...are the ones that make the biggest difference

12.02.2004

Evangalitarianism

One thing I've noticed that is lacking in Protestant Christianity, especially evangelicalism, is a thoroughgoing vocational ecclesiology. I mean that there is little willingness to consider any spiritual path outside the mainstream, which is very egalitarian. Everyone can do every job or take on any role, and while there is an understanding of "calling", ie, "I've been called to do ....", that understanding does not extend beyond a very short list of possibilities. That's bad enough, but even within "normal" callings, there is still a social prohibition against specific practices. Take this article from Youthspecialties.com. This guy is describing practices, which historically, are perfectly normal and were widely accepted within the church. I think there is probably some degree of danger in undertaking these exercises without a more experienced guide - one of the key issues in monasticism, from what I understand. But more to the point, he will always be regarded as weird and possibly even mildly disturbed by the evangelical church.

Here are the general categories of exclusions, as I see them...

Exclusion #1 - Monasticism: (leaving aside for a moment that Protestantism has no monastic movement), but in a more general sense. The only people who can legitimately remain unmarried are gay people - and in many churches they are expected to be "cured" and get on with a wife and family already. There is effectively no room for a person to remain single for their entire life and marriage is viewed as the sole ideal for our lives. Perhaps if your spouse dies, you may remain unmarried after that, but that's still a little fishy to some.

Exclusion #2 - Mysticism: Contemplative prayer, fasting, Christian meditation, basically anything that results in an "altered state" no matter how holy. I think we've married ourselves to modernism so thoroughly that we've learned to distrust anything that cannot be rationally explained, which necessarily includes many spiritual things.

Exclusion #3 - Anything that smells like popery: No incense, no candles (except at Christmas), no liturgy, no memorized prayers, no prayer ropes, no sacramental understanding of anything and heaven help us should we actually show respect to Mary or any other saint!

No, numbers 2 and 3 are understandable to me in that I can see how our intense dance with modernism has made us too heady at the expense of being hearty and how the anti-Catholic swing started at the Reformation would lead to the rejection of Catholic trappings. I guess the latter would apply to #1 to some degree, but I guess I don't see why else we would have abandoned monasticism or at least rejected the possibility that some might be called to a life of singular devotion. If anyone has any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

2 comments:

Doug said...

That’s a tough question. Ive’ been looking at it for the last day or two not sure if I have any worthwhile thoughts to offer. But I came up with a few ideas and questions.

so, why have Protestants abandoned monasticism?

The obvious answer, which begs the question, is that the reformers and protestants didn’t see any spiritual value in the monastic lifestyle, either for those who pursued such a lifestyle or for the greater community of faith. But why? What are the main values of the monastic life that were apparently so objectionable? Well, we could start with the obvious: chastity, poverty and obedience.

Chastity. There’s no appreciation for celibate life in the Protestant community. Could this be because of the emphasis on the world and forms of Old Testament, with the institution of marriage in Eden and the impressive virility and fertility of the Patriarchs? I don’t know. At any rate, the latter encouraged some of the early reformers, if I recall, to at least theoretically condone polygamy. But isn’t it clear that the New Testament places a high value on celibacy as a means to living a more God-focused life?

Poverty. Again, perhaps the special emphasis on the OT comes into play, with the fabulously wealthy Patriarchs, etc. They certainly had lots of possessions. Given their example, shouldn’t it be acceptable for us to pursue both Christ and mammon after all? That seems like an obvious No to me. At any rate, isn’t there a distinction between receiving material goods as a blessing from God while you’re doing you best to give them away, versus pursuing material goods and wealth and then calling them a blessing from God, as if that sanctified the thirst for their acquisition?

Obedience. From a Protestant point of view, you have to ask the question: obedience to what? To whom? Certainly not to the Church? Certainly not to some other person, since the only tangible authority lies in Scripture and the individual’s interpretation. Why should I submit myself to another sinner? This is where the egalitarian ethos rears its head, I guess. This again seems pretty unscriptural to me.

I have to wonder, too, if in the Protestant tradition there’s less of an understanding of the value of prayer on a communal level. I’m not talking about group prayer, but about the value of an individual’s private prayer for the health of the whole faith community. The monastic life is, above all, a life dedicated to prayer. But if chastity, poverty and obedience have such little value, and a single believer’s prayer is of no real value to anyone other than that single believer, then why should the community wish to support individuals from the community who wish to pursue a monastic life dedicated to prayer? It’s nothing but narcissism. From this point of view, monasticism becomes something that takes away from the life of the community rather than something that upholds and strengthens the life of the whole faith community.

Just some thoughts anyway.

Nathan said...

Doug -



The obvious answer, which begs the question, is that the reformers and protestants didn’t see any spiritual value in the monastic lifestyle, either for those who pursued such a lifestyle or for the greater community of faith. But why? What are the main values of the monastic life that were apparently so objectionable? Well, we could start with the obvious: chastity, poverty and obedience.

"Chastity. There’s no appreciation for celibate life in the Protestant community. Could this be because of the emphasis on the world and forms of Old Testament...But isn’t it clear that the New Testament places a high value on celibacy as a means to living a more God-focused life?"

Thats a very interesting point about the focus on the OT paradigm. I read your comment last week and since then, I have noticed how frequently the preachers of the "prosperity Gospel" base their sermons on the OT, with relatively little input from the NT (we only get a few channels, one of which is TBN which provides its own strangely fascinating kind of entertainment). I hadn't made the connection to the OT view of kids, though. Interesting, though, how some aspects are emphasized over others. I would agree the NT completely legitimizes celibacy, if not encouraging it as a higher vocation, but this is probably a baby-and-the-bath-water kind of thing. Celibate clergy in the Roman Catholic Church probably eliminated chastity as a serious moral consideration in the mind of the Reformers.

"Obedience. From a Protestant point of view, you have to ask the question: obedience to what? To whom? Certainly not to the Church?...Why should I submit myself to another sinner?"

I was watching John Hagee a week or two ago, and he made a very fiery series of statements that no man can be considered holy (aside from Christ, obviously), which I found very perplexing. There is no doubt that in actual practice, we regard a great many people as holier than we are. Or if we are not comfortable with that terminology, "closer to God." Why should people make such a big deal about requesting prayer from their pastor or another strong believer, if the prayers of the nominal or non-believer are all the same? We live as if there are holy people, but won't go so far as to acknowledge this. And I would agree the strict egalitarian ideal present in most Prot churches is not at all scriptural.

"I have to wonder, too, if in the Protestant tradition there’s less of an understanding of the value of prayer on a communal level...the value of an individual’s private prayer for the health of the whole faith community."

I think this is definitely the case, but again, its a scriptural departure. The Lord clearly tells Abraham he won't destroy Sodom if only a few righteous people live there. I think this lack of understanding is due to a poor ecclesiology - if we all belong to a different sect, then naturally, we would have a hard time identifying with anyone who was not immediately present and thus subject to theological verification.