...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Hitting home

I was reading through the first volume of Jaroslav Pelikan's history of the church, when I was struck by this quote, where Pelikan quotes Engelhardt (no idea who he is):

"'It is equally certain that Justin [Martyr]'s own faith was nourished more by that which the congregation confessed and taught concerning Christ its Lord than by that which he himself interpreted in a theoretical way'...his martyrdom speaks louder, even doctrinally, than does his apologetics." page 143

What caught my attention immediately, though I saw later I had probably misinterpreted the passage, was the parallel to my own life, or perhaps more appropos, the perpendicularity to my own life. For a very long time I have lived with an unsatisfying church life. The church I came from was pretty similar to the church I attend now, but I was active in the youth ministry there too and had a lot of friends, so what I got out of church (typical Protestant mind-set, of course) stemmed more from the relationship I had with a select group than it did with the church itself or the congregation as a whole. But even in the context of my friendships & leadership roles, something was missing, which I always attempted to fill with my own pursuits. Given that I'm relatively intelligent and love to read, those pursuits normally consisted of reading & pondering. In short, they were intellectual pursuits. I was trying to feed my soul through my head. Read enough, learn enough and I will grow spiritually. Now, this is certainly true and it is equally true that a great many Christians in the world today would be quite better off spiritually if they would pick up a good Christian book and force themselves through a few pages.

One thing I've learned since starting this job is the large degree to which kids today are able to compartmentalize things. School, church, family, friends - all go into separate bins in their heads and there is little to no overlap in a lot of cases. What they learn in church doesn't necessarily apply to what happens at home or with their friends. I've come to see that I suffer from this same affliction, though to a lesser extent. I had set church aside as relatively unimportant, given my lack of engagement with it. It had its own compartment and didn't affect the other areas of my life (or so I thought). I'm coming to see how horrible this idea actually is and how antithetical it is to authentically following Christ! We are whole people, and every area of our life affects the whole of it, though we may not recognize that. A merely, or primarily, intellectual faith is unbalanced and unhealthy. So too, an emotional faith. What I never thought about before, though, was how hazardous a churchless faith can be.

So back to St Justin. He produced some of the earliest Christian apologetical material and probably set the stage for the legitimate interaction of faith & philosophy. There is no doubt that he was an intellectual heavyweight, with a keen mind for defending the faith. But that was secondary for him! That was the product of his faith, which he lived out within the life & worship of the church. It was the church, and the unity of faith & purpose that he found there, that drove St Justin. I have tried to live my faith in my own head, largely free of connection and rootedness within a church body - just the opposite of Justin. It is the difference I see between myself and St Justin, and the failure on my part which that difference implies, that caught my attention. The concept of faith flowing from and being strengthened by the church, as opposed to being the result of my own individual effort, is a difficult one to accept. And now, trying to allow the church compartment to overflow and penetrate into the rest of myself is going to be a task of monumental proportions, made all the harder by the doubts & frustrations I have over my present position.


Karl Thienes said...

I tend to let the intellectual aspects dominate too...to dichotomize is the western bugaboo. Even as an Orthodox Christian, it is easy to let "theologizing" take the place of doing my prayer rule, fasting, saying the Jesus Prayer, etc.

What is nice is having Confession; being able to voice this struggle and get practical guidance. Then the intellectual gifts and joys can take their rightful place in our life and can be used for the glory of God.

Nathan said...

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one with this problem! I think our culture has gotten so minimalist that we've pretty much completely lost sight of the holistic practice you describe, which lends itself to an ever more merely intellectual faith.