Contemporary Monastic Vows
by David Morrison
Why Take Vows of Discipleship?
-We desire to enter into the Lord’s discipleship in a meaningful or sacramental way. They are a renewal of baptismal (or confirmation) vows. Taking vows can serve as a confirmation of the Lord’s calling on our lives as well.
Who should take them?
-Anyone who feels they should. If one feels they don’t need to “make a big deal” out of our basic call to discipleship, they shouldn’t. If others feel they would benefit from a public and communal profession, they should. Both groups should give mutual grace.
Isn’t Taking Vows Legalism?
-Anything we do in Christ can become legalism. Taking vows is not a testament to what WE will do FOR Christ, but it is an entering into the grace of God for the life CHRIST lives THROUGH us.
Didn’t Jesus say, “don’t swear?”
-Yes, but we don’t believe he was referring to a monastic life. If we took this teaching at its face value, we wouldn’t take marital vows. Nor would we be baptized since it is a vow to renounce the world and follow Christ.
Are Vows a Permanent Binding?
-To avoid a legalistic mentality, it has been recommended by some spiritual masters through the ages that one make them renewable yearly. Others have a “forever or nothing” attitude. One should discern this for him or herself.
What is the Scriptural Basis for Taking Vows?
-One who would follow after Christ and be His disciple must “take up the cross daily.” This clearly involves a binding to a disciplined lifestyle of service, evangelism, prayer, fasting, etc. (Luke 14:26-33). John the Baptist took the vow of the Nazirite for his entire life (Luke 1:15). The apostle Paul and other believers took temporary Nazirite vows (Acts 18:18; 21:23).
How does one know if he or she is ready to make such a profession?
-Vows are not a statement of where we are at with the Lord, but rather a profession of faith as to where the Spirit is taking us. It’s not about the arrival to spiritual advancement, but about the journey itself.
- The Vow of Obedience: “…though He [Jesus] was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him…” (Hebrews 5:7-9).
- God’s grace allows us to enter into the obedience of the Son of God: We are called to obey God first and primarily. As we revere Christ, we submit to one another in a spirit of community.
- Obedience stems from humility which grows from the truth of interdependence of all creation. Obedience fosters mutual respect and interdependent relationships thus birthing holy community.
- Obedience is the resolve to respond in a timely manner to the promptings of the Holy Spirit through discerning prayer and community dialogue. Obedience may cause one to become “a fool” for Christ’s sake.
- The Vow of Devotion: “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
- Devotion involves the study of the scriptures in a way that primarily seeks the face of God and His ways.
- It allows us to enter into a lifestyle of prayer and worship.
- It incorporates all the various tools of contemplation: Silence, nature, corporate prayer, fasting, meditation/memorization, singing, devotional reading, mental prayer, speaking in tongues, work, dancing, the arts, etc.
- The Vow of Service: “But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6).
- Apostolic service is both attitudinal and action-oriented. The most basic service we can give is to simply live the gospel with a humble and joyful heart. This ministry of presence involves a spirit of listening to others and discerning the image of God in them and calling that forth.
- Service engages us in manual labor in building and improving neighborhoods in the region. This includes distributing food, clothing, and other supplies as well as visiting and caring for the sick and elderly. It also includes caring for the orphan and including the outcast.
- Service is also the proclamation of the Gospel by living it and speaking it. This involves absorbing ourselves in the ministry of the Kingdom by praying for the sick, casting out demons, and other signs that accompany the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
- The Vow of Simplicity: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:33-34).
- The vow of simplicity releases us from the cares and troubles of this world as far as the acquisition of wealth. Wealth is not evil in itself, but loving it becomes the root of all evil.
- Simplicity liberates us to live the Gospel lifestyle in which our belongings no longer own us because we have given up all for the sake of the Kingdom. The tithe is a prophetic sign that all belongs to the Lord.
- This vow is an inward attitude that results in an outward expression. It is a renunciation of the materialism of the age, but it is more so a reception of the Lord’s life as He lived it on earth.
- The Vow of Celebration: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God. . .” (Acts 2:46-47).
- Too often the monastic life or life of a disciple is seen as a “loss” of personal freedom, honor, and possessions. This happens when one cannot see the “joy set before them.” Christ was born in “glad tidings;” preached and lived “the good news;” took up the cross for the “joy set before Him;” and His resurrection and ascension caused “great joy and praise to God.”
- Celebration injects freedom into our souls to enjoy God, people, and creation. It enables us to laugh and bring good humor into peoples’ lives. It is sacramental living in which we do everything for the glory of God.
- Celebration also involves singing hymns, spiritual songs, and psalms in a corporate and private manner. In short, it is a major component to a life that worships the Lord.
A Roadmap for Monastic/Communal Living:
Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing.
And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing; sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
-The Message (Eugene Peterson)