The latest fad that has come into play within Evangelicalism has elements that fall under the broad category mysticism and has to do with monastic spirituality. What is monasticism? Why is it becoming more and more popular among Evangelicals?
(1.) MONASTICISM DEFINED
Monasticism, an institutionalized religious practice or movement whose members attempt to live by a rule that requires works that go beyond those of either the laity or the ordinary spiritual leaders of their religions. Commonly celibate and universally ascetic, the monastic individual separates himself or herself from society either by living as a hermit or anchorite (religious recluse) or by joining a community (coenobium) of others who profess similar intentions. First applied to Christian groups, both Latin and Greek, the term monasticism is now used to denote similar, though not identical, practices in religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Daoism.
The word monasticism is derived from the Greek monachos (“living alone”), but this etymology highlights only one of the elements of monasticism and is somewhat misleading, because a large proportion of the world’s monastics live in cenobitic (common life) communities. The term monasticism implies celibacy, or living alone in the sense of lacking a spouse, which became a socially and historically crucial feature of the monastic life.
Even this aspect of monasticism does not extend beyond the cultures and languages that perpetuate the religious terminology of the so-called Abrahamic or prophetic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the Islamic world, Arabic and Persian terms that can be translated as monk or monastic do not mean “solitary,” as in the Greek. Instead, they are etymologically derived from other terms associated with monastic life in Islam (e.g., zuhd, “asceticism”). None of the many Indic terms for monk (Sanskrit apabhramsha; Pali prakrit) mean “single” or “living alone,” though monastics in those traditions—Brahman-Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain—live alone or in groups that are set off from the rest of their societies. The etymologies of the Indian and some of the Arabic and Persian terminology connote poverty, ecstatic states of mind, dress conventions, and so on, while other terms imply single, celibate living.
Nature and significance
Monastics have been instrumental in creating, preserving, and enhancing institutions of religious and secular learning and in transmitting cultural goods, artifacts, and intellectual skills down through the generations. Monastic institutions have also fulfilled medical, political, and military functions, though since 1500 the latter two have become completely secularized in most societies.
A definition of monasticism that covers all its forms would be so broad that particulars would have to be relegated to the analysis of specific monastic systems. Such a definition might be: religiously mandated behaviour (i.e., orthopraxy), together with its institutions, ritual, and belief systems, whose agents, members, or participants undertake voluntarily (often through a vow) religious works that go beyond those required by the religious teachings of the society at large. Such behaviour derives from the example of religious and spiritual founders who interpreted more radically the tenets that apply to all believers or to the whole society. Beyond such a statement, one can speak only of the principal characteristics of the monastic life and its institutions, since none of them is universal. Celibacy is fundamental to the majority of the world’s monastic orders but is by no means universal, as shown by the case of Buddhism in modern Japan. Another characteristic, asceticism, is universal, provided the term is defined widely enough so as to include all supererogatory (i.e., additional but voluntarily undertaken) religious practices. The truly universal characteristic of monasticism follows from its definition: the monastic separates himself from society, either to abide alone as a religious recluse (hermit or anchorite) or to join a community of those who have separated themselves from their surroundings with similar intentions—i.e., the full-time pursuit of the religious life in its most radical and often in its most demanding guise.
Monasticism does not exist in societies that lack a written transmitted lore. Nonliterate societies cannot have monastic institutions, because the monastic responds to an established written body of religious doctrine, which has undergone criticism and then generated countercriticism in a dialectic process that presupposes a literate, codified manipulation of the doctrine. The monastic founders and their successors may either support or oppose the official religious tradition, but the presence of such a tradition is indispensable as the matrix of all monastic endeavour.
(2.) MONASTICISM IN CHRISTIANITY
Although used by scholars to describe similar institutions and practices in other religions, the terms monk and monastic are historically and etymologically Christian. A sweeping view of Christian monastic history reveals a gradual shift of emphasis from the contemplative to the socially active. Highly meditative orders emerged in the Eastern Orthodox Church and other churches based on the Greek liturgy, the Mount Athos (Greece) complex (founded in the 10th century) being the most famous among them. The large variety of Roman Catholic orders displays eclectic emphases: the Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians, Carmelites, and certain orders designated as “minor” (in the Latin sense of humble or modest, rather than lower in a hierarchy or organization) emphasize meditation. The Dominicans should be called “major”—though they are not—because the tasks of preaching, maintaining scholastic continuity, and evangelizing outrank that of contemplation in their order. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits; founded by Ignatius of Loyola between 1534 and 1540) stands at the other end of the contemplative–social-centred continuum. Nearly all the members of the order are priests, and the order regards teaching, social work, and the active life as the quintessence of supererogatory piety.
The Jesuits represented a new kind of order that proliferated in the Roman Catholic Church after 1520, the so-called “clerks regular.” Other orders of clerks regular include the Theatines, founded in 1524 as “Clerks Regular of the Divine Providence,” and the Barnabites, founded in 1530 as the “Clerks Regular of St. Paul.” They and their numerous female equivalents, such as the Daughters of Charity and the Ursulines, constitute the active orders, none of which after 1965 live any longer in enclosure. In the 20th century Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, which turned away from enclosure and contemplation to pursue a life of service. Some scholars would argue that, because of this outward orientation, such orders should no longer be called monastic.
Certain monastic institutions have existed within the Protestant tradition. In the mid-19th century a number of Anglican religious communities for men and women were founded. The first communities were sisterhoods that combined service (teaching and nursing) with prayer, and male communities appeared not long after. In the late 20th century there were some 50 Protestant religious communities. The Taizé (France) communities of the Reformed Protestant tradition, founded in the Burgundy region of France in the 1940s, initiated an ecumenical movement of contemplative monasticism. The first brothers of Taizé came from French and Swiss Reformed churches and were later joined by members of Lutheran churches; a community of sisters in association with Taizé was later founded at Grandchamp near Neuchâtel, Switz. There are also a few surviving Lutheran monasteries. Monasticism would thus seem to be a viable expression of the Protestant tradition; yet, owing to a set of historical accidents whose ideological summation was described in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by the German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920), Protestantism has always emphasized active engagement in the world rather than seclusion. This explains the existence of various part-time Protestant retreats, usually in rural settings, designed as centres for recuperation from overwork.1
Source: 1. “Monasticism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 17 Jan. 2012.
(3) JOHN CALVIN ON MONASTIC VOWS & SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
Ken Silva: In Means Of Grace: Searching The Scriptures the other day here at Apprising Ministries reminded you about the spread of what I call a cult of Foster-Willardism deep within mainstream Protestant evangelicalism; and with it, a rebirth of Pietism masquerading as the SPIRITUAL FORMATION.
A good four years ago in SPIRITUAL FORMATION: Just Say No I warned that, with an assist from his spiritual twin Dallas Willard and the neoliberal cult operating within the Emergent Church, Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster would successfully perpetrate this reimagined monastic mythology.
This all was accomplished under the guise of so-called “spiritual disciplines,” and Foster-Willardism has now captured the younger sectors of the church visible. You should know that the core practice of this Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM) is its crown jewel Contemplative/Centering Prayer (CCP).
However the truth is, CCP is actually a type of meditation in an altered state of consciousness that’s virtually identical to that practiced in Eastern religions such as Zen Buddhism and the transcendental meditation of Hinduism. It is “Christian” mysticism that forms the basis of spurious spiritual formation.
The fact remains it was really developed in the antibiblical monastic traditions of apostate Roman Catholicism; and yet we now see this CSM showing up in more and more mainstream evangelical churches. For example, CSM Invades Evangelicalism With Rick Warren and Kay Warren Leading The Charge.
Sadly, it’s been forgotten that CSM is the Counter Reformation spirituality practiced contemporary to the early Church Reformers, which they rejected in favor of the proper Christian spirituality of sola Scriptura. God didn’t want His Christians practicing CSM then, and He doesn’t want us doing so now.
In closing this here’s John Calvin, one the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, and what he thought about the reimagined form of semi-pelagian Pietism that’s been revived by Richard Foster in these so-called spiritual disciplines of Spiritual Formation:
IT is indeed deplorable that the Church, whose freedom was purchased by the inestimable price of Christ’s blood, should have been thus oppressed by a cruel tyranny, and almost buried under a huge mass of traditions; but, at the same time, the private infatuation of each individual shows, that not without just cause has so much power been given from above to Satan and his ministers.
It was not enough to neglect the command of Christ, and bear anyburdens which false teachers might please to impose, but each individual behoved to have his own peculiar burdens, and thus sink deeper by digging his own cavern. This has been the result when men set about devising vows, by which a stronger and closer obligation might be added to common ties…
[M]onks place the principal part of their holiness in idleness. For if you take away their idleness, where will that which they glory that they excel all others, and make a near approach to the angels?… [I]nstead of Christians, we hear some called Benedictines, others Franciscans, others Dominicans, and so called, that while they affect to be distinguished from the common body of Christians, they proudly substitute these names for a religious profession…
This much is certain, that there is no order of men more polluted by all kinds of vicious turpitude; nowhere do faction, hatred, party-spirit, and intrigue, more prevail… It is fine to philosophise in seclusion, far away from the intercourse of society; but it ill accords with Christian meekness for any one, as if in hatred of the human race, to fly to the wilderness and to solitude, and at the same time desert the duties which the Lord has especially commanded.
Were we to grant that there was nothing worse in that profession, there is certainly no small evil in its having introduced a useless and perilous example into the Church. Now, then, let us see the nature of the vows by which the monks of the present day are initiated into this famous order. First, as their intention is to institute a new and fictitious worship with a view to gain favour with God, I conclude from what has been said above, that everything which they vow is abomination to God.
Secondly, I hold that as they frame their own mode of life at pleasure, without any regard to the calling of God, or to his approbation, the attempt is rash and unlawful; because their conscience has no ground on which it can support itself before God; and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).
Moreover, I maintain that in astricting themselves to many perverse and impious modes of worship, such as are exhibited in modern monasticism, they consecrate themselves not to God but to the devil. For why should the prophets have been permitted to say that the Israelites sacrificed their sons to devils and not to God (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37), merely because they had corrupted the true worship of God by profane ceremonies; and we not be permitted to say the same thing of monks who, along with the cowl, cover themselves with the net of a thousand impious superstitions? 2
Source: 2. JOHN CALVIN ON MONASTIC VOWS I.E. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
By Ken Silva pastor-teacher on Dec 30, 2012 in Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism
In Part 2, we will look at monasticism within the Evangelical Church today.