The Monastery

At present I am reading “A Short History of Christianity” by the noted Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey.  Blainey is an absolute pleasure to read – he is entertaining as well as highly regarded in his field.

As a Christian I am conscious of where I stand within the history of the church.  I am thankful for the time and place that God has put me in, and very excited that I have the chance to serve him in this generation.  I think that the churches that I have been a part of in my life are doing very exciting things – I think they understand the gospel well and are committed to living it out.

But I’m not so proud that I would look down on what God has done through other parts of the Christian church in other centuries.  It is easy to look back and with the benefit of hindsight say that the Catholics had it wrong here, the Orthodox had it wrong there, this denomination was wrong everywhere.

So I must confess to really struggling through the various chapters that covered the rise of the monastery (and the convent).  For most of the period between 500 and 1500 AD the most spiritual activity, the most biblical study and the most devout people were found mostly in monasteries.  Europe had literally thousands of monasteries and convents.

But in my mind the whole concept of a monastery is a complete mistake.  Jesus did not say, “You are the light of the world.  Take that light, erect walls around it, and keep the world out lest they pollute it.”  Jesus said, “let your light shine before men.”  He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  He said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

What I don’t get is the fact that monasteries were started by people who were deeply committed to Jesus.  They were willing to give up everything for the cause of Christ.  And yet to my mind they completely got the whole concept of following Jesus wrong.  How can you love your neighbour by removing yourself from them?

A possible explanation is that they regarded themselves as living in a Christian nation, where everyone was baptised as infants.  There were no non-Christians to reach out to.

Monasteries are still around but the thinking behind starting them has certainly gone out of fashion.  Obviously within the Protestant Church they are not encouraged.  And yet that does not mean that there is no longer Christians putting their light under a bowl.  In my experience the whole Christian life is a balance between spending time with the church and time outside it.  I think that Christians have to be very careful when doing something together that can be done in the world.  Examples that come to mind are Christian sporting teams, Christian schools and (in North America) Christian universities.  Those things are not inherently wrong but I think there is the possibility that they will turn into monasteries if careful attention is not paid to being in the world but not of the world.

John

One Comment to “The Monastery”

  1. Having attended a Christian school, I can assure you it is an enormously long way from being a monastery!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: