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Rules for Christian Community

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Me and Sarah Stenmark from the Jerusalem Project with two nuns, who shared with us what community can look like

I’m so excited! Today I’ve had a Skype meeting with some brothers and sisters in the Jerusalem Project, an association I co-founded a few months ago that encourages Christian community of goods in Sweden. We talked about the vision for community that God has put in our hearts, and we listed some basic principles that we want to be foundational for the community that we plan to start, a community where everyone have everything in common.

As some inspiration for such a rule, I have looked at both ancient and modern examples of monastic rules. I will give you two examples here before I showcase what principles we have talked about in the Jerusalem Project.

The Old

First out is St. Basil’s rule, written in the fourth century. These are just the chapter titles, the actual rule is like a small book:

  1. Live together for the sake of mutual help, comfort, instruction, exercise of virtue, efficacy of prayer, and security from danger.
  2. None without trial should be admitted into the fraternity.
  3. Monks should dispose of their wealth to the poor and needy.
  4. Children, with the consent of their parents, in presence of witnesses, may be admitted.
  5. Stinted measure is to be appointed for eating and drinking.
  6. Monks’ apparel be plain and decent, and that they wear a girdle.
  7. Next to God, monks are to be obedient to their superior.
  8. The good qualities which the superiors ought to have.
  9. The superior of the monastery first reprove the offenders with meekness and gentleness; but if they prove obstinate, and will not be reclaimed, then he is to account them as heathens and publicans.
  10. The superior suffers not the least offence to pass unreproved.
  11. The monks should confess their faults to those who are the dispensers of holy mysteries.
  12. The monks should possess all things in common.
  13. Men of estates are to render to their kindred what is their due, and the remainder to the poor.
  14. None that are entered should return to their parents’ houses, unless to give them instructions and that is to be done by permission of their superiors.
  15. Whosoever defames, or patiently hears his brother defamed, is to be excommunicated.
  16. No man does his own will in the monastery, or the least thing, without the superior’s leave.
  17. Monks debar no man from entering into the convent upon trial, or give him any offence.
  18. The measure of eating and, fasting is to be set by the superior.
  19. He who scorns to receive a garment, when presented to him, ought not to receive it when he afterwards asks for it.
  20. Those who by their own fault do not come to dinner at the fixed time, ought not to eat till the next day, at the same hour.
  21. None ought to give the least thing to the poor, but by the hands of those who are ordained for that office.
  22. Monks should be careful of the utensils appertaining to the monastery, no less than if they were the holy vessels belonging to the altar.
  23. Monks must apply themselves to handy crafts, that so they may be helpful to others.
  24. As a token of humility, monks wear sackcloth, and speak with moderation.
  25. That the monks are not to discourse alone with women.
  26. He who is the director of the nuns – That when he confesses a nun, or a recluse, he ought to do so with decency, in the presence of the abbess.

There are some problems with this rule that makes it unsuitable for the community we want to build. Firstly, it’s just directed to celibates – male celibates even. Secondly, it’s hierarchical in a sense that is not as apparent in the New Testament. On the other hand, I am attracted by its radicality when it comes to simplicity and spiritual discipline.

The New

My other example isn’t exactly a rule, rather an inspiration to rules in modern communities. I’m talking about the twelve marks of a new monasticism. Developed by a network of modern, American communities, it does not claim to deal with everything that a local community should think about but rather describe common values and principles among those who share common lives:

  1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
  2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
  3. Hospitality to the stranger.
  4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
  5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
  6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
  7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
  8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
  9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
  10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
  11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
  12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

I agree with all of this, but feel like some stuff needs to be added to our community rule. The twelve marks are not sufficient for a standard community rule.

The Unfinished

So lo and behold, here comes the first draft of a List of Principles for the pioneer community of the Swedish Jerusalem Project:

  1. Complete community of goods
  2. The poor and needy are core members while we also welcome rich people to fund the community
  3. Connecting communities in urban and rural settings
  4. Practicing hospitality and helping the poor
  5. Missionally planting new communities
  6. All community members belong to the same church and are active there
  7. Conflict resolution according to Matthew 18
  8. Daily prayers
  9. Street evangelism
  10. Charismatic ministry
  11. Rules for how to join and leave community
  12. Treasuring long-term sustainability, ecological care and social justice
  13. Vegetarian diet
  14. Nurturing a culture of self-sustainance
  15. An equal, limited amount of money is handed to community members regularly
  16. Simplicity and voluntary poverty are core values
  17. Establishing guidelines for usage of electronics and technology
  18. This rule is established and agreed upon before the community starts

Are there things we missed? How do you think a good community rule should look like? Let me know in the comment section!

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The author

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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