I concluded quite some time ago that it will take an institution or institutions that have the ability to stand up to the state if there is to be any hope for individuals to live a life moving toward liberty. Historically, in the West, that institution has been the Church. Remarkably, this institution played just such a role – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse – for the better part of a thousand years.
We see today the complete failure of this institution (broadly considered as “Christianity” today, as there is no institutionally unified church) in standing up to anything of state authority. Giving up Holy Week and Easter; need any more be said?
Yet, this institution is more likely to play such a role than is the other possible player in this game: the university. There is no real history of the university playing such a role. More meaningfully, there is no real reason for the university to see a picture larger than that which it finds available to it. In other words: the Christian church has a picture of an authority higher than the state (despite its abject failure to recognize this, it remains true); the university has no such picture.
C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, offered what seems to me to be the common core – the bare minimum requirements – for one to understand Christianity. First, and foremost, is the death and resurrection of Christ, and that somehow this act puts us right with God. Yes, I know that the “somehow” gets a little controversial the deeper down the theological rabbit hole we go, so it seems “somehow” was a good word choice on Lewis’s part.
We read in Acts 2, regarding Peter’s preaching to the crowd:
32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Peter preached the resurrection, and 3,000 were saved.
Lewis offers, further:
There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names – Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper.
He notes that there are variations in practice regarding these three things, but these three things are common to all who profess to be Christian.
I started down a path of examining a book by Brett Salkeld, Transubstantiation: Theology, History, and Christian Unity. This as a step toward looking for avenues of unity. To summarize: the author, a Catholic theologian, walks through the actual teaching of Thomas Aquinas and compares it to the thought of Martin Luther and John Calvin – finding that the Protestant reaction was not to Aquinas, but to what had become almost the opposite of Aquinas’s views. The three were much more aligned than different on what happens during the Eucharist.
Unfortunately, the word transubstantiation carries baggage for Protestants and Catholic alike. With many Catholics accepting the wrong meaning, and Protestants rejecting the wrong meaning that many Catholics hold.
After writing a few posts on it, I decided that I had taken on too big a task. The language and concepts were too much for me, and I did not feel I was doing justice to Salkeld’s work. From this, however, I really gave thought to what, exactly, I was after regarding Christian unity. Was it in these doctrinal nuances, or was it something else? For Christianity to play an institutional role as a check on the state and to therefore afford individuals room for liberty, just what would this look like…at least in my mind?
Well, as you will see, this may be a more difficult hurdle to overcome that the doctrinal issues that have torn Oriental Orthodox from Eastern Orthodox from Catholic from Protestant – and Protestant from Protestant, until we find a countless number of these. More difficult, as will soon be clear, but it should be spelled out.
I find these necessary common features in two categories: first, those actions that can be taken without any recourse or pleading with the state; second, those which require a unified voice against state action.
So, what of these independent actions? These seem easy enough to identify: merely take on the charitable work that has been abandoned, because “the state does that now,” or, in some cases, the state does the opposite and Christians haven’t put up enough counter-action.
For example: feed the poor, care for the homeless, visit those in prison. Provide a vision contrary to that which society offers: one of love, of meaning, of purpose. Hold meaningful conversations; don’t be afraid of exploring faith and reason. Paul VanderKlay offers an excellent example here.
Further, do something about abortion. I don’t mean lobbying. I mean open and support crisis pregnancy centers, support young women struggling with this decision; where necessary, ensure the possibility of adoption. In other words, take action, don’t wait for the state to solve this crime. Act first, don’t wait for the state.
Finally, stop sending your young men and women overseas for war. Just stop it. None of these wars are in defense of this country; the act of these wars destroys lives of millions who were of no risk to the United States or any other western power.
All of this can be summed up in one word: act. Love is to be found in the doing. The first book after the four gospels is The Acts of the Apostles, the key word being “Act.” The earliest Christians acted this way, and conquered Rome – the mighty state of the Mediterranean world.
Now, where and how to confront of the state. A unified voice is necessary to end overseas adventurism, put a stop to torture and indefinite detention, end the incarceration of non-violent criminals, stand up against the horrendous federal court system, put and end to the robbery of central banking, maximize the opportunity for parents to educate their children as they see fit.
Christian barely touch any of these, and to the extent they do…well, they are on the wrong side.
Yes, I know, not a simple list – actually, the more I look at it, the more depressing it becomes. But there it is, all well-grounded in the Christian gospel and in Christian ethics. All achievable if a unified voice is actually raised, and if unified action is undertaken. All are also actions in support of liberty, an individual liberty protected by the one institution perfectly suited to play this role.
I suspect many churches will lose an audience by following this path, yet I do believe that overall many more people will be drawn to such messages. The hypocrisy of the west is overwhelming, and today many people rightly see Christian churches feeding into that hypocrisy. Is it any wonder that overall church attendance is on the decline?
Church membership in the United States is down from 70% twenty years ago to 50% today. Perhaps it is precisely due to the loss of just what I outline here (that, and the end of the Cold War). Still, 50% is a large number. With half the nation speaking in a unified manner on these topics, liberty stands a chance. Unfortunately, too often those who have attempted some version of a moral majority took the fight in the wrong direction.
So, that’s it. Not “that’s it” like my lists are complete, as I am sure there is more. But that’s it in terms of something like this framework. For those of you who have been regularly reading this blog through this part of my journey – the search for liberty, there it is. This is where the real fight for liberty is – within our own churches.
I hate to be the bearer of such bad news…. made even worse with events in recent weeks.
“Can’t we just convince the people with our ideas? The non-aggression principle and private property; these should be sufficient, and so easy to understand.”
There is no doubt that such education is necessary and beneficial. But is it sufficient for liberty? The simple answer is…no. I will write something more on this topic in the coming days.