The Essenes were a Jewish separatist group active from about BC 170 until the Roman Legions disbursed them in AD 68. They had intentionally moved out of Jerusalem and fled to the mountains and wilderness bordering the Dead Sea. Their goal was to isolate themselves from the prevailing life style of other Jews living in Jerusalem.
The Essenes sought to create a new system of spiritual purity, by isolating themselves from what they saw as the spiritual darkness of the Hellenistic life style that was pervading Jerusalem. They were seeking a right relationship with the God of the Old Testament, by removing themselves completely from a non-believing society.
The Jewish people had been captives on and off for centuries, so they knew how easy it was to lose one's spiritual purity during forced integration into a different culture and set of religious values. Their answer had been to bond together, isolate as best they could and support each other in honoring their God, Yahweh.
As Christians, we sometimes think that if we could just retreat from the distractions of "life in the world," we could live a holy life. Do you think it is possible for normal, ordinary people to live holy lives today in the midst of our present day secular culture, so filled with spiritually dark temptations?
While Christians draw much of their faith from the Old Testament and ancient Jewish practices and tradition, a very striking difference was introduced by Jesus. After the Crucifixion, Jesus appeared to his disciples and instructed them in The Great Commission:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you . . . . ."
(Matthew 28:19 - 20)
What would the Essenes have said if Jesus had given them The Great Commission?
Once Jesus had accomplished his work of redemption (by means of the Crucifixion), the challenge for his followers was to NOT separate from the world, but to take the good news of redemption INTO the world.
In Matthew 5:14 - 16 we see how Jesus illustrated by metaphor the role his disciples were to have in the world:
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead
they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may
see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
Turning to some spiritual practices of today, it is interesting to consider the way the Pennsylvania Amish sect of Christianity relates to the secular world. The Amish are conservative (some would say "old fashioned"), emphasizing humility, family, community and living separately from the non-Amish world. This includes a reluctance on the part of some Amish to adopt modern conveniences such as automobiles and electricity. Many Amish wear distinctive Amish-style clothing. It is estimated that some 30,000 Amish people currently live within the area around Lancaster, PA. In that area, one can see today some practicing Amish driving a horse and buggy on the public highway.
The Amish take their beliefs very seriously. They call for a conscious choice to accept God, which leads to their belief in the all-encompassing and literal authority of the Bible. To them, family and community are more important than wealth and fame.
To preserve the Amish identity and maintain spiritual harmony,it is said that members are encouraged to surrender their personal aspirations for the sake of "community purity." These ideals are maintained by keeping all work, play, worship, commerce and friendship within the Amish orbit. They seek very limited involvement in secular American life. They prohibit habits that feed individualism, greed and other secular tendencies.
The "extreme" non-conformity of the Amish in the midst of secular cultural/societal values,
could serve as a conspicuous spiritual reminder to the rest of us. While the Essenes tried to live "spiritually pure" lives by removing themselves from the secular world, the Amish seem to have the much greater challenge of living immersed in today's secular American culture.
Do you think the Pennsylvania Amish are indeed living out the call of Jesus to be "the light of the world; a city on a hill . . . ."? In today's world, how culturally-different can other people be, before we stop taking seriously their spiritual example?
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal growth this spring at CPC.__________________________