The movie "Ronin" is one of my all-time favorites, starring Robert DeNiro as the anti-hero loner battling against forces of evil along with some really sweet car chases in southern France and Paris. Ronin are, by classical definition, master-less Samurai warriors who roam the countryside sometimes doing good deeds and sometimes creating trouble, but always independent and self-directed. There is about them the Clint Eastwood kind of loner who figths the system and bureacrats above and the bad guys below.
Spiritual Ronin are on the loose. I see them more and more these days and don't quite know what to make of them. They are men and women, committed Christians, who run solo or in groups, but not under the direction of the church. These are persons who reject or avoid church membership, keeping their options open for more pure spiritual pursuits. The assume spiritual leader independent of larger church confirmation of gifts and skills. They offer individual mentoring and retreating unconnected with local body-life, though the local church does benefit from Christians who grow in theri faith.
I met a man in Minnesota some years ago who described himself as a spiritual coach. That was an intriguing term to me, so I asked for some clarification. He said he worked with pastors. That was good, I thought. I asked him what he did with pastors. He said he shepherded them and trained them in biblical skills, care, prayer, spiritual discernment. I interrupted and asked him if that wasn't what the seminary was supposed to do. He said, yes, but I do it more intensively. Hmmm. Accountable to no one and running alone. Sounded like a Ronin to me.
The troubling trend of the spiritual Ronin is not their integrity or energy, but the unwillingness to submit to any authority other than themselves. Clearly the institutional church has "blown it" over the years by focussing on petty and trivial matters. But it is still the church and like like the Roman Centurion, we all (myself first) must be under authority in order to validly practice authority. That seems to run counter to the grain of much in our culture of vaunted individualism, independence, and selfishness. I like having my choices and the freedom to choose from a menu of options. I think committees are boring, nurseries are noisy and messy, and paying insurance and utility bills is not exciting. But that's body life; caring for everyone from the cradle to the grave.
When I approached a committed young Christian the other day about applying for membership in this local church, he said that he had not ever heard a good argument for membership and thought it wasn't really all that necessary. So this is my first attempt at assembling a spiritual rationale for membership versus Ronin.
1. Membership affirms I Corinthians 12 and the presence and necessity of the Body of Christ.
2. Membership affirms the validity of Ephesians 5:20 and "muutual submission" beyond the marriage relationship but in the body-life context.
3. Membership affirms the truth of Acts 2:44 in that beleivers "were together and had everything in common"
4. Membership believes in the promise of Ephesians 2:19 that we are no longer strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of the hosuehold.
Membership affirms the importance of incarnational ministry. Jesus took on a fleshly body that existed in time and space and so does the church. It is mystical, universal and eternal, but it has concrete and local expressions. Membership puts my life in the context of servanthood to something larger than me. Membership says that I am committed to a community of believers, imperfect as they are (and I am), to love them. That community can count on me. It's the transition from dating to marriage. I invest myself in the life of one woman(or man as the case may be). Membership says that all people count, not just the ones of my cohort, age level, or interest area. The gatherd body of Christ is a rumply thing, made up of crying babies, stressed parents, Down Syndrome adults, happy and sad, rich and poor, liberal and conservative. It's the real thing!