I came to a final point of faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 34. I was raised in a Christian and faithful home. My father is a Protestant pastor, my parents missionaries in Africa (formerly) and my entire background until after seminary was in Protestantism. I’ve told this story before so won’t repeat it again. I’ve been struggling recently (thus the silence on this page) with something.
When I first began to deeply study and absorb the Bible, I was struck by how different the Faith described by Jesus in the Gospels and the Apostles in the Epistles was from my own experience of Christianity. The way of life and belief espoused by Holy Scripture was nowhere close to what I had lived. That dichotomy only increased as I began to read the Church Fathers and study the ancient Church. I realized very quickly that the Faith and practice of the early Church was nothing like the modern lived experience of American Christianity.
So, I went looking for the Church. I wanted to know if there were any Christians left who held fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Someone asked me one time, “When will this end for you, where will you be happy?” My reply was, “When I find the faith and practice of the Apostolic Church, the Church that Jesus Christ founded.” That desire burns more deeply in my heart today than ever before.
Like most people who claim to be Christians, where we live was deeply affected by the so-called lockdowns during the so-called pandemic of Covid-19. I really don’t want to get too much into a discussion on this but what I will say is this. The modern Church (I’m painting with a broad brush here) is largely cowardly. Especially the American Catholic Church. The cowardice and cowering of our bishops to the oppressive conduct of state and federal governments is inexcusable.
The Church does not bow to the state. Period.
In fact, if we believe what our Lord Jesus said, all power and authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18-20), then the only authority that governs the Church is the authority of Christ the King. Not a president. Not a governor. Not a city council member. The Lord Jesus is the King and we bow to none but Him. For our Church leaders to bow to the state is a dereliction of their duties as shepherds of the Church of Christ. This was all done, of course, in the name of health and safety and “for the common good.” This is, of course, a nonsensical argument and only serves to illustrate my point. What could serve the common good more: running in fear from a virus or standing firm on our faith and proclaiming that the condition of our souls matters more than the condition of our bodies?
Our Church leaders are acting like they don’t believe in the resurrection. Think about this for a moment. The fear exhibited by our bishops and by the faithful (most of us anyway) has shown us where our true priorities lie and where our true belief is. If we believe in the resurrection and the promises of our Lord Jesus, then we would fear nothing. But, our reaction to this so-called pandemic has shown quite glaringly that the faith once for all delivered to the saints has been largely lost in the haze of the modern world. If you believe something, then your actions show that belief. What have our actions shown to the world what we believe?
This brings me back to my original statement that the modern lived experience of the Church today, for the most part, is entirely divorced from the faith and practice of our holy forebears. Let me bring this a little closer to home. Vatican II came about because the Catholic Church (or at least the loudest voices in the room) felt that we needed to modernize the faith to meet the conditions and situation of the modern man. The Pope at the time, John XXIII, famously said that we needed to “throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.” I’m not sure what that means but I think we can all see the outcome of this. Faith has largely been lost (at least in the Roman Catholic Church). Rather than the “fresh air of the spirit” blowing through the Church, the modern world with all its heretical beliefs and pagan practices has invaded and infected the Church. To be fair, this has been going on in one form or another since the beginning.
The problem is that the premise is wrong. The Church should never adapt to the modern world. I’m not talking about using vernacular language or using air conditioning or technology or any other silly thing I’ve heard people say. I’m talking about the beliefs and practice of those of us who call Jesus our Lord. To say that doctrine “develops” over time is flatly untrue. The Faith once for all delivered to the saints does not “develop.” The Faith may be explored more deeply and our experience of it peeled back layer and by layer; farther out and deeper in, as the saying goes. But there is no “development” of doctrine. Either it is what all Christians have believed for all times in all places or it is not.
The deposit of the Faith does not and has not changed since our Lord Jesus walked among us.
Let me give you a recent example. Pope Francis recently gave a statement that the Church cannot and will not endorse same sex “marriage.” That statement created quite an uproar apparently. The point is not the uproar the statement created. The point is this: why in the world would the Pope even need to make this statement? This statement is entirely unnecessary if the Church were actually being the Church. If the deposit of the Faith were being guarded and kept as it should be, this statement would never have to be made.
I heard an Orthodox priest recently say (paraphrased) that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). That means that the Church should be the same yesterday, today and forever. The Body takes after the Head. He went on to say that we cannot alter the Church Herself but rather, the Church alters us.
I wonder. Can we honestly say that is true today? Does the Body take after the Head? Have we allowed ourselves to be altered by the Church or have we altered the Church? It is not Christ who has changed. It is not the deposit of the Faith that has changed.
Maybe we are the problem, not the Church.
Pray, brothers and sisters, for me as I seek the face of our Lord in His Church. Pray that we would return to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Let us repent of our arrogance and love of the world. Repent and believe was the cry of the Apostles. Let it be, again, our cry.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Why do you serve God? Why do you go to Church on Sunday, maybe even pray a few times each week, before meals and tithe, among other things? Why do you do that?
You may say, “Because I am a Christian.” Okay. And?
You may say, “Because I have faith in Jesus.” Okay. And?
You may say, “Because the Church tells me to.” Or, “That’s how I was raised.”
Or you may say, “Because I want to be a good person.” Okay. And?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all those things are wrong. But still the question remains.
Why do you serve God?
I recently heard a reflection on this topic given by Father Irenei, an Archimandrite in the Russian Orthodox Church. He was interacting with a text by St. Cyprian of Carthage. I found the topic to be compelling and Fr. Irenei’s insights to be helpful. And the source of St. Cyprian’s reflection was a story from the Old Testament that has often confused many people. But it brought to mind some things I want to reflect on and offer for your own reflection and taking to God in prayer.
First, go and read Genesis 4:1-17. It is the story of Cain and Abel, their sacrifice to God, Abel’s murder and Cain’s exile. I remember, even during and after seminary, wrestling with this text a bit and not really knowing what to do with it. I mean, the Biblical narrative is rather stark and doesn’t give us much reason for things. It just says that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, and Cain’s was not. I remember thinking, “Ok but why?”
And Cain is angry. And then we have this exchange between God and Cain,
“And the Lord said to him: Why art thou angry? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? but if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? but the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it.”
God tries to correct Cain’s attitude. He basically says to Cain that he (Cain) has no right to be angry. He is, after all, God. As He reminds us, in Exodus 33:19, while speaking with Moses,
“He answered: I will shew thee all good, and I will proclaim in the name of the Lord before thee: and I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please me.”
I will have mercy on whom I will…
And then God says to Cain, “If thou do well, shalt thou not receive?”
Receive what Cain was after all along. What God wanted to give him, Cain did not wish to receive on God’s terms. Cain wasn’t after the blessing of God because he loved God. Cain was after justification of the validity of his offering. It’s like he’s saying, “Why shouldn’t God accept this?” Fr. Irenei is helpful here. He says, “…his brother (Cain) offers in contrivance: he seeks gain.... like Cain, do we offer begrudgingly? Do we offer out of a sense of entitlement that shall come from our gift? Do we offer out of a sense of duty that must be met? Do we present our gifts to the Lord, expecting a response from him? And more than this, a certain, specific response that we desire?”
In other words, do we treat God like a cosmic slot machine? Do we try to put good in in order to get good out? That’s called “karma” and is a Buddhist idea, not a Christian one.
This story is one of sacrifice so you may be tempted to say that has nothing to do with why we serve God. Doesn’t it? Our service to God is indeed our sacrifice to God.
Again, to quote Fr. Irenei, “Because Abel knew how to sacrifice in purity, how to offer in love, freely and without condition, how to present to God what was his, of his own, without expectation, without defense, so it was that Abel was able to offer himself as a sacrifice to God. Worthily did he become a sacrifice in his own person to the Lord, offering his blood, the first example of martyrdom.”
Ah, there we have it. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because of the heart behind it. Abel’s offering was an offering of love, freely given, without condition, without expectation, without defense because God is worthy of our love and the sacrifice of our lives given freely, without condition, without expectation and without defense. He is worthy because of who He is.
He’s not interested in our half-hearted religious gestures. In fact, He says, in Amos 5:21-23,
“I hate, and have rejected your festivities: and I will not receive the odour of your assemblies. And if you offer me holocausts, and your gifts, I will not receive them: neither will I regard the vows of your fat beasts. Take away from me the tumult of thy songs: and I will not hear the canticles of thy harp.”
But why? Why won’t God receive our religious gestures, even if we do it, like Cain, out of a sense of duty or begrudgingly or with entitlement or expectation? Because He’s not interested in our service just for the sake of service to Him. As the Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 50:18-19,
“For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
The sacrifice that God wants of our lives in a contrite and humble heart, a heart that gives to Him out of love for Him.
Do we really think it was duty that held Christ on the cross? Do we believe that Christ went to the cross begrudgingly, with entitlement or expectation?
No, He went to the cross out of love. He loved. He loved you. He loved me. He loved the whole of the human race and could not stand the thought of us not being reconciled to the Father. Christ sacrificed out of love, from a pure heart, freely given, without condition, without expectation, without defense; a new and better Abel. Just as the blood of Abel cried out to God for vengeance, so the blood of Christ cries out to God for mercy.
Mercy in a never-ending flow of blood from the pierced hands and feet and side of our Saviour who hung on the tree of salvation for you and me. Let us throw our lives at the foot of the cross of the Saviour as a sacrifice given out of love for the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever and ever! Amen!