THE ANCIENT WAY, A THIRD ORDER RULE FOR EVANGELICALS
by Eric Miller

The Problem:

The church in America/The West has lost its moorings and is largely indistinguishable from the surrounding culture. On this point everyone would agree and although it is a huge overgeneralization, and while it is certain that the statement is not true for all churches or communions, it certainly stands true as an overgeneralization for many churches. . The quest for a clear expression of God's Kingdom in culture is largely lacking in the Church in the West, doctrinal purity notwithstanding. The issue of sin in the Church does not seem to be a reflection of the lack of teaching of pure doctrines,(lets see if that is true) but more of the failure to practice ancient spiritual disciplines that are in keeping with correct doctrine and lead to authentic transformation.

The Ancient Quest:

The most basic questions to be asked are why is this so and what can be done? In the Fourth and Fifth Centuries a small movement of men and women who had experienced their fill of business as usual, I.e. overwhelming debauchery and sin in the Empire fled to the Syrian Desert to escape the shipwreck of society. The life and writings of these desert fathers and mothers trumpet a prophetic voice to Christendom raising awareness of their spiritual practices. Monastic movements up through the Middle Ages follow the same pattern of flight from society to escape the shipwreck of society and many writers speak to the spiritual practice of individuals who seek to become fully devoted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of those movements occurred in a time like today when overwhelming debauchery and flood of iniquity overflows in society to the point where it is simply not acceptable to participate in "business as usual." To do business as usual today is to bring mankind to the brink of insanity. One has often heard that the definition of insanity is to keep doing business as usual and expecting different results. The Ancient Way is an attempt to recover some ancient spiritual disciplines where our spiritual forefathers find a voice for believers today. The Ancient Way is not business as usual. The point of the Ancient Way is transformational, first in individual hearts and then to churches and then to society at large. The Ancient Way is not a complicated philosophy, but a Rule of simple spiritual practices that at their core are transformational.

The Solution:

Drilling down to the root of the spiritual life of the individual follower of Jesus is the major theme of the Ancient Way. The Ancient Way is a type of Third Order Rule of Religious Life. Third Order refers to the Religious Order that was founded by Francis of Assisi for lay people who wanted to take on some of the spiritual practices of the friars and monks who were members of the First Order of Friars Minor. The First Order was founded for celibate men, the Second Order was founded by Francis for celibate women whose first member was Claire of Assisi, and the Third Order was for laypeople that did not want or could not take up life in the ways of the First and Second Order i.e. seclusion, celibacy, etc. These Orders all had a Rule that formed the central practice of the spiritual life written down and followed by those members of that specific order. The Ancient Way is meant to be lived and practiced by those of us in the West who have full time jobs and families and who desire to put into practice some of the monastic principals of those, who like us, see society as a shipwreck and who are compelled to swim for our lives to get a foothold of health. The Ancient way is a vocation, and should be viewed as such and not entered into lightly. The Way The Ancient Way is simply put, a way. The example has been used of someone that takes a road map and studies it very well has not undertaken the trip, no matter how vivid and well planned a trip might be in the mind of the planner. A trip is taken when the person who is viewing the map actually follows the directions for real and undertakes the journey. One of the earliest descriptions of Christianity is that it was called "The Way", emphasizing that it is way of life, i.e. practice. The Ancient Way is a specific set of disciplines meant to be followed. Part of the problem in Christendom today is an over realized paranoia of words like practice and discipline, because of the noble desire to stay away from legalism. Part of this issue is a wrong emphasis and false teaching on the subject of grace. Grace is not the same thing as Antinomianism, or no law. A verse from the Bible in Titus tells us that grace teaches us to deny ungodliness.. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age“. (Titus 2:11+12) Grace is personified as a teacher. Grace makes demands, has practices and disciplines. The church did not discover this grace during the Reformation. Grace is inherent in the Life of God. Although the desire to flee legalism is noble, to fall into the ditch of Antinomianism on the other side of the road is to be out of balance.

The Theology:

The framework of Ancient Way will be theologically Evangelical, with spiritual disciplines and prayer practices that arise from the prophetic voices of the Desert Fathers and Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Contemplative Christianity. Classical Christian Mysticism with its foundational stages of purgation, illumination, and union is the basis for the spiritual roadmap and is considered normative for the Rule. The Ancient Way can serve as the basis for small community groups such as bible studies and prayer groups, or as the core spiritual values for disciplines for the foundation of a full fledged church. The transformational quality should serve to be a prophetic voice to the church in its present condition and to the world at large. The gospel path is from the innermost recesses of the heart, to the outermost places of the world. The overriding principal is that we must travel inward to find true God-Life to fuel the mission of taking the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the outmost regions of the world. To say it simply, mission must be fueled by the Life of God. The fuel for mission is the devotion of God. We have a rich heritage of devotional material that is the inheritance of the Church Universal that has been passed down for 2000 years. The Age of Reason and The Reformation have served to be a gift to mankind, but an overemphasis on reason and propositional theology has eclipsed the more contemplative elements of the normal Christian life. The Ancient Way is an attempt to recover these spiritual disciplines for those hungry for them, who desire to flee the shipwreck of society and embrace an existing rich heritage of inward devotional practices handed down from the first 1500 years of devotional writings, available for all of Christendom.

The Rule of the Ancient Way:

All who join the Ancient Way must pass the first 6 months as an apprentice in probation, meeting on a monthly basis with a mentor/spiritual advisor who is an existing member of the Ancient Way and then make their profession upon the Rule of the Ancient Way, pledging themselves to observe the Rule of the Ancient Way and the commandments of God, and to repent when they fail their profession. At profession, let them then be given and wear the ring of the Ancient Way, reminding them daily/hourly/by moment wherever they are that they are sons of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Those who offend against the provision of this Rule do not incur the guilt of sin, unless in so doing they transgress the commandments of God as revealed in the Bible. The first and foremost item of the Rule of the Ancient Way is the practice of prayer. The old adage is that practice makes perfect. The ideal of Christian perfection defined as Union with God is the goal, to what extent that Christian Perfection can be achieved in life in this lower world. Members shall practice prayer at least once per day, reciting the Divine Office during morning, midday, evening, night, or vigil offices. Reciting more than one office per day is both preferable, and advisable. The office may be read, recited or chanted according to the circumstances afforded. The practice of prayer should include 20 minutes of meditation, either Lectio Divina or Contemplation (passive prayer), whichever suits the participant. They shall also make frequent use of Scripture reading during this prayer time. Members shall be careful to avoid all forms of dissipation. Members shall be temperate in eating and drinking. Members shall fast one meal each week and one full day each month, from sun up to sun- down meditating on the passion and death of Christ. Members shall partake of the Eucharist at least once per month. In their daily life let members strive to lead others by a good example and to promote piety and good works. Let them not allow books or magazines or television shows which are hindrances to virtue to be brought in their homes, or be read/observed by those under their care. Members shall earnestly maintain the spirit of love among themselves and toward others. Let them strive to heal discord when they can. Let members examine their conscience every night before retiring to see if they have offended God in anything. If they have, let them repent before retiring. Let members not forsake the fellowship of believers, and should attend a regular weekly church service, being committed to the local church, which is the expression of Gods Kingdom on earth. Let members give regularly to their local church generously with a grateful heart. All members shall take a spiritual retreat of not less than 2 days at least once per year, spending the majority of time in solitude and prayer. Members shall make every effort to each have a spiritual director who is competent to guide the member to pursue Christian perfection, or Union with God, to the extent that it is possible in this life. The member shall communicate with their Director in all honesty at least once per month to describe their spiritual journey. Confession of sin is appropriate at these meetings as the need arises, and as conscience dictates and trust allows. All disobedient and harmful members should be admonished of their duty a second and third time, if they do not submit, let them be dismissed from the Ancient Way Order.

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