Monday, October 26, 2015

610 CE - Religion in decline - Monks and Anchorites

This is the continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
During the early centuries of the church, no one was born a Christian or was a Christian because of their national affiliation. Christianity was something that was chosen and, with that choice, there was an adoption of the Christian faith as well as the Christian society. Luke writes of the early church and the worlds view of them. "they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number." (Acts 5:12-14) Notice that they were added to their numbers. As people believed upon Jesus and the message He brought they were not only saved but were added to the church.

With the pronunciation by Constantine that Christianity was to be the state religion of the Roman Empire, millions of people rushed to baptism to comply with the emperors orders. The church experienced a massive growth in its members as people dashed to it; some out of true faith but others out of peer pressure or a desire not to be different. Many who came did not fully understand what they were coming to nor the new life they were being called to live. Nominal Christians gave way to nominal faith and nominal morality. Some, desiring something holier, something more consecrated, and something more spiritual fled from society and sought refuge in the solitude of the desert around them. They were the first of the anchorites. As time went on, some anchorites felt the need to join themselves into small groups or cloisters. Here they lived their lives in devotion and manual labor. In most cases there was one among them who was their leader and who ruled with absolute authority. These became the first of the monks.  Their lives were a mixture of devotion, labor, and discipline. In all, the anchorites and monks defined what is called the monastic way of life.

To be sure, there was benefit to the church from those who sought seclusion in the desert and in monasteries. However, the monastic movement proved to be a mixed bag of blessings. Augustine said that, in those who sought the monastic life, were both the best and the worst of mankind. Philip Schaff comments on the romantic view of anchorite and monks who saw the desert as a place to fight with daemons and spiritual advisories. "The monastic imagination peopled the deserts and solitudes with the very worst society, with swarms of winged demons and all kinds of hellish monsters. It substituted thus a new kind of polytheism for the heathen gods, which were generally supposed to be evil spirits. The monastic demonology and demonomachy is a strange mixture of gross superstitions and deep spiritual experiences. It forms the romantic shady side of the otherwise so tedious monotony of the secluded life," (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III, 32. Lights and Shades of Monastic Life)

Muhammad denounced the monastic movement as something fashioned by man rather than prescribed by God. "And monasticism they invented -- We did not prescribe it for them [they invented it themselves] -- only seeking the good pleasure of God [did we prescribed to them]; but they observed it [this] not as it should be observed." (Koran 57:27) We must ask ourselves if such a movement was really initiated by God or was pursued by those guided by other motivations and reasons. Jesus and the Apostles never taught such a lifestyle nor encouraged a life completely withdrawn from the world. The writing of the Apostles always present Christianity as a communal religion; a religion meant to be lived in the fellowship of others. Jesus told us to "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31) But this command can only be carried out if we live close enough to our neighbors to actually love them as ourselves. Christianity was never meant to be lived alone and, as well meaning as these monks and anchorites may have been, and in spite of the benefit that accrued to the church from such endeavors, it is my opinion that Jesus never meant Christianity to be lived in this way.

More to come...
David Robison

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