Monday, October 17, 2011

Lessons from Church History: Part 3

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
"See, this is new"?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
Ecclesiastes 1:8-9
With this third and final lesson from church history, I begin with the same big idea I've highlighted at the beginning of the last two posts: the reason it's so important to study and know church history today is because there is nothing that the church in the 21st century is currently dealing with that the church hasn't dealt with at some point in the past (in one form or another).

The first monastic movement in the church arose towards the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 4th century. Located in Egypt, it wasn't long before it began to spread rapidly not only in the East but also in the West. The monastic movement was especially prominent during the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century).

What's so interesting to note is that almost every order of monasticism began with a radical commitment to self-denial (asceticism) but all of them eventually led to self-indulgence, which only shows that the flesh is of no avail when it comes to spiritual transformation (Colossians 2:23). Sadly, this has been evidenced in the modern day Catholic Church, where an initial vow of celibacy (commitment to self-denial) has eventually led many priests into gross sexual immorality (self-indulgence).

Is asceticism bad? Is the monastic movement intrinsically unbiblical? Not necessarily. Jesus calls all Christians to a life of deliberate self-denial (Luke 9:23-24, Matthew 6:16-18, Matthew 9:14-15). But the problem is when this asceticism becomes an external law that we impose on ourselves and others (Colossians 2:20-23, 1 Timothy 4:1-5) rather than the result of the internal transforming power of the gospel (Romans 6:17) that sets us free from bondage to the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:14).

The latter will lead us to lives of joyful self-denial and self-sacrifice (Matthew 6:19-21, 13:44; Hebrews 10:32-34, 13:13-14).

But history (and the Bible) has shown us that the former will almost always lead to licentiousness (Colossians 2:23).

There's nothing new under the sun. So let's learn from church history and deny ourselves not as a means to spiritual transformation but because the power of the gospel has set us free from bondage to the world. Following Jesus in the life of self-denial is when, having had our eyes opened (2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 1:18) to the fact that here we have no lasting city, we joyfully seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:13-14).

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