Monday, January 1, 2018

What We Have Lost: A Call to a Paleo-Orthodox Future

The modern church has lost something vital. Most of us can sense it. We can even see it, if we are to be honest with ourselves. While there are exceptions, for the most part the church has lost a true sense of community, a uniquely Christian counter-cultural worldview, and the radical faith of the early church. Rather than maintaining these essentials of Christian philosophy, the church has by and large abandoned them in favor of embracing the Imperium- the world and worldly system of things. This is not all the fault of modern believers, as the rot started to set in during the time of Constantine. Innocently enough at the beginning, Christians found themselves no longer the scourge of the Roman government, and indeed even came to be favored. It was in this favorable approach from the still very much pagan government and worldview of Rome that the trouble began. The church grew a bit too closely aligned with the Imperium, too comfortable in appropriating former pagan temples for worship and pagan feast days for the remembrance of martyrs and saints. Certainly the rationale was somewhat sound. In order to reach the pagans, in order to change the pagan culture, they had to engage it- and engage it they did. As the Roman authorities came to favor Christianity, pagans began to see that, if they were to have any future in government or business, they too should embrace this new religion. And so pagans flooded the church as "converts", albeit insincere and with an eye toward wealth and power. These converts in turn encouraged the appropriation of pagan temples and pagan feasts by their new religion, as this permitted them to keep their former pagan places of worship, traditions, and celebrations, with a thin covering of Christianity. Again, the church meant well, and the idea of converting souls to the gospel is certainly biblically sound, but the eventual result was anything but good. Rather than being a witness of the gospel and the Kingdom, they compromised a bit too much with the surrounding culture, and as we move away from the Council of Nicaea in history, we also witness a move away from the purity of the witness of the early church- the church of the Apostles, martyrs and saints. We all know, of course, the rest of the story: the church assuming the role of the Roman authorities when Rome collapsed, the embourgeoisment of the clergy, and the political intrigues that plagued and marked the church for many, many years after. It was not all bad. The church did have a positive effect on many policies as it advised the various monarchies, and was instrumental in forming healthy, organic cultures,  but this was not to last long.

Fast forward to the current year.

The church is now in dire straits. Heresy is openly taught and embraced in pulpits all over the world, biblical gender roles have been tossed aside in favor of "gender equality", God's will regarding human sexuality has been tossed out the window in many denominations in favor of LGBTQ demands, the church lost all sense of true community in its adoption of the Marxist replacement known as "social justice", and the church has abdicated its role as salt and light- as a witness to the Kingdom message of Jesus Christ. Rather than maintaining the long discarded counter-cultural worldview of that Kingdom, the church has grown more like the surrounding cultures. The excuse has been "cultural relevance", but in that very phrase lays the implicit necessity for compromise with a lost, pagan world very much at war with the faith. Today, as in the infancy of our faith, Christians are finding themselves persecuted and prosecuted for their faith. No, it is not to the same extreme as ancient Rome (yet), but the seed is there, and if you truly believe what Scripture has to say about the End Times, that seed will grow to make Rome look like child's play.

Much like our forebears in the faith, the church has aligned itself with worldly governments. This is perhaps no more true than in the United States, where many Christians functionally, if not literally, fuse Christianity to the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. Patriotism is the badge of a good American Christian, while any suggestion that we look honestly at the liberal, Freemasonic, and libertarian ideals that form the basis of this nation's political and social views, is met with derision both from pew and pulpit. If the Christian who, with an informed conscience on these issues, realizes that this nation is not God ordained, or that the elections do not really provide choices, but merely different faces prosecuting the same agenda from different angles, they are told how irresponsible it would be to disengage from the system that has increasingly rejected their morals, ethics, and values, despite their compromise and voting for constant "lesser evils". This compromise has resulted in our nations becoming decadent, our neighborhoods cesspools, and any sense of national sovereignty or homogeneity is burned up in the growing bonfires of globalism. 

The church must admit to this: There are no God fearing monarchs to whom we can turn anymore, and democracies and libertarianism have failed to produce the world promised. It is time to do something radically different, yet radically ancient. It starts with reclaiming the universal principles of the church. 

Dr. Thomas Oden, in his book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, provides four guiding principles for just such an undertaking.

 1) The universal prevails over the particular (the whole is preferred to the part)- The reclamation of the principles that made the church such a powerful witness in a hostile pagan world must become our immovable core, regardless of pet theological ideas and petty denominational differences. In fact, we must (if necessary) abandon denominations in favor of these principles.

2) The older apostolic witness prevails over the newer alleged general consent.- Sacred Scripture is the oldest apostolic witness we possess, and must form the very core of our faith and of all that we do in restoring the church to its earlier Kingdom witness. A people may (and have) consent to theological ideas and methods of "worship" that are in error and at odds with Scripture. We find many churches doing just this very thing now with the result of female presbyters and bishops, gay and lesbian clergy and/or marriages, etc. General consent carries no promise of infallibility. Sacred Scripture, on the other hand, does. Understanding it in the context of its intended audiences, and extracting the universal apostolic truths contained therein is a necessity.

3) Conciliar actions and decisions prevail over faith-claims as yet untested by conciliar acts.- The determinations of the ecumenical church councils, in so far as they are faithful to the early Christian witness and Sacred Scripture, are authoritative; not the claims of relatively modern thinkers and theologians. We must eschew all novel approaches to theology and worship.Our reclamation is not the creation of something new, but returning to something ancient.

4) Where no conciliar rule avails, the most reliable consensual ancient authorities prevail over those less consensual over the generations.- Where Scripture is relatively silent, or provides no substantive information, and where the councils have provided no substantive guidance, we return to consensual ancient authorities- the Church Fathers. Where they speak in one accord, we accept that as being of apostolic origin and authority.

These, I believe, are the starting point for a reformation of the Reformation, so to speak. Around these four simple principles we can begin to build a foundation for true Christian community again, and restore ourselves to our original counter-cultural worldview that made the church such a powerful witness. I am under no misapprehension that these four principles are complete, but as the Lord calls others out of the milieu of the church of Modernity, these principles will begin to be developed. I invite my readers to prayerfully consider this a call to a paleo-orthodox (early Christian) future.

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