Friday, March 11, 2016

A good quote is hard to find. . . apologies to Flannery O'Connor

Martin Mosebach:  In the West it is believed, among both Christians and atheists, that religion can be allowed to pass away into philanthropy and human rights.  But Christianity does not want to propose solutions for overcoming social difficulties; it wants to lead the individual person into the presence of the living God.  (First Things, While We're At It, quoted by R. R. Reno)

Now there is something I wish I had written!  But how very accurate and precise it is.  On so many sides Christianity in the West has cast off the restraints of doctrine and truth and become mere moral indignation at the social ills that have and continue to plague us along with the advocacy for social justice that presumes its knows how to make everything better.  Of course, all the while enjoying the game of play acting at the liturgy and making for a good show (on the liturgical side, at least) and pandering to the basic desires of folks for self-improvement (on the evangelical side).

Long ago some in Christendom began to shed historicity and truth in favor of an imagined Jesus (since the one from history, if he existed, could no longer be known for certainty).  When it seemed an imaginary Jesus was not enough, the old saw of moral improvement soon supplemented the vague spirituality of a God who might not really have existed at all and probably not now anyway.  Now the liberal side of Christianity is left largely with the philanthropic vision and has manifested the goal of our lives in Christ to be mere do gooders in the pursuit of a kinder, gentler, fairer, and richer life.  But that was possible a long time ago and without much help from Christianity.

I heard forever the tired old statistic that if we just gave up what we spend on soda (pop for you Northerners), we could provide clean water and nutritious food for every man, woman, and child in need.  But we don't.  We don't give up what we want -- not for Lent and not for anyone and certainly not for a good cause.  Nobody needs the Christian Church to stop hunger in its tracks.  A few decisions made differently and we would have the resources to fix the problem.  Lord knows, we have thrown money at the war on poverty for longer than I can remember and have not eradicated the issue!

We do not need Christianity to fix such ills.  We could if we wanted.  Neither do we need Christianity to guilt us into good causes we don't find personally attractive or compelling.  Hollywood does a bang up job of telling us what we ought to be for and what we ought to be against and shaming us into the elite idea of right.  See how quickly we went from gay being a description of a happy, carefree individual into a sexual identity with full and equal right and privilege to "straight" people.  The media led us and the cause became law (even when some were not so sure the threat of intimidation has been enough to silent those on the fence).  So we don't need the Church to do these things.

But there is one thing and one thing only that the Church can do.  She leads us into the presence of God through the means of grace.  That none of us can do without the agency of the Church and the ministry of the Gospel.  I am not suggesting that the Church stop caring for those in need or shutting up the food pantries or feeding services in every village, town, and city.  Not at all.  But we cannot afford to do these to the exclusion of our one purpose exclusive to the domain of the Church -- revealing God where He has promised to be in the Word and Sacraments, doing what He has promised to do in forgiving our sins and saving us from death. 

Mosebach got it just right.  Christianity is a poor philanthropy and a lukewarm kingdom builder for an improved humanity.  But as those who know God in Christ and who make Him known in the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, well, there the Church shines like the sun. 

1 comment:

Ted Badje said...

The great gifts of the means of grace aside, it is noteworthy to mention the influence of the Church in setting up schools and hospitals in third world countries, and its role in the abolition of slavery to those who aren't well versed in history.