Sunday, May 27, 2018

Incomplete Christianity

Last post I reflected a bit on what Christians teach about pain and suffering. How many Christians get the traditional Christian teaching wrong and that leads many to reject religion entirely because their wrong ideas don't pass the scrutiny of modern secular people. Andy Stanley saw this but he did not see the Protestant Reformation as being the ultimate source of many of these wrong ideas and the Catholic teaching on suffering as being right. He flirts with the Catholic notion on suffering but does not go there completely. Still he sees quite rightly that the incomplete answer is inadequate and causes people to lose their faith.

This pattern is more common. Sexual morality is one key area. The Protestant decision to accept artificial contraception has rendered their philosophy of sex incoherent. If it is OK to separate sex from child bearing then why it is not OK to separate it from marriage? You remove the one key piece and it become impossible to make the puzzle fit. So what most understand to be Christian sexual morality is really not it. It does not ring true to people because it is not true. True Christian sexual morality was abandoned by Protestants in the last 100 years. Catholics still teach it officially but many Catholics reject it as well. So modern man is rarely exposed to true Christian sexuality either in the form of teaching or in the lives of Christians. The rules are arbitrary and inconsistent and don't appeal to people at all.

In my devotions I have been reading about spiritual dryness and the dark night of the soul. I start to realize that this can be another area where many people are not exposed to actual Christian teaching. Atheists point to Mother Teresa's admission of spiritual dryness as proof Christianity is false. Why? Because they Christianity they understand does not have an explanation for this. The conversion is everything and the struggles you experience later are not really talked about. You are saved and you are not committing any big sin so what is the issue? Yet you don't exactly have the joy and the fruitfulness that will make others want to become a Christian.

Mother Teresa had dryness but managed to have joy and fruitfulness anyway. Why? She was a Carmelite nun. She started her own order later but she was formed in the Carmelite way. So she would have been very familiar with the great Carmelite doctors of the church, St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. These people understood spiritual dryness as a gift. It gives you the ability to choose Jesus not for the consolations you receive from Him but because you love Him. You have to live on faith and not on sight so you know your faith is real. This is something she would know about and expect as part of her walk with God. She did not expect it for as many years as it happened but that was just a surprise in intensity not in kind.

The trouble is that post-reformation Christianity has trouble getting past the ABC's of the faith. They disagree enough about those. Once you get past that you get so much disagreement that you are pretty much on your own. Lots of good advice. Lots of bad advice. All of it claiming to be biblical and most seem to take that seriously. So how do you find truth in that mess? You deal with spiritual dryness and you get a lot of answers. Some tell you to just lower your expectations of what religion is supposed to be. Some say to find a funkier worship experience and manufacture some excitement. Some will tell you to quite the ministry you and try something new. Good thing Mother Teresa did not do that.

So what you end up with is Christianity looking very unimpressive to the outside observer. Lots of testimonies that say I found Jesus. Yet the strong feelings that are at the core of those testimonies often go away. Then what? Really it is like the Israelites. They had their huge experience of being saved from the Egyptians through the 10 plagues and parting of the Red Sea. They experienced God at Mt Sinai in a powerful way. Then what? There was 38 years in the dessert. Lots of hard days. They actually pointed out many days were harder than what they experienced in Egypt as slaves. Yet the reality was they were not slaves and that was a big deal. Yet wandering in the desert for so long is not is hard to take. People who were expecting something easier can get disillusioned. 

The true Christian faith is beautiful enough and strong enough to attract people to it. Yet we need to get it right and we need to do it in enough detail to live it out. Stanley talked a lot about the Christians of the first few centuries. How they lived the truth despite persecution was such a strong witness and attracted pagans to the faith. How we live it actually sends people back to a modern version of paganism. Somehow we have lost the true faith. 

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