Benedict’s Rule: Spirituality is Reality (2)

The vow of stability provides a second major benefit:  it does not hide or delay the challenges that come with living an authentic spiritual life.  When the seeking brother was received into the community, he was “told all the hardships and difficulties that will lead him to God” (58:8).

One problem with too much contemporary spirituality is that it over-emphasizes the “blessing” dimension, and ignores or sidesteps the “challenge” dimension.  This turns out to be a religious version of bait-and-switch.

The first day that Jesus called the apostles to be with him, he also told them that they would be sent out to “proclaim the message and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15).  Neither of these things would be easy; on the contrary, they would bring immediate challenges to the twelve.  But it was important for them to know, right up front, that being “sent out” (what the word ‘apostle’ means) was to be sent out as sheep among wolves (cf. Matt 10:16, Matthew’s account of the same moment that Mark captures).

A bit later, when Jesus laid Gospel foundations through the Sermon on the Mount, he reiterated that the apostles should expect nothing other than to be treated the same way the prophets and he himself was being treated (Matt. 5:10-11).

Benedict took his cue from Christ, knowing that the only spirituality that survives for the long-haul is the one that takes the whole picture into account.

Following Jesus….wonderful?  Absolutely!

Following Jesus…challenging?  No doubt!   But unless we see, from “day one” that living the Gospel is arguably the most counter-cultural thing we can do, we will come to moments of testing and believe that our task is to accommodate the Gospel to the culture, rather than live the Gospel as a challenge to the culture.

And the Rule of Benedict will also soon play itself out (as the way of Jesus did) with the realization that the challenge of the Gospel means having to confront both the liberals and the conservatives (e.g. the Sadducees and the Pharisees—cf Matt 16:6), because no party or vantage point has it completely right—including our own!

The pages of Christian history are replete with examples where accomodation has occurred, and Benedict was wise enough to know (as was Jesus) that the only way to avoid an unholy alliance with evil is to let Christ followers know (early on) that they “cannot serve God and mammon.”


About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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