Professional Christians and monasticism

Pá 16 ledna 2015

We had on Tuesday very interesting debate during our regular Theology on Tap about postmodern apologetics. During the heat of discussion I passionately argued against the very idea of professional Christianity without regards that at least one but probably more professional Christians were sitting at the table.

I certainly didn’t want to offend anybody and I very much like and value work done by at least one such person, so I should probably explain more what I think about the idea of professional Christians.

First of all, whatever else I think theoretically we have to take into consideration current reality. If there ever was Christianity based on the authentic intentional communities (or whatever is the current trendy name) and I am certainly not persuaded about that (see below), then it had to be very much limited temporarily or locally. Puritans in the Early New England, kibbutzim in Israel, Jerusalem congregation in the time of the Acts of Apostles, some early monastic communities, and of course many village communities, would be just part of the authentic community maintaining itself and pastor was there truly just to serve The Word and Sacraments (as is still the job description of many pastors in Czechia). But I cannot imagine that large communities in rather anonymous cities (trend which I guess started already with the Roman congregation) could be sustained without some ministers working full-time on the organization of the congregation. Even less I could imagine something like that in the modern and postmodern cities, where churches are almost the only close community around. I can see all ministers truly busy and it is hard to imagine that even small congregation like PCF would work without a full-time pastor.

However, there is yet another category of Christian ministers who I think are very valuable for the life of the church. From the five-fold ministries (Eph 4:11; apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) I can see at least teachers and pastors (meaning organizers of congregations) as very naturally being professionals. I know something about scholarly life and I know that it is almost impossible to do really deep thinking and still be bothered with something else (life and family are more than enough). I would think that apostles and evangelists will be in similar positions, although Paul managed his business in the same time while being a Saint Paul. We don’t know much about the sources of income of other apostles … Peter most likely didn’t carry his nets around the Mediterranean sea, and I don’t know if my namesake St. Matthias carried on job of a carpenter.

When thinking about this I was suddenly struck by the similarity of current ministers (missionaries, teachers, Bible translators, etc.) living of universities or other NGOs and medieval monks. Both of them are typical professional Christians and both of them are doing work essential for maintaining Church working. And it is strange, but at least in the Czech lands, sharp decline of the importance of monastic orders (during the reign of Joseph II in the late 18th century) was time of sharp rise of the universities as the predominant place of the intellectual life. Actually few first important modern scientists, for example, Dobner, Dobrovský, and Bolzano were monks. If we accept this analogy, it is suddenly somehow strange that especially Protestants have no problem with all those people who are working in not completely ultra-practical professions, considering ultra-vicious criticism of monasticism by the original Reformers.

But what is even more important for me is that using this image, I can suddenly see myself in the position of a medieval bourgeoisie who is passionately arguing against wasteful monks (see for example The Cantebury Tales). However, there is a difference between monks then and professional Christians now. Then, most of their audience (Christian AND non-Christian) was to some extent religious, so I guess they very more or less willing to accept a religious figure as an authority.

Hmm, … I started to write something about the limited role of professional ministers on the current secular culture, but I was not able to finish it in the coherent thought. I started to think about the role of the pastor John Mullen has on his surroundings, and I can clearly see that he has managed to get a lot of impact with his Úvaly neighbors although he obviously cannot represent to them anything else than a religious figure. Perhaps we here in Czechia are so post-post-religious and post-secularist than honestly behaving religious person not trying to hide it is acceptable. Or perhaps it is not about religiosity at all and the difference between the situation of the postmodern Church in America and here is that obviously most of the Church in Europe (and especially in Czechia) has no secular power and quite obviously it is not threatening to anybody (compare with the discussion about restitution of the Church property which is quite vicious … John probably profits a bit on the fact we won’t get anything).

So this post doesn’t have proper exhortation in the end.

Category: faith Tagged: church

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