Starting around the legalization of Christianity, people began separating from society to focus on God. With the end of martyrdom, people began to feel like they need to live more ascetic lives so that they do not take God for granted.
I think that is the main reasons Christians began forming monasteries and convents. It's a reason I very much honor. In this increasingly anti-Christian society with a saturation of influences to follow your own desires over the law of God. Also, after the Edict of Milan, barbarians moved into the empire
bringing many pagan beliefs and practices, causing the Christians to
despair and want to seek retreat from their evil influence, hence
I will explain the influences from such reasoning based on Christianity through the Centuries by Earle Cairns. It's from the Protestant perspective but it is not intended to defame anybody or to insult anyone, only to critique it and post my own thoughts on it.
The Gnostic/Neoplatonic philosophers along with people from Asia taught a belief about the flesh and spirit that said flesh was evil and the spirit is good. To be truly holy, they thought that people must develop the spiritual life by denying their flesh. Origen, Cyprian, Tertullian, and Jerome used 1 Corinthians 7 to support this belief, especially the idea that Paul promotes celibacy as a great virtue. Also, certain people in Egypt decided to move to harsher desert climates in order to suffer for the Lord.
I personally think it is very honorable to take a breather from society in order to remember Christ, his sacrifice, and to spend time with him lest we should join the unholy rites of the world. I try to do that once a day when I read the Scriptures, sing hymns, and listen to teachers such as R.C. Sproul. Unmarried, I am committed to celibacy until I marry. I even enjoy walking on the grounds of our local monastery just to get out of my house. It is so nice to have a place I can go and vegetate for free.
My problem? It's kind of extreme and not Biblical despite Scriptures cited by the Church Fathers. I do think sometimes God does call someone to separate from the world for a time to rehabilitate in their love and devotion for Christ. That retreat is called the Sabbath day, now Sunday in the new covenant. All God's elect are called to it once a week to interact with other believers and to literally experience Christ both through his other people, through hearing his Word preached, and through the sacrament of communion. Exodus 20:8-10 shows that God commands us to stop once a week. However, he also explains that the people are still to labor for 6 days. That to, is not a suggestion but something God implemented in the Garden of Eden. Also in the Garden of Eden, the first negative thing God said was that it is not good for man to be alone, Genesis 2:18.
So, monks and nuns to labor, and they do live as a community. I'm very amazed at their devotion to charity and to the pro-life movement. But I also believe their lives are very imbalanced as they often do not work jobs, do not marry and procreate their influence into the world, and they pretty much prefer to live in a completed heaven now when God has not called anybody to do that before death.
Matthew 28:19-20 presents the great commission, to go into all the earth and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those with holy vocations do that frequently. However, there is so much more to that. When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them jobs in society such as caring for plants and animals that people could eat, forming cities so that people could have order, and earning a living so that they could share food with their children and people in need. Paul himself preached and made disciples non-stop, but he also made tents so that he would not burden his sponsors by draining their resources. Even in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, he told them that if they don't work they don't eat.
For the monastery in my town, the monks make bread, sell books, I think they run farms and gardens, and they have a bistro with wi-fi. So, they do earn an honest living and don't just live off the donations of the Church. I am beginning to do the same as I probably will have a paying job with a lawyer pretty soon as a legal secretary. I will soon be able to live independently and not rely so much on others.
So what's my problem? All the emphasis on looking inward and permanent separation from people and even permanent vows that have no example in the Bible. Some people like Simeon and Anna did live in the temple and worship God their whole lives, but they did that on their own terms and probably could have married had the times been right. All the priests, Levites, and Patriarchs married and had children. Ultimately, God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply in the earth and subdue it. It goes hand in hand with the Great Commission. How do we continue our culture of holiness if we don't have children? And how do we expect to have a future of Christianity if so many people decide not to marry and do not reproduce and train children in the way they should go? I can think of only one instance in Scripture where God commanded someone to not marry as a statement against his society: Jeremiah. If somebody did not marry, it is to be assumed that they just did not marry, not because they were being holy. So why do I oppose monasticism? The same reason the Catholics oppose birth control. In all due respect, it's just not pro-life.
The other problem is the pagan origins. Now, this is a lady speaking who celebrates both Christmas, Halloween, and other holidays, many with customs based in paganism but redeemed by none other than the Roman Catholic church. They have been very innovative in transforming their culture. However, whenever I walk into the garden store at the monastery and see a Buddha statue, I become very disheartened. Or walk into the store and see a yoga book, or the museum part and see that they believe monasteries started because the Jainists and Buddhists did that and they thought it was a good idea. Eastern mysticism is subtle and dangerous. They may have lived peaceful lives, but husbands left families and deserted their people in order to accomplish this soul-searching. Folks like Buddha and Gandhi may have said some true things, but they did not have the light of life in Jesus Christ given freely through his blood. They never understood forgiveness or salvation based on God and not on works. There may be a fine line, but monks unintentionally invite other religions and other gods that are not Christ, the one true God, who said you will have no other gods in his presence, which is everywhere. This is also the same God who said not to worship him in the same way the Gentile neighbors worshiped their gods.
So that's my story and I'm sticking to it. You don't have to agree, but this is where I stand. It's not to pick on one religious group either, as the church I grew up in has openly abandoned the Lord and his teachings in a way unprecedented before now. We are all to blame and we all feel like we should listen to others who say we should not enjoy life, marriage, people, etc., as if they were less holy than anything God made. No, God made bodies who are the temple of his Spirit, and he very much intends for us to take care of them, interact with society, and actively influence the world for Jesus. This also involves ignoring people who do not know Jesus when they place burdens on you that God never intended.