Among the many things that caused me to leave the Protestant tradition was a problem that I began to see with what is called “easy believism.” What that basically means is what I experienced as a child; I was told to say a certain prayer, be baptized and then I was all good. Now, I look back on that and feel like it was kind of a “get out of hell free” card. Once saved, always saved, right?
The problem with that is that it’s not actually a biblical understanding of what salvation is or what it means to be a faithful Christian. There are repeated exhortations in Holy Scripture, specifically the NT, to be faithful, to endure, to keep the faith until the end. In other words, there are things we must do if we are of the Faith.
St. Paul says we are to “examine” ourselves to see if we are of the faith in 2 Corinthians 13:5,
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”
And St. Peter exhorts (2 Peter 1:10-11) us to make our calling and election sure by doing “these things,”
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
One of the things that I have found in the historic Church that is profoundly helpful is the practice of asceticism. And it has changed the way I live out the Faith. I have always been drawn to a monastic practice (though I am not a monk) of prayer and asceticism and the early Church did this very well, I feel. I’ve begun to slowly work my way through a book entitled Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander and it is fantastic. I want to interact with what I am learning and putting into practice in my own walk with Christ and His Church.
Colliander starts right off in Chapter 1,
“If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is.”
I feel like, in my own life in the past, there has been great lethargy. I depended on a little prayer to “save me” and did little to actually put forth any effort of my own. I love his call to action but not just action for the sake of action alone. No, the call to action is to a lived experience of walking with God.
This is a way of life. It is the Way. The first Christians were initially called “followers of the Way” (Acts 9:2).
One of the earliest extant Christian writings we have, other than what became the books of the New Testament is The Didache (literally meaning “teaching”). In this work, one of the major themes talked about is the comparison between two “ways” that are called the way of life and the way of death.
Following the Way, following Christ should change everything about our lives. And once we change our lives to follow Christ, we cannot let go, we cannot give up. Colliander exhorts us to,
“Hold fast to your purpose and do not look back.”
Don’t look back. Sounds like something Jesus said when He stated,
“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62
Jesus says that, if we begin to follow Him, if we put our hand to the plow and look back, we are not fit for the kingdom of God. Not fit. I don’t think Jesus is taking this lightly, but I fear that we do. We are given warnings throughout Holy Scripture of how we are to live and the judgement that comes on those who do not.
We must remember that we are no longer our own; we are not even alive in our flesh. As St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
He didn’t say old things are to be put on a shelf so we can take them down and look at them occasionally. Old things have passed away. They have died. Or, as St. Paul again says in Colossians 3:3,
“For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Our former selves are dead, and our life is hidden with Christ in God (at least this should be true of us). As Colliander puts it,
“You have cast off your old humanity; let the rags lie.”
Our lives should be lived with one purpose: to be conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). This can only be accomplished by putting on the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:27) and putting our flesh to death (Rom. 13:14). We must, moment by moment, take up our cross and put our flesh to death and be unified to Christ.
Although this sounds impossible, it has already been done! This is the glory of the gospel! Christ has already defeated sin, death and the devil. In Him, our humanity has been redeemed in His own flesh! We have but to walk it out, daily dying to self and putting on the Lord Jesus, walking in His way and finding again the communion with God we lost in the Garden.
This is the glory of Christ and ours to share in! Through Christ, our communion with God has been restored and, like our first parents, we can now walk in the cool of the evening of our lives with Him. This is not yet fully realized but one day…oh, one day! In that day, we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like unto Him! Glory to God!
Hold fast to your purpose, beloved, and do not look back.
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
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!