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Friday, January 20, 2017

Are We Christians Trying Too Hard To Fit A Stereotype? Part II

For the near future, the articles posted on Fridays will consist of reviews of Christian writings from 2 perspectives. The first perspective will be that of the view of the role of the Church in America as described by the report, The Crisis Of Democracy. This report is a view of the role of the Church from a liberal viewpoint. This perspective is an observation of the past which was interrupted during the protest years of the 1960s. That time was described by the report as having an 'excess of democracy.' And that view says the following (click here for the source):
In the past, those institutions which have played the major role in the indoctrination of the young in their rights and obligations as members of society have been the family, the church, the school, and the army. The effectiveness of all these institutions as a means of socialization has declined severely. The stress has been increasingly on individuals and their rights, interests, and needs, and not on the community and its rights, interests, and needs.

 The second perspective is an observation, not an ideological declaration, about the Church made from the Left in Russia prior to its October, 1917 Revolution--we should note that Russia also underwent a February, 1917 Revolution. This perspective was written by Vlad (a.k.a., Vladimir Lenin) and it went like this (click here for the source):

Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weighs down heavily upon the masses of the people, over burdened by their perpetual work for others, by want and isolation. Impotence of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters just as inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life after death as impotence of the savage in his battle with nature gives rise to belief in gods, devils, miracles, and the like. Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven. Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze,   in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man.

The reason for reviewing Christian writings from these two perspectives is to determine whether today's writings show that the Church has changed since the times in which those observations were made. And for the record, I just want to say that I am not a fan of Lenin regardless of how I refer to him.

Tim Keller certainly needs no introduction (click here for a bio anyway). He is rightfully
a highly esteemed Christian leader. He has just written a short article that both compares and implores today's Church to be like the first Church (click here for the article). Keller makes this comparison and appeal because of the volatility of our current times. This volatility especially applies, but is not limited to, today's changing sexual mores.

Keller states 3 characteristics about the first Church. The first characteristic is that it 'both offended and attracted' those around them. It offended people with its exclusivity and rejection of Rome's civil religion and much of its way of life. On the other hand, it also appealed to people because of how the Church's members kindly treated others on a personal basis. Its second characteristic dealt with the close and personal relationship with God which the Church taught its members to have. Its third characteristic was that Church offered an assurance of eternal life with God.

How do those early marks of the Church relate to today's world. The exclusivity of the Church applies not just to members but to practices such as our sexual practices. We are called to belong to a loving counterculture to today's status quo. Quoting from one of two books on the Early Church,  Keller notes that a religion that fails to distinguish itself from culture of the society in which it exists will become 'unnecessary' and cease to exist. 


So how does all what Keller notes fit into the two observations made at the beginning. We should note that whereas Keller calls on the Church to distinguish itself from its surrounding culture, this seems to only apply in terms of personal morality such as its members' sexual practices. For Keller doesn't call on the Church to distinguish itself in the areas of concern that either of the two quotes from the beginning deal with. For the quote from The Crisis Of Democracy dealt with how Christians are to live in society and to obey their private and public sector authority figures while Lenin was critical of how the Church failed to both enable workers to free themselves from exploitation and challenge the upper class to refrain from exploiting those underneath them. Keller addresses none of these issues. In fact, if one looks at the conservative Church in America, one finds more than enough encouragement for today's Church in America to not distinguish itself from its surrounding culture in terms of what it teaches about acceptable economic and social structures with the exception of racism.

Thus, Keller's boasting of the charity that the Church's members are to show and of the assurance of eternal life that the Church teaches does not challenge economically and politically exploitive structures. And in terms of the Gospel, that means that the Church is missing an opportunity to comfort some who are oppressed and to call certain people to repentance for how they take advantage of those who rank below them. Thus, though what Keller emphasizes is good, true, and necessary, it is incomplete because it does not address all the causes of exploitation. Here we should note that Keller and some others are doing excellent work in terms of challenging racism in society. But racism is not the only source of suffering that today's vulnerable experience and is not the only sin of oppression that those with power practice.

In other words, Keller's message in this article, despite the excellent points it makes, does not make the Church surpass the role that was described in the report The Crisis Of Democracy or challenge Lenin's observation of the Church during his time. And that is what is missing from the cited article by Tim Keller.




 

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