Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 58, No Easy Entry

Chapter 58 of The Rule of St. Benedict is entitled "The Procedures for Receiving Brothers." It has to do with accepting new monks into the monastery and the Order. The chapter begins with this line:
1Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry.
As most of you know, by today's standards getting into the early church, let alone a monastic community, wasn't an easy affair. In the early church people went through a two to three year training and internship in the faith before their baptism and being welcomed into the community. By contrast, in many churches today you join by filling out a card and dropping it into a plate.

Such practices blur the distinctions between the labels "Christian," "member of the church," and "disciple." These should all mean the same thing. But they don't, leading to a lot of confusion and scorn. That is, we see lots of people call themselves "Christian" or claim to be a "member of the church" but who aren't disciples of Jesus, who don't follow his cruciform lifestyle. And so aspersions are cast upon so-called "Christians."

In a related way, this is the chronic problem faced by every church leader. How do you get a crowd of people who are merely affiliated with the church ("the members") engage in the hard work of discipleship? The general practice is to let just about anybody "join" the church and then, once they are "in," to tempt them into various ministries or venues where spiritual growth can occur.

The early church worked with a different model, making the first steps toward discipleship prerequisites for admission. They worked with Benedict's rule: Do not grant newcomers to the church an easy entry.

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11 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 58, No Easy Entry”

  1. That's fascinating. When you say early church, is that 1st century or 3rd century or what? Lots of churches today make it hard, not easy. But this is also in contrast to the Ethiopian man's conversion and subsequent baptism...

  2. Not the NT church. I believe the catechism tradition starting getting big in the 2nd Century and was pretty much in place by the 3rd and 4th. That's the period I have in mind, the one- to multiple-year training tradition.

  3. This raises something I have often wondered about. We have often equated discipleship and church membership with "getting your butt into heaven when you die." But I've often wondered if the call to discipleship, and shall we say, the church, was not intended to be a "how to get saved program" but to be a community of people committed to living the way of Jesus. So exclusion would not be a ticket to hell, but membership would be restricted to those committed to living out the way. This is my attempt at grasping for understanding...any thoughts out there?

  4. Have you researched this? I find it very hard to believe that this particular pattern was universal. Instead it sounds like a bit of idealistic revisionism. But I could be wrong. But my antennas go up -- my skeptical ones. I know nothing of this area, but didn't Paul write to early churches that were loaded with problems? Didn't sound ideal there at all.

  5. This is a great example of the shift in church culture from inclusion and discipleship towards purity and membership (see 'Equally Shaky Ground' post). Embracing Universalism into the theological fold is the answer!!

  6. Mmmm. It seems to me like Benedict was talking about the monastic life, not about church membership. Religious and limited, not lay and universal/general. I can imagine some connections--say, in today's increasingly secular/multi-religious world, membership in a church is not a given like it was in Benedict's day, so now church membership itself is a kind of monasticism, a kind of public commitment that it would have been more like becoming a monk than becoming a Christian in Benedict's context, and you can add to this all that talk about "a priesthood of all believers" and "new monasticism"--and I think those are exciting connections, but I guess I'm wondering how you are connecting them.

    In other words, I feel like church membership and monasticism are different beasts, but maybe you'd say otherwise--I can imagine how you'd say otherwise--and I'd like to know why.

  7. Hope you don't mind this. I've moved to Memphis and would be interested to hear from ET readers about interesting churches in the area.

  8. There is part of me that has, over time, become convinced that when the Jesus of the Gospels is presented in his radical and shocking "die in order to live" type of love, when his words "Blessed are the poor", and, "The meek will inherit the earth" are not hurried over because the political air is stifling, when his teaching "refuse no one who begs from you" is taught in areas where the philosophy "Let them go get a job" is cherished as a "Christian and family value", when the poor and outcasts are lifted up in their dignity while we who have much are made to humbly accept deep compunction, most listeners, whether it be of a sermon or Bible study, are not going to be jumping out of their seats, yelling, "Where do I sign up?" Too many will scoff and, so to speak, spit in your hand, as they walk out the door; a very few will actually think to themselves, "I need to think about this". There is your difficult entry, especially for those who have been "in" for a long, long time.

  9. If you haven't found out already, Memphis has plenty of interesting churches. But in our time, I guess it depends on what really interests "me".

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