For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. The following is an excerpt from a yet-to-be-released book about my experiences. This is from the chapter on Community.
The Safest Place In The World
One of the great things about being intimately involved in a community of believers is the protection it offers its members. Our Christian communities (family, church, monastery, small group, etc.) should be the safest places in the world. We should be able to gather with like-minded sinners who are saved by grace and know we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, NKJV). Unconditionally and totally accepted. Unfortunately, too many of our “Christian” communities reflect the sentiments of Bob Mumford, who said, “The Christian army is the only one that shoots its wounded.”
I’ve been shot in church, and I bet you have too. Living in a monastery also brought a few wounds, but for the most part, living at the Little Portion was the safest community I ever lived in, save my communal relationship with my wife, Barbara.
When I moved to the Little Portion, they didn’t expect me to arrive as a perfectly formed Christian. They understood that spiritual and character change was a process, and we even had spiritual formation classes to facilitate this development. Unfortunately, I believe we have lost this understanding in too many of our local churches. It is a fine thing to come to the altar one Sunday and, for the first time, confess the sins everybody in the congregation already knows you have. But if you show up on Wednesday and are still dealing with some issues, there will always be one self-righteous person in the audience with the gift of condemnation who will point out your flaws and convict you of worldliness for not being like them. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t come to save the ninety-nine self-righteous, but the one who knows they are lost (Luke 15:9).
I’ve never understood this attitude of familial condemnation. When I go to a hospital, I expect to see sick people. Nobody condemns them for being sick; rather, they expect them to be sick because that is why they are in the hospital. So why should I be surprised when I go to church and find sinners? I’d be more surprised if I went to a church and found nothing but perfect models of Christ-like behavior in everyone I met, because then I’d think I stumbled upon some sort of Christian science fiction version of the Stepford wives.
I didn’t always see eye to eye with community leaders on theology, ecclesiology, denominations and even musical tastes (gasp!). I created a stir at the Little Portion on more than one occasion due to my theological views, but more often due to my personality. However, John Michael Talbot, the community’s founder, never forced me to clone myself into a miniature version of himself or St. Francis in order to feel accepted. Others associated with the community tried that (I’ve even had leaders in my home church try that too!) but without success. In the four years I lived at the Little Portion, John and I had some heated discussions, I made some bonehead mistakes, he said some things that were out of line. So what? That sounds like any typical relationship. But I also knew that whatever happened between John, the community and me, I was safe with them and they were safe with me. This is why I refuse to write about any “dirty laundry” regarding Catholicism, monastic traditions, or another denomination. I simply believe that it is more important to love one another as Christ has loved us than to find some way of proving how our neighbor is wrong so we may boost our own self-righteousness. I still find it unfathomable how anyone could stand before the Throne of God and, at the same time, point an accusing finger at his or her brother or sister.
This is why I refuse to write about any “dirty laundry” regarding Catholicism, monastic traditions, or another denomination. I simply believe that it is more important to love one another as Christ has loved us than to find some way of proving how our neighbor is wrong so we may boost our own self-righteousness. I still find it unfathomable how anyone could stand before the Throne of God and, at the same time, point an accusing finger at his or her brother or sister.
It’s hard to wash feet when you’re wearing a judge’s robe. Excellent post, Jim!