Thursday, September 18, 2008

I'm a Christian God Dammit!

“Paul talks about faith differently from the sophists. He does not attribute faith to people who have committed mortal sin; therefore he says that those who do not provide for their relatives have rejected the faith. In the same way, he says that the wanton women had rejected the faith.” Ap. XXVII68 (p.288 Kolb/Wengert)

How different was the Reformation view of the faith and “who” was a part of it. So too, it would seem, was the way the Apostles' approached the concept of Church.

I have been vexed of late at the number of times I have been expected by others to attribute “Christianity” to a group or to an an individual for no other reason than that they claim to be Christians. The most persuasive make an argument from a bland but coherent connection to Trinitarianism – in other words, "If they aren't 'oneness' teachers or Arians, they're in!" The most naïve argue from that not so ancient, not so obvious truth that “you can't judge another person's heart.”

Now, I'm all for not judging hearts. In fact, I'm all for not judging people. I believe in this thing called the Last Day, when the one who is Judge will judge, and he will, in fact, meet out according to our works (Ath. Creed, 1 Cor. 5, etc) AND according to Christ's own merits for us. I'll let God be the judge of that. At the same time, Scripture is pretty clear that we must be judges of the faith. “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6)

But what these words from the Apology strike at, what has bothered me so intently, is not that we've been too lax in judging these past years of moralistic-therapeutic-deisticalness. It's that we've been too quick to judge. We've judged too fast and too often.W e've judged without the facts, and, often, in spite of the facts. Reigning benevolent from on high in our little individualistic thrones, we've passed the judgment of amnesty upon all who claim the name of Jesus, so long, I suppose, as they're nice, or I've met them, or it's not their fault, or etc, etc. The point is, we have been judging hearts, and very casually so at that.

It reminds me of a conversation I overheard at a coffee shop last year, between a local “Full Gospel” Baptist youth “Pastor” (unordained) and the liberal Episcopal ex-hippy he was trying to convert. He was pretty confident heading in, turning a simple “Hi, how y'doin'?” into “the most important question: if you die will you go to heaven?” What he was completely unprepared to deal with was her confident answer: “Yes, of course. After all, I believe in Jesus.” But that's just it. She didn't. Even the Pentecostal-Baptist could see from her casual use of the f-word, her advocacy for the homosexual lobby, her new-agey definition of Jesus and the “all paths lead to heaven” schpeel – he KNEW something wasn't right in the state of Denmark. That's why he kept trying to convert her, even though she kept repsonding, “But I'm converted! I love Jesus!”

What it would seem we have nigh completely lost is that which the great Reformers assumed, and that which the Ancients more than expected: if you don't put your money where your mouth is, your mouth is lying – even to you.

James said it well, “I will show you my faith by what I do.” So what is this “doing” that we must be so concerned with? Melancthon mentions “mortal sin.” What is that? A good question. Let's just start with the notion that mortal sin is any sin you commit regularly and consider it your right to do so. That is, it's any sin that you don't think is sin. To be sure, if we go the way of the Law even here, we our bound to find ourselves condemned – but that is the necessary work of the Law! Finding ourselves judged unworthy is an important aspect of the Christian faith and life, one which must never be left behind.

But where faith (the faith) has departed, where it can no longer exist at all, where one simply must be told he or she is not a Christian no matter how much he might think he is, is where this work of the Law has departed altogether – where one's response to the Law is always either “Check, done that,” or “That doesn't apply to me.” This is the gravest place of mortal sin, the place where the First Commandment itself has ceased to be believed.

It's something worth thinking about – that faith and mortal sin cannot coexist. Why do we balk so readily at this Truth which was more than assumed by all who have gone before us? Is it because we have actually allowed sin to rule in our flesh, and, convicted, wish to remove the shackles without taking them to the cross to be covered in the blood? Is it our guilty consciences which sting at being pricked? Are we so faithless as to be incapable of repenting of our faithlessness?

Who can discern his errors? Justify me from hidden sins! Keep back your slave from presumption. Let it not have dominion over me. Then, I shall be free of blame, and innocent of transgression. Then the Words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart will be acceptable in yours sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Ps. 19

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