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Friday, October 25, 2013

What do you do then?

We read this section from a letter of Polycarp to the Philippians yesterday, and it stirred up lots of feelings and some thoughts:

"(7)To deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to be Antichrist (1Jn 4:2-3) To contradict the evidence of the Cross is to be of the devil. And to pervert the Lord's words to suit our wishes, by asserting that there are no such things as resurrection or judgment, is to be a first-begotten son of Satan. So let us  have no more of this nonsense from the gutter, and these lying doctrines, and turn back again to the Word originally delivered to us."

Polycarp was a disciple of John, who was a disciple of Jesus. Pause to let that sink in... He said that John was dismissive of heretics and Polycarp was equally so (he called  Marcion a first born son of Satan to his face). Those of us who read the Fathers regularly find ourselves encountering this type of strong language. It has an impact, then, on how we view and interact with "the children of Marcion" in our own age.

There is a long-standing tendency to see Christianity as "being nice" (recall in the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's Auntie Em when confronted by the mean woman about Toto said that she couldn't say what she wanted to because she was a Christian woman). CS Lewis makes this same point in Mere Christianity (dating to 1942). While the word 'nice' does not occur in any Bible I have read, there are certainly sections of Scripture which can be used to make the argument that we are to be patient, kind, merciful, respectful, humble, etc.---and that can end up looking pretty "nice."

The problem is, there are people perverting the Word to suit their wishes, and there is gutter nonsense being preached and taught in churches, and there are heretics who have wormed their way into pulpits and national church offices and all manner of positions of authority. Being "nice" to heresy and heretics can easily devolve into support of heresy and heretics. It is to become one yourself. Yet, it is also true that those errors and sins are already in my heart and must be ruthlessly uprooted and destroyed in order for me to live. Job one is my own conversion. Still, to ignore heresy in the wider church is to sit idle waving to folks on a path that leads to death; which may look nice but it isn't. So what then do you do?

Culture/Religious wars have raged for decades, and one might ask to what end? The death toll has been low physically, but spiritually there are lots of casualties. I carry my own wounds and I inflicted many based on feedback I received. I think many of the issues are very important and I know doing nothing only emboldens the liars to continue to lie. However, as a catholic fellow I am keenly aware that my "conservative" evangelical allies would have taken me to the stake in days gone by, before the "Liberal/Modernist Christian became the number one enemy; and I am aware that yesterday's foe can become today's friend and I wonder if tomorrow some of those with whom I lock horns might become a compatriot. One has to stand for the truth and one has to submit to God's Word if one wants to follow Jesus faithfully. Is fighting others part of the deal?

Well taking a stand may not be best expressed as fighting (Yes I know Paul fought the good fight...). The problem with fighting is the tendency to 'project.' We demonize the opposition (see Polycarp's words above). We ignore the truth or goodness in them and ignore the error and evil in ourselves. As much as the white and black hats of mythic cowboy stories is a helpful guide in understanding right and wrong, in real life cowboys are not purely one or the other. This does not mean all things are morally equivalent and it does not mean that St. Francis and Adolph Hitler are the same. However, it does mean that war damages the souls of participants and "fighting for Jesus" can be just as devastating to one's holiness as any other war because one can be blind to the fact that it isn't always Jesus which I am really fighting for. Lots of times it is me and my opinions. And lots of times it is a value system which is contrary to Jesus. And sometimes I just plain want to win the debate (okay, not sometime, all the time...).

I do believe there are people who are Antichrist and I have met and interacted with people who are 'of the devil' in what they teach and believe. I am not slow to identify such things, either. However, war seduces us to destroy and hate. And we are blind to that in ourselves. We are blind to our sin. We are blind to our error. We are blind to so much and blind guys in a war can create lots of collateral damage.

So what then to do? Polycarp provides an answer in the next paragraph:

"(8) Let us never relax our grasp on the Hope and Pledge of our righteousness; I mean Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in his own body on the tree; who did not sin, neither was guile in his mouth (1Peter2:22,24), who steadfastly endured all things for our sakes, that we might have life in Him. Let us imitate that patient endurance of His; and if we do have to suffer for His Name's sake, why then, let us give glory to Him. For that is the example He set for us in His own person, and in which we have learnt to put our faith."

What do you do then? It begins with trusting the Triune God, being faithful in love and truth, being willing to take a stand for Jesus and all the while loving those who see things differently--even if they are mean and hurtful--being more focused on worship, thanks and praise and embracing the cross.  It means suffering. Suffering, like Jesus, not inflicting pain, like a normal person wants to in a war. So if you are on the cross you are in the right place, and if you are holding a hammer and nails be aware that you are a victim of war and in the name of truth you have embraced the lie, in the name of faith, you have rejected the Lord.

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