The New Mennonite Ashram-Monastic-Missional Model?

Direction Journal[1] is a semi annual Mennonite publication which has addressed biblical, theological, historical, ethical, and church-related issues for more than 30 years. It is backed by the following Mennonite Brethren institutions:

Cooperating sponsors of Direction are:
• Bethany College, Hepburn, Saskatchewan
• Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba
• Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, British Columbia
• Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California
• Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California
• Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada, Langley, British Columbia and Winnipeg, Manitoba
• Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas
The Canadian Conference and the U.S. Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church

Last spring a lengthy article appeared in their Journal[2] called Toward a Missional Spirituality in the Academy[3] by Len Hjalmarson. In this article (which contains enough new missional language to require an e-missional language translator) the author discusses several models and characteristics of emerging missional spirituality (with diagrams). One such alternative model is the ashram, which the author also compares with ancient Celtic communities and monasteries…

Whatever its similarities, there are also differences, and the ashram is a current model employed across cultures and across religions. The Celtic communities existed at the confluence of pagan and Christian cultures, not multiple religions and cultures. And the ashram has proven effective in promoting dialogue across religious barriers. Klaudt writes that, “In the east, Christian ashrams have brought people of all faiths together to learn from one another.”

Ashrams are historically Hindu symbols. Hjalmarson writes that one quality which makes the ashram “an attractive alternative model for theological formation is the way it reframes issues of power.” In fact, at an ashram founded by Rabindranath Tagore[4], Hjalmarson tells us…

“it is said that, “no great distinction exists between the teachers and pupils of Shanti Niketan; all are learners together, all are endeavoring to follow the one rising path.” 30 This mirrors the convictions of Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out.”

This ashram in Shanti Niketan was once a marble-floored prayer hall (Hindu temple) that Tagore’s father founded for people to come and meditate but is now an educational institution. Traditionally ashrams[5] are spiritual hermitages for instruction (yoga, religion, etc). If there is such a thing as a “Christian Ashram”, it would be categorized as a monastery. Currently we are seeing a lot of evangelicals going to retreats in these places to learn the monastic practices and rules. Any modern expression of this kind of Christian monasticism[6] today in modern evangelical circles involves a blending of Roman Catholic, Anglican and Protestant traditions.

As for the convictions of Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen, whom Hjalmarson quotes, his was a universalistic view. It was Nouwen who said: “Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.”[7]

What is the point of exploring any of these models?

Hjalmarson also discusses centered community and belonging, and the missional incarnation model. He says that “centered-set churches need custodians of the story and guardians of the ethos,” and that the new missional model is about inclusivity and open-ended belonging.

Are such ‘centered-set’ churches centered on Christ?

No. It appears that they are centered on religious ritual and contemplative spirituality. The article mentions that many of these new missional groups have adopted monastic patterns based on a rule of life (of St. Benedict), such as The Order of Mission, the Northumbria Community or The Simpler Way. Quoting emerging churching leaders such as Alan Roxburgh, Jim Wallis[8] and Rowan Williams, the article’s author concludes that the missional community order should be bound around a set of shared (monastic) practices.

Why does the church need any such (so called) attractive alternative models for theological formation? Why look to the Hindu symbol of the ashram or it’s Christian counterpart, a monastery and it’s ancient practices? According to the Bible, the church already has unity in Christ, and a mission to proclaim the gospel truth that He is the only way. Not ecumenical models that encourage inclusiveness and universalism.

Christian unity means all those who are saved by belief in Christ alone. It’s not about being bonded in monastic habits or finding community in an ashram-like model or an open ended, all inclusive centered order. These ideas sound more like the chains of religion than the power of the gospel to free souls. This neo-monastic concept comes as no surprise, as previous postings on this blog[9] have revealed. The only surprise is that Mennonites continue to publish articles like this one that would make their founder a little upset. Are they really so unsatisfied with God’s Word that they allow teachers in their midst who explore alternative religious rabbit trails? In doing so, it appears that they are not looking to the source and head of the church (Jesus), but to ideas that are devoid of the power of the Holy Spirit to save souls from an eternity separated from the one true God.

Endnotes:

[1] http://www.directionjournal.org/index.html
[2] Spring 2013 · Vol. 42 No. 1 · pp. 38–54 http://www.directionjournal.org/42/1/index.html
[3] Toward a Missional Spirituality in the Academy by Len Hjalmarson http://www.directionjournal.org/42/1/toward-missional-spirituality-in-academy.html
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabindranath_Tagore
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashram
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_monasticism
[7] http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/nouwen.htm
[8] http://standupforthetruth.com/leaders/jim-wallis/
[9] What Kind of Discipleship is this in the MB Herald https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/what-kind-of-discipleship-is-this-in-the-mb-herald/
Merton and the Mennonite Church Down the Road https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/merton-and-the-mennonite-church-down-the-road/

*Unless otherwise stated, this blog may contain the opinions and view points of the blog administrator who is not responsible for the content of connecting links or ensuing comments.

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