Presbyterianism and Ordered Life

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An interesting question popped in my head recently–maybe I got it from someone else. In many communions/denominations there are “orders,” subgroups within the community that seek to reflect their engagement with the wider community and world in particular ways, but continue to coexist with other groups.

In the PC(USA) we have many groups: Presbyterians for Renewal, Covenant Network of Presbyterians, Fellowship of Presbyterians, More Light Presbyterians, etc. Some of them are single-issue, some reflect a particular theological perspective, and still others invite people to consider certain actions. Many belong to multiple groups at once. Many groups seem to be competing with other groups for control and influence (e.g., conservative versus liberal). In other communions people often belong to one or another, but rarely two or more.

So my question is this: do “orders” in the classical sense (like the order of Jesuits or Benedictines in the Roman Catholic Church) fit within the framework of Presbyterianism? Is there room in our ecclesiastical vision for seemingly diverse orders to coexist as simply different expressions of the same faith without the need to compete?

I’m thinking about orders rather than centering on particular theological perspectives and more around practices of faith like praying the hours of the day, academic study, communal living, service, etc. I know there are modern day communes being formed in urban contexts, and that feels very inviting to me (even if challenging in a culture that increasingly values individualism), even though I don’t know exactly how they operate. Many of the groups emerging from the PC(USA)’s 1001 Worshiping Communities initiative seem to fit into this ancient way of being Church.

I am drawn to something like the Benedictine discipline, but what does it look like in a presbyterian context? Might “orders” be a way for diverse theological perspectives coexist in the form of practices, without denying the the validity of other ways of being?

1 thought on “Presbyterianism and Ordered Life”

  1. Each order has a particular “charism” that may or may not have had a home or place in the larger institutional church. So it was not so much the discipline of prayer or the structure of the community per se, but the charism that drew people into the community. In this sens it is not an “issue” but a way of life founded on the charism that really matters. Often the charism was attached to a single individual who him or herself was a “charismatic” leader. As Roman Catholicism moved away from the charism of Jesus to the structure and ritual of the institution, orders began to arise in the attempt to recapture something of the original charism of Jesus. It is also interesting, as the followers of St Francis found out, that the institutional church is always suspicious of groups standing outside the structure, and so the Franciscans were quickly brought back “under the rule” of the church.

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