Religious "orders"?(posted at the ekklesiachurch in response to being asked:
What is your position on the need for religious orders, as
apparently established by Christ, in this day in which we find
Do you see the need to form one or join one, yourself ?
If so, why... if not, why not?)
March 15, 2009
I write in response to a request, and not because of preference. If
some dialog follows, I may be happy to let others have the final words
on the subject. While I am content with my present conclusions, they
are not necessarily final. Part of the motivation for my previous
posting was some impatience in waiting to observe a functioning order
among those somewhat known to me, so that I can learn more.
For those who develop responses somewhat Like I do, it will be helpful
to be reminded of some of the background factors which have led to my
present conclusions. Those factors may give me broader insights, or
make them narrowly deficient. Knowing of the factors will help others
I grew up within a well-established institutional "church" of the
Presbyterian/Reformed tradition. Those I learned to know in the local
congregation included many who were focused on institutional trappings,
but also many others whose spirits I came to know as expressive of the
new nature which Jesus came to give. Though I could no longer live
within that framework, my dominant emotional memories of those years are
wholesome. From the time of my earliest memories, I knew that I should
always do what I knew internally was right. Learning the extent to
which my understanding of right was conditioned by decisions of
ecclesiastical and civil authorities was a long and sometimes difficult
process. But throughout the process I knew that having ordinary people
know what is right and do it is the best hope for a good life among
people, and that Jesus is indispensable for the realization of that
hope. I regard life in the institutional "church" as I experienced it
as deeply flawed, yet very good.
For many years I remained committed to the ideals of behavior and life
established by the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, and accumulated
credentials, positions, and recognitions considered impressive by both.
Breaking from those traditions and patterns was an often painful
experience over many more years, including an awareness that what
impresses people may not impress the Lord.
My years of transition and searching included participation in a
Mennonite congregation, a Vineyard congregation, and a congregation with
background ties to the Plymouth Brethren.
After years of searching to find fellowship with others who wanted
nothing but to enjoy together the presence and leading of the living
Lord, my wife and I have been blessed in most recent years to enjoy
regular (twice weekly at present) fellowship gatherings which we
experience as meeting that standard. The group includes a total of five
men with their families who are committed as kingdom subjects to
supporting and meeting the needs of each other while separated from all
the conventional structures which are seen as providing and protecting
people in the kingdoms of the world. Others who participate are in
various stages of learning and separation from involvement in those
structures. I have never felt more loved and secure than I do among
As further background, I will comment on some of the concepts which
influence my conclusions.
Dividing people into status groups which have often been labeled as
clergy and laity has always been problematic to me. The concluding New
Testament message seems to me to be that all those who are identified
with Christ and renewed by His Spirit have equal access to the Father
and are equally equipped to be His agents and do His work as he leads
and uses them. All should bear fruit; all are given gifts; all are
parts of the body. Even in the early developing scene of the time of
the apostles, the terms used to designate functions seem to me to be
more descriptive than prescriptive. They tell us what people were
doing, not what their status or definition was. Deacons were appointed
as a matter of practical arrangement, not as a matter of inherent
status, ideological arrangement, or theoretical formulation. In my
opinion the reason there has been such endless debate as to how many
"offices" or gifts there are, and how each of them is to function, is
that the labels were always meant to be helpful, and never limiting.
Such debates are similar to arguing whether it would be proper to ask a
"Tuesday yardman" to fix a door on Thursday.
I have found the many references on this forum to a "vow of poverty" to
be helpful and worthwhile. The western capitalistic model of capable
individuals who accumulate wealth and build an "estate" which is passed
on to their genetic "heirs" seems to me to be in conflict with the N.T.
description of life in the body of believers, the citizens of the
kingdom. As I have pondered the matter, it seems to me that the
essential element of a "vow of poverty" is a recognition that one will
never have such an estate which will be inherited by genetic relatives,
one's natural "family". Furthermore, those in the body of Christ should
consider everything they possess as gifts entrusted to their stewardship
for the benefit of all. Nothing is claimed for self-interest, to be
used or squandered as I jolly-well please. Everything is received in
trust, as a gift entrusted by our Father, who expects us to use it for
the welfare of his people and the good of his earth. Whatever remains
when our life ends will pass on to others who will carry on the
stewardship--our spiritual family. Our "heirs" are defined spiritually,
not genetically. Our father, mother, brothers and sisters are those who
know the will of God and do it. When we live with such commitments,
are we not all under a "vow of poverty" without "estates" in the secular
If I had been asked ten years ago whether Christ had established orders,
I would have found it difficult to respond because I would have put
little meaning into the word or the question. I might have thought you
were asking about directives or instructions in the sense of orders
given in the army. An "order" as we speak of it here is like a system,
an arrangement or an establishment, an artificial concept, a legal
fiction. Finding references to "orders" in the New Testament requires
schooling in theoretical and legal frameworks of thought. Whether the
label and concept is helpful may be a matter of opinion.
Although I do not claim to have a "position" on the need for religious
orders, in the sense of doctrine which must be defended, by now you may
have sensed that I do not at present see the need to form one or join
As I implied in a previous posting, my concept of what life should be
like for those in the kingdom is possible only in the presence of a
living Lord who has a relationship with each citizen, which is another
way of saying that he really is King, here and now. Those confined to living in a world limited to people, what they know,
and what they can do, of necessity generate endless documents, records,
authorized officials, recognized procedures and rituals, and chains of
command. No ordinary man ever knew everything or could singularly
minister to the needs of millions of people. Legal complexity is
inevitable when there is no reference available outside human experience.
When we are asked for evidence that we live in an alternative kingdom,
we should point to living assemblies and testimonies of live witnesses,
more than to electronic images, symbols on paper, and arrangements
established as legal fictions. Will this evidence be "recognized" by
the kingdoms of the world? Probably not. What will be the result?
Only the King knows.
May He give us all wisdom, draw us together as His people, make us more
sensitive to His leading, and use us for His purposes.