After work yesterday, I went home and took some time to read a bit and to pray about the issues I mentioned in the previous post. I decided the best place to start reading my 38 volume Church Fathers birthday present (still the best ever!) was, oddly enough, at the beginning. The very first work is the First Epistle of Clement, which I have almost finished. Its a telling experience to read the words of someone who lived 1900 years ago - the style, content and focus of the work can be difficult obstacles since they are so different from modern texts. For having to write by hand, I have noticed that these writers were actually very verbose, frequently readdressing the same point several times from different angles. I don't know if this was a conscious decision to stress the importance of what they were trying to say, or merely conforming to the style of the day, but I like the richness & depth it produces. It does not presume the reader will know or think about all of these angles & nuances, and so the author is a like a tour guide taking the much longer but vastly superior scenic route, pointing out all the details and giving the reader a chance to savor and ponder what is before him.
"These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behoves [sic] us to do all in order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform....Ye see, brethren, that the greater the knowledge that has been vouchsafed to us, the greater also is the danger to which we are exposed." Chapters 40 & 41
Clement here is not speaking about danger from an external source - from heretics, the Roman government or even the devil himself - no, Clement is speaking about the danger God poses to us. He says, "[t]hose, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished..." Having been entrusted with the gift of divine knowledge, we must make every effort to see it is handled and treated with the respect & reverence it so clearly deserves. I think this is one of the fundamental differences I see between Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Protestantism doesn't treat divine knowledge disrespectfully, but they do handle it in a familiar fashion. They treat it as a family member instead of a respected house-guest. The priest of the parish my wife and I attended for a few months used to describe this is as "putting Jesus in your pocket," which I think is an apt description. There is undoubtedly love, devotion and commitment to Christ, but the tone is frequently casual, and there is certainly little perception of the danger of the knowledge we have been given.
Hebrews 2:1-3a "For this reason we must pay much closer to attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (NASB)
Will our familiarity breed contempt, as the saying goes? I fear that it might, because we have lost sight of the dangerous glory of God. A recent article in Relevant Magazine hightlights an interview with John Fischer, who says:
"Faith is necessary for a more dangerous life...It finally dawned on me that the message of ‘Safety’ was really bugging me. It almost starts to appear that the bulk of the Christian sub-culture, all these Christian products in the Christian world, however it got started, it appears to exist today out of a fear of the world and a desire to be safe within a subculture where we can still enjoy all those worldly things, but they have been made safe for us and for our consumption. Like a Good Christian Seal of Approval...I think in terms of individual faith it has also affected us. Faith itself has to come in the midst of some kind of tension, pressure, fear, whatever. If everything is fine and we’re comfortable and we’re only around people of faith, in an environment of faith, then who needs faith?"
I think Fischer is right. There is an effort to scrub things clean and make them safe for more consumption (which he explores later in the article), but we are forgetting that what we need is not cleanliness but redemption. The ideas & things we surround ourselves with are in just as much need of regeneration and salvation as we are, and we have forgotten that. We have taken the glory & knowledge of God and turned them into cheesy t-shirts, Christianized comic books and consumer driven churches. We have, in short, neglected so great a salvation.