Saturday, May 16, 2009

5/16- Calvin and retreats

(Calvin arguing with his cousin)

Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men [Moses and Elijah] standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (He didn’t know what he was saying.) (Luke 9:32,33)

Calvin on Monasteries: - It was a beautiful thing to forsake all their possessions and be without earthly care. But God prefers devoted care in ruling a household, where the devout householder, clear and free of all greed, ambition, and other lusts of the flesh, keeps before him the purpose of serving God in a definite calling. It is a beautiful thing to philosophize in retirement, far from intercourse with men. But it is not the part of Christian meekness, as if in hatred of the human race, to flee to the desert and the wilderness and at the same time to forsake those duties which the Lord has especially commanded. Though we grant there was nothing else evil in that profession, it was surely no slight evil that it brought a useless and dangerous example into the church. (4.13.16)

Calvin pointed out corruption in the monastery. It was possible to improve in spirituality in a monastery, but it was also possible to degenerate in a monastery too. Above Calvin reminds us that we are called not to retreat from the world, but to go into the world with the gospel. Calvin himself was constantly tempted to retreat into the life of isolation with his books and writings. Yet he involved himself with others in the company of pastors, in the consistory, in his numerous letters and visits. Twice Calvin was rebuked by Farel for wanting to follow the scholarly life instead of serving God in ministry- twice Calvin responded even though he knew that to respond meant a harder life.
There is always a pull upon the devout Christian to retreat away and stay in retreat. It shows in different ways. We have a conference center in my denomination called Montreat. It is a wonderful mountain valley that was cool in the summer compared to many places. It is a great place to go to listen to scholars, to famous preachers (Billy Graham lives there), and to be in an environment away from some of the temptations of life (drugs, sex, alcohol, violence). I have been there many times. Every time I have had a group there I have heard more than one say that they wish they could just stay up there. Some churches stay so busy with so many meetings that their best members do not have opportunity to be salt or light in the world. There is something appealing about being with other believers whose goal is to grow in faith, grow in love, and share the same hope. In my mind, this is a natural longing for heaven where this will be so. I think some denominations are formed (in the legacy of the Donatists and Novatians who wanted a perfect church and clergy) with the hope that we can somehow create a heaven on earth. Peter wanted to encapsulate the transfiguration by building three booths. But in this life retreats, transfigurations, movements of God’s Holy Spirit cannot be boxed. But they are glimpses of the life to come. On this side they are energizers to our faith so that we will go into the world and share the love of Christ.
So I have made my reservations. I am going to Montreat for a retreat studying Calvin, and I am going on a mission trip to Peru’s Amazon, and going to Israel in 2010. But I also know that for the most part God is calling me to live where he has placed me- with my family- as a witness to Him. This is what Calvin says is a “definite calling.” I guess we all have that.

Prayer: Lord, you have placed me and led me to the mountaintops and through the valleys. I confess my desire to get away and retreat from the hard things of life.

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