Monday, April 24, 2023

Our disdain for submission. . .

Self-expression has become the most distinctive aspect of our personality and lives.  We view this as the most important value of all and it has almost become our definition for liberty.  In all the furor over what the government is going to do about the app TikTok, I heard a twenty something woman insist that she did not care about privacy or what China knew about her and her life.  What was most important to her was both her own self-expression through the videos on that platform and her right to view the self-expression of others.  It is certainly no different from the Frank Sinatra singing his signature song I've Gotta to Be Me (though it was written by Sammy Davis, Jr.).  Another age, to be sure, but the same sentiment.  Right or wrong does not matter but self-expression matters most of all.

It is no wonder then that we wade into thorny issues by talking about submission.  Men don't want to submit to other men, much less women, and nobody wants to submit to employers or laws or rules of any kind.  I've gotta be me.  The body has become a canvas for our self-expression and not only the clothing we wear but cosmetic surgery, tattoos, piercings, and make up.  It is not for women anymore.  Men are jumping on the bandwagon of promoting their bodies as a means of expressing who they are.  Women certainly do not want to submit to men and find it hard to defer to other women as well.  They use all the tools at their disposal to look like what they want to look like -- even if that look was in the past associated with men.  I've gotta be me.  Children do not want to be taught at home or in school but want their educational institutions to be places of self-expression.  Uniformity and even unity are suspect at best and despised at worst.  I've gotta be me.  Even the military, once the bastion of rules and order, has been forced to tolerate and even encourage diversity and self-expression.  Where the military once lagged behind society in general, the military today is often used as the place to try out social engineering plans.I've gotta be me.

In the Church it is no different.  People do not like to be told what to do there anymore than the rest of society.  Scripture must say different things to different people at different times and no one can tell me that what I think it says is wrong.  Spirituality is no longer the fruit of our lives together around the means of grace but it is our own individual domain and one largely of self-expression rather than any kind of submission.  It has become offensive to suggest that it is given only to pastors to do certain things in the Church and worship has become an arena for our self-expression or where we are entertained by the self-expression of others.  Morality is the most prominent avenue of self-expression but truth itself has fallen victim to the same tyranny of self.  There is no truth but my truth or the truth I allow.  The doctrinal authority of our creeds and confessions has come under the same constraint placed upon Scripture and so we are either offended by the judgments of those who came before us or dismiss them out of hand.

Pastors are no different.  I am no different.  We do not want to allow for the fact that we might be wrong or that we owe to others some measure of consideration or respect.  We all enjoy the localization of Church into the congregation because it means we can live in our own little worlds.  It works as long we find enough people who agree with us.  We elect as our leaders those who will allow us this freedom and we are deeply suspicious of those who represent a threat to this self-expression -- even those with whom we agree.  We tend to dogmatic toward others and focus on what we disagree with more than what unites us.  

All of this is, of course, the way of sin.  It is the recapitulation of Eden over and over and over again.  The ongoing war within us is not simply between the voice of the devil and the voice of God but our own hearts still seeking our own ways and still trying to use the voice of God to legitimize and give cover for our independence.  We are all fighting the same battle.  It is not unique to women in relation to their husbands or children in relation to their parents but all of us in relation to Christ.  We love when He invites us to cast off our heavy burdens and come to Him but we mistake His invitation to be the opportunity to cast off submission itself.  We scratch our heads when He tells us that we must hate everyone and even self, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him.  Where in that picture is there room for me to be me?  We thought that the freedom Christ was giving was the liberty to express ourselves fully and without restraint but then comes St. Paul and his talk of self-denial, self-control, and living the new life we have in Christ.  

All of this highlights the importance of confession and absolution.  This sacramental gift and blessing is the grace we need to confront that sinful will and desire to elevate self-expression to the highest good and to learn submission to God's Word and will as the truest freedom of all.  It is both the forgiveness that restores us when our will's lead us where we should not go and the discipline of confession is the constant reminder of what happens when we listen to our hearts instead of God's Word.

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