Why contemplation and action go hand in glove

There’s a tendency in the Christian tradition to make a sharp practical distinction between contemplation and action. Some parts of the visible church emphasize a Christian spirituality marked by action, even activism (evangelicals, Methodists). Other parts place a higher emphasis on the role of contemplation in the life of the Christian community (Catholicism). In reality, contemplation and action are supposed to go hand in glove in the life of the Christian. At its essence, the life of the Christian is a mirroring of the life of Christ–an apprenticeship to Jesus that produces a resemblance. Granted, none of us is going to relocate to Nazareth and become a carpenter. Instead, I’m talking about similarity of character and texture of life. Jesus’ life was marked by both action and contemplation–time moving out in mission and time traveling inward in prayer.

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It’s often assumed that Protestants have no place for the sort of contemplative Christianity expressed by monastic communities of the Roman Catholic Church. Interestingly, Calvin’s central critique of the monasticism of his time was not it’s practices, but that it was limited to a select few (see Boulton, Life with God 2011). Calvin saw the church as company of believers united around Word and sacrament and whose lives were marked by the intentional practice of the spiritual disciplines used by monastic communities. The difference–Calvin’s Christians were “monks” in the world and it was not a peculiar calling, but one that is universal to all believers–the democratization of the monastic spiritual disciplines.

Later this week, I’ll be writing about why I think that the Reformed tradition is uniquely situated to contribute to missional discipleship.

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