Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Benedict Option. . .

It is no secret that Christians have their "moral majority."  We hear over and over again that we are living in a post-Christian world in which culture is not merely suspicious of Christian values but has rejected them and even demonized them as intolerable.  As a result, Christians are finding it harder and harder to do business in the marketplace, to utilize secular educational institutions, to enter the political arena, and even to choose certain professions without also choosing to be silent about their beliefs.  Even when they are silent about those religious beliefs, some find their choice of church to be itself offensive (if that church holds to doctrine that violates certain beliefs that the culture has found offensive).

It is not only Christian bakers and florists who have been under fire recently.  The future is quickly shaping up to where those in medical careers will be required to assist in abortions (especially of those diagnosed in the womb with disabilities), participate in physician assisted suicides, and even euthanize those whose lives are no longer considered worth living. If there are those who think that this is a radical conclusion, think how quickly the movement for same sex marriage went from the fringes to law imposed by the SCOTUS.  Clearly, the playing field is ever changing.  Even the election of a President who is more friendly toward the protection of certain Christian positions will not end the move of culture toward a show down with Christian values and beliefs.

So what do we do?  Finding refuge somewhere sounds attractive but where?  The idea of a monastic community is no more than an idea for nearly all of us.  Some are promoting what is called the "Benedict Option."  This is a call to organized resistance, to the creation of a Christian movement, a counter culture shaped by order and discipline, prayer and worship, work, asceticism (in response to the vapid consumerism around us), stability, community, and hospitality -- as well as holding faith against the tide.  In other words, we must respond with something more than "no."  This, with other voices, have raised the cause of a "Benedict Option" and created a vibrant dialog among Christians over how, indeed, we ought to respond to our world increasingly unfriendly to Scripture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the most vocal and reasoned case for this is Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option.  In it he calls Christians wherever they live and work to “form a vibrant counterculture” by cultivating practices and communities that takes seriously that our citizenship is in heaven and that we as Christians have no need to "prop up the current order.”  We know that this age is passing away, that God's kingdom is not the rehabilitation of this world but a new heaven and a new earth.  This is far from a retreat but consists of the Church being who the Church is supposed to be, Christians being who we say we are.
We are only trying to build a Christian way of life that stands as an island of sanctity and stability amid the high tide of liquid modernity. We are not looking to create heaven on earth; we are simply looking for a way to be strong in faith through a time of great testing. 
The Church has always been an ark.  Christians have always been citizens of another kingdom and pilgrims here on earth.  We dream like we have always stood at a distance from the world and its own culture but the truth is that we have been an integral part of that culture -- until it becomes no longer tenable, that is how we feel most comfortable.  We are as much creatures of our world as those whom we demonize.  This is the indictment of a church which has grown so comfortable with the world that we would rather compromise to get along than to stand up and stand firm in "the biblical story and practices that keep us firmly rooted on the truths of that story in a world that wants to obscure them and make us forget."

Dreher cautions against an isolationism in which we retreat but offers instead a different view of the way we engage those around us.  The Church has always been an ark but we are also a well spring of the living water and give witness to the hope within us.  The two themes of faithfulness and engagement (not on the culture's terms but on the terms of the faith and the Church) must coexist.   The Church is, after all, the place where in baptism we die to the old life marked by sin and rise to become the new people God has declared us to be.  The church is the place where same water kills, gives life.  In that life, we literally “drown our old selves” through daily repentance and strive to show forth the good works that glorify God and serve our neighbor (even though they contribute nothing to our salvation).

In an age in which we Christians have grown accustom the work of mercy being done by government agencies on the government payroll, it is good for us to remember that the unique mark of Christian engagement is mercy work that reflects the noble values and virtues of our Lord and not simply the policing of the world's sins with our collective conscience.

In any case, his work, with the recent books of Archbishop Charles Chaput and Anthony Esolen have provided much fodder for us as we seek to find away through a world increasingly intolerant of what we believe, confess, and teach.


Mark said...

This is the indictment of a church which has grown so comfortable with the world that we would rather compromise to get along than to stand up and stand firm in "the biblical story and practices that keep us firmly rooted on the truths of that story in a world that wants to obscure them and make us forget."

The culture of the Western Church has devolved into an institution that appeals more to la féminité than to twenty- and thirty-something men.

This video is a good example of how the “Church” drives men, especially younger men, away:

How can the Church be taken seriously when it doesn’t take itself seriously? Young millennial generation men have better things to do with their time. Middle-aged and senior men are not nearly as underrepresented as are millennial generation men who can do without the tenuous nature of church authority and doctrine, unless, of course, it tends to meet their needs and affirms them in their life-style. I remember dropping out in my twenties for many reasons, one of which was a lack of perceived relevance which ultimately comes back to teaching and knowing what we believe and confess and why, and never compromising the message even if some are put off by it. Something to actually die for.

Kirk Skeptic said...

Dreher's analysis must be tempered but he actual state of our churches, all too many of which are shark tanks and, as mentioned above, hyperestrogenic. ISTM the starting point of any Christian resistance is catechesis of all members.