I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:1-2
I have been reading a book on the theology of monasticism within post-reformation groups, Reforming the Monastery: Protestant Theologies of the Religious Life. Interesting! The Anglican chapter is especially interesting as it shows how different the English reformation was from its continental counterparts.
The first chapter looks at Luther and Calvin. Both have the same problem with monasticism: vows as works. The context is faith and works versus works in our relationship with God. So, one could say, Luther and Calvin are not anti-monasticism but rather against the taking of vows that are not directly related to our relationship with God.
But I think (and who am I to say anything?) that the above becomes less of a problem when vows are seen in terms of Romans 12: vows as sacrifice. I need to go much deeper than a superficial reading of the above – and I hope I can do that in the near future. I also realise that the very term sacrifice is a disputed idea. Above all, I am glad I am an Anglican (alas, a very poor one) because it allows the freedom to move beyond the above Reformers.
So allow me to put forward a working definition of sacrifice (that does not include death): a sacrifice is a free surrender of a good for a greater good. And the greater good in the above context is always Jesus. So vows as sacrifice would look a little like this: the free intention of the individual to surrender a good (created by God) for the greater good of living for Jesus alone. The intention is never to work towards salvation or away from my sin but rather an act of love for Jesus. And, by extension, an act of love for my neighbour whom I am free to serve in various ways.
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