Sunday, April 26, 2020

What is a church?

From the Greek word “Ecclesia,” we have arrived at the modern term “Church”
which indicates a meeting or gathering of people who religiously share common beliefs and interests. Some congregations comprise a number of people who are piously interested in being known for doing good works and righting social injustices. Some think of church in terms of a meeting place specifically  designated as a church building or perhaps an ornate cathedral. This is all very nice and commendable but it not related to God’s new covenant with mankind.

When the woman of Samaria met Jesus at the well the following conversation ensued - Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. (John 4: 20-21)

For centuries the Jews who worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have met and worshipped in the synagogue where God would meet the chief priest once a year under certain conditions in the Holy of Holies, a room separated from the rest of the congregation by a thick curtain. During this moment the chief priest would sprinkle the blood of a lamb on what was called the mercy seat and on the basis of that blood the sins of Israel would be rolled back for another year. The lamb selected was to be without spot or blemish and was considered by God to represent the blood that the Lamb of God, His own Son Jesus would shed for the sins of all mankind on Calvary.

The conversation with the Samaritan woman continued - Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming he who is called Christ; when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4: 23-26)

When Jesus was speaking to his disciples he said -  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you”. (John14: 15-17)
This is what Jesus was also referring to when He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, that His Holy Spirit would meet with and dwell within every believer and would later be manifest at Pentecost.

At the time of His death on the cross - “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27: 51) This was to signify that there was now a new covenant between God and man, that he would no longer meet them in buildings made by human hands.

The church in historic bible scripture refers to the meeting of those who believe and trust in Jesus the Son of God as Lord and Savior, and may consist of just a few or of many and has little to do with the good works we may do other than as gratitude after the fact for what God through Christ has done for us.

We are admonished not to forsake meeting together - Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews10: 19-25)

We see that Day drawing near and just as in the first century the persecution of the church by the sons of Satan is increasing daily throughout the world. It may become necessary to meet quietly in homes and in smaller numbers than in the usual great numbers and meeting places. But know this, that you and I are the church! - Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Christians Already Possess the Greatest Thing Ever

We’re all hunkered down in our homes in fear of the death and sickness that will come
both from a new illness and the economic fallout of attempting to combat it.
Atop that, a generation of teenagers is committing suicide under our noses, according to this article in The Atlantic. The reason? Smartphones and social media, a toxic sludge of isolation, dependency, and meaninglessness heaped onto the already fraught ground of adolescence.

Today, young people are sleeping with their phones instead of with each other like the old days. At least the bitterest fruit of the old sins would have been a beautiful new baby, a new life. Now the hypnotic glow of the device draws life out solely unto itself.
We hear the news, meanwhile, that in an Oregon lab scientists have “corrected” faulty genes underlying a heart condition, raising the specter of genetic engineering of human DNA. This is the “Gattica”-esque prelude to designer babies, the scientifically advanced—and obviously superior—species into which humble and mortal homo sapiens can morph itself.

Soon hopeful parents will face the Hobson’s choice of genetically engineering children predesigned, predestined, prepackaged, and artificially developed for what the world deems to be physical and mental perfection, or consigning their pitiful, “natural” kin to a lifetime of subhuman status, kicked into society’s gutters for their disgusting diseases, defects, and obvious inferiorities. Hopefully the parents-to-be will have that choice. Perhaps back-alley abortions will give way to back-alley births.

Men as God
Do you doubt the rising tide? As if to punctuate the point that our modern culture and law lack the moral grammar necessary to grapple with something as basic as human dignity, we heard in recent years that the British courts euthanized—in First Things’ apropos telling—the young child Charlie Gard, superseding his parents’ desperate attempt to save his life because it deemed his pathetic and pain-ridden life not worth living.

It is now taken as assumed in polite society that a stagnant geriatric existence is not worth bothering with, and that we will be better off ending things while healthy and self-satisfied. Better to die with dignity, this wisdom says, than live with Alzheimer’s; the breath of life being no more dignified than the cold corpse. Now, the dawn of a higher life form, the genetically perfected Being, ourselves its loving Creator, while in chorus our omniscient Judgment deems the old, diseased life itself worthy of nothing more than unceremonious, quiet discard. And they say God is dead.

Look around you. Can you not see the coming apotheosis of humanity? We are hurtling towards humanism technologically deified, invested with the raw power to do every conceivable thing. To live forever, to know all things, to eradicate our own suffering, to eliminate the vocabulary of pain. We will be gods capable of all things but one: γάπη.
Agápe, that indefinable love defined by its exclusion of our sinful self-centeredness, that love from the infinitesimal pinpoint of the individual will that rejects itself for the sake of, and only for the sake of, God and his created. To love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is agápe. It is also, not incidentally, the only way to be truly alive, to live outside yourself, to taste the joy of God.
These three banal news stories are different currents in the same flooding river. We know this flood well. It sprang from the sinister promise in Eden that man could be like God, and it has ebbed and flowed ever since. The bride of God’s son, Christ, the church, seems powerless in its path.

What about the World Is Part of the Church?
Regarding the church’s ill-advised union with popular politics and culture over the last half century, Rod Dreher put this way: “Too many of us are doubling down on the failed strategies that not only have failed to convert Americans but have also done little to halt the assimilation of Christians to secular norms and beliefs.”
I haven’t yet read Dreher’s book, “The Benedict Option," but it is curious that in discussing the book he seemed at every turn to have to defend himself from the claim that he was “not advocate[ing] complete Christian withdrawal from the public sphere.” Why on earth not? What has the public sphere for the Christian? For the church?
I once read an good interview of a prominent Catholic bishop—I cannot recall who or where. The good bishop bemoaned what Dreher and others call “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a cancerous heresy infecting virtually every sect of Christianity today.
Briefly, MTD is a godless religion without struggle, sacrifice, or a remotely plausible view of reality. More importantly, MTD is a strain of the solipsistic materialism that pervades our world today. The bishop complained that MTD, as a philosophy fundamentally centered on the self, ultimately leads to a worldview sympathetic to abortion, LBGT preferences, and so forth.
How true he may be, but how he misses the mark! The church offers what MTD, materialism, smartphones, modern science and courts and kings and judgments, what nothing, nothing else can offer: γάπη. God. God is γάπη, and γάπη is God.

The Point Is Salvation, Not Winning at Politics
Souls cannot be won at the ballot box or on HBO or in The New York Times; they are washed at the baptismal font and fed at the altar. The church is great not because it saves us from abortion- and LBGT-relativism but because it gives us God. The church is great because at her altar we physically, literally, and tangibly come into material contact with God on earth.

If this sounds like sermonizing, perhaps it is because the church should do less politicking and more sermonizing. If it sounds like mysticism, perhaps it is because the church should be less embarrassed about embracing the mystical union of God and man, particularly in a world where the enemies of God proclaim that men can give birth to children and that we live in an infinite number of parallel universes.

If it sounds rudimentary, perhaps it is because the church should retreat into itself by remembering first precisely what it is. The ark of the church has never been more urgently needed, nor ever raised higher by the waters. A generation lost to smartphones is a generation crying out for purpose. A humanity on the brink of dystopian eugenics needs more than ever the tender mercy of the church to comfort the sick. A culture of death needs an infusion of life.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” says Christ. God promises his people will find him if they seek him. “But you,” the Almighty promises his church, “take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”
Take courage. The church need not fear being marginalized, victimized, humiliated, or downtrodden. It should not fear what is inevitable. Ride the storm with conviction and love, with open doors for those flailing in the waters, but remain courageously in the ark. Your work shall be rewarded.

The Federalist