Tuesday, September 29, 2009


"To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." - Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3

When I worked in a Shakespearean theater company there was a type within the ranks of the subscription ticket holder whose path I would occasionally cross. All of the subscribers were not like this, but this type existed. Often I would talk to them, and a good deal of the poor little dears didn't have the sense to be ashamed of what I'm about to tell you. Some, in fact, were proud of this. The type was as follows: They went to Shakespearean productions to be more cultured. When I put that way it sounds fine, possibly even admirable. But, don't miss this, they felt as if becoming more cultured was something that happened to them by sitting in a room where Shakespeare was happening. It didn't matter if they paid attention or even stayed conscious. Shakespeare was cultural detention for them instead of a passion, a love of language, an unquenchable thirst for the greatest dramatic works ever penned. Unfortunately this reinforces the common (and misguided) perception that Shakespeare is too high fallutin, too esoteric for the common people to understand or enjoy. That's the real crime: people using Shakespeare to authenticate their sense of superiority eclipsing people who find Shakespeare's works so marvelous that they want to share Shakespeare with everyone.

I don't know why people fall for it. I have to assume that it is out of ignorance. I mean, we're talking about plays where men's heads turn into donkey heads; fat drunken men with adulterous intentions hide in the laundry basket. There are spells and monsters, ghosts and fairies and sometimes even bears onstage; villainous hunchbacks and virtuous heroes swordfight; pranks are played; Puritans and fops are lampooned; fortunes are gained and lost; people get murdered; people fall in and out of love; songs are sung; great wars and mighty storms happen; great men are born, made or sometimes have greatness thrust upon them; and, occasionally, there are witches and cannibalism - all to some of the most beautiful poetry and prose ever written in the English language. The appeal is anything but obscure. The appeal is universal. It is the very stuff of life.

Laurie and I were talking this morning about how the Christian church in America, in our experience, is full of non-Christians. This takes many forms that we've noticed in the many churches we've attended. There are those who are at church kind of like one would go to The Rotary Club, those who actually go there to actively sell things to people who have to listen because you're supposed to be a fellow Christian (this has happened to both Laurie and I multiple times), those who go there because it's supposed to be the religion of the Republican party, those who go because their parents went, those who go because they like to show off how they are anti-some other group of people who are not at that particular church because of their beliefs and/or lifestyle choices, those who go because the pastor is kind of a local rock star, those who are there because their boss is there, those who go because they are afraid of Hell, those who go because they want to let everyone know how superior they are (I think the Higher Life/Second Blessing/"sinlessness while we are still alive on Earth" from the Keswick crowd is one of the most evil theologies within the church today. It's tailored for people who want to look down their noses at other "lesser" Christians. What pain and meanness the Second Blessing lie has unleashed within Christianity, not to mention how those people treat unbelievers. How strange to turn Christianity, of all things, into a form of snobbery. Give me someone who admits to their glaring flaws readily any day! That's the person I can believe to tell me the truth.) or wag their fingers at others, those who go because they have a crackpot worldview and the church has to listen to them and the church is supposed to be too nice to tell them that they are barking mad, those who like to be right about everything and use correct biblical doctrine as a means by which to stroke that urge, those who go because churches give stuff out and sometimes serve meals, those who go because the rest of society has marginalized them, and on and on and on. Often one finds such churches have a low view of Scripture, salvation, God and Christ. Often one finds such churches would suggest that if you repeat a little prayer in your head and raise your hand while no one is looking, your salvation is assured no matter how much you continue to live like the Devil. As George Bernard Shaw so aptly put it "Christianity never got any grip of the world until it virtually reduced its claims on the ordinary citizen's attention to a couple of hours every seventh day, and let him alone on week-days."

True salvation comes through faith alone in Christ alone. While we were dead in our sins, God removed our hearts of stone and replaced them with hearts of flesh, so that those given the gift of faith (by no work of their own) in His atonement - God's Son on the cross, enduring God's wrath for our sins, dying, and rising to life again, a living Savior, after three days in the tomb - should abide with Him forever. This new heart produces an earnest desire in the believer to repent of sin, focus on God, to draw nearer to Him and do what is pleasing to Him, to know His Word and to glorify Him in all that he does. That is the meaning of life. We are no longer citizens of Earth, but citizens of Heaven and it should burn brightly in every aspect of our existence.

In my experience, those who have true conversion (become new creatures, catch fire for the Lord, become zealously passionate about His word and glorifying Him) have one of two things happen to them. Either they are run out of the church or they are made associate pastors. Which one happens, I think, has to do with whether the church thinks they can control the person or not.

A lot has been written on Matthew 7:21-23 which is the passage that reads "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" It can be a scary passage because it begs the question, how does one know if one is authentic? Actually, Jesus speaks to that directly before this passage "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."

I think we ought to be passionately concerned about our salvation. I think that we all ought to be self-examining at all times, tossing that which has wicked motivation or is wrongheaded, seeking to draw closer to a life which bears good fruit. I think it's a good thing to have constant awareness of why we are doing what we are doing (although at times I would settle for awareness of what I am doing.) It is promised that the gate is narrow and hard. Don't do things out of a sense of social duty or fear of man. I would really rather see huge masses of rank heathens and a handful of the saved, than mega-churches jammed full of those unable to hear the gospel because no one can convince them that they aren't already Christians.

I tend to gravitate toward the honest and the admittedly flawed. I like it when people admit who they are regardless of what that may be, or, more to the point, I find that preferable to those who pretend to be something close to what I am.


  1. I detest the whole culture of pretending to be without problems. It's as if there is some kind of list of what's okay to struggle with and what's not okay. People admit to the one and not the other. Such lists are, frankly, bullshit. I won't be a part of any community which treats every struggler as if they are backslidden. That was one of the early enticements about Orthodoxy -- Orthodoxy expects you to struggle (with fear and trembling, no less). If you aren't struggling, you're not doing your job. That doesn't mean we have to be morose, or wear our faults on our sleeves. Just that we're given the room to be honest with where we are actually at. We don't have to have it all figured out, yet. I'll take genuine over saccharine any day.

  2. Yes, it's one of the things that makes me feel like an alien in my own religion in certain places and times. I wholeheartedly agree that if you're not struggling, you're not doing your job. Well said.