June/July 2014 - Vol. 74...

A Work of the Spirit New Forms of Christian Life in Community
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By Steve Clark
The church, the body of Christ, has Christ and his Spirit dwelling within. It has every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Yet it is in need of renewal. It is at the same time holy and always in need of being purified. It is continually pursuing the path of penance and renewal (Lumen Gentium 9). Recognizing the predestined call and nature of the glorious church of God (Ephesians 5:27) should not lead to a failure to recognize the actual state of the people of God and their need...

The Holy Spirit begins movements of renewal
The renewing work of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing part of the life of the pilgrim people of God. In every age, the Holy Spirit begins movements of renewal. Sometimes he does so through the ordinary forms of church life, sometimes through special interventions that may lead to new forms of Christian living.

We live in a special time of renewal... a time in which we cannot simply rely on the accomplishments or forms of life of the past. Rather we must live the unchanging life of Christ and his church in new ways. These have to be both more effective for our age and more faithful to what was entrusted to the church in the beginning. 

As throughout the ages the Holy Spirit has been active among the Christian people to bring about renewal, groups of Christians have come together to respond. Many Christians have come together to perform some special services or foster spiritual growth with no further bond among themselves than that necessary for achieving particular goals.

Renewed living as brothers and sisters in the Lord
But the human race is naturally social, and it has pleased God to unite those who believe in Christ in the people of God (see 1 Peter 2:5-10), and into one body (see 1 Corinthians 12:12, Acts 18).  Therefore the very nature of the Christian people is to be brothers and sisters in the Lord, one in the Spirit in the bonds of peace and mutual love (Ephesians. 4:3). Consequently, when the Holy Spirit renews his people, he often leads groups of Christians to join themselves to one another to live more fully the life together of the Christian people. Such a coming together is not intended as an alternative to the life of the church.  Rather, it is a renewed living out of what the life of the church should be and so signifies the communion and unity of the church of Christ.

In our day, desire for such coming together is felt with greater strength because of the loss of natural community in society and in [many parishes and congregations]... 

Covenant communities
In recent years the Lord has brought into existence new forms of Christian life that are called covenant communities. They are covenantal because they are based on the voluntary commitment of members to one another in a serious way that is not necessarily lifelong and does not necessarily partake of the nature of a vow. The commitment is in the form of a personal covenant of brothers and sisters one to another that supplements and strengthens the relationship that comes from being baptized members of the church. They are communities because they share together their spiritual and material goods as a way of expressing their relationship as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

The relationship together of the members of covenant communities is personal and family-like, with a concern that extends to the whole of their lives...

There are many types of covenant communities. Some are primarily together for mutual support in Christian life and service, while others are missionary bodies, established to be available to the work of the Lord for particular services. Some are together for the renewal of the parochial or diocesan life of the church, while others engage primarily in an evangelistic or social apostolate in the wider society. Some are together to live a special spirituality, while others have no other spirituality than the common one of the church. All these communities are at one in their desire to live together as brothers and sisters their Christian way of life.

[Steve Clark is past president of the Sword of the Spirit and founder of The Servants of the Word. This article is adapted from Covenant Community and Church, Chapter One, (c) 1992 Steve Clark, Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA]

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