Friday, June 17, 2016

So much sadness when one departs the faith. . .

Anthony Sacramone is an author whom I have much enjoyed over the years.  From Strange Herring to First Things to simply Anthony Sacramone, he has delighted us with wit, with curiosity, with erudite thinking, and with honest questions.  That said, I am sad to report that he has left the faith and abandoned all thought of God and religion.
Since roughly 2001 I’ve been writing about religion—specifically Christianity, more specifically my journey from Lutheran acolyte to teen skeptic to evangelical to wanna-be Catholic to Lutheran again. The links below reflect as much a struggle with what constitutes the Faith as they do an affirmation of that faith. Some time in 2015, however, that struggle ended, pretty much where it began in my teens, in utter skepticism.
One day, should enough people care, and the proper venue provide itself, I will attempt a more thoroughgoing explanation of what happened, of the internal revolution that has left me with no more confidence that the New Testament is reliable, inspired, true, or “inerrant” than I do that astrology, Marxism, or the Happy Healthy Vegan Kitchen is reliable, inspired, true, or inerrant.  If you are surprised or stunned by that last sentence, believe this: no more than I.
 If you want his whole story, you can read it here. . .

For what it is worth, he is not alone in wanting a sanitized version of Christianity, without competing claims, without competing denominations, without questions, and without doubts.  We would all love that.  But that is not what we have.  We have a messy history of sinners who have repackaged God's Word with their own intellectual wonderings and presuppositions.  We have a messy church complete with sinners who are intent upon excusing and justifying their own sins while they demonize and highlight the sinners of others.  We have a messy life of faith in which doubts, fears, and temptations constantly assault our faith complete with the powerhouse of evil and its demonic force to wrest the kingdom from us.  What we have is not a nice neat story or a Scripture without debate or a holy church of righteous people.  We have the Savior who redeems us and the Spirit who leads us to the Father and to our restored relationship with our Creator.  We have the Church where Christ has made Himself known and accessible through the means of grace.  The ever present question in the mind of every Christian is, is this enough?

If I were to fault Mr. Sacramone or others whose intellect and reading have helped to encourage the doubts, it would be the complaint about giving into the skepticism of modernity and into the presumption of intellectual progress that thinks we are better placed to question truth than those who went before us.  I believe Mr. Sacramone deposits too much weight to the intellect and gives too much deference to reason and a reasoned truth behind the revelation.  Reason need not be an enemy of faith but it usually is.  They say that the last part of us to be converted is our wallets.  I think the wallet is easy to reach than the curiosity of the mind and its design for a thoroughly reasonable and logical God, Church, and faith.  While we yearn for consistency and clarity in truth, history, Scripture, morality, and righteousness, we have only the consistency of the God yesterday, today, and forever the same to hold onto as our anchor of hope.

No one can read themselves into believing.  The Spirit is the key to faith.  Sacramone knew this once as a Lutheran (Luther's explanation to the Third Article of the Creed remains pivotal in this:  I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.)  We can certainly read and think ourselves out of the faith but it is the Spirit who imparts this faith to us, who keeps us in this faith, and who will deliver us blameless before the throne of God on the day of judgment.

I grieve for those who once knew with joy the promise of the resurrection along with the gift of forgiveness but now are empty of faith and hardened to the Spirit and belief.  Jesus Himself spoke of this when describing the seed of the Word and its various soils.  If not the cares and concerns of this day, then the curiosity of the intellect and the presumption of reason will eventually choke off and kill the budding faith the Spirit has planted -- unless we are willing to trust what our eyes cannot see, what our minds cannot comprehend, and what our reason finds eminently unreasonable.  Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.  I know of no more urgent and practical prayer than this.

Yet I am not as willing as Mr. Sacramone to consign his faith once confessed as aberration and history.  God is not finished with us yet.  If you know him and are part of the household of faith, pray for him.  If you do not know him, pray for him and for all those who have reasoned themselves out of believing, choosing the certainty of doubt over the confidence of faith.  They are many.  They are friends and family, sons and daughters.  We have surely disappointment them with our petty squabbles over insignificant things and our casual attitude toward the profound truths of God's Word.  We have bickered ourselves into camps that compete as if it were a game in which God will smile upon the smartest and smuggest of us all.  We have forgotten or chosen not to acknowledge the catholic faith over the whim of the moment and made feelings the highest measures of faith and life in Christ against the means of grace themselves.  We have handed God, faith, and the Church to our brightest and most intellectually gifted people as if these were projects of our own creation and refinement.  We are to blame for this but this is not the ultimate reason why people fall from faith.

People fall from faith because they choose to see with eyes more than faith, with the reason of the mind rather than captivity to the Word, and because they allow skepticism and doubts more room in them than the Spirit who works faith in us.  Mr. Sacramone has the intellectual honesty to admit that his path from faith has been fueled by authors, skeptics, and deniers who have published their doubts as if they were the truest of truths and have laid all of this at the doorstep of unbelief rather than surrendering them to the cross and to the Spirit.  There but for the grace of God go most of us.

Ultimately I believe not because I choose to, but because I have no choice.  I am captive to the confines of this mortal life and subject to death.  I have watched my loved ones die in my presence and I burn for hope that this is not the mere measure of their existence.  I am fearful of the darkness within my heart and the evils I cannot control and am compelled by this fear to seek Him who is greater than my sins, my wicked thoughts, my selfish desires, and my dalliance before the altar of pleasure.  I am a Christian because I have no other place to go.  Like Peter of old, I have surveyed the landscape of humanity, the timeline of history, the choices around me.  You, Lord, have the words of eternal life.  So here I am.  My doubts in hand, my fears following behind, and my limitations painfully acknowledged.  God have mercy upon me, a sinner. 


Janis Williams said...

We are a messy Church when we believe and a "messed up" Church when we leave the faith. I think many have left the faith, but stayed in a congregation.

While we who believe tread water, we must focus on Christ, and not on the waters around us.

Anonymous said...

I pray God will lead him out of this dark place and restore him. On the surface, it sounds like he was led astray by a misplaced idealism that the enemy used to misdirect and deceive the good gifts of intellect and reason that God gave to him. Dante's Inferno has a sobering section that describes this dynamic and how easy it is for pride to seduce our intellect and reason. Pride deceives the intellect and uses reason to stand in judgement of God and leads us to rebel against Him. Humility recognizes he is our Creator and that we have both creaturely and fallen natures that limit our ability to understand God and his mysteries. Pride is a huge danger to us in all aspects of our temporal lives.

FWIW, I am an orthodox Lutheran and recently read 'The Inferno' in Mark Muser's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. I read it from a Lutheran perspective and with the guidance to read 'The Inferno' for a better understanding of the nature of sin and its dynamics. I highly recommend it as a profitable read when approached that way.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Church "politics" can often be messy. When Lutheranism became a "state" church in Germany centuries ago, many conflicts arose. Some of those conflicts caused the early leaders of the LCMS to hire 3 ships to depart from the Deutchland for America. I wish we could focus primarily on the Bible and the core fundamentals of our faith, and let the less important issues be worked out along the lines of Christian Liberty. Full unity is elusive, if not almost impossible for human institutions.