I’m often asked “What does it mean to be a member of St. John’s?” and I usually answer, “it all depends.” Of course it is possible to wax theological about the fact that through the resurrection, God put all things under Jesus’ feet “and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23). Clearly, the church is at the heart of God’s eternal purposes and infinitely precious to Christ. But I think people are usually after a more concrete and practical answer.
There is a very helpful answer to this question on p. 555 of our Book of Common Prayer which enunciates six practical commitments. It states:
Every Christian man or woman should from time to time frame for himself or herself a RULE OF LIFE in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel and the faith and order of the Church; wherein he or she may consider the following:
The regularity of attendance at public worship and especially at the Holy Communion;
The practice of private prayer, Bible-reading, and self-discipline;
Bringing the teaching and example of Christ into everyday life;
The boldness of spoken witness to our faith in Christ;
Personal service to the Church and the community;
The offering of money according to our means for the support of the work of the Church at home and abroad.
“Rule of Life” is an unfortunate title, conjuring images of monastic asceticism and itchy clothing, or more commandments to make us feel guilty, or worse””a list of duties to tick so I can know God cannot ask any more from me. That is not what the Prayer Book intends.
Everything we do in the Christian life is in response to the grace and goodness of God. In the death of Jesus we are remade and flooded with the Holy Spirit, who spreads the love of God and the obedience to God in our hearts. It is true that most monastic orders have a “Rule of Life” (usually poverty, chastity, and obedience), but the old Latin word for ”˜Rule’ is ”˜Regula’””which means a pattern or model to regulate our lives.
So the six principles in the BCP “Rule of Life” are intended to show what a “cross-shaped life” looks like. They are not meant to be read legalistically or as a means to gain God’s favor, but as a way to nourish our love for God and one another in practice precisely because we know God’s favour in Jesus Christ. They are the visible, realistic, and balanced behaviours of those who have been gripped by God’s grace.
I commend them to you for your summer meditation.
–(The Rev.) David Short is rector, Saint John’s, Vancouver, B.C.