Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Being A Protestant Monk...Sometimes (Transcript)
So much has been written over the years about how the Church should be, how it should meet, and what's wrong with the way we do things.
Now, I'm speaking primarily of the Church in the United States, because that's where I live. And some of what I say will apply in other areas of the world, and some of it probably won't. But I hope to bring in some spiritual principles that will apply to every Christian everywhere.
I've had my own complaints with various church practices and states of being. And I admit to sort of swaying back and forth from time to time, on the one hand from being too picky and perfectionist about the Church, and on the other hand saying, “Oh well, there's no perfect church, so just bite your tongue and don't say anything.”
Neither of these extremes are probably biblical, and they're certainly not satisfying. But what's at the bottom of the What's-Wrong-With-The-Church conversation? Why is it always a discussion? Or in some cases, why is it forbidden to discuss, as though one were being disloyal and merely critical?
Legalism An Ongoing Problem
Now, if you have followed my writings at all, you know that I think a big problem with the Church has always been legalism, the idea that our individual performance is not only what's ultimately important, but that our individual performance is how we earn God's love and favor.
And you know that I believe that this legalism stifles the spirituality of the church, because it doesn't honor the radical grace of God by which we are not only saved initially, but kept and favored by the Lord Who loves us, even when our performance falls short. And that when we DO understand this wonderful grace, it actually encourages us to follow the Lord willingly and lovingly. Which furthermore is the desire of our own spirit, because we have been given a new nature, indeed made a new creation who loves Christ and hates sin in our heart of hearts.
Fellowship With Christ Revolution
But as I've written elsewhere, this grace is not for it's own sake, but that we might have a close fellowship with Jesus Christ. That His very life might flow through us, as we commune with Him, rest in Him, and think His thoughts.
And it's this fellowship with Christ where I believe we have the most opportunity to revolutionize the Church. It's this fellowship which is the fountain from which flows the water of a spiritual life. To switch metaphors, It's this fellowship which forms the tree from which the Lord produces the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, etc.
And that's why I believe this fellowship with Christ is where we have the most opportunity to revolutionize the Church.
Now I should make very clear that I am a Protestant. I believe the Bible teaches that salvation comes completely by grace through faith, and that this comes through the regeneration brought about by the Holy Spirit as He, like the wind, blows wherever He wills, and causes those whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world, to be born again.
I believe the Bible teaches that neither baptism, or any other sacrament, is instrumental in our salvation. I believe the Bible teaches that no good deed, no good work, no following of any law or ritual, has anything to do with our salvation.
I believe the Bible teaches that we are declared righteous, justified, by faith alone in Jesus Christ, through His dying on the cross to pay for our sins, and to give us the free gift of His righteousness. He redeemed us, purchased us, saved us, as a free gift, without our deserving it in any way, and without our doing anything except believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. And even that faith was a gift from God Himself.
I say all that because I strongly disagree with Roman Catholic doctrine, which is, at it's core, a religion of “grace” PLUS works. And Paul the Apostle makes clear that if you add works to Grace, it is no longer Grace (Romans 11:16).
Although God will indeed cause us to do works, good works, by His Spirit in us, and the law that He has put in our hearts and minds, those good works have NO part in gaining or keeping our salvation.
So what I am going to say about being a “sometimes monk” has nothing to do with Roman Catholicism. I hope I've made that clear.
However, having said that, I have observed that throughout the history of the Church, there have always been those who obviously loved Jesus Christ. Many were trapped in the religion of Catholicism, which had dominated Church History for hundreds of years until the Reformation in the 1500's.
Yet God broke through, and they “believed on the Lord Jesus Christ”, and they were saved. It's not for me or you to specifically guarantee that any individual was or was not saved, but yet if you are a believer, you may very well have a sense that someone else is likewise a believer, by their language, by their fruit, by their heart and life.
False Doctrine Sidenote
This brings up a sidenote about false doctrine. We speak of some false doctrines as “damnable”. In other words, it is so false as to deny the Gospel, and by it one can't be saved, or may even be misled so far from the truth that they are “damned” by the falsehood. For example, if you were to “evangelize” by going around telling people that if they try their best to follow the Ten Commandments, then God will reward them with salvation, you would be preaching a false Gospel and not only could no one be saved by your teaching, but it's likely that it would be the instrument of their damnation.
Now this is serious business, and I say it because any religion which teaches that works or sacraments are necessary for salvation, have that potential to bring damnation to those who are taught it.
But there is one more factor that has to be recognized, and I take this concept from Paul's letter to the Galatians. Here's the concept: one can be born again, saved by Grace through believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, being truly repentant of their sins, and be a true child of God...and THEN be taught false doctrines of legalism, which although potentially harmful, do not nullify the salvation by Grace which these folks have received. Paul calls this “falling from Grace”, not a loss of salvation (that is impossible), but a misunderstanding where Grace is supplemented by meritorious works.
Having taken that side road about false doctrines, let me say that I believe that not only has God had His people, His remnant, throughout Church History, but has had them WITHIN the false religion we call Catholicism.
And within this remnant have been men and women who have not only loved Christ deeply, but have entered into a fellowship with Christ which is mostly foreign to modern-day believers in Protestant churches.
Godly Monk Types
Some modern-day Protestants have “tapped into” these godly men and women, and learned something from them, and have profited greatly.
I hesitate to give examples of specific people in this context, for two reasons:
1. They would readily be considered “heretics” by many of my Protestant brothers and sisters who may be listening today. And while I appreciate the biblical discernment which would cause that reaction, yet I don't want to stifle the ability to glean from those I consider true believers in Christ, some things that would richly bless the lives of today's Protestant believers.
2. The second reason I hesitate to mention specific ancient believers is that some of my hearers may NOT be very discerning, and I wouldn't want to so wholeheartedly endorse anyone as to recommend everything they may have written, since there is every reason to assume that these ancient believers have a mixed bag of docrine, some good, some bad. This is why I took such pains to explain why I am a Protestant.
But though I hesitate to mention these men and women for those reasons, I will mention one for purposes of illustration, and for a base from which to make my simple case for Protestant monkhood.
The man I will mention is known as Brother Lawrence. If you have read The Practice of the Presence of God, you have read Brother Lawrence. You may be surprised to know that he was a Carmelite Monk in a real monastery in the 1600's, in France.
But the theme of his life and writings is exactly what I believe is missing in the lives of countless Protestant believers today, who think that accurate theology, systematized in whatever system they choose, is Life.
“He who has the Son has life, and he who does not have the Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:12) May I add that he who is in close fellowship and communion with the Son has abundant life, and he who is not in close fellowship and communion with the Son does not have abundant life?
Even the Bible, which you know I treasure, if you know me, is not the ultimate source of Life. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.” (John 5:39)
So back to Brother Lawrence. What I really like about him, and I've read his book I mentioned many times, is that he was spiritual, but he was practical. By that I mean that, as a monk, he could have told us all that you need to be cloistered away in a monastery retreat to really have spiritual fellowship with Christ, but he didn't.
Practical Spirituality (Oxymoron?)
He understood that the cloister is not Life either. And he gave practical advice -- tested in his own life -- practical advice on how to fellowship with Christ even in the noise of daily life.
Brother Lawrence mostly had kitchen duty among the Carmelites. He spoke much of washing pots and pans. And he spoke much of the sweet communion which he had in the midst of the clanging of pans in the kitchen of his monastery.
And it's this type of practical instruction, yet spiritual instruction, that I would love to see brought to the church in abundance. It's this type of practical Monk-hood that I would love to see Protestants practicing daily.
Bad Contemplativity (Say 10 Times Fast)
There is a fair amount of literature written today about meditation, contemplative prayer, sacramentalism, and such. But too much of it is not only unbiblical, but so strongly tainted with Eastern Mysticism as to be more Buddhist or Hindu than Christian. And people are being led astray to think that spirituality is “blanking out the mind” or “meditating on God” in such a way as to be at “oneness” with all the World, or “tapping into the Universal Mind who is God”, and so forth.
This is not only counter-productive, but guaranteed to lead away from Jesus Christ. It may soothe the nerves, calm the beating heart, and give a warm feeling. But this is not Christ.
And so I leave you with some practical advice, yet spiritual advice, biblical advice, in being a Protestant Monk...sometimes. By “sometimes”, I mean in your day-to-day life, at least for a time each day, as opposed to moving into a monastery and making it a vocation.
Here we go:
1. Practice the Presence of God throughout the day. Recognize and remind yourself that He is with you always, indeed Christ in you, the hope of glory, if you are a believer in Him. I would highly recommend that you read (with biblical discernment) The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, for much practical advice on how specifically to develop this mind and heart for fellowship with the Lord.
2. Pray the Scriptures. There are books on this, but just DOING it is quite amazing in itself. The practice is simple, and you want to read the Bible anyway, don't you? In addition to your normal reading, studying, etc., just pick a passage, read it slowly line-by-line, and pray to the Lord something related to that passage, taking care to “listen” as He speaks to your through those sections of the Word of God.
This is one of the most powerful ways to fellowship with the Lord.
3. Meditate. Not to “blank out your mind”. That is utterly unbiblical. But to dwell on those things that are “true...honorable...right...pure...lovely...of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8).
Meditate on the Word, meditate on God Himself, meditate on Jesus and what He did on the cross, meditate on various doctrines, meditate on the Lord's Grace. Meditate on His great amazing love for you. Do you know that understanding the greatness of His love for you is the best way to increase your love for Him? Meditate on that for awhile. Do you know that understanding His goodness is the best way to lead to your own daily repentance? Meditate on that one.
4. Not to be so practical that you think I'm not being spiritual, but don't hesitate to write down a simple plan for these things. You can change the plan tomorrow if you want. You can complicate it more, or simplify it more. You can make a 10-point list to check off, or a 1-point reminder statement for yourself. Don't be burdensome or legalistic about it. Don't be discouraged when you fail to complete your plan for the day. This is a rest-of-our-lives joyous journey.
Just don't think that it will happen without a little planning. Time flies by, and we forget the simple things that lead to drawing near to the Lord.
Be a Protestant Monk, right in your home, or car, or workplace. Or feel free to go out in the woods, or down by the river. You don't need a brown robe and hood. Take some time away from the hustle and bustle and noise.
But also Practice the Presence of God throughout the day. It's really hard at first. But like most things, it gets easier with practice. Just ask Brother Lawrence.
Finally, you may find that when you spend this time in fellowship with Jesus, that it makes it more natural to share Him with others. When His Life flows through you, when your are filled with love for Him, then it's no big deal to tell others what He has done for you.