"For now we see as if through a flawed pane of glass..." (I Corinthians 13:12)

Monday, October 16, 2017

To Consider Unity



Are you sick of the belligerence that increasingly characterizes our culture and our way of living and relating? I am. Sadly, there are some who seem to relish the antagonism, and actually to delight in provoking it (“Let’s you and him fight!”).
Sometimes I lose hope of seeing humanity united and cooperating; of seeing people of different persuasions coming together to glean the best from each of their different outlooks, and creating a new reality better than their previously held dogmas.
In recent efforts to understand the roots of the current animosity, I looked to my own discipline: Christian theology and church history. Beginning with Augustine in the 4th century, mainstream Christianity took a discernable turn toward law over grace.
That happens in virtually every movement, religious or otherwise. As entrepreneurial founders begin to age, they tend to become caretakers and defenders of their accomplishments. Thus, begins the paradigm shift from movement to institution.
Each succeeding generation adds to the growing set of rules and procedural codes (as in the Constitution of the United States with its amendments and expanding volumes of interpretive laws and codices).
In the Judaism described in the Bible, the trend reached its zenith in the pharisaism Jesus confronted. In Christian history the penchant for rules over grace maxed out under John Calvin and, later in England, the Puritans.
Oppressed in Europe, the Puritans came to America, and were the dominant socio/religious force in colonial America. Most Christian sects in America reflected the harshness of Puritanism, well into the middle of the twentieth century. During the infamously rebellious 1960s, a secularized[1][1] form of Christianity emerged. It rejected the harsh, judgmental, punitive images of God, in favor of a more Christ-like image.
That “more secularized” movement culminated in the last couple of decades into what some have called the “Emerging Church.” In response, the Calvinist/Puritan-oriented bodies doubled down own their insistence that their image of God, and only their image, was the truth, declaring open season on any who disagreed.
The trouble was, each denomination and sect claimed its own set of rules that defined truth; so, everybody was fighting with everybody, and the “spiritually yearning, institutionally disillusioned public”[2] was leaving the church. In the panic over the loss of members (and offerings), the institutional church ramped up its condemnatory rhetoric, which, in turn, drove still more members and offerings into the streets.
Essentially, the Calvinist/Puritan inflexibility was less about seeking truth, and more about proving that I/We already have the truth. The church generally was seen as issuing an ultimatum; and people (particularly those in the millennial generations) stereotyped all churches as judgmental and unforgiving, and they fled en masse from the model in which they were unable to sense the presence of Jesus.
I developed an hypothesis: Given that through the middle of the twentieth century, American culture generally was molded by some expression of Christianity, and given the generally judgmental and hostile stereotype into which all churches were lumped, it seemed reasonable that the current cultural and political fractiousness were in that mix, somewhere. I still believe there is a level in which that hypothesis is valid.
But the pre-Augustinian church already was divided. Paul’s epistles often address congregational division. Some creeds (the Apostles’ Creed and the Creed of Nicaea) emerged prior to the time of Augustine.
In colonial America the political divisiveness already was so bitter that duels to the death were fought.
So, the search for the origins of our current socio/political enmity is like peeling an onion. For the present, I lean toward considering it to be the nature of broken humanity. Maybe it’s not only what we have become. Maybe humans always have been like this; and we are living out our brokenness, rather than living out Jesus' prayer that his followers would become one, as he and his heavenly father were one (John 17:20-21).
Hard sins linked to sexual immorality or religious heresy notwithstanding, could it be that our primary need for repentance is from the primordial state of human brokenness out of which all other brokenness arises? Are we tinkering with symptoms and ignoring the cause?
Repentance does not require regret or remorse; nor does it necessarily involve penitence or penance. The word means, simply, to turn; essentially, to turn from one way of doing and being to another.
I try to not obsess over things I cannot control. Occasionally I even succeed! I don’t know how to influence the general turn of ideologies toward “us all becoming one.” But I can control how I respond; and I perhaps can influence one or a few persons to consider unity over division. That outlook forms the basis of my own repentance in regard to the focus of this writing.
How about this: evil always needs to be confronted; but, before we mount our white horse and charge into the fray, could we take a bit of time, first, to set aside the temptation to blame everyone but ourselves for the way things are, and to engage, instead, in some tangible act intended to make the world better, if only for a moment; if only for one other person?
If we could start each day planning to act or participate proactively in some constructive activity, before turning to the headlines or (worse) Facebook tirades or Twitter harangues, would a constructive outlook lead to a more effective way of responding to those who disagree with us? It’s at least an attempt to be a part of the solution, rather than the problem.
What is there to lose? Is our current culture of denunciation and vilification leading toward a better world?
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the walk,
Jim


[1] Secular, not in rejection of God, Scripture or Christianity, but rather, in rejection of what was deemed a distortion of God, Scripture and Christianity. In other words, a rejection of the institutionalization of Christianity.

[2] A description coined by Thomas G. Bandy in Christian Chaos and other of his writings.