The Western church is in crisis, struggling to both evangelise and retain her members. The reasons are complex but the most obvious problem is the rise of modernism, a new form of Gnosticism, which manifests as theological liberalism; encouraging the faithful to lose confidence in the historic and objective Christian truths in favour of a subjective interpretation of faith, imparted by “experts” -who consider only themselves progressive and enlightened- and in vogue with the secular consensus.
The church battling heresy is not new. Heresy has ever existed and is akin to a spiritual cancer that attacks the body of Christ- the church. How effective a heresy proves to be depends largely on the spiritual health of the church at the given moment; if the church is in good health, and the people united by a shared proclamation of truth, heresy is soon quashed. But when faith is flagging then heresy takes root, dividing the faithful and causing confusion and error. It is then that heroic saints and martyrs tend to arise to lead souls back to Christ. Thank God- the devil may win the odd battle but the overall victory is Christ’s.
For the first 1000 years of church history confusion centred on the nature of God. Was Jesus fully divine? Was Jesus really human? Does the Spirit proceed from Father and Son or just from the Father? Was Mary Virgin or not? As each heresy was defeated teaching on the nature of God was settled. Today hardly anybody gets vexed by these issues what tends to divide people instead, and raise the ire of the non-Christian world, and cause widespread confusion, are issues relating to the nature of man…the devil has switched bait!
Is every person really an embodied soul precious to God or are we just clumps of cells that can be ripped from the womb if inconvenient? Are we really created male and female by God or can we choose a gender for ourselves? Was marriage really ordained as the lifelong union between one man and one woman in the interest of children or can we re-invent it to indulge adult wants and desires? Are chastity, continence and celibacy virtues worth pursuing or can we delight in sex as recreation? And so on and so forth. Always the hot button issues centre on anthropological understanding.
The church will only overcome the present crisis, and settle understanding on the nature of man, by defeating the modernist heresy of our day. In pursuit of this sacred task there is a pressing need for a new generation of saints. A people willing and able to resist temptation, to stand by the Gospel and not count the cost. Winning arguments will not be enough, for without love we are but clanging cymbals competing in a world already deafened by the cacophony of competing ideologies and agendas. What is needed is the witness and proof of authentic holiness- a life lived for God. Only better bishops, better priests and better laity will help us sort out the mess. So how do we get them?
Over the next few blog posts I want to reflect on these vocations separately; bishop, priest and laity. Asking where the present models are failing and how they might be honed and improved. Watch this space….