Throughout the history of monasticism, beginning with the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Rules of Life have guided individuals and monastic communities into deep faithful discipleship to Jesus. Those seeking to follow Jesus in wholehearted discipleship found that by voluntarily committing to follow an agreed upon rhythm of life comprised of spiritual practices and values, one’s life of intimacy with God and service in the world was much aided and strengthened.
What is a Rule of Life? In The Vision and the Vow, Pete Greig tells us that,
“A Rule of Life is a set of principles and practices we build into the rhythm of our daily lives, helping us to deepen our relationship with God and to serve Him more faithfully. If Creeds are what we believe and Christ is why we believe, a Rule is how we seek to live out that faith, day to day as disciples in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Pete goes on to talk about how Rules of Life have brought personal transformation to people and how they can shape the life of a whole community of people. Others who have lived according to a Rule of Life comment on the value of following one.
“The disciplines which we build into our rhythm of life help us to shed the “old self” and allow our “new self” in Christ to be formed… Ultimately a Rule should help you to love God more…”
“it serves as a framework for freedom – not as a set of rules that restrict or deny life, but as a way of living out our vocation alone and together… A Rule then is a means whereby, under God, we take responsibility for the pattern of our spiritual lives. It is a ‘measure’ rather than a ‘law’. The word ‘rule’ has bad connotations for many, implying restrictions, limitations and legalistic attitudes. But a Rule is essentially about freedom. It helps us to stay centred, bringing perspective and clarity to the way of life to which God has called us.” (Northumbria Community)
Monastics, old and new, continue to find that following a rule of life is an indispensable help and guide for the spiritual life. Members of the Northumbria Community also found that having a Rule helps people and groups remember their identity and calling by God. A Rule says, “this is who we are, this is our story; and it reminds us of those things God has put on our hearts, calling us back to our foundations.” These truths were affirmed early on by the founders of 24-7 Prayer and were articulated in the Rule of Life for the movement written by Andy Freeman and which is found in Punk Monk.
‘Rules of Life’ have been the foundation of monastic communities from the earliest beginnings. Monastic communities, old and new, have discovered the essential Gospel focused, life giving and faith sustaining strength that Rules can give to individuals and their communities. We do well to learn from their examples as we seek to commit to follow the Order of the Mustard Seed rule of life.
Covenant has been the foundation of a relationship with God throughout Biblical history. From the very beginning God revealed Himself to humanity and invited humankind to enter into relationship with Him based on a mutual giving of oneself in wholehearted loyalty and committed alliance and devotion to the other. From Adam and Eve in the garden, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the patriarchs and later Kings of Israel this has been the established form of the divine human relationship. These covenants bound individuals, families and whole nations to God. The most significant divine-human covenant was made when Jesus died and rose again as a means of forgiveness for sins (Luke 22:20). We enter into covenant with God through our voluntary acceptance of this act on our behalf, with a responding self-giving of ourselves in allegiance to God in love and service.
The nature of a covenant is a voluntary mutual pledge of sole allegiance to the other and offering all of ones resources at the disposal of and for the benefit of the other. It is a formal and serious commitment, with terms to be honoured by both parties. Sometimes it is accompanied with an exchange of items or some other symbolic act (Genesis 15).
Throughout biblical and human history covenants have been used to bind parties together in a similar fashion. Friends can affirm their relationship through covenant (i.e. Jonathan and David), spouses bind themselves together in a covenant of marriage, and some churches have established covenants with their members. The Order of the Mustard Seed was established through the entering into covenant with one another between Count Zinzendorf and four friends. These covenanted relationships are typically long lasting and are not intended to be broken. When broken they can carry consequences beyond the loss of relationship.
Vows are a means of affirming a covenant with others. In biblical history when making a vow a person made a ‘promise either to perform some act (Genesis 28:20ff) or to refrain from an act (Number 21:1-3), in the hope of gaining of God’s favour, or as an expression of zeal or devotion to God (Psalm 22:25)’.
Although not the covenant themselves, vows are helpful and can be key to keeping the promise(s) made. John Worgal writes that “…vows are a way of life. They affirm a paradoxical truth about human nature; though the will is weak and fundamentally unstable, it is nevertheless able, with the help of God, to fulfill promises made through the solemn declaration of a vow. Vows shape a person’s life (Ps. 61:8) and, when made to God, become a joyful act of worship.” (Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, p.826)
As aspiring members of the Order of the Mustard Seed, our entering into vows is nothing less than the acceptance of the gospel message and our wholehearted loving response to God’s grace (Romans 12:1-2) in the context of our Rule of Life.