalez's The Story of Christianity (Volume 1) this morning, I came across this passage: "A surprising fact about the entire process of admission to the Pachomian communities (early monastic communities) is that many of the candidates who appeared at the gages and were eventually admitted had to be catchechized and baptized, for they were not Christians. This gives an indication of the enourmous attraction of the desert in the fourth century, for even pagans saw in monasticism a style of life worth living." (pg. 146)
What might the "monkhood of all believers" look like? How might the Church begin to organize and function under a system in which everyone is expected to be a part of a common life in some way? Wesleyan Christianity may hold part of the answer, but I think it may even be more ecumenical and wide-ranging than that. I suspect that a new wave of Christian community is called for, which is just now beginning to be expressed in the emerging/emergent movement, and may evolve into something completely new and surprising before we're through.