It goes by at least several different names: the Emerging Church, Emergence Christianity, the New Monasticism. Take your pick, they all are used to describe a modern and growing form of Christianity community that looks to the future largely by looking to the past. Recovering what they believe to have been true of the earliest faith communities, these contemporary faith communities adopt and adapt those principles and practices to life in the modern world. What they have recovered is the church that existed before dogma and doctrine, the church before creeds. What they have recovered is the church of relationship and caring for each other, the church that was passionate about sharing what it had with others. Luke describes it this way in the Book of Acts:
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Meeting with people, sharing with and caring for all the people, and praising God for that privilege and all else they were given - these were the hallmarks of the first Christian communities, and people joined them in large numbers. More a movement than an institution, the earliest Christian communities were communities in the world, responding to the love of God and sharing the love of God. They were communities that fully embraced what we mean when we say “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
In their ministry to and conversion of the pagan people of Ireland, St Patrick and the Celtic monks who followed him, employed a model of evangelism that brought them into close relationship with the Irish people. They lived on the land with the Irish. They listen to their stories and came to see the world through the eyes of the Irish. They took care of the basic needs of the Irish and explained the Gospel to them in a way that made sense to the Irish world view. Like the Celtic monks, new monastics do not seek to save their souls by separating themselves from the evils of the world, but rather they live in the world and engage the people of the world.
This is the emerging church of new monastics: non-dogmatic, in the world, caring for the needs of others in response to the love of God revealed in the life and death of his son, and gathering to rejoice in the good that God is doing in and through his people.
My hope in the coming year for our Good Shepherd family is that we can begin to find our future in something that looks very old.