Since the 6th century, the Benedictine way of monasticism emphasized three vows: obedience (submitting to the direction of the abbot/abbess or prior/prioress), stability (committing oneself to a particular monastery for life), and “conversion of life” (which includes no private ownership of property and celibate chastity). In the 12th century, the mendicant orders, such as the Dominicans and Franciscans (apostolic orders serving a diocese or the Pope outside of a monastery), professed the three so-called “Evangelical counsels” of chastity, poverty and obedience. Given that mendicant orders needed the ability to move around for their ministry, the vow of obedience took the place of conversion of life.
The Companions of The Way live out a more mendicant form of monastic vows in that we are not restricted to living cloistered in a monastery (though we are open to discerning the founding of monasteries). However, the mission of the Companions has a more local church and clericus (local grouping of parish churches) focus, not just to serving the diocese in which we reside. Transformation in the Church will be more potent if hearts and minds are touched on the interpersonal and local level. For instance, reading a book or even hearing a sermon about the Holy Scriptures does not have the same interpersonal draw as being invited by a fellow Christian to study the Bible with them. Therefore, our vows are made with the local church in view, and our missional goal extends beyond our Anglican tradition to include other Christian traditions.
Our community’s motto is discipuli facientes discipuli, or “disciples making disciples.” Therefore, our community’s charism is centered around discipleship. We have a three-fold mission to (1) grow mature disciples of Jesus Christ in our Companions, (2) to model that growth for fellow Christians, and (3) to love and support our fellow Christians in their own growth in discipleship. Our vows reflect this central mission.
A famous quote attributed to St. Augustine (but really a 17th century expression) is “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.” This means in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity or love. There are many things that divide Christians in the Anglican tradition, but love must be at the heart of Christian discipleship. Jesus summarizes all of the commandments to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).
For the Companions, love for Christ must include a love for His truth and teachings. Only those who abide in Jesus’ teaching are truly His disciples (John 8:31), and disciples are to be taught to obey all of his commandments (Matt. 28:19–20). What does love look like in the context of Christian discipleship? The first letter of John gives us a picture: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3: 16-18). Living a life of disciples making disciples is grounded in love, and this means loving brothers and sisters in Christ in both action and truth.
St. Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to flee sexual immorality because unlike other sins which are committed outside of the body, it is the kind of sin that is committed against one’s own body (1 Corinthians 6:18). Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means living a life of sexual purity, whether single or married. Taking the vow of purity does prevent single Companions from marrying in the future.
Our Lord talked about money more than any other topic besides the Kingdom of God. He frequently addressed the barriers that money presents to discipleship. To the rich young ruler, Jesus said “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24). God wants our hearts, and money frequently vies for first place. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Discipleship does not necessarily require poverty because many Christians do have financial obligations, such as providing for their family. However, a life committed to simplicity clears away the distraction and temptation of money when seeking first the kingdom of God.
Our vow of stability reflects a two-fold order. First, the vow of stability make a commitment to the Rule of the community for life or a term of years. Discipleship requires consistency, resolve, and loving support. Second, the vow of stability means that a Companion will not frequently change membership from church to church due to personal opinions, likes, dislikes, etc., but they will be committed to modelling and supporting mature Christian discipleship in the parish as an anchor among the waves that might arise in parish life. In a very transient modern culture, stability provides an orientation for fellow Christians seeking to become better disciples of Jesus.