Ambushed by a Monk
A few years back, I was auditing a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and the chap seated next to me was a Roman Catholic Benedictine monk. That’s not the normal student at Trinity.
Over the course of a week, I grew to admire this young man. He was in his mid-thirties and had been at his monastery for thirteen years. He was friendly, insightful and seemed to have a real passion for God. He reminded me a bit of Symeon the New Theologian (See volume 3 of The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church). Symeon was a monk in the 10th century who lived in Turkey. He was passionate in his pursuit of God. He was also a bit of a mystic. More to the point, he was someone who understood the need for conversion. As I read about him, it felt like I was reading about John Wesley or Martin Luther. Symeon writes about the need for conversion – how conversion changes everything. He writes of his own conversion – how tears poured forth – how radiant light enveloped him – of his great joy – and that he even spoke in tongues!
Back to my class. One of the more humorous times in class came when one of the students, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, finally turned to this monk, after several days of class, and said, “Man, you’ve been messing with my categories all week. I’m starting to think that you might be a brother in Christ!” The monk smiled – and so did the class. I felt the same way. We’d all been ambushed by a monk!
Now, does that mean that I am uncritical of Roman Catholicism? The answer is “no”. I am not a Roman Catholic for very specific reasons. Chiefly, I have a real problem with their doctrine of justification among other things. Doctrine matters – and it matters a lot. Doctrine dictates life. It has profound implications for how we live and serve God.
Having said all of that, I also firmly believe that there are many Roman Catholics who are saved. Some Catholics are saved, and some are not…just like some Evangelical Free folks are saved, and some are not. I believe that my monk friend is a genuine believer. Even though we’d have some pretty serious disagreements about justification (and Mary – and Purgatory – and the Eucharist), I know that His view of Jesus is fully orthodox; namely, that Jesus is God incarnate in human flesh, who came to die for our sins. I was enriched and encouraged by his presence all week – especially when he sang Philippians 2 in the form of a Gregorian chant. It was a sacred moment in class!
So, I left this class with a little broader view of the Kingdom of God – which is always healthy. I also came away with a deeper appreciation for the Benedictine tradition, and the role they’ve played in history. And for this, I am very grateful.
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor