From September 1964* —
GO! NEEDED: RELIGIOUS EXTROVERTS. He started out by climbing up on a pillar 12 feet off the ground and living there. Even this soon seemed too close to the contaminating earth, and he built taller pillars. Finally he settled down for 30 years on a towering pillar over 100 feet high.
Thus Simeon Stylites set a new style for the fifth century. He and the other “pillar saints” who quickly imitated him were simply carrying to the extreme a religious outlook that was most popular then and still finds much support. A desire for complete separation from the sinful world, combined with a hope for greater personal peace in a contemplative life was moving many to retire into isolation. The deserts were dotted with hermits seeking to gain their life by “losing” it in self-denial and poverty. Monasteries and nunneries multiplied rapidly and were filled with souls eager to shut out the evil world with thick walls and protect their own spiritual welfare by a secluded life with others of like mind in small, self-contained communities.
Too exclusively they were concerned with working out their own salvation with fear and trembling. They had too little sense of responsibility for the needs of those outside the fellowship. They felt that anyone else desiring to share their position and spiritual blessings should, after all, know where to find the cloister gate.
Predominantly these people were spiritual introverts. They were by no means convinced that they were their brother’s keeper, if this meant anyone outside their own specific “brotherhood.” Their outlook on life was an unbalanced distortion of a healthy Christian attitude.
Surely there is a proper place for introspection in the life of Christ’s followers. The Lord himself frequently felt the need of withdrawing to a mountain or desert place apart for periods of prayer and contemplation.
But He did so to find new strength to return to the world of men and seek and save that which was lost. After all, He Himself had come into the world not to be served, but to serve. He humbled Himself and became obedient to the death of the cross only because of His great love for others, and an acute awareness of how much had to be done to save such lost sinners.
And He has made clear the need for spiritual extroverts in the work of His Church. Indeed, the world is evil, and the Lord lovingly urges His own to flee from the evil and not to be a part of the world. Yet His instructions to them are clear, “Go ye INTO all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” He calls upon us, not to withdraw by ourselves with our precious salvation light, but to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
Would that we could get more of the balanced outlook that was given to Saint Paul. He knew well the importance of taking heed unto himself and all the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made him overseer. He knew how to examine himself. He dreaded the possibility that after preaching to others, he himself might be a castaway. He was endlessly concerned with preserving the purity of the Gospel, on which everyone’s salvation depends.
Yet with all this occupation with the requirements of those that already believed, his ears were always listening for a cry from Macedonia or elsewhere, always attuned to other souls that needed his help. His eye were always open to the needs of strangers who were pathetically worshiping an “unknown God.”
This apostle had learned, in whatsoever state he was, therewith to be content. Yet he never learned to be content with the number of people he had helped bring into the fold of Christ. He was never content to have his flock remain a small one. He was never content to see others ignore or reject the Bread of Life which he and his flock found so satisfying and essential. Rather was his passion for souls so great that he solemnly assures us he could wish himself to be cut off from Christ and damned, if that would bring his fellow Jews to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The same apostle who felt the need of going to Arabia for meditation and study in preparation for his ministry as a missionary, would never have been tempted to crawl onto a pillar for the rest of his life. The unbelieving community round about was for him primarily a mission field to be reached, not just a danger to be shunned.
(Pastor Norbert Reim)
* We have been looking back in issues 30 years past. Due to space constraints this article has been delayed until now.