Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thirteenth Post - Lent 2017 with C. S. Lewis (Membership)

"Even in the life of the affections, much more in the Body of Christ, we step outside that world which says "I am as good as you." It is like turning from a march to a dance. It is like taking off our clothes. We become, as Chesterton said, taller when we bow, we become lowlier when we instruct... In this way then the Christian life defends the single personality from the collective, not be isolating him but by giving him the status of an organ in the mystical Body... The reason we recoil from this is that we have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down. Starting with the doctrine that every individuality is "of infinite value," we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs. In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him. He is capable of receiving value. He receives it by union with Christ."
- C. S. Lewis, "Membership"

Here we move towards the end of Lewis's address on membership. Lewis has taken us through some interesting thoughts that at time run counter to what many Christians hear from their pulpits. In summary the three big ideas that Lewis applies throughout this address are:

1. The idea of a "solitary Christian" is foreign to what Scripture teaches us. If I am a believer and I live near other believers I should be in fellowship with them as we are all part of the body of Christ. Sadly, we have let our baser natures split us over non-crucial areas of doctrine. Rather than taking a view of "in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity", we now make every word in a denomination's doctrinal statement a reason to go to war. Somethings are essential, others not so much so lets stop treating them as such.

2. A Christian identity is a public identity. Related to the first idea, we are called to public worship with one another. Extending this a bit, our Christian identity is not something that should be excised from everything else we do in life.

3. The Body of Christ is not a collective. We are not simply copies of each other but unique with our own special talents that we bring to the Body. Forced uniformity is something else foreign to Scripture. While certain ideas of equality exist for the good of the secular world, inequality is not something to be reviled but embraced. We are not the same. We do not have the same gifts. We cannot all do the same thing. We are all fallen and thus in the eyes of God have an equal need of salvation but that is not the same as saying we are all equal. We are all equal in that we are all in the same class, we have all fallen short of God's glory. We are also all equal in that the message of salvation has equal effect, accepting it brings us into full inheritance. It is enough for each, it is sufficient for all.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Twelveth Post - Lent 2017 with C. S. Lewis (Membership)

"And now I must say something that may appear to you a paradox. You have often heard that though in the world we hold different stations, yet we are all equal in the sight of God. There are, of course, senses in which this is true. God is no accepter of persons; His love for us is not measured by our social rank or our intellectual talents. But I believe there is a sense in which this maxim is the reverse of the truth. I am going to venture to say that artificial equality is necessary in the life of the State, but that in the Church we strip off this disguise, we recover our real inequalities, and are thereby refreshed and quickened... Equality is for me in the same position as clothes. It is a result of the Fall and the remedy for it. Any attempt to retrace the steps by which we have arrived at egalitarianism and to reintroduce the old authorities on the political level is for me as foolish as it would be to take off our clothes. The Nazi and the nudist make the same mistake. But it is the naked body, still there beneath the clothes of each one of us, which really lives. It is the hierarchical world, still alive and (very properly) hidden behind a facade of equal citizenship, which is our real concern."
- C. S. Lewis, "Membership"

Rather long copy of C. S. Lewis's text and yet still too short because the thought are big and need deeper analysis than what I will do here.  Lewis continues with his theme of membership in the Body verses an element in the collective. At this point we dive into the idea of "equality" and Lewis right off the bat takes a stand that is often contrary to what we have been lead to think about the value of that concept. Now Lewis goes beyond the way I clumsily swapped "egalitarian" with "equality" and if you want to deep dive into the concepts of egalitarianism you can start here . But for my current discourse I'll stick with the more vulgar concept of "equality".

Lewis reminds me of the necessity of good government that views all people as equal in the eyes of government and the law, but this necessity is not because of inherent worth but rather because of the nature of fallen mankind. Treating people as equal in the eyes of the State (in theory) puts checks on the more baser motives of certain people and serves to protect the least among us. But Lewis tells me that while this works here this doesn't carry over to the eternal realm and that it is a mistake to bring those same ideas into our own heavenly citizenship.

Over and over again Scripture does talk about inequality. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12 we get a vivid teaching on how members in the Body are different, serve different but important functions with different gifts. But notice what Paul writes in verse 31: "Now eagerly desire the greater gifts". So not all gifts are the same, some are greater and to be more desired. In 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 Paul talks about our works being judged and many not found worthy. So not everything is absolutely equal in the eyes of God. What we do do know that it in the eyes of God all people are equal in status, that we all have fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23-24), that no works of our own merit Salvation (Titus 3:5) and that God who is Love loves the world, not because of us but because of who God is (John 3:16).

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Eleventh Post - Lent 2017 with C. S. Lewis (Membership)

"A dim perception of the richness inherent in this kind of unity is one reason why we enjoy a book like The Wind in the Willows; a trio such as Rat, Mole, and Badger symbolizes the extreme differentiation of persons in harmonious union, which we know intuitively to be our true refuge both from solitude and from the collective. The affection between such oddly matched couples as Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness or Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller pleases in the same way. That is why the modern notion that children should call their parents by their Christian names is so perverse. For this is an effort to ignore the difference in kind which makes for real organic unity... They are trying to drag the featureless repetitions of the collective into the fuller and more concrete world of the family."
- C. S. Lewis, "Membership"

In this current section Lewis reminds me of the difference between a collective and membership within the Body of Christ. Rather than quote the more spiritual sections I decided to go with one of his much more concrete examples of that difference.

I'm not sure who has read The Wind in the Willows but I highly recommend it. If you want to know how diversity works it's in there. Rat, Mole, and Badger, all different, become friends. In the stories they meet each other, they teach each other, they spend time together, they grow closer, they help each other and all three become richer because of their interactions. The other two literary references are to Dicken's The Old Curiosity Shop and his The Pickwick Papers (see, those literature classes do pay off) and are both examples of completely different people entering into fellowship of some type one with another.

In Scripture we are not called to come together like a roll of quarters, each nearly identical and completely interchangeable. I found the comment about children calling their parents by their first name interesting. I had always found it a bit distasteful because it shows disrespect. Lewis takes it deeper as another way contemporary society is erasing those natural differences that occur within the family. In Lewis's words what makes the Body rich is "organic unity", all of us coming together with our differences to make up the whole. If I take a quarter from a roll, not much has changed from the collective. If Rat or Mole or Badger disappeared that friendship is radically altered. If a body loses one of its parts it is forever changed.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Tenth Post - Lent 2017 with C. S. Lewis (Membership)

"The Christian is called not individualism but to membership in the mystical body. A consideration of the differences between the secular collective and the mystical body is therefore a first stop to understanding how Christianity without being individualistic can yet counteract collectivism.

At the outset we are hampered by a difficulty of language. The very word membership is of Christian origin, but it has been taken over by the world and emptied of all meaning. In any book on logic you mean see the expression "members of a class." it mu be most emphatically stated the the items or particulars included in a homogeneous class almost the reverse of what St. Paul meant by members. By members he meant what we should call organs, things essentially different from, and complementary to, one another... I am afraid that when we describe a man as "a member of the Church" we usually mean nothing Pauline; we mean he is a unit - that he is one more specimen of some kind of things as X and Y and Z."
- C. S. Lewis, "Membership"

In this part of the address Lewis continues with the idea that I am not called to be a solitary Christian and not to have the idea that Christianity equates to strong individualism (a sad symptom in a lot of contemporary evangelical thought that has splashed over into conservative politics and I say this as someone still broadly evangelical and politically conservative). Instead I am reminded that I am part of something, the Body of Christ.

The book I have does not translate the Greek word that Lewis is referring to but I think it is "melos". It is used in passages such as Ephesians 5:28 - 30:

" In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church  for we are members [melos] of his body."

Similar usage is found in 1 Corinthians 6:15.

Melos means a part or member of a whole or it can mean a limb of the human body. For Lewis (and for Paul) I am a part of the Body of Christ. I have my own identity, my own personality, my own function. I am not just an interchangeable cog within some collective machine, not just a "unit" of something in a bigger collection. I am not just another name on some church's "membership" book. I have a uniqueness in who I am within the larger Body, a part of the whole of the Body and not just another "thing" that is numerically equivalent to a bunch of other things because of belonging to some bounded set. As a member [melos], my removal disrupts the Body. This is different than the commonly held idea of membership where my removal simply reduces the number in the collection. In short, I matter. I add to the whole. I am missed if I am gone. 

The idea of belonging to a larger body is one of the reasons I associated with the ECUSA (well, that and "The Vicar of Dibley" but that is a story for another day). It was here that I felt a big part of my Christian identity was being called out. I was challenged to "do good" with them in the world. Packing lots of Scripture in one's memory is not the end all of the Christian life and most of the places I had attended placed utmost importance to two things: memorizing Scripture and personal evangelism. Nothing wrong with that, but both of those things are solitary activities and over the years I have come to an understanding that Christianity is NOT a solitary activity. If it was, why would we be told that we are "salt and light" to the world and why would we be called together to support one another? There had to be something more. This Christian thing had to be bigger than me and what I do. In the ECUSA I do see and hear that there is more, I see a body that is active in the community and in the world to share God's love through trying to do what is good. Is it perfect? Oh no, far from it but for me it was a step in what I think was the right direction.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Ninth Post - Lent 2017 with C. S. Lewis (Membership)

"No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as "what a man does with his solitude." It was the Wesleys, I think, who said that the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion. We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.

In our own age the idea that religion belongs to our private life - that it is, in fact, an occupation for the individual's hour of leisure - is at once paradoxical, dangerous, and natural"
- C. S. Lewis, "Membership"

Having finished Lewis's address "The Weight of Glory" I now turn to another of his addresses in the book (just for the record the volume I am using is "The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses" which you can find here). Here Lewis takes me into the realm of being a public Christian. 

I'm not going to go into Lewis' second paragraph directly, if you want to know his full argument you can grab a copy of the book from the link provided or you can find it online. Instead I am going to just provide my thoughts on the idea of one's religious as a private affair. Honestly, I have never understood this. For the Christian that idea is no where found in the New Testament. Hebrews 10:24, 25 is very clear, we are to gather together to encourage one another ever onward in showing love and doing good deeds. At a minimum our religion is public in that we are supposed to gather together publicly. Nowhere are we told to go off into our secret space to worship God. After all, if you can't bother to gather together to worship God with God's children, how are you ever going to be able to spend eternity with them?!

But that one is pretty easy. Most people have absolutely no problem with people being public Christians a couple of hours on Sunday (or Saturday depending on your beliefs). But what about the rest of the week? Here is where I find being a solitary Christian completely incomprehensible and I will expand my thoughts to pretty much any religion. It boils down to this... if your religion isn't part of your life, impacting the way you think and the way you act, what good is it? Writing these works I am immediately drawn to James 2:14 - 20 where I am told that belief isn't enough to be well-rounded, that if it doesn't influence our actions and demonstrate that our beliefs point to a better way of life then it is ineffective (or as the KJV puts it, "dead"). But here is where it gets touchy. If we are going to act in the public sphere as a Christian we damned better be sure we know what we do is aligned with what it means to be a Christian. Unfortunately people cloak their own prejudices with the veneer of a "higher purpose" to try to make it easier to swallow. They often forget passages like Ephesians 4:29:

" Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

Even stronger is Psalms 17:27 - 28:

" The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,and discerning if they hold their tongues."

I am a Christian 24 hours a day, even days a week. I am a Christian at church, at home, at work, when with friends and with enemies. I cannot be a solitary practitioner nor can I be a private practitioner, but I can be a thoughtful practitioner of the faith I follow... well, in the faith that draws me closer to the One who loves with with an endless love. How can I do anything less?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Eighth Post - Lent 2017: C. S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory)

"There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner - no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, you neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat - the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden."
- C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"

Here at the end of his address Lewis continues to remind me of the eternal nature of both God and myself. I still struggle with this idea though I do not deny it, it is just I am not used to giving eternity any truly serious thought, to try to understand what it would really mean. Here Lewis wants to shake me and say "Are you listening? Do you understand what it means to be human? Do you know who and what you are because of Him?"

The contemporary age of arrogance makes me respond initially (as I think the vast majority of people would) "Yeah, yeah I do" but when I pause and reflect on how I see people, myself included, interact with one another I have to blush, avert my eyes and say "I don't". Seriously, think of this:

"But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit"

It is immortals whom we cuss out on Facebook because they believe politically differently from us.
It is immortals whom we call ugly, bums, worthless, sometimes trash.
It is immortals from whom we look away in time of need.
It is immortals of whom we lash out against merely because they are a different race, a different sexual orientation, a different nationality, a different religions from us.

I used to think of this in terms of verses like Hebrews 13:2 where we are told to show hospitality to strangers because some who have done so have unknowingly entertained angels. But here Lewis says I need to do that simply because of who we are. The professor points out that I need to take people seriously, that my charity must be real, not something flippant, not something I should do when I feel like it. Within each person is the imago dei, the image of God. Whether they know it or not, I do and I need to act accordingly.

Some will accuse me of being too naive, that I don't understand reality. Maybe, but I don't think so. I think it is a matter of taking what God has told us seriously. Rather than saying just "Amen, I believe" I need to say (and so should you if you say you are Christian) "Amen, I believe, and so this is how I will live".

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Seventh Post - Lent 2017 with C. S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory)

"And this brings me to the other sense of glory - glory as brightness, splendor, luminosity. We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star... We do not merely want to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it... For you must not think that I am putting forth any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use."
- C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"

"Then the righteous shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43).

"To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end...I will also give that one the morning star." (Revelation 2:26 - 28).

Last time we looked at glory as fame or acclaim which for the Christian is being know and recognized by God as a good and faithful servant. In today's section Lewis takes us into the other branch of his definition. We shall shine! We will be beautiful! But it doesn't say we will be sun, that we will simply absorbed into nature or that we are made of "star stuff". Oh no, for the Christian it is far, far more than that. Our scientists have predicted "sun death", that point in time when our blazing sun will finally give its final flicker and cease to the a source of live giving light to this planet. And Lewis reminds us that when that happens, we will still be. We have been promised to be with our eternal God forever.

But what is it that makes us shine like the sun?

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." - II Corinthians 3:17 - 18

Here the word "contemplate" can be translated "reflect" and I start to see the source of my shining. It's not from within me, it's outside of me. I don't shine because of my own righteous works, I shine because of God, I reflect the source of eternal light. As I move closer and closer to Christ the one who saved me (most of the time with the speed of glacial growth), the more I reflect of His shining light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Once I leave the bounds of this world and finally lay claim the promise given to be with Him I finally have the opportunity to be fully transformed and my reflective ability which now is on a good day like a small, dust covered mirror will be in full display. Perfect reflection of the perfect Light.