Thick Monastery Walls (Kuyper)

 Sometimes Christians think retreating from the world will benefit their spiritual life.  They believe that withdrawing from the world will help them get closer to God.  This is most obviously seen in the monastic movement that dates back to the early church.  There are several biblical reasons why the monastic impulse is not a good one: withdrawing from the world makes it difficult for a Christian to be salt and light, withdrawing from the world also makes it difficult for a Christian to love his neighbor (including his enemy!), and it is the opposite of being evangelistic and missionary-minded.  Abraham Kuyper also noted well that wherever we go, we take our sinful hearts:

The world ruthlessly crosses our efforts [to draw near to God]…. Though it was not right, and never can be, we understand what went on in the heart of those who sought escape from the world, in cell or hermitage, for the sake of unbroken fellowship with God. It might have been efficacious, if in withdrawing from the world they had been able to leave the world behind. But we carry it in our heart. Wherever we go it goes with us. There are no monastic walls so thick, or places in forests so distant, but Satan has means to reach them. To shut oneself out from the world moreover, for the sake of a closer walk with God, is to seek on earth what can only be our portion in heaven. We may escape many things in doing it. The eye may no more see much vanity. But existence becomes abnormal. Life becomes narrow. Human nature is reduced to small dimensions. There is no imperative task on hand, no calling in life, no exertion of all one’s powers. Conflict is avoided. Victory tarries….

Kuyper, A. (1918). To Be Near unto God (pp. 3–4). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


Dr. Martin on Monastic Futility

Product Details  Some Christians today unfortunately have a positive view of monasticism or monastic retreats; many of them view such things as very “spiritual” and pleasing to God.  Martin Luther, however, rightly rebuked such a view.  Having spent time in a monastery, Luther spoke first hand.  This excerpt that follows has a lot to do with the Reformation’s recovery of the gospel (justification by faith alone):

“The real change which Christ came to effect is an inward change of the human heart, just as I now have a different mind, courage, and perception than I did when we were still controlled by the papacy and before the Gospel was revealed anew. At that time I was convinced that God would reject me, and I did not believe that I would be serving God if I continued in my vocation, discharging the duties of my office. As a matter of fact, I did not know God as He really is. Nor did I know how I could ever overcome sin and death, go to heaven, and live in eternal bliss.  I had the idea that I had to reach those goals by my own good works; and I became a monk for that reason, and nearly tortured myself to death.”

“But salvation does not depend on caps, robes, not eating meats, fasting, and similar works.  Death cannot be destroyed in that way; nor can sins be washed away in that manner.  Instead, both sin and death continue to exist under either gray or black hoods, and under red or blue robes.  As I said earlier, salvation depends on the heart being enlightened and receiving a new seal, so that it can say, ‘I know that God accepts me just as I am, and that this truly applies to me because he has sent his Son, let him become a human being, so that through him I would be able to overcome sin and death and be assured of having eternal life.”

“…Prior to this time many people thought, ‘If I am to be saved, I will have to don a monk’s camp or a nun’s hood.’  If anyone tried to force you to wear one now, you would run to the end of the earth to avoid doing so.  Likewise if you previously would have eaten a bit of meat on Friday, you would have thought that the earth would upon up and swallow you for sure.  But now you tell the pope, the bishops, yes, the devil himself, ‘Go, kiss my hand! Why shouldn’t I eat meat?  Why should I be afraid to do so?’  That’s what it means to undergo an inner change and a change of heart, a change in which the heart acquires from God’s Word a different mind and will, and continues in its vocation and secular life as before, as we learn from the shepherds [in Luke 2:15-20).”

Martin Luther, a “Holy Christmas Day” sermon, Luther’s House Postils, in volume 5 of Luther’s sermons.

shane lems

A Maid Is More Godly Than A Monk

Product Details Dear Christian: You don’t have to go into full- or part-time ministry to please God.  You don’t have to go on a mission trip or undergo some monastic retreat experience to bring God glory.  You can bring him glory by doing your daily tasks with a heart of love for the Lord and hand of help towards your neighbor.  Martin Luther spoke of this in an excellent way.  Here’s an example from a house-sermon preached by Luther in 1534 on Matthew 22:34-46.  I realize this is a bit longer than my normal posts, but I believe it is worth quoting in full.  (Note especially the phrases where Luther talks about the monk in us all and the maid dusting the house.)

“But Christ gets right to the point…and immediately responds: ‘the first and greatest thing one can do is not adorning the temple or offering sacrifices, but to love God with all one’s heart and the neighbor as oneself.  I know that you Pharisees would have been very happy if I had answered that what the priests perform in the temple is the highest thing.  But I will not do that; rather I shall cite as foremost the basic, ordinary things which God has commanded for everyone to do, namely, to love God and one’s neighbor, in keeping with what he commanded through Moses.’”

“The Lord’s reply is especially irksome, that the everyday routine works which people are commanded to do, namely, that they are to love God and the neighbor, supersede all other works, regardless of how they shine and glitter.  The fact is, not only the Pharisees among the Jews, and the hypocrites under the papacy, have regarded human traditions as more important than God’s commandments; for there is a little monk that sticks in all of us from youth on.  We, too, regard the ordinary works God has commanded as insignificant, but the special, diverse works done by the Carthusians, monks, and hermits, about which God has commanded nothing, as especially noteworthy.”

“However, our Lord God is averse to such distinction.  He does not prefer one before another, nor does he exclude anyone from serving him, no matter how lowly he might be.  Instead, he enjoins upon everyone to love God and his neighbor.  Since God seeks nothing extraordinary from us and tolerates no distinctions, we must conclude that, when a maid, who has faith in Christ, dusts the house, her work is more pleasing in service to God than that of St. Anthony in the wilderness.  That is Christ’s meaning here.  This is the highest commandment: to love God and one’s neighbor.  God is not concerned about the rules of the Franciscans, Dominicans, or other monks, but wants us to serve him obediently and love the neighbor.  They may consider their monastic rules to be something wonderful and special, but before God they are nothing.  The very highest, best, and holiest work is when one loves God and the neighbor, whether a person is a monk or nun, priest or layperson, great or small” (p. 75).

Near the end of the sermon, Luther cuts deeper.

“Therefore, what will happen on judgment day is that many a maidservant who did not know whether she had done anything good all her life will be preferred before a Carthusian monk who has the appearance of great holiness and yet has loved neither God nor his neighbor.  There God will pronounce this sentence: This maid has served her mistress in harmony with my commandment, has looked after the house, and so forth; since she has done this in faith, she shall be saved; but, Carthusian, you did what you wanted to do, serving no one but yourself and your own idol; therefore you are damned.  That will be the verdict on Judgment Day” (p. 77).

You can find the full sermon quoted above in volume 7 of The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).

shane lems