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Archive for April, 2020|Monthly archive page

Relationship — Not Rules

In Christianity on April 3, 2020 at 9:10 pm

In the COVID-19 crisis or just the “ordinary” challenges of everyday life, is there any point in turning to the Church? The only sensible answer is:

That depends on whether what the Church says is true of not.

If the Church is only a matter of rules and regulations, then forget it. Many have. If it is no more than a religious social club, then an athletic club would do us more good. If the Church is no more than a badly run organization providing social services, then others do that. Is there anything unique or worthwhile about the Church?

Yes.

If the Church exists based on an accurate account of Jesus Christ, Who actually lived in the same stream of history we do and did what He is reported to have done, then there is a good bit that is unique and worth our attention.

Jefferson Was Wrong
“It’s all fairy tales. No one believes that miracle stuff any more.” This attitude is not new. For centuries, people have worked to downplay and even remove the miraculous from Christianity. Thomas Jefferson edited his Bible, doing a cut-and-paste job long before computers made that task easier. He sought to eliminate the supernatural and limit Christ to moral teachings.

The Church is Supernatural
“Supernatural” is not a smokescreen the Church hides behind when the Bible talks about “the mystery of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:9). A mystery is something that can be experienced, even if it cannot be explained.³

Think of love. We know it exists. Most of us have experienced it. But can all the dimensions of love be explained? Or think of light waves. Light exists. We know it is real. Yet there are light waves beyond the visible spectrum, beyond the range of light waves we see — for example, infrared and ultraviolet. Anyone who has ever gotten into a closed car heated by the sun, or who has had a bad sunburn, has experienced the invisible-but-real.

We sense what mystery is every day, when we feel that we seem to be made for more than we are.¹ We’re right about that. What’s more, if you take away the miracles, the Virgin Birth, healings, and Resurrection, then faith becomes dull and uninteresting — and more important, without power. The reality of God breaking into history, walking this earth, dying, and rising from the dead is the basis for all faith (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Credo ut Intellegam
Credo ut Intellegam,” St. Augustine wrote. “Believe, so that you may understand.”

This does not mean the uncritical acceptance of every crackpot idea that comes along. Rather, the belief Augustine had in mind is to accept the historical narrative of Jesus Christ — including the miracles because they are part of the narrative — then test it by application to our own lives.

How do we test it? We test the historical account of Christ through relationship, by entering into a relationship with Him. As the first Scripture reading of Good Friday says, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3, ESV translation).

G.K. Chesterton said:

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” ²

To accurately say anything about Christianity other than, “I guess I never really tried,” we must open our lives to Jesus Christ. We must enter into a relationship. If we stop with only the rules, regulations, or ritual, we have stopped short of relationship.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.³  (Matthew 11:28)

Come.

 

¹ The Order of Things, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), page 19.

² G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (1910), chapter 1, section 5.

³ Longenecker, Dwight. Letters on Liturgy (Kindle Locations 554-555). Kindle Edition.