Christ, the Professor

Christianity is the world’s teacher, not its student.  The world has nothing for us but lies or distortions, which are ignorance and death.  Oddly, as objectionable as it might seem to claim that one group in history holds the truth, or was given the truth, or distributed the truth, even about the rest of the groups, it’s not particularly difficult to show historically.

Christ, through his Church, transformed the world.  There were things toward which humanity and cultures and civilizations tended naturally.  Then there was a long process whereby those natural inclinations were countered, and eventually changed.  So much of humanity, culture, and civilization today is entirely unnatural.  It would never have occurred naturally.  And most of us prefer it to the alternative.  (Although we sometimes are mistaken about history and therefore assume either that there is no difference, or that the alternative is better than it was.)

The most obvious example is human rights.  If you like living in a world with human rights, you have Christ to thank.  No purely natural society in the history of the world ever imagined anything like the claim that all human beings have value, just by virtue of being human beings.  But Christ said they did, and Christians labored for centuries in the long (and often perilous) process of changing one of the natural world’s primary assumptions.  And rather contrary to what might be expected, they largely succeeded.  Now we tend to assume that it’s perfectly natural to imagine that people have some sort of intrinsic value.  It is most certainly not natural; we have been taught.

And of course the Church did not stop there.  It was the Church that taught the world that foreigners, strangers, slaves, and women were all human too, and thus were all immeasurably valuable in some sort of ontological sense, not just an expedient, social, or economic sense.  If you like living in a world with civil rights, you have Christ to thank.  No natural society ever imagined anything with which you would be at all comfortable.

And the Church did not stop there.  It was the Church that taught the world that war was evil, not just inconvenient.  The entire concept that war was almost always wrong and was only grudgingly excusable in certain extreme circumstances, that concept was taught to the world by Christians.   The natural societies before Christ fought each other as a matter of course.  It’s no surprise that the world before Christ was populated by empires rising and falling: conquest was the norm.  Nobody questioned it.  It’s also no surprise that nations couldn’t develop until after Christ.  He needed to teach the world that peace arose not from mutual counterbalancing strength, but from mutual respect.

In fact, if you like the idea of respecting people who are different from you, you have Christ to thank.  (People will sometimes talk about the Roman Empire as being a diverse and tolerant place, but not generally people who have studied the Roman Empire.)

I could go on, but I’m out of time.  Here is one last point though.  The world, having largely rejected the Church, is intent also on unlearning the lessons Christ came to teach the world.  The world we find if we forget our tutelage will not be one we like.  I suspect that eventually we will look around ourselves and realize that we made a mistake, and we will return to our teacher.  It would likely be better for us not to leave in the first place.

Also, Christians need to be very careful about assuming that worldly cultural developments need to be applied to the Church.  Naturally the world will attempt to twist and abandon the hard lessons that Christ came to teach, and it will do this in such a way as to seem wise itself.  (Rather like the way teenagers will argue against the good advice of their parents.)  But the world cannot instruct the Church on truth or goodness, it never could and never will.  Christians ought to be examples to the world, not learn from it.


My Own Desert Places

One of the biggest challenges to Protestantism is the awkward suggestion by Jesus himself that we should judge a tree by its fruit.  For people who claim to worship one Christ, with one Church as his body, united by one Holy Spirit, it’s problematic that Protestantism, from its very beginning, has been characterized by division.  It isn’t less problematic that Protestants have also readily, almost eagerly, embraced a truly staggering number of heresies.

We are a fickle lot, and God help us.

Granted, there are other sides to this discussion.  Too many for me to bring in here.  One of the most crippling and obvious is this:  any authority to rebuke us is undermined by its use, or rather its lack of use.  By which I mean current and historic use.

When the two other branches of the Church, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions, both argue that they are the single correct branch, and both have compelling reasons for so arguing, and those arguments become mutually exclusive…  They cancel.  The choice becomes one of either stubborn faith, which must necessarily be arbitrary, or personal preference and conviction, which both groups would dismiss as heretical (i.e. Immanentism, in case you’re curious).

They are like petty brothers, each arguing for superiority, and each waiting for the other to apologize, and each ignoring the desperate cries of their younger brother that they stop fighting.

For this they will be held accountable, that they have not labored, though it take centuries, to reconcile, or that they have labored half-heartedly.  That they have allowed to continue what must be an abomination to the Lord and a stumbling block to their younger brothers.

It seems that one of the following must be true.  Perhaps they don’t believe it is possible to convince each other on each other’s own grounds–which is simply polite rhetoric–in which case they are de facto declaring that the only evidence for them must be accepted before its effective, that belief in either is a matter of arbitrary faith.  This ignores the fact that they both make the same claim, and that both claim the Holy Spirit guides people to faith in one over the other.  It is simply impossible to test the spirits in this case.  They undermine their own ability to reach anyone.  They have rendered Christ futile.

Or they believe it’s possible to convince each other on each other’s grounds, and they have refused to put forth the effort to do so.  And shame on them if this is the case, because they have humiliated Christ in their arrogance.

Now it seems to me that if there are two authorities, each claiming a unique authority, each providing reasons for that claim, and each denying the authority of the other, by so doing they render it possible (and perhaps likely) that neither is the authority it believes.

And in that gap, in the tension which they have themselves created, we find the Protestants, clinging (fitfully and weakly) to something else, since neither of them will let us cling to them.  Trying, as younger brothers, to do what the older brothers have forsaken.  It is perhaps a task for which we are unfit, and our unfitness is daily manifest, but I suspect none of us would say that we chose it.

Of course, in emulation of our elders, Protestants triumphantly declared ourselves the only authority, and entered into the same sick cycle of refusing to solve the problem we perpetuate.

We are a sick people, and a sad people.  And I suppose by this post I have made myself anathema to all three groups.  I am happily willing, I am in fact eager, to recant and embrace that Church which emerges unified from whatever council heals the schisms of the last two thousand years.  Or at least from the first to pursue that vision with anything like the humble zeal demanded by the situation.

Until then I’ll live in silent terror as three brothers, larger and stronger than I, fight around me.  I will hope in Christ to save me in spite of that fighting, and in spite of my own ignorance and inability, and in spite of the constant reminders from each brother that I must choose it alone or risk rejection from Christ.

May the grace of God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–be with me, now and forever.  What else can I say?

Maybe Not a Stone

My television now includes an explicitly pagan channel.  I suppose that’s fair, I’ve had a few explicitly Christian channels for a while.  I’m only startled that I see advertisements for it everywhere.  Again, not because it shouldn’t advertise, but because it seems to have gone from no presence to ubiquitous presence in about a week.

Maybe I just didn’t notice it before.  I am not the most observant of people.  Or at least, I can only be relied upon to observe a certain class of things.

In any event, if you want to be pagan, there’s now a channel for you in my area.  It will probably be encouraging and attractive.  It will likely lure people into pagan practices that they don’t realize are pagan practices.  None of this is surprising.

I feel this way about heresy, too.  All heresies are attractive in some way–although sometimes that attraction is baffling for those aware of the truth–and they lure people into heretical belief and practice that they may not realize is heretical.  None of this is surprising either.

Nor is it surprising that they’re numerous.  Nor that they’re successful.  Nor that everywhere Christians seem to abandon the Truth in favor of them.

It’s not surprising because it’s been happening since the beginning.  The surprising thing is that in spite of the constant assault, the constant temptation, the constant misunderstandings, the Church has managed to survive for two thousand years and has pretty much believed the same thing for that entire time.

In one of his books, Chesterton talks about how every generation or two it seems like the Church is dying.  It seems like the dreams of our opponents are going to be realized, and that this ponderous and objectionable thing might finally fade from the earth.  But it never does; it is sustained from without.

That last is the sort of thing I’m inclined to forget.  I get passionate about few things more than the refutation of error.  I’m not particularly good at it, but I’m passionate about it.  Mostly though I’m passionate because I’m afraid.  I’m afraid that people will be led away from the Truth and that the Truth will pass away.

Now, there’s an obvious verse to quote here, so I’ll avoid it because it’s obvious.  Instead let me quote another:  “But Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out'” (Luke 19:40).

If it were to happen that the entire Church were to embrace error, or to abandon Christ in favor of some other lesser (and imagined) god, “the stones [would] cry out,” and possibly begin by scolding us.  Christ will have his Church.

Now as it happens, he has graciously decided to include us in it, rather than stones.  And it seems that he is able to sustain us in spite of every challenge, so that passing away becomes less likely with each passing century rather than more likely.

It is of course therefore not my responsibility to guarantee that the good news of Christ is faithfully delivered to the future.  It might be my responsibility to deliver it to one area.  It might be my responsibility to say whether the news delivered to that area is in fact the Good News.  But the guarantor of the whole (and the future) is Christ; I am at best his clumsy servant.

Or, to put it another and likely less misleading way, it isn’t my job to worry about the war, only to fight to the best of my abilities in the battle I’m given.  It is not my job to guard the entire building, merely to watch the door which is my station.  It does no good for me to worry about the rest anyway, but more importantly I should remember that the rest has been faithfully handled for thousands of years, and that the state of the rest depends (thankfully) on someone better than me.

Maybe in fact I should be surprised that the better someone has entrusted me even with a door or a single battle.  I can’t say it speaks highly of his judgment, but maybe his judgment about me is better than mine, in the similar way that his judgment about everything else is.  Or of course he has chosen the fool and the weak, and all the better for him.

In any event, I’m out of time again.  Here I will take a small liberty.  You have read my writing, and my writing is in me.  As such you have come into my house, which it is in my authority to govern.  I use that authority in this way:

The LORD bless you and keep you.
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.