(469.2) MONASTICISM (Part 2) – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

EVANGELICAL MONASTICISM?

It is becoming more and more routine that Evangelicals (EV) are seeking out new practices and following after doctrine that even a short time ago would not have been accepted within the Evangelical community.  Unfortunately, some of these trends include characteristics that range from legalism, ritualism, holding tradition in a higher view than the Bible…etc.  Movements such as the Emerging Church comprised in many cases of younger adults who were turned off by the church growth movement and its baggage of perceived insincerity with minimal involvement in the Social Gospel, instead now has turned towards more traditional and historical forms of Christianity.  This includes some of the early church mystical approach to spirituality which is new and unknown to most Evangelicals today.  Yet, many join the bandwagon effect thinking that they are pursuing “deep”, personal, fellowship with God by participating in these practices.  The problem is many of these practices don’t emanate from Scripture and share similarities with other religions such as Eastern Mysticism.

In short, much of this is related to the popularity of going back to the early church or a more liturgical church environment and mixing in various aspects of MONASTIC practices with common EV practices.

The IRONY is that many EV Christians today came out of Roman Catholicism (RC) because of it’s overemphasis of these same characteristics. Trying to introduce the Evangelical Church to rituals really cuts against the grain of what Evangelicalism represents.

For example, some EV churches are participating in Ash Wednesday services including the gesture of placing ashes on foreheads.  Some churches now include praying the rosary and performing the stations of the cross.  Some churches are introducing more liturgical forms of worship ranging from simply reciting an early church creed to lighting candles.  Popular authors over the last few years seemingly outdo each other in focusing on church practices not associated with Evangelical churches.  Is this wrong?  

Obviously, Evangelical churches “haven’t arrived” – so no church is perfect.  Let me explain the differences between EV and RC churches from a personal perspective. For me, some of the main reasons for leaving RC included the lack of any message challenging me to accept Christ as savior for my sins; the lack of emphasis on God’s word – the Bible; the contradictions in Scripture versus church practice; the overemphasis on rituals and the seemingly minimal effect of the church on the people who attend.  This last point can be a characteristic of any church from any denomination, but for me, it played a role in my decision.

My initial religious indoctrination as a Roman Catholic was CCD classes.  But these classes usually was very light on God’s word and they were boring with minimum practical benefit.  I remember going to confession and being told by the priest to say several “Hail Marys” and several “Our Fathers” as my penance for my sins.  My mother told me stories of her childhood in Italy included time spent living with nuns as a part of her education.  She is both quick to say how she cherished those times for many different reasons but she also is quick to state how stuck in tradition Catholics are and how much they tend to be focused on anything but God’s word.

At the time, I visited Protestant churches and was quick to see and experience the change.  God’s word was preached and each of us was encouraged to study and live our life based on God’s word.  People were challenged to make a decision about Christ – gone was the assumption that just because you were a part of a certain denomination implies that you are saved (e.g. Roman Catholicism).  EV churches were not known for ritualism and traditions were minimal.  Instead of a strict reverent atmosphere in church, EV churches usually was more open to a more joyful atmosphere.  It was a stark difference between the silence and reverence of a RC service.  There was fellowship and edification taking place.  There was a sense of liberty and freedom as our eyes were focused more on God and less on our own efforts in our attempt to please God or be right with God.

Doctrinally, some of the key differences between the EV church and RC churches include the liberty and freedom that we have in Christ.  EV churches tend to focus more on God’s grace and RC churches having a more works related approach with more reliance on priests and rituals instead of going directly to God and His word.  Evangelicalism is known for an emphasis on the Bible, growing through discipleship, participating in missions both in your local community and across the world. 

But as stated above, today, some EV churches are sporting new trends including a fresh look to monastic practices of the early RC church.  Movements such as the EMERGING CHURCH have moved further away from God’s word by incorporating an approach that seeks to include monastic practices from RC.  For example, there is a common practice of spending extended periods of time alone in silence and solitude.  It is not uncommon that this time alone is spent in a RC monastery. And, there are many stories of RC clergy and monks influencing people to live a lifestyle either symbolically or in actuality closer to a monastic walk than a historical EV walk.

In Part 3, we will look at what the monastic characteristics are and ask – why are some EV Christians moving in this direction yet staying within the EV Church?

 

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