Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The pagan church. . .

“The appearance of the church in the modern era shows that in a completely new way it has become a church of pagans, and increasingly so: no longer, as it once was, a church made up of pagans who have become Christians, but a church of pagans, who still call themselves Christian, but have really become pagans.  Paganism is entrenched today in the church itself. That is the mark both of the church of our time and also of the new paganism. This paganism is actually in the church and a church in whose heart paganism lives.” — Joseph Ratzinger (Hochland, October 1958)

Imagine that.  Joseph Ratzinger wrote those words more than 60 years ago.  Long before any Christians promoted the acceptance of homosexuality, agitated for the redefinition of marriage and family, advocated a liberal sexual morality, adopted the new categories of gender identity, or welcomed the freedom of choice in which babies might be killed in the womb.  Long before it became commonplace for any Christian to publicly disagree with what the Bible says, the creeds confess, or the liturgy prays and still be a member in good standing.  Long before poll and survey meant more about what any church believed or taught than its formal confessional documents.

Ratzinger had his finger on it.  It is not a simple matter of liberalizing or modernizing the faith as much as it is the wholesale adoption of positions and beliefs that once would be considered pagan.  It is probably not very popular for positions and leaders of the Church to be labelled as such but the word fits -- we live at a time in which pagans who publicly disavow the faith live side by side with the faithful -- seemingly without challenge or consequence.

The English have a way of satire which makes you both laugh and wince at the same time.  


The line there that jumps out to me is that politicians want to speak on moral issues while bishops want to speak on political issues.  When we justify politics in the name of religion, we often tend to distort and betray the very truth we seek to protect.  The other line that is worth pondering is what happens when God is an optional extra to the Church's life and work?

How many books have been written by those who present themselves as the voice of the Church only to contradict the clear teaching of Scripture, violate the sacred tradition handed down over the years, and empty the Church of any conviction except social or political?  How many of those entrusted with the solemn offices that oversee doctrine and practice stand down or join in those who proudly reject the Christian faith when that faith is unpopular, misunderstood, or rejected by the public square?  Is there such a thing as being too faithful?  Because there seems to be no consequence for being less than faithful.  If that was true already in 1958, it has not become less true in 2021.

The call of God is not for us to understand Him or to speak where He has not spoken or even to consent to His will and ways.  The call of God is for us to be faithful -- faithful to His Word, faithful to the sacred deposit once delivered to the saint, faithful in confession and witness -- for such faithfulness is ultimately not to a thing or an idea but to Christ Himself.  The byword of our era is diversity and yet such a word implies and even compels diminishing the exclusive revelation and truth of Jesus Christ and allowing the Word of God to become merely another unfounded idea among a sea of unfounded ideas.  The profound challenge before us lies in the great temptation to turn Christianity into another farce of a diversity that stands for everything and therefore for nothing, a pagan religion which accepts as equal the truths of competing religions, the feelings of the heart, and the judgement of reason.  The replacement of Christianity with a faith that is unsure of its truth, uncertain of its doctrine, and unwilling to risk bucking the political and social orders of the day is exactly what we face.  Radical faithfulness is no longer an option, it is our only means of survival in the midst of a pagan culture than has sadly found a home within the Church of Jesus Christ.


Samual said...

This is a great article. Thank you, Pastor.

Fr. D+
Continuing Anglican Priest

Anonymous said...

I think it important to note the distinction that Lewis makes in God in the Dock:

When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, “Would that she were.” For I do not think it at all likely that we shall ever see Parliament opened by the slaughtering of a garlanded white bull in the House of Lords or Cabinet Ministers leaving sandwiches in Hyde Park as an offering for the Dryads. If such a state of affairs came about, then the Christian apologist would have something to work on. For a Pagan, as history shows, is a man eminently convertible to Christianity. He is essentially the pre-Christian, or sub-Christian, religious man. The post-Christian man of our day differs from him as much as a divorcée differs from a virgin.

Prof. Ratzinger is not speaking here about paganism but apostasy, from which it is our duty as Christians to disfellowship ourselves--and which to do we must at least be able to make judgments on churches in that regard. Apostasy, to be sure, often manifests itself in pagan practice, which leads to confusion about how it should be identified, but it has an entirely different heart. There is no "innocence" of the faith in it, only hatred of it. One can only renounce something he knows. The phenomenon is clearly described in Hebrews vi. 4-8, and it is something we need to pay especial attention to these days when we are being urged from every side to piously reconcile with apostates as a requirement of Christian charity. Spirits need to be tested, and decisions need to be made on the results.

I believe there are relatively few pagans today, or at least far fewer than we may be tempted to think. Those we do meet from day to day are far from the churches, displaced from them by at least several generations of unbelief. They knew not Joseph; they in fact have never really heard anything about him but rumors of his existence--enough, at least, to blaspheme. But they are not Catholics or Presbyterians or Lutherans who have liberalized: that's apostasy. While we cannot judge men's souls so cannot say with finality whether hope has expired for anyone, I think it important to keep in our deliberations a distinction that is evidently made by God, and to which C. S. Lewis is pointing in this passage.