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
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
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]...
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
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]