Two things happened this week that got me thinking about the brand of Christianity (as though there are more than one!) that I would like to live. Over a cup of coffee at the Emporium an old friend used the term “cloistered Christianity.” I don’t know if the term was original to my friend, or if he borrowed it from someone else, but it evoked an image that stayed with me in a way that disturbed and challenged me.
Later in the day a different friend sent me the following quotation from Erwin McManus.
“If those who prepare for leadership are looking for the safe place, who will lead the church into the dangerous places?”
These two quotations reminded me of another writer, G.K. Chesterton who once observed, “Christianity has not been tried and found difficult. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
Christianity wasn’t meant to be safe and comfortable…it was meant to storm the gates of hell. “Cloistered Christianity” is faith tucked away somewhere safe and secure, faith shut off from the problems and dangers of the real world. My sense is that “cloistered Christianity” is faith based on fear rather than hope. The tendency to cloister our faith isn’t based on a love for our faith, nor upon love for the object of our faith. Rather, I think it is based on fear that our faith won’t hold up to the rough and tumble of the real world. Cloistered faith has its biggest arguments over the smallest issues, it’s grandest victories over imaginary foes.
Cloistered faith is neat, tidy, and polite but rarely noticed by those who are not practicing it.
At its best, cloistered Christianity misses out on the impact it could have building God’s kingdom whether that be around the world, or down the street. At it’s worst, it’s primary objective of cloistered faith is to defend the status quo, spending more and more of its time arguing over smaller and smaller matters, be they periphery matters of doctrine or the color of the church carpet. While there is nothing wrong with tea parties, potluck dinners and attractive carpet, these should not be the focus of the church’s energy. True religion cares for widows and orphans, and dirties itself by following the example of the Good Samaritan, stopping along the roadside to rescue those brutalized by sin. Faith that is uncloistered is more about sacrifice than security, less about defending ours and more about being His.
Those who dare to take their faith out of the monastery and into the marketplace will find that Jesus is big enough to take on all challengers. He stands with those call out the evil of sex trafficking. If the challenge involves leaders who oppress others, turning faith into consumerism and greed, he braids whips and flips tables. When the threat comes from self-righteous teachers who shut the doors of heaven in men’s faces, he calls them “sons of hell.” When they neglect justice and mercy he calls them “blind guides.” When the leaders of the day valued image more than substance, he said, “on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Strong words from a bold Savior. And the scariest part is that he invites us to follow him… out of the monastery or the safety of the Christian ghetto, and into a real world with big problems.
The good news? He promises to go with us.