Engaging Culture

Monasteries Versus Crusades – Which is the Better Approach?

Around the year 1,200AD, for a variety of reasons, the Christian community decided to focus on two different paths.  One group felt the call to withdraw from the world.  They felt that our highest goal was complete devotion to God, and our quickest and surest way to find God was focused prayer, meditation, and withdrawal from the non-believing world.  So they built monasteries with high walls, and many never again mingled with the outside world.  The second group was far more aggressive.

They felt it was our duty to evangelize the world – even at the point of a sword.   Their goal wasn’t really to engage the world, but to transform the world into a Christian kingdom on earth, even if that took violence to make it happen.  They launched the crusades and became the literal “army” of God.

It was two opposite directions that now, almost 1,000 years later have continued to this day.

On the one hand we don’t build monasteries anymore, but we do build Christian publishing, recording, radio, and TV empires.  We have our own Christian schools and colleges.  We create Christian clubs and social networks.  Again, for a multitude of reasons, we’ve virtually withdrawn from the world and created our own monasteries of the mind.  Faith communities, that allow us safety and security from the outside world.

Another group is about hardcore evangelism.   They obviously don’t use violence, but they do look at evangelism in some ways like a weapon.  They love the reasoned defense of the scriptures, but don’t much care for the storytelling that Jesus used so well.  They want to use overt Christian imagery – even in communities that have no clue what it means.  They want to “take back America” and are frustrated that others aren’t comfortable with their belief that this should be a “Christian nation.”

I wonder if we started something back in 1,200AD that has led us in wrong directions, and kept us from really engaging the culture.  Looking at the life of Jesus, I don’t see either tendency.

What do you think?

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  1. BTW Phil this is a great system you have set up; you write a thought provoking article while my wife watches American Idol, everyone leaves happy.

    It is an interesting point that you rouse into conversation because I don’t believe there have been two more disparate images of Christian extremes throughout history. Both are seemingly man’s creation and speak to a disfiguring of the gospel to suit our desires. How can you live in a monastery and reconcile the great commission? Likewise how can you slaughter hundreds of innocents that have never heard the Gospel and pray for your enemies, turn the other cheek, and forgive 70×7 times?

    There isn’t much we can do about the outcome of history but we can choose to learn from it, and another challenge you pose is the question; what are the monastaries and crusades in our own life? What are the man-made structures, causes, or traditions that we deem exceedingly holy, which really aren’t? They might be good, sound good, or have cost someones life but that doesn’t change their overall emptiness despite their approval ratings. 

    But if I had to choose one camp or another? Well at least the monks gave us brandy, beer, cognac, and a good amount of silence.

    Here is a guy from the UK whose stuff I have really been enjoying and I think he strikes the proper tone: http://www.sermonspice.com/videos/22321/plass-on-being-part-of-the-community

  2. Phil,

    Wasn’t there a group of real Christians who were neither building monasteries, nor building a kingdom, but were winning people to Christ, and giving their lives for their faith?



  3. Jesus retreated to the mountain top for times of prayer and meditation. He also violently drove the moneychangers from the house of worship.

    A whole spectrum of response, action or comtemplation is appropriate given the circumstance. I think that’s true on a personal level as well as within parts of the greater Christian faith community. One denomination or church may be more mission oriented another more worship centered and yet another focussed on supporting the Saints in prayer. Ultimately in the larger, worldwide picture all things can work together to glorify God.  

    Observing nature as well as mankind we see that God loves variety and complexity. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel quite widely and in those travels become familiar with many forms of worship and witness. In my experience, sensitive discernment is always required to recognize the true or the false. Sometimes we can be blinded by culture shock or worldviews we disagree with. The challenge is to move past those things and recognize the the presence of Christ where ever it may be, or not, and act accordingly on personal and corporate levels.

    Too much homogeneity dulls the human spirit.

  4. God life is often found away from too much structure (scribes and Pharisees… or today’s Christian business ministry mammoths) and extreme wilderness (Jesus’ 40-day fast… or lawless Sudan, lawless Wall Street, lawless D.C., lawless Hollywood HQ, etc.)  Life is found with Jesus preaching on a hill, John at the Jordon… or a few creative blogs, websites such as Phil’s, the occasional unconventional church.

    Joss Whedan’s Firefly and Serenity TV show and movie explored this theme:  A benevolent but too large ALLIANCE oppressed the over-organized interior planets, while extreme outer space was occupied by cannibalistic Reevers.  Life, good life was found in desert-like outer planets, where it was more like the old West.  Where:  The only law is right, as Gene Autrey sang long ago…

    Phil, this was described when Jesus said some would say Christ here, lo there, etc.  Life of God is fullest on the uncomfortable fringe… Not where the bright lights of TV might say it is, not at the heart-of-darkness locals of BIG POWER or lawless power.

    Strangely, the greatest life of Christ is where it cannot be commercialized. 





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