Local News: Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church will be hosting a special “Friday Forum” this coming Friday, November 30. This week’s church bulletin offers more details: “Our purpose for Friday Forum is to be a quarterly, extended teaching time to enrich and equip young adult laypeople at FPC in God’s Word. We will have Derek Thomas teaching on Christology. We will meet from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. in Miller Hall, and the cost is $5 to cover a meal for the evening. Nursery is available, but please RSVP for your children. The principal target is Young Adults (20s and 30s) but anyone is more than welcome to attend. Go to the FPC Young Adults website (www.fpccareer.org) and click on the ‘Friday Forum’ tab on the left sidebar and fill out the information to sign up or contact Shannon Craft at 601-326-9243 or shannonc@fpcjackson. org.” For more information, call David Felker at 601-850-8650.
This week we will look at an Augsburg Confession article titled, “Of Monastic Vows”. As is common with the Confession, the emphasis is on correcting abuses, not on introducing something original. Contrary to the Canons of the Church, many things had changed in the monasteries since the time of Augustine, Augsburg says.
It is well known that Martin Luther himself began his religious career as an Augustinian monk. When he left the monastery, this caused no small scandal. When he had the audacity to go even further and marry Katherine Von Borra, a former nun, this caused even more of a scandal. Much of Luther’s antagonism towards the monasteries of his day was, no doubt, a result of his own personal experience. However, it would be a mistake to think that Augsburg is being prompted by one man’s misgivings about monasticism. Rather, Augsburg is tackling serious theological issues that simply needed to be addressed.
The article is far too long to quote in its entirety, so let’s focus on the big picture. Chief among Augsburg’s complaints against 16th century monasteries and convents are: 1) many have been forced into the monastic life before they were old enough to know what they were getting themselves into, 2) monastic vows have been overestimated, having been interpreted as solemnly as baptismal vows themselves, making it impossible for people to leave the monastic life if they later want to, even though the Canons make provisions in such cases, 3) that the monastic life was the “higher” Christian life, which merited eternal life and righteousness from God, and 4) the educational standards of the monks and nuns has decreased since ancient times, meaning men and women are learning little about Christ while living the monastic life, whereas in the past monasteries trained many theologians and scholars.
Augsburg backs up its claims by pointing to canonical laws which state that people prior to age 18 are not bound by their vows because it’s understood that many make rash vows that they see that they simply can’t keep when they come of age. By far the most important of all the objections is the third—the notion that monasticism merits God’s favor. “Paul teaches everywhere that righteousness is not to be sought from our own observances and acts of worship, devised by men, but that it comes by faith to those who believe that they are received by God into grace for Christ’s sake,” Augsburg says. “What else is this than to detract from the glory of Christ and to obscure and deny the righteousness of faith?”
One finds in reading Augsburg that a monastic way of life is never, in itself, repudiated. The idea that living “apart from the world”, and taking special vows of poverty and celibacy, gives one brownie points from God is repudiated; asceticism as such is not condemned. There is a Biblical precedent in favor of asceticism for those whom God calls to it—Elijah and John the Baptist, for example. But, as Augsburg is quick to point out, there is Biblical precedent against saying any particular lifestyle gives one merit before God. All of our merit is to be found in Christ alone. There is nothing “secular” about being a farmer or a businessman, and nothing inherently “sacred” about being a monk or nun; it all depends on whether or not one is working “as unto the Lord”. That is what Augsburg is attempting to drive home.