Sunday, March 17, 2019

Christianity and Spelling Reform

When we have children in school, we just naturally think that the most important thing a church needs to do is youth ministry - because children are the future of the church, and if we can't teach them, develop them, and inspire them, they will leave the faith, have a harder time in life, and the church as a whole will suffer.  When we are in a time of suffering we consider the most important mission of the church to be outreach, or comfort, or corporal acts of mercy, or sick-visiting. When we are first Christians we consider meaningful worship to be the center, or perhaps discipling, or being in The Word.

It's turtles all the way down.  If we are women with careers and status in mind, then the church's treatment of women is the most important thing.  If we are part of a group that has often been treated badly, then we consider the church's teaching and outreach to our group to be the most important mark going forward of whether the church is doing its job. The word journey pops up a lot there. Bringing the gospel to under-served people-groups...foreign missions...the for the addicted...helping LGBTQ people feel welcomed...getting Bibles into as many hands as possible...preserving the church's treasure of music...helping people separate from the world and focus on what's important...

One can go on for quite a while with legitimately good causes that we each feel should be shoved to the front of the line.  Mine is "Preserving Western Civilisation, which includes Christianity and is currently..."

No, I shall not make that argument further.  We each have our own.  As usual, CS Lewis has the response that is good:
The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform*. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing. The Screwtape Letters
It sometimes seems that Christian parents can only talk about The Schools, female pastors can only talk about the treatment of women, black Christians can only talk about race, political conservatives can only talk about religious freedom, twenty-somethings only raise the flag that in a deeply changed society the church still offers 1950s cultural solutions, and transgenders are acutely aware thatour old language doesn't fit them.

I won't tell you the rant I wish to deliver to them all (that I just delivered, with emphatic hand gestures,on today's hike along Bog Brook Road to an audience of only myself).  I will deliver this sadder, but likely more reasonable* advice.  If any of these is your cause, you in all likelihood have to drop it.  It may be a legitimate cause for Christians to attend to, but not for you.  Jesus resisted the temptation to power over all the sadness and trouble in the world during the 40 days in the wilderness.  We should not presume to be immune from that temptation, which He thought important enough to be one of the few things He mentioned out of the whole 6-week experience.  Fixing things here is still a secondary, not an ultimate point. Advocacy is not our challenge, it is our temptation.

Sometimes God uses our experiences of pain or oppression to help us be sensitised to the issues which include others in our category.  Charitable nonprofits often grown out of terrible events.  But I think it is much more likely that we invite ourselves into that advocacy, as a way of elevating our tribe and even (gulp) ourselves in the world.

* Notice that 75 years later, the causes are almost entirely different.  That should tell us something. 

**It could hardly be less reasonable.


james said...

Am I grateful that other people are stepping up to tackle the other projects? And sorry I can't help?

If so, I'm guessing that I'm not idolizing my pet project. Though it still may not be what I'm supposed to be doing--that's another question.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

An excellent point. You are right, it is a different balance. If we are content to let others do it, it may be that we are not obsessed and out-of-balance, and lending mild support and encouragement is correct. Yet it might also mean that we are lukewarm in the face of God's clear calling, not stepping up when action is required. We might fall out either side of the boat.

The answer is not to be found in principles that bloggers pur forward, but in seeking the specific direction of the Holy Spirit. Which is seldom easy and entertaining.

engineerlite said...

I don't think this is unique to Christianity, or even the American church. We, all people, are selfish, by nature. Whatever we want or are concerned about at the moment will be most important. This is perhaps more easily seen in political parties, which are a conglomeration of single-issue partisans. They can only coalesce around a common issue, like winning an election. Once the election is over, they return to their single issues and fight about what legislation to pass first. I daresay that in places where Christians are persecuted, and their single issue becomes survival, they don't waste time debating which special interest should be most important. The indictment against the church you document, is that the focus, which would be unifying, is not of sufficient value or importance to the members, to allow them to subvert their parochial interests.

Texan99 said...

This passage, and one James quoted the other day about high-church-low-church tensions, have always been among the most helpful of Lewis's writings for me. It's so easy to lose track of the main point.

Number three has to be the advice against church-shopping for any reason less than a major doctrinal lapse. I have to remember that every time I get annoyed with something like the kumbaya music. If I keep the real point in mind, I can more easily ignore attempts to conscript me into extraneous causes, whether or not I agree with them, and avoid obsessing about personal conflicts, the architecture, etc. That leaves me in a better position to be receptive to my pastor or my co-parishioners when they need my help with something, not as a church mission, but as my simple human duty, to which God is calling my attention daily and even more forcefully when I'm in the church.

I can keep things more or less straight if the analysis I'm using is not "Is this the Church's mission?" but "does Christ's example tell me that this is one of my duties?" In the latter case, I'm sorting through whether it's just, kind, honest, prudent, possible, all the things Lewis reminded us we're supposed to consider. I'm emphatically not supposed to be asking, "Is this political or social project an ecclesiastical commandment that authorizes me to ignore all other considerations?"--especially if what I'm focused on is whether the church is offering me practical support in my personal political or social journey. A red flag is whether the church is sufficiently "welcoming" of my eccentricities, because maybe I need to get over myself and think about how welcoming I am of others'.