Thursday, November 13, 2014

Anthony - The Man Who Fled from the World.

Anthony was, by Athanasius' account of his life, not the first monk. But he was there at the beginning of the movement. And he used his prestige to help back up Athanasius in defense of the deity of Christ. Now the whole history of monasticism is hard to pin down. This is perhaps aided by the fact that it is a controversial subject, and those on both side would dispute the chronology to support their point of view. It probably started with those within the congregation who took vows of celibacy, poverty or both. This, as a choice, may be argued as not clearly contrary to Scriptural teaching (1 Corinthians 7:7-9; Matthew 19:10-12; Mark 10:21,22). Provided you do not try to impose it on others. But it is easy to slip from there to thinking you are better than other people because of that choice.

Anthony was one of the first, though probably not the very first, to push these things to a new level. He chose to leave all human society and live alone in a cave in the desert. This was his way of separating himself from the world. There were others who took up his example and also sought solitary places. Others, not quite ready to live in total isolation, formed groups that lived together in isolated places apart from normal human society. This kind of dedication impressed people and encouraged them to follow their example. Athanasius was sufficiently impressed by this and by Anthony personally to promote it. It may be that one reason people embraced this was in a reaction against the nominal Christianity produced by the actions of Constantine. Martyrdom was frequently not available, and people wanted something they could do to show the depths of their commitment.

Now being a monk did show dedication. And there were good things done by monks and nuns in caring for the sick, preaching the Bible, and other positive actions. There was also the danger of self-righteousness. It was easy to believe that yourself to be holier than others for making an impressive sacrifice. Even if it was not one God explicitly commanded. But there is a more important problem. This course tends to shield you from the corrupting influences of the world (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). But it does so by separating you from other people, making it difficult to reach out to those in need (Galatians 6:9,10; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Peter 3:15) . This act of consecration can, in some cases, produce people who are willing to reach out to others. But it can also result in an attitude of indifference to others in pursuit of your own personal holiness. Therefore, we need to beware of the attitude that we can follow Christ by doing something that involves hiding from all contact with others. And we should avoid applauding things that look impressive but are not what God commands. But should concentrate on the things that God does command.

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