Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lovers or Haters of Truth?

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

This morning’s Gospel Lesson [Matthew 21:33-42] centers on Christ’s parable of the longsuffering vineyard owner whose wicked tenants had murdered the many servants he sent to collect his fruits, until finally they murdered even his own son. Jesus was speaking of God’s vineyard, Israel, whose people had so often rejected Him and had persecuted and killed the prophets that were sent to correct them. Finally God sent His only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth, to save His people from their sins, and yet those who were haters of truth conspired together to put Him to death.

With the telling of this parable it became clear that the words of the most recently murdered prophet, St. John the Baptist, were about to be fulfilled. The fearful judgment of God was at hand, and already the ax was laid at the root of the tree called Israel.

Notice that even in these crucial last moments, the merciful God refused to pronounce a judgment against His people, but allowed them to pronounce their own. Jesus asked, “What do you suppose the landowner will do when he comes?” And the people responded, “He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and let out his vineyard to other tenants, who will pay him the fruits in their seasons!” So be it. Within a single generation of these words, utter destruction came upon Jerusalem, and the kingdom of God was taken from the Jewish people and given over to the Gentiles.

This is obviously not a politically-correct passage of scripture, and its meaning is sure to bring offense to many, even today. Yet it is a story which must continue to be told, for the grace of God is not the “property” of any group of people. The New Testament scriptures also contain stories of Christian churches rebuked and of lampstands removed by God because of their disobedience to the truth, and the people’s turning away from God. The lesson seems clear that we who call ourselves “God’s people” must never assume that our status is chiseled in stone and cannot be revoked. God of course is faithful and cannot deny Himself or His promises. But the same cannot be said of us or of any people. Only those who love the truth and desire to be conformed to it will find the kingdom of heaven as their home.

When Jesus stood bound before Pontius Pilate, He said to the king, “I bear witness to the truth, and everyone who is of the truth hears My voice”. As the ultimate demonstration of a person who simply does not get it, Pilate could only stupidly respond, “What is truth?”

Most people today seem to agree with Pontius Pilate. The prevailing philosophy, mindless though it may be, is that truth is relative, truth is whatever you want it to be, and your preferred truth can be no better or worse than my preferred truth. If no one can be entirely wrong, then it logically follows that no one can be entirely right either. Thus the one misstep on this dance floor of relativism is to assert that your truth is the one absolute truth. By contrast, the highest virtue is to simply “agree to disagree” so that you can keep your truth and the other fellow can keep his and everyone can continue the dance uninterrupted by the annoying thought that this is complete and utter nonsense. This sounds like the perfect description of contemporary Christendom.

Centuries ago, the efforts of men to reform the corrupted Roman Catholic church went completely awry, and Western Christendom was plunged headlong into the murky sea of relativism. With the bible replacing the Church as the sole guide to faith and practice, every man became his own pope and parsed the scriptures to decide his own doctrinal positions and in short, his own truth.

Today this is portrayed as the absolute right, even the solemn responsibility of the individual Christian. We are told that we must not follow any church, but only the bible as we read it. The fact that this clearly doesn’t work and has led to the catastrophic collapse of Western Christendom into division, error, and rancor, is simply ignored. The principle remains sound, you see. Even if no two people can fully agree, each man must still find his own truth.

Is this Christianity? Do you think it is purely coincidental that this spirit of relativism which casts off the Church as the pillar and foundation of the truth, rejects the work and operation of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the saints over centuries, and appoints each man as his own spiritual guide, just happens to align perfectly with Satan’s deepest desire to dethrone God and set himself up as absolute ruler? Fallen man is naturally inclined toward the devil’s suggestions. That doesn’t change the instant a person comes to belief in Christ. Putting a bible in a new convert’s hands and telling him that he will now be led by the Spirit into all the truth is something that holds tremendous appeal to the ego of man. It’s hard to resist the giddying idea that you can become the equal of popes, bishops, and saints that went before. In fact—listen to this, dear Christian—you will be even greater than these, for they foolishly followed the traditions of the Church, but you, O wise one, follow the bible only.

Led away by the flattering suggestions of the devil and his own enormous pride, man readily accepts the arrogant notion that he alone will be right where so many before apparently went wrong. Even if the entire early Church believed one thing, and he has been persuaded to believe another, he will never for a moment doubt his own opinions, but will brazenly pronounce the early Church as apostate. A person ensnared in such delusion does not sincerely want to know the truth, but only to defend his own positions. Thus he must ignore or denounce the Church and the writings of its many saintly fathers, and wrap himself up in the pious cloak of “bible only”.

In ancient Israel, the haters of truth had Christ put to death in order to continue their lives without His interference. In our day, the haters of truth put His Church to death, so that they can pick and choose their own beliefs without interference. If anyone, including you or me, would dare to call ourselves lovers of God, we must prove that by becoming lovers of truth, and not merely lovers of our own opinions. The path to God is not through human ego or pride, but through deliberate submission to the life and faith of the Church preserved by God.

The seeker of truth must first acknowledge that he knows nothing, and that he cannot depend upon himself alone to find the fullness of truth. While this suggestion may appear scandalous to many, there is another, more ancient word for it, called “humility”. People today are puffed up with their bible opinions and argue angrily with one another continually. But the humble man, in coming to Christ, also allows Christ to lead him into His Church, and does not oppose the Lord’s efforts to do so. In the Church man eventually learns to lay aside his own ego and to seek purity of the heart over knowledge of the head. Only in this way does he prepare himself to receive the genuine knowledge of truth, which is a spiritual revelation given by God, and not something gained by man’s own intellectual study.

The humble are careful to submit themselves to God, finding in their obedience deliverance from the devil’s many snares. This is the path that we should follow, the same tried-and-true path worn deep by millions of holy people before us. Follow the traditions of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and you will know the truth that will set you free and bring about your certain salvation.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

4 Comments:

At 8/25/2007 3:14 PM , Blogger handmaidmary-leah said...

Amen! Fr. Michael, Amen!
Its the hardest thing to do, giving up our own mind for the mind of Christ, of the Church...
Christ is in our midst!

 
At 8/25/2007 7:24 PM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Great post Father! Why doesn't it bother our protestant brothers and sisters even a little that the theology that they have embraced bears little resemblance to the father of their faith? If Luther came back today, he would be faced with the fact that quite few of his "reformers" have bothered to follow his reformation. But these people are convinced that it works, and because they "are saved" they really don't need to fret about such things.

Thank you for the time and effort that you put into this Father Michael.

 
At 8/27/2007 2:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Western Christendom was plunged headlong into the murky sea of relativism. With the bible replacing the Church as the sole guide to faith and practice, every man became his own pope and parsed the scriptures to decide his own doctrinal positions and in short, his own truth."

Isn't this, Father, painted with too broad of a brush? Are you including the RCC and all the variants of the Reformation as being "equally guilty" (to the same degree and kind) of "relativism"? Certainly the RCC doesn't fall into the "everyone-is-his-own Pope" category. They have a Pope! They also agree with the first 7 Ecumenical Councils. Wouldn't most "mainstream" Orthodox see the RCC (western by your definition) and the EO churches as sharing many features of "church-ness" in common, although each would argue (for different reasons) the other is to some degree "damaged" (rather than devoid of truth)? What about the many elements of the "Creed" (Nicene and Apostle's)and many of the theological doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils, accepted as "sacred" by many "western Christians"? Must we lump all "western Christianity" into the same kettle ("division, [total] error, and rancor") in order to make the point that while there are elements and degrees of "truth" in all the expressions of Christianity, the "essential fulness" of the Orthodox expression surpasses them? If the Holy Spirit was not operating in you before you became Orthodox, what spirit led you to the Orthodox Church? If the Holy Spirit was operating in you and others who become Orthodox, how can we call these other traditions devoid of truth? Even Patriarch Photius, 9TH Century (refering to east-west) wrote:

"Everywhere one must preserve what is defined by common ecumenical decisions, but a particular opinion of a Church Father or a definition isued by a local council, can be followed by some and ignored by others..."

I just think important issues - even when they are nuanced - are better served by "rightly dividing" them with a scalpel, rather than a meat cleaver.

With all due respect.

 
At 8/27/2007 7:59 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Dear “Anonymous”

I get the impression you are not responding to anything I wrote so much as you are seizing this as opportunity to voice your own opinions. Clearly my own reference to Roman Catholicism was passing, as I focused my attention primarily on those who reject “Church” entirely in favor of their own interpretations of the bible. In regard to the RCC however it does not quite, as you claim, “accept” the creeds of the 7 councils, as it has clearly mutilated the Nicene Creed to suit its own preferred “truth” and has otherwise so departed from the life and faith of Orthodox Christianity as to be utterly out of communion with it.

As to other Western Christians who supposedly accept “most” of the sacred traditions, I ask you, why do they not accept them all? Is not their “picking and choosing” of Christian tradition the root of heresy and division and sufficient evidence of their relativistic approach? Why do they not accept the one sacred Church itself, but insist that “their church” is equally legitimate, or as in the case of many, that they can follow Christ outside of any church whatsoever?

You and I might well debate the degree of relativism that exists within contemporary Western Christendom, but neither of us can honestly contend that it is not there. Your own comments reveal this much.

As to your closing comment of “all due respect,” that might be easier to believe if you had signed your name.

 

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