Christians may find it comforting to look at the “world” around them and approach it with fear, believing that the troubles Christendom encounters come from that world. For example, the divorce rate among Christians is too high, and that is because we let “the world” influence us too much, or higher criticism has infected the theology of Christians, turning them “liberal,” or society is ever-more relativistic and that has affected Christian moral thinking.
But what if the opposite is true? What if Christian confusion isn’t the effect of the world’s influence, but the cause of the world’s confusion?
How did radical relativism gain such a firm grip on the mind of modern man?
Was it not from the fragmentation of the church? When Christians fell out over matters ranging from the five solas of protestantism, to the nature of the church, and to how to figure out the truth, they had two options: violent encounters with each other to enforce one meaning, or tolerance and pluralism.
The first option was tried for a while and nearly destroyed Europe. It certainly destroyed Europe’s confidence, which followed on its loss of faith.
Then followed the more polite and desirable option, one that has remained the sentimental choice of Christians for three or four centuries. The trouble with it is that it has bewildered everybody involved.
I have been a Christian long enough and talked with people from every tradition deeply enough to know that the divisions in Christendom have hurt us more deeply than we are willing or able to acknowledge. To the point of this post, they introduced into the western mind a habit of giving up on important matters and simply accepting differences with no attempt or means to cross the gaps.
In varying degrees Christians tolerate each others’ beliefs across an emotional, doctrinal, and practical range that causes all of us to fall short in our efforts to master our understanding of Christian truths. Theology is minimized for the sake of peace.
In the fourth century, for example, theology was understood rather differently. It was not seen as conclusions drawn from an interpretation of texts, but the activity of God in His church. It was understood as the saving work of an active God.
But what is the church we see now but a fragmented, worn-out, discouraged lot of scattered sheep dreaming of a returning shepherd? And what is the world today but a fragmented, worn-out, discouraged lot of scattered sheep that has forgotten what a shepherd is?
Where did the problem of radical pluralism and of relativism begin? I submit to you that it did not begin with the worldly philosophers, but with the breaking of the church.
Unless we repent we will all likewise perish; this is the Biblical warning.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; this is the Biblical promise.
What will we say when our Lord asks us why we thought so little of His prayer that we might be one in John 17?
It is my fault. It is my great, grievous fault.
Nor is it too much to say that every single sociological problem in Europe today can be laid at the foot of this divided church.
The divorce rate among Christians is too high, not because the world lost sight of what marriage is (how could the world know something God has revealed to the Church?), but because Christians did. Of course, Christians were too respectable to practice serial divorce until the world cleared the path.
Yet, I submit, it was the Christians who forgot what marriage was first. Surely this much has to be part of what marriage is: an image of the relationship between Christ and His Church; the form of wholesome family life; a covenant made before and blessed by Christ in His church; among the highest and most sacred of human relationships, in which the marriage partners put themselves to death for each other, but also for the sake of the witnesses and the world, to make visible the effects of two people putting themselves to death, opening themselves to grace, and creating the form of a family, thereby gaining a glimpse of Christ and His church; thus, an act of creation made by members of a wider community and accountable to it.
It is in the faithful marriage that man as man and female as female attain their highest glory and manifest most clearly the goodness of God. But the broken church could not understand what marriage was, since it is an image of what they could no longer see whole. Thus marriage collapsed first among Christians, then for the outside world who depend on Christ’s bride for any grace that reaches them.
And then we come to the ghastly, tyranncial interpretations of the US Constitution, all of which arise from a textual criticism that itself arose from a reduced understanding of scripture and its place in the Christian life. For now, I merely mention it. Perhaps this is obvious to you.
But the main point in what I have said is this: we have a high priest who serves at the altar for us, but we have turned aside from His ministrations because our fragmented minds and souls and communities have worn us out to the point where we have to set aside our acceptance of His sacrifice in order to deal with the practical concerns of each new-coming day.
And it is all my fault – all my most grievous fault.
Forgive me, for I have sinned and have deeped the divisions among Christians.