Modernity and the Church
It has become very apparent that our modern world, in many ways, is the enemy of a pious Christian life. I know that sounds outrageous to many people. When I talk about this with most people, even those who claim to be Christian, they mostly look at me like I have three heads. Consider with me if you will our lives in today’s world.
We are quite possibly the most distracted people in the history of humanity. That probably sounds hyperbolic, but I really don’t think it is. From the moment we rise in the morning until we close our eyes at night, we are bombarded. Our minds and hearts are in a constant state and world of noise and entertainment. Our so-called smart phones think for us. Rather, they constantly keep our minds and hearts dulled with an endless barrage of nonsense. Social media dictates our ideas to us and implants in us a worldview and lifestyle that is not only not true but is indeed harmful to our souls.
Our televisions stay on close to around the clock. From that screen, images are burned into our psyche and messages are planted in our brains that literally change the way we think. Propaganda is the norm. We are “taught” by our TVs that homosexuality and transgenderism and all the other “wokeness” is not only attractive and cool but normal and not something that should be questioned. We are given an image of what our lives should be like, how we should speak to others and how we should spend our money and time. Rarely, if ever, are these images those of the life of Christ or His Church. And if they are, the images we mostly see of Christians is either comedic and ridiculous or painted as either ignorant or “behind the times.” Christianity is not portrayed as something attractive or beautiful or fulfilling.
If we are really honest with ourselves, even the behavior of most who claim to be Christian in the modern world is a little fuzzy at best. Most modern people who call themselves Christian will openly say they have no problem with homosexuality or promiscuity or whatever else is corrupting our society. They tacitly approve of sin with expressions like, “It’s none of my business,” or, “You do you,” or, “Follow your heart.” And the worst is, “You have to follow your truth,” as if Truth were something that is entirely subjective and up to you. Or, even more sadly, those who claim to be Christian participate in these sins.
If you want to know how Christians are supposed to live, I suggest a few things. Number one, read Holy Scripture. The Scriptures are resplendent with instructions and commands we are to live by as followers of Christ; both Old and New Testament are important. After all, God has not changed His mind about what holiness is. As we review just the New Testament, it becomes readily apparent that most of us (including me) are not living as the Scriptures tell us to. Even a cursory consideration of our lives will show us that.
Another thing that we can do is to read the lives of the Saints. These brothers and sisters in the faith lived luminous lives of faith, chastity, asceticism, and holiness. That’s why they are Saints. Frankly, when I read the lives of the Saints, I am embarrassed by how weak my own faith is and how poorly I live my life. Another group that we can emulate as much as possible and learn from are the Church Fathers. If you want to know how Christians should live and what they should believe, these men are humble and brilliant examples and teachers. There is much more I could say about the Fathers but I will refrain right now. You can also study the lives and writings of the monastics. Although they are, in many ways, outside our experience, we can learn much from them.
Last but certainly not least, we see how Christians are supposed to live by emulating the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. You may say, yes but that’s Jesus, and I can’t be Jesus. No, you and I cannot be Jesus. But we can be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29) and we should be. We have put on Christ and therefore should look like Him (Romans 13:11-14, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 3:9-12, Ephesians 4:22-24).
We are to be different than the world (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). We should look different, walk differently, talk differently, have different priorities etc. Our love for the world, wordly things and ways are anti-Christian (1 John 2:15-17). In fact, they make us anti-christs. My brothers and sisters, we need to repent. For the sake of our souls, we need to turn again to the Lord Jesus and forsake the world. If we do not, we will perish. Go into your prayer “closet,” stand before the icons, prostrate yourself and beg God’s forgiveness. Ask Him for His strength to stand against the world and things thereof. Come out from among them and be ye separate.
Pray for me and each other.
I have often been accused, over the past few years, of being “unfeeling” and “cold.” These accusations are always of an emotional nature. What I mean by that is that those accusation weren’t based on fact, but rather how something I said made someone feel.
I want to be clear. I’m not excusing myself for being mean or whatever. I have often spoken to others in a demeaning way, using sarcasm and a rough tone of voice to verbally abuse others. That is a sin that I deal with on a regular basis. But that’s not what this is about. This is about our obsession, as a society, with how we feel.
We are a weak and sensuous society. The “men” of our society are weak and sensuous. What I mean by sensuous is obsessed with our feelings. How do you feel about that…how does that make you feel…you hurt my feelings…I feel…You get the point. Again, I want to be clear. Feeling a certain way is not necessarily wrong. It’s what we do with said feelings, I believe, that matter.
So many people walk around with “their hearts on their sleeves,” overly concerned about feelings. Let’s consider something together. As Christians, truth for us is a Person. Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is the way, the truth, and the life. So, truth is not merely a set of propositions. There are things we should believe that are true as Christians. But, we should also understand that truth is also a Person.
So, what has Jesus said about how we feel?
About the closest thing I can find in all the Gospels to our Lord addressing feelings is when He repeatedly says, “Fear not.” Other than that, Jesus said nothing about how you or I feel. Ok, so you may ask, what does the Bible, as a whole, say about how we feel? Generally speaking, we would say that “the heart” is the seat of our emotions. This is, of course, medically untrue but okay. So, our hearts are the seat of our emotional experiences. So then, what does the Bible have to say about our hearts?
Genesis 6:5 tells us that the “imagination of the thoughts” of man’s heart was only wicked. Now, one could argue that was then and this is now. We are much more “enlightened” now. I think a quick perusal of newspaper headlines and online articles will tell you that’s not true.
Proverbs 10:20 tells us that the heart of the wicked is of little worth and Proverbs 28:26 says that “whoever trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” The Prophet Jeremiah also reminds us, in chapter 17, verse 9 that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The august preacher tells us in Ecclesiastes 9:3 that the heart of the sons of men is full of evil and madness.
Well, that’s not very encouraging and sounds nothing like what the world and ,frankly, many Christians say. Follow your heart, they say. Hmm, not sound advice, according to Holy Scripture. But that’s the “Old Testament” you may say. Fair enough. What does the New Testament have to say about our emotions and our hearts?
Jesus tells us, in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:” and again in Mark 7:21-23, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
That’s weird. It would seem, from reading these, that Jesus seems to think that the so-called seat of our emotions is wicked. Hmm…
The Apostle Paul picks up on this as well. Romans 1:28-31 tells us what happens in our hearts and lives when we abandon God. Ephesians 4:17-18 tells us that our hearts are hardened and that we are ignorant because of it. So, if our hearts are hardened and we are ignorant, what does that say about our emotions and what does this mean for us as Christians?
This means that we are to rule over our emotions, not allow our emotions to rule over us. The Fathers talk about this repeatedly. Over and over, they and the holy monastics tell us that we are to put to death our passions. Our passions are these emotions that are not based in truth. Our emotions lie to us; they are fickle and tempestuous. You know this. I know this. We are fooling ourselves is we think otherwise.
And yet, the world thrives on these passions. Media appeals to all our base feelings and instincts; anger, resentfulness, lust, avarice, covetousness, and the list could go on. Don’t believe me? Start paying attention with a critical eye and pray for discernment. You will find this to be true. But why, we may ask?
The Blessed Apostle John tells us that the “whole world lieth in wickedness.” (1 John 5:19) The NKJV translates this as “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”
That’s why. Because the whole world (including our hearts and emotions) lies under the sway of the wicked one. So, what can we do? How do we not be so weak and sensuous? I’m glad you asked. There is so much in Holy Scripture about how we deal with this that I can’t type it all out. Instead, I will just list all the texts and you can look them up yourself. It starts, though, with our heart. Psalm 50 (51 in the Protestant version) is all about this. Verse 10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” This is where it starts. We must have a renewed heart that does not live by our wicked proclivities and feelings.
Here are some texts that we may pray through and meditate on as it relates to our hearts. May God give us the grace to conquer our passions.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 and 11:19
Proverbs 4:23, 10:8, 27:19
Countless verses in the Psalter
Hebrews 10:22 and 4:12
2 Timothy 2:22
2 Corinthians 7:1
1 John 3:3