Questions about the Church, the State, and Monasticism


Question:
In reference to article # 14 on your website, "The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 4:6", on what Eastern Orthodoxy does not teach:
Don't you agree that ever since the time (around A.D. 310) that the church jumped in bed with the State, that action has continued an unholy alliance? What on earth does the church of Jesus Christ think it is doing when it becomes a state church, lets fallen, depraved, politicians appoint their bishops etc.?
Also, where in the bible does it teach that being a monk or nun has ANYTHING WHATSOEVER to do with one's salvation. I have been attracted to the Orthodox Church but do have some problems with some of the theology.
Sincerely,
Don in Colorado Springs, CO

Answer:
I love your questions and they're full of good stuff for discussions. I came from a Catholic background, which I rejected to become Protestant at one time for the same reasons you have expressed in your questions, so I fully understand and empathize with you and your objections. But after I discovered the Early Church writings, I slowly began to realize that a lot of the doctrinal & spiritual issues that I had against Catholics, Early Christians, etc., even the issues of state-church and monasticism, came from selective research, faulty premises, and assumptions about religious ethics. Though I was right about Catholicism, when it came to the Early Church I started noticing that I was pointing the finger of blame at the Early Church, even when the finger of blame could also be pointed at me & my criticism. I didn't see myself being logically consistent if I were to condemn the Early Church and yet at the same time praise it for its sanctity and wisdom, so I decided to try to objectively study the Early Christian point of view about the Faith. This of course led me to be Orthodox, though my study involved many other doctrinal points and spirituality.

After some years of research and thought, I've learned a lot of things about certain issues, even the one about the Early Christian alliance of Church and State. In some ways, an unholy alliance of church and state was actually far more spiritually edifying than what has resulted from a lack of such an alliance, or at least there was no difference. Protestants condemn this ancient alliance and refuse to make one, and yet the Protestant faith is not devoid of doctrinal errors and depraved church leaders. But not only this, Protestantism is also rampant with consistent discord with so many church splits, spiritual degradation, theological confusion & relativity, and much bigotry toward the Early Christians. I didn't want to be bigoted toward the Early Christians by assuming that they were less intelligent or more easily corrupted by false doctrines or whatever, when Protestantism itself and its criticism of the Early Church are just as guilty of appointing ministers who dismiss the Virgin birth of Jesus, reject the fact that God created the universe, declare some Scriptures and Bible verses spurious, and then set up idiotic church boards which make up new doctrines and establish gay pastors and gay marriages or whatever, and so on and so on. So I can find lots of examples proving that having no alliance between church and state is just as corrupt, depraved, and anti-apostolic as it is in having one, even assuming that such an alliance is unethical.

As another result of my research, I also realized that the same Early Christians who gave us the Nicene Creed, the doctrine of the Trinity, the official list of the Bible's books, and other staples of the Christian Faith in the 4th century, also gave us a Church having some degree of interaction with the Government, which at the time was the Roman Empire. Their record of spiritual purity and sanctity should put us to shame today, since we have lost much of the faith, wisdom, and holiness that these men had, and any criticism against them should take this fact into account. Thus, I learned that the question should be aimed not at what they were doing so wrong, but what we are doing so wrong.

The Early Christians had their reasons for what they did in uniting Church and State to some degree, and this was done in order to preserve the Gospel in perpetuity and to establish the best spirituality for all segments of society. They weren't idiots. Of course there were abuses and erroneous spiritual deals, but this is not a reason to eradicate this arrangement. On earth there can be no perfect arrangement between the Church and State, even in totally separating them. There will always be politicians manipulating church leaders and church leaders seeking political power for themselves and/or their congregations, regardless if or not there is an alliance between Church and State. There are special interest groups doing this right now, such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the ACLU, abortionists, evolutionists, and many other religious leaders who have to some degree successfully made certain doctrines of Racism, Atheism and Paganism form a State religion of some kind, especially in lawfully injecting the religions of Atheism and Paganism into schools and in purposely excluding Christianity legally from anything even innocuously related to government! All this has occurred despite the fabled separation of Church and State in the United States. So the Early Church's affiliations with the State are not dubious or evil or unethical in any way. The Church sought to maintain a balance between Church and State, while others have sought to fully unite them or to totally separate them, all of which does not prevent or solve the problem of politicians and religious leaders seeking to use each other for their own gain.

Contrary to some accusations, the Orthodox Church does not seek to totally unite the Church and State, and it never has, which is what the Early Church taught. The issue of Church and State in the Roman Empire was not that they were united as one single entity, but that the Church had its roles to fulfill in society and the State had its own roles to fulfill. The Church took care of religious matters and the State took care of political-social matters. Sometimes their roles overlapped, or some people took advantage of this by trying to expand the overlapping, but in general the Church and State were designed to be separate and limited to certain parameters. In fact, the concept of separating Church and State came from the 4th century, but because in ancient times religion and politics were sometimes inseparable, there was some degree of interaction between them. Modern generations have sought to totally exclude Church from the State, due to their bad experiences with the Catholics, who have historically sought to make the Church become the State. And so, some misunderstandings have developed over time about this issue.

The original balanced level of interaction between the Church and State was perfectly acceptable to everyone involved until the Catholic church came along. I used to think that the Catholic church and its spiritual evils were the things that the unholy alliance between Church and State gave birth to. In other words, I equated the political-religious evils of the Catholic church with the union between the Church and State in the Roman Empire of the 4th century. This was a false premise that I had; but I learned that the Catholic church did not exist until the 10th-11th centuries when it changed some of the original Apostolic doctrines and broke away from the Early Church (now called the Eastern Orthodox Church) in AD 1054 (the Great Schism), and that the popes had never altered the balance between Church and State until that time. After the 11th century, the Catholic church went into full swing in trying to literally unite the Church and State totally under the pope throughout western Europe. For a few centuries they almost succeeded, so that even a certain emperor (I think in Germany) in the 1100's or 1200's was forced to go almost naked in the snow to beg a pope in Rome to let him remain in power. But that quickly changed, though the doctrinal changes to the Faith and the battles for political-religious power did not. It was so bad that during the 5 or so crusades, the Catholics not only attacked Muslims but they also attacked eastern Christianity! This is the kind of stuff that Martin Luther condemned and sought to change, and he was successful because the papacy was so corrupt. Hence, the Protestant reformers have always stressed the evils of an alliance between Church and State, but they do so through the experience of Catholicism, not through the experience of the Early Church. And they thus interpret the Early Christian alliance between Church and State as though it caused or is part of the doctrinal and political evils of the Catholic church, when the Early Church arrangement of Church and State has no direct relation to the Catholic version of this concept.

There is a lot more to be said about the criticism of the Early Church's alliance of Church and State, but I'm trying to be as short and thorough as possible. If you still have problems with this issue, please write back & I'll try to elaborate, maybe even find someone better equipped to answer you.

Now it's time for the issue of monasticism. You object to the idea that being a monk or a nun (a monastic) can affect our salvation. But where do you get the idea that this is an issue? I'm not aware of people going around claiming that monasticism is necessary for one's salvation, nor that the Bible teaches such a doctrine, unless Catholics go around doing that or unless Protestants assume this to be the case. Yes, monasticism is a devotion which God calls some people to follow, and no, monasticism is not necessary for salvation. Nevertheless, on an individual basis, some people need to be monastics in order to receive salvation, otherwise they would fall from God's grace or convert to another religion. Some people need to get married or stay single in society in order to be saved, otherwise if they were to become a monastic they may secretly turn against God through arrogance, legalism, self-righteousness, etc. Every Christian enters into a station in life which God sends him and which best nurtures and protects his salvation. Furthermore, what monastics pray for certainly leads to the salvation of some people and what monastics teach others directly certainly leads to the salvation of others, especially in their books. Moreover, the monastic experience not only is superior to some of the spirituality that any priest can provide, it is also something that is more closely aligned spiritually, theologically, and experientially to the Apostolic Faith. Indeed, it is far more Apostolic in the sense that when Christianity became legalized in the 4th century, the spirituality of the preceding centuries was transported to monasticism, since all the churches at that time were overflowing with so many people whose faith and spirituality were of sub-standard quality, all of which hindered the more serious minded worshippers.

And what do you mean by salvation? The Bible says that if you believe in Christ, you will be saved (Romans 10:9), just like that! But the Bible also says that you must work out your salvation (Philippians 2:12) and that you must endure to be saved (Luke 21:19), indicating a long process of time. It even talks about a salvation to come at the End of time (1 Peter 1:5). I'm not sure if you're making this objection according to the assumption that salvation occurs at the moment one is converted to Christ, or if you're aware that salvation is a life-long journey. But the Bible does speak about monasticism in some ways, and it provides verses speaking about salvation being a life-long process. So being a monastic does have something to do with salvation, since being a monastic is for a lifetime. For instance, Jeremiah was a monk, since he never married. John the Baptist was a monk, for he gave up everything to be with God and he pointed the way to Christ. Jesus was a monk, since He never married and devoted His time to prayer and teaching. But these aren't traditional perceptions of monasticism. Nevertheless, Jesus says in Matthew 19:10-12 that it is better not to marry, though only a few can accept this teaching, those who have made themselves eunuchs for Christ. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:8, 32-35 concurs by saying that it is better not to marry, indicating how a life without a spouse is more spiritually effectual. But Matthew 19:29 is a good verse, for Jesus says that the Christians who have given up married life for the Kingdom of Heaven will receive eternal life and more, just as Paul mentions that some Christians will receive more in Heaven than others (1 Corinthians 3:10-15), based on what they built their house out of, if of gold, silver, hay, or whatever. Revelation 14:4 singles out virgins for special recognition, indicating monastics.

Though being married or being a monastic does not have any bearing on the general concept of salvation, yet because salvation is a life-long process, monasticism does have some degree of influence on salvation for certain individuals, as well as on the salvation of others who come in contact with them or who seek them out. I used to think that monastics were just a bunch of people living apart from everyone and having no effect on our lives. Yet I have learned by reading the ancient monastic texts, such as the Philokalia and the Lives of the Desert Fathers, as well as more modern examples of monasticism, that monks & nuns were not useless bodies in the middle of nowhere. Some monastics have a degree of interaction with society, while other monastics have lived the hermit's life of never seeing anyone, yet they did this so as to attain spiritual perfection, which the Bible teaches us to attain (1 Corinthians 14:1, Hebrews 6:1, Mark 12:30), and which is easier to attain through monasticism. Once these total hermits obtained their goal of the Holy Spirit by God's grace, then God immediately sent people to them or He sent the hermits out to teach the Gospel of spiritual perfection, which, as Hebrews 6:1-3 says, is different from the ordinary Gospel which the average Christian is accustomed to. The Bible teaches that there are different levels of the Faith- the infantile, the immature, the mature, and the perfect. These levels are specifically mentioned in Romans 1:16-17, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to anyone who has faith....For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." 1 Corinthians 3:1 and 1 John 4:17-18 also point them out. So judging by the fact that the Bible teaches that salvation is a life-long process and that we are to seek spiritual perfection by any means, though monasticism provides the surest and most common means for this, yet not the only means, then being a monk and a nun is necessary for one's salvation and it is Biblical. I could go on about how Holy Tradition, which is the original Apostolic system of interpreting Scripture and expressing it, and how monasticism has always been known to conform to Scripture and Tradition, but that would make my answer here way too long.

Lastly, I think some of the criticism of monasticism comes from assuming that monks and nuns don't help the Faith, when in fact they were designed to. It is just that Protestants have developed a bigotry against it and so they find no relevance in it. If you were to read the ancient and modern monastic writings and their experience of the wisdom of Apostolic spiritual perfection in Christ, you would first be amazed and then you would be full of profound respect for every single monk and nun, and then you would never again want to hear anyone question it in any way. This is because monasticism is our truest source for understanding what spiritual perfection in the Gospel or Scripture is, how it can help us work out our salvation, and where it can be found. It can't be found in Protestantism, since Protestantism has rejected the Gospel's teachings of spiritual perfection, except in some vague, idealistic, na´ve sense. Thus, this is a major element of the Faith where Protestants have invented a new gospel.

You may have already read some or many of the Early Church writings and monastic texts, but if you haven't, then I suggest that you take some time to read them. The ones I mentioned above are profound! Plus, and you may have already done this as well, but if you haven't, I suggest that you read Protestant and Orthodox perspectives on these questions that you have about Church-State and monasticism, or at least speak to various priests and ministers about them. Catholics also have their own perspectives on them too, however, their concept of Early Church spirituality revolves around Augustine and the popes, almost as though there is nothing else but them for that era, and they are currently becoming more Protestant by diverging into various parallel theological groups as well.
I'm thrilled to hear from you. Write back if you have more to say.
-Gaius