Skip to main content

Social Media, Immanuel Kant, and the Church

 

By David Baggett

What on earth do these three things have to do with one another? Well, I recently found myself looking at the work of Immanuel Kant, particularly his Religion within the Bounds of Reason, and a few thoughts occurred to me to pass along. In the third section of the book, Kant extends the discussion beyond the need for individual forgiveness and moral transformation to a more communal matter: participation in a community and its role, among others, to furnish eminently teachable moments.

It’s easy to think we’ve morally arrived when we’re sealed in like a hermit away from others, but we acquire patience when we actually have to practice it among other people. We learn love when we strive to have it for people not always easy to love. This is an important reason why community is vital as a sanctification tool.

Kant recognized that victory of the good over evil, and the founding of the kingdom of God on earth, occurs only in the context of community. He thought of such a “community of ends,” or “ethical commonwealth,” as a necessarily religious institution. Why?

When we live in proximity to others, we all too easily have a corrupting influence on each other. Consistent with Christian theology, Kant thought that, despite our potential for good, we’re all also afflicted with radical evil. Believers are in the process of being extricated from our “dear self” that can so easily beset us and derail our best efforts, but we remain susceptible to its allure. Only God’s grace can ultimately liberate us from it.

As I reflected on this, it dawned on me that we live in an interesting historical moment in this regard. Until about a decade ago, social media didn’t exist like it does now, and it has thrust us all, however unwittingly, into a novel relational paradigm, a new robust community. High school reunions don’t mean what they used to; rather than being out of touch with old friends and hankering to reconnect, we get hourly updates about their goings on. Much of this is wonderful, even charming, but it has its downside, and Kant can help us see why.

“Familiarity breeds contempt” is an oft-repeated adage for good reason. The more we’re around others—virtually or otherwise—the greater the temptation to find them a bit wearisome. Patterns emerge; idiosyncrasies begin to grate; and interpersonal conflicts owing to jealousy, selfishness, and a million other causes can easily ensue. This is unfortunate, but Kant also saw such inevitable conflicts in community as potentially redemptive, for they can reveal to us new things about ourselves—our need for deeper transformation, for learning to live with others despite their (and our) moral frailties and failures, and for coming to understand what it means to treat others as ends in themselves rather than as mere means.

Kant thought such communities are forged by a willingness to come together and agree to cooperate based on moral laws. He saw these communities as a kind of church in which we have the chance to learn and grow, becoming better, not worse. The possibility for both exists.

And the context of social media ratchets it all up a notch. Here the ugly underside of the human condition is often on full display: indulgence, rabid partisanship, off-putting communication styles, sophistry, dehumanization, unchecked incivility, shoddy argumentation, disingenuousness, putting on airs, projecting impressions, self-aggrandizement, addictive tendencies, unfiltered commentary, unprovoked tendentiousness, and the list goes on.

The Bible would up the ante even more: Is it an expression of love? Is it a way to obey the most important command to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves? 

The littered trail of not just lost Facebook connections, but ruined friendships—even among strong professing Christians—is adequate commentary that too often social media has brought out our worst, not our best.

To my fellow believers, in particular, I’d like to say this as a word of encouragement and exhortation: of course social media isn’t the (or even a) local church, but we’re all part of the Church universal, and biblical truths apply. If social media is going to serve as a redemptive presence in our lives, we have to remember something that Kant recognized clearly. The ethical commonwealth—the contexts to which we belong, even on social media—is insufficient for true religion. We have to learn to allow God to guide all the members of a group together, all the disparate parts of His body. He’s the Head of the Kingdom of Ends able to coordinate and make cohere all the different roles we’re meant to play.

The same Being or Source is at the root of the moral deliverances to which we all need to heed, especially when it’s tempting not to. From this perspective, the level of cooperation between the members of the groups thus banded together will be a function of how faithfully they follow His lead in their lives. Garden variety conflicts are still sure to arise, but they needn’t—and they mustn’t—irremediably divide; they can instead be means of grace.

Kant offered a good test for actions when it comes to religious practice that would also serve as a useful rule for engagement on social media: Asking whether the word or action conduces to virtue, in oneself and others. If it doesn’t, best to refrain from it.

The Bible would up the ante even more: Is it an expression of love? Is it a way to obey the most important command to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves? If we speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, we are a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. And though we have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though we have all faith—so that we could remove mountains—and have not love, we are nothing.

In this wonderful and special time of year, a season of soaring hope and charity, and at the precipice of a new year, let’s do something countercultural: let’s allow a spirit of generosity to replace any animus and invective, exchanging harsh tones and cutting comments for words of healing and edification, renewal and mercy, reconciliation and restoration—extending to others the grace that’s been offered to us.

From all of us at MoralApologetics.com, blessed Advent, and Merry Christmas.

 

Image: Telephone exchange by Cristiano de Jesus. CC License. 

Twilight Musings: “Gender Benders”

by Elton Higgs  

The worldwide Women’s Marches earlier this year brought to the fore once more the tangled morass of arguments and battles about sexuality launched in the 1960s.  Marchers interviewed by the news media were eager to assert that the marches were not just about women’s rights per se, but about justice in all matters pertaining to freedom of choice and equality of opportunity.  They did not want anybody’s identity to be determined by anything other than each person’s self-definition.  There is certainly some common sense to the principle of equal opportunity and not being defined by incidental characteristics.  Indeed, as Christians we are taught that we are all one before God, to be valued by each other as each of us is by God, without regard to race, gender, or socio-economic standing.  But the current militant arguments on gender turn back on themselves and involve unrealized—or at least unacknowledged—contradictions, because their proponents are sometimes zealots for radical free will and at other times fervent determinists.

The early 20th century granting of voting rights for women gave women a formal voice in the shaping of social and political policy, a privilege which was used to protest against all other forms of discrimination against women.  Western women had their boundaries of activity in society further expanded by being called to work in factories during two world wars in the 20th century.  Added to that, WW I signaled the deliverance of women from the stereotyped image of sexual innocence promoted by the Victorians, and the “Roaring Twenties” brought much license in women’s public appearance and behavior.  After a brief re-emphasis on the domesticated female in the fifties, the baby boomers of the sixties took full advantage of the availability of “the pill” to promote sexual freedom, which enabled women to experience full sexual expression without the “threat” of being taken out of circulation by pregnancy.  With the reproductive handicap removed, feminists at this point were able to argue that traditional sexual roles are not biologically determined, but are merely the cultural constructs of self-interested and self-perpetuating patriarchal power.  And if the biology of sexual identity is incidental rather than essential, people are free to decide for themselves how their sexual roles are to be defined.  Sexual identity is determined by what one wills it to be, not by biology at birth.

It’s obviously a short and seemingly logical step from this position to what we have seen in the latest stages of this sexual revolution: if one’s sexual orientation or desire is contrary to his/her biological identity, what of it?  Biology is incidental, so if I choose to follow an inclination to be other than what my biology implies, and I decide to form a sexual union with someone of my own gender, or even to change my gender, it is my right to follow my own willed sexual path.  The irony of ending up here, of course, is that homosexual militants insist that they are born with the sexual orientation that they identify with, so they should be allowed to accept the way they were born and not be told that it ought to be otherwise.  (Ironic, isn’t it, that the same deterministic principle doesn’t apply to one’s biological sexual identity?)  Which is it to be, choice and willed action, or submission to destiny and predetermining influences?

The most recent militant push for self-defined sexual identity, the supposed right of individuals to decide their proper gender for themselves, abandons even the pretense of logic.  This project assumes that it is an individual’s right to force other people to act toward them in complete acceptance of a self-defined, counter-physical gender identity, so that they are allowed to mix with the biologically opposite sex in the most intimate of public places, the restrooms.   (Those who have gone through medical gender-change are a different matter, practically speaking, although their situation still involves moral questions to be dealt with.)

Ironically, all of this sophistry, by seeking to erode common-sense methods of determining gender, threatens to destroy true liberty rather than to expand it.  If there is any real “freedom to choose” in human beings, it does not consist merely of an anarchy of possibilities that creates infinite islands of individuality.  Rather, the power of choice enables meaningful directions of the will toward participation in a world ordered by both natural and moral law.  Just as the scientist works in the context of a natural order that sets boundaries to what he concludes from his research, so are there necessary boundaries to defining who we are and deciding how we ought to conduct ourselves.  Desire and preference are not self-validating reasons for rejecting those boundaries, nor will they change the disruptive consequences of non-bounded choices.

 

 

 

 

 

Twilight Musings: Summary and Conclusions for “What’s a Body to Do?” (part 4)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

By Elton Higgs

What, then, are the practical implications of all of this for our life together within the Body of Christ?

(1) In the first place, we had better all get it right in regard to what power means within the Body. There can be no question about God’s expectation that those in authority will encourage and enhance the ability of those in their charge to realize their full potential, perhaps even enabling them to achieve a fuller potential than they realize is possible. We are one in Christ, joint-heirs and brothers and sisters of Him and of each other, without regard to our earthly, circumstantial relationships. No exercise of authority by husband, elder, employer, or parent is to involve demeaning or devaluing those who, under God, submit to them; and with the exception of parents’ responsibility to keep their children under control, in none of these situations is an individual in power authorized to demand submission from others. (It should be noted that elders may sometimes have to exercise leadership in disciplining a wayward member, but in my opinion this should be done only in cases of disruptive behavior or bringing shame on the church, and never without consultation with other mature members of the Body, so that the disciplined member is the subject of congregational action, not just excommunication by the elders.) If the attitudes of mutual submission and putting others’ welfare above our own governed every member of the Body, there would be no arguments about relative advantages enjoyed by or denied to anyone.

(2) Given our frailty and flaws in the flesh, disputes and accusations will arise, and those in authority will too often abuse their power and advantage. What are those for whom God has commanded submission to do? One form of this question was poignantly expressed to me by a dear sister in Christ: “How do I separate my own continual need for humbling and molding, obey Jesus’ command to ‘bless those who persecute,’ but still stand up against what really, honestly seems to me to be sinful, destructive power structures in our church?” The first thing to be said is that submission doesn’t mean not being able or willing to voice opposition to “sinful, destructive power structures” or to a leader’s obsessive and inordinate use of power. If those involved in such behavior are not willing to listen to respectfully presented objections, then they, like the sowers of dissension, are “self-condemned” for their lack of humility and of concern for those for whom they have been given responsibility. Husbands and church leaders, they must remold themselves to fit the paradigm by which they actively cultivate the ability of their wives and the women of the congregation to contribute to family, community, and congregational life in such a way as to demonstrate and appreciate their value as co-workers in God’s vineyard, not to humiliate them. Precisely what the effects of this paradigm are may differ between specific families and congregations, but what in all instances it must mean is that women are given equal honor with men; that whatever submission they offer is taken as the voluntary fruit of their relationship with God, and not imposed upon them; and that any limits imposed upon their activity within the congregation be determined through communication and dialogue with them, not by edict from the leaders.

In this context, I must hasten to add that women should not put themselves or their children in jeopardy when a husband has proven to be abusive. When a husband so grossly perverts his power and his physical or social advantage over those who are weaker, those who are in danger are not obligated to be enablers of his abuse, and he must be curbed by the discipline and control of both civil and church authorities. As Paul used all legal means to avoid unjust treatment, so in such cases should contemporary women in free societies avail themselves of all legal means to deliver themselves and their children from physical abuse. Preachers and elders who pressure wives to continue to live with their husbands under such circumstances are not reflecting the biblical principle of submission, but are making yet another legalistic application of it which demeans and injures the weak and brings reproach and shame on the church.

(3) The third point to be made here is that joint prayer is a marvelous leveler in the fellowship of the Body. It is very difficult for people to go on their knees together before God, sincerely submitting themselves anew to Him, and at the same time maintain the barriers to communication often raised by perceived abuses of or challenges to power. In times of prayer like this, we have a tangible manifestation of our being “all one in Christ Jesus,” where we are “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”–that is, where all the distinctions of authority and submission are set aside as we come humbly before the Lord as equals in our experience (and need) of His grace.

I know of no better place to conclude this study than “on our knees together before God,” and this is the prayer that I would leave with you:

Dear Father, enable us to think as Jesus thought, and thereby act as He acted: in humility, servanthood, obedience, and submission to the will of God. Help us also to know the power and strength of allowing these qualities to govern our lives; the freedom of grace that comes from trusting you for the outcome as we obey You; the sweetness of fellowship as You blend us together in the Body of Christ; and the certainty of our final redemption when all submission will be subsumed in our glorious eternal worship together before Your throne. In the Name of Jesus Christ, our King, amen.

 

 

Image: “Battle Center Methodist Church” by TumblingRun. CC License. 

Twilight Musings: “Legalistic Insistence on Submission Ruled Out” (part 3 of “What’s a Body to Do?”)

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

By Elton Higgs 

In view of the principles of freely given submission through the grace of God and mutual submission in love, we must conclude that a legalistic insistence on the submission of others is an attempt to enslave those whom God has set free, and that it has no place in the Body of Christ. The possibility of submitting again to a “yoke of slavery” from which we have been delivered is a subject that Paul addresses with a great deal of feeling, and that leads us to two related final principles flowing from the example of Jesus as obedient servant.

  1. Submission according to the model of Christ is, spiritually speaking, a free and voluntary act, empowered and given meaning by the grace of God, and not by any principle of law. Christ set us free from the Law, so all acts of humility, obedience, and submission will be expressions of spiritual freedom, whatever our exterior circumstances may be (Rom. 5:18-21; Rom. 6:12-19; Gal. 3:23-4:7; 5:16-25; James 4:7-10; I John 2:3-5).

Paul’s teaching on grace continually stresses our deliverance from bondage to sin through the sacrifice of Christ and our freedom in the grace of God. In Romans 6 he says,

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:12-14)

We are no longer subject to the rule of sin because we have been delivered from slavery to it. Even the perfect Law of God delivered through Moses has served its purpose of making evident our slavery to sin and pointing us to Christ, and it is now set aside (Gal. 3:23-25).  And in the freedom of our new life, we can, by the grace of God, offer to Him ourselves and our bodies to be used “as instruments of righteousness,” because we “have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:18). Walking in this new-found freedom of grace is in another place described as living in and being led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-25), which is God’s new life within us, marking us as legitimate, free-born children and heirs of God (Rom. 8:13-17; Gal. 4:6-7).

It is significant that Paul chooses the context of these arguments affirming that we live under grace and not under law in which to make his most egalitarian statement about the relationship between those who are in Christ. Having been delivered from the authority and power of the Law, Paul says, “You are all sons [i.e., children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-29). Consequently, whenever submission is practiced in the Body of Christ, it is not to be seen as in any way devaluing the one submitting, nor conferring superiority on the one being submitted to. Any submission which is forced and not freely given seeks to devalue the one submitting and compromises our deliverance from slavery to the Law. In a case of this sort, the submitter can act in free obedience to the will of God and experience the freedom of grace, while one who tries to enforce submission has stepped outside of grace by refusing to submit to God’s instructions to those having power. It is those instructions that underlie the final principle springing from the servant-example of Jesus:

  1. Any attempt within the Body of Christ to enforce submission from others (with the exception of parents controlling children–I Tim. 3:4) is a divisive work of the flesh, and not of the Spirit, and is a denial of the freedom we have through God’s grace. (Rom. 8:5-8; Rom. 16:17-19; II Cor. 11:4-9; Gal. 2:4-12; 4:8-11; 4:23-5:1; 5:24-26; Col. 2:20-23)

One kind of submission is not only forbidden in the New Testament, but is characterized as a betrayal of the freedom Christ died to obtain for us. In presenting his allegory of the two wives who bore children to Abraham, Paul says, “Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman[Hagar], but of the free woman [Sarah]. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 4:31-5:1). The “yoke of slavery” in this instance took the form of insisting that those males who had accepted Christ had to be circumcised, thus tying them to the Law based on merit which was set aside by the death of Christ. Earlier in the letter, he spoke of the work of false teachers whose purpose was to spy on the “freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” Paul is adamant in his resistance to this attempt, saying, “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Gal. 2:4-5). When even Peter was carried away by the “circumcision group” (2:12), trying to “force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs” (2:14), Paul “opposed him to his face” (2:11) in order to defend the principle of grace as the source of salvation, and not law-keeping.

The Judaizing teachers who came in for such scathing words in the letter to the Galatians were challenging and seeking to replace both Paul’s message and his authority, both of which, he makes clear, were given to him by God Himself (Gal. 1:8-12). The foundation of Paul’s message, the “truth of the gospel,” both as originally delivered to the Galatians and in his letter to them, is that one “is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16). The charge against the false teachers is not merely that they are voicing a differing opinion, but that they are attempting to use their influence to re-enslave people to the attainment of righteousness by their own efforts, instead of relying on God through faith in Christ. They are not people who have a real concern about brothers and sisters in Christ, but rather people whose objective is to exercise control over others through requiring circumcision; as Paul puts it, “they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh” (Gal. 6:13). In other words, they are the sort of people described in Romans 16 who “cause divisions and put obstacles in your way” (v. 17), and those in Titus who foment “foolish controversies and quarrels about the law” which “are unprofitable and useless.” Such a person is to be warned once, “and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned” (Titus 2:9-11).

Motivation and attitude are everything here in evaluating the character of these disruptive teachers and assessing the danger that they pose. They were obviously more concerned with exercising power and coercing people than with following God’s way of grace, humility, and service. In the same way, if a member of the Body of Christ today seeks to gain power over others by demanding a kind of submission which would be a regression to law-keeping and a renunciation of the freedom of grace that we all have in Christ, that person is a sower of dissension and disharmony, a divisive person who is “self-condemned.” While one who refuses to submit to a divinely appointed authority may miss an opportunity for growth and cause the Body to have a weaker testimony to the world, the wielder of fleshly power in the Body who is able and willing to reject the freedom of God’s grace inflicts even greater damage on both himself and the Body by demanding legalistic conformity from others for his own satisfaction and aggrandizement.

(Next week: Part 4 of “What’s a Body to Do?:  Summary and Conclusions)

Image :Dirck van baburen – Christ washing the apostles feet. CC License. 

The Love of God in the Life of St. Patrick

by Marybeth Davis Baggett 

Most religious celebrations and feast days for saints of the church garner little attention outside ecclesiastical circles. St. Patrick’s Day is a notable exception, especially throughout America. Across the country parades and festivities are held to commemorate all things Irish. It’s a delightful holiday in many ways, with ubiquitous shamrocks and obligatory green clothing or accessories and Shamrock shakes galore. Because the church traditionally lifts the Lenten restrictions on alcohol for this celebration, the revelry of St. Patrick’s Day is often marked with more than a little inebriation. Regardless of the specific form of the celebration, rarely invoked are the particulars of the man for whom the day is named. Just who is this Patrick, patron saint of Ireland? Why commemorate his life at all?

The most obvious and the official answer is that we celebrate Patrick’s life because of the key role he played in turning the Irish away from paganism and toward Christianity. This was no mean feat. In Philip Freeman’s helpful biography of Patrick, he tells of the entrenched cultural powers—kings, druids, slaveholders—that Patrick would need to engage to carry out his sixth century mission’s work. The political structures, religious customs, and social practices of Ireland at the start of Patrick’s ministry were all overtly and fiercely anti-Christian. Patrick’s navigation of those dynamics is certainly noteworthy; his overwhelming success in subverting them is nothing short of miraculous. Attempts to capture the astonishing outcomes of Patrick’s work have elevated the man himself to something of a spiritual superhero, complete with his own folklore and fantastical stories.

Sensationalistic tales such as his banishment of snakes from the island and his staff that took root and grew into a tree give the saint an air of mystery and the heroic. The rapidity and breadth of Christianity’s growth across the island is difficult to explain without appeal to the supernatural, and these fabricated stories were probably intended to capture something of the divine power that clearly animated and directed his missions work. But the legends might just as easily distract us from understanding Patrick as the model for Christian faithfulness he provides. True, Patrick was instrumental in radically transforming the landscape of a cruel and dehumanizing culture. Yes, he is rightly recognized as a luminary of the Christian faith. But his life also serves as an example and encouragement for all Christians seeking to live out their faith. What we find in Patrick’s own words testify that the source of this work is the life of Christ available to all Christians. The inspiration of Patrick’s life is not to be found in its outsized results but in its steady faithfulness.

To be sure, the circumstances of Patrick’s life were extraordinary. He was born in fifth-century Britain, the privileged son of a Roman official. During his teenage years, he was kidnapped by Irish mercenaries and forced into slavery in Ireland for six years. After an escape from captivity prompted by an angelic vision, he returned home and devoted himself to the study of scriptures and preparation for ministry of some kind. During his years as a slave, he had become deeply aware of God’s call on his life and of his need for a savior. He later attributed his spiritual growth in this time to his terrible conditions: only when all was stripped away did he realize his complete dependence on God. His physical slavery counterintuitively brought him spiritual freedom. This transformational experience affected him so deeply that when he felt led to return to Ireland, the land and people responsible for his greatest torment, he abandoned himself wholly to that calling. Not only did he return to share the life-giving gospel message with the hardened and violent people of Ireland; he came to love them, even risking his life and reputation for their sake.

This love motivated his letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, a British tribal ruler. This letter jeopardized Patrick’s standing in the church and cost him no small amount of anxiety and energy; nevertheless, his commitment to the Irish people and to the gospel overrode those personal concerns. He wrote his note in response to a raid into Ireland by British soldiers who killed and kidnapped a group of Patrick’s newly baptized converts on their way home from the baptism. Sending this missive put Patrick in danger because it violated long-standing church protocol that leaders should not meddle in the congregations of other church leaders. And Patrick’s letter did more than meddle. It condemned not only the actions of the soldiers but the soldiers themselves, appealing to scripture to justify the judgments he rendered.

God’s redemption of his brutal circumstances constituted a crucible that formed his understanding of God alone as good, as the lone source of any real value, and as the one whose calling on our lives confers on us our true purpose.

Patrick’s righteous indignation and rage at the soldiers’ actions permeate the letter, but undergirding that wrath is a devotion to God and commitment to his people. Britons thought very little of the Irish, seeing them as less than human and suited only for slavery. Patrick’s writing proclaims again and again that God cares for them. Patrick upends the British assumptions by describing the Irish as his brothers and sisters, and even more by extending that relationship to the soldiers themselves, who publically pronounced themselves Christian. Patrick puts that presumption to the test by challenging them to release those they had enslaved. He also called on other fellow Christians to cut off fellowship with them until they demonstrated their faith through their actions.

For Patrick, faith and works go hand in hand. This is demonstrated by his Confession, a follow-up to his earlier epistle that appears to be a response to challenges to his leadership that stemmed from his rebuke of Coroticus. In this recount of his testimony, what emerges is a picture of a man who submitted himself fully to God’s call on his life. What is most remarkable about this account is the way it depicts how receiving God’s love leads to serving others. The mercy God showed Patrick in his early years as a slave stirred in him gratitude and a desire to share that blessing with others. The love he offered the Irish, despite their responsibility for his kidnapping and enslavement, was an overflow of the love God bestowed on him.

Despite the time and space that divide us, the Patrick of these letters has much to teach us. He displayed remarkable courage in confronting wrongdoing, but not of his own strength. Forged in the fire of oppression was his abiding conviction about God’s love and its radical and often counterintuitive demands. The debasement of slavery and dehumanization he’d endured had stripped away all pretenses of his superiority, making him acutely aware of his desperate need for God for power and productiveness, for trust and tenacity. God’s redemption of his brutal circumstances constituted a crucible that formed his understanding of God alone as good, as the lone source of any real value, and as the one whose calling on our lives confers on us our true purpose.

Near the end of his letter, Patrick wrote these poignant words we would do well to take to heart:

“My final prayer is that all of you who believe in God and respect him—whoever you may be who read this letter that Patrick the unlearned sinner wrote from Ireland—that none of you will ever say that I in my ignorance did anything for God. You must understand—because it is the truth—that it was all the gift of God.”

Image: “Detail of St Patrick with a shamrock in a stained glass window at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at Navy Pier in Chicago.” by T. Zajdowicz. CC License. 

Twilight Musings: “What’s a Body to Do?” -Part 2

Part 1

Part 2

By Elton Higgs 

Theological Principles Based on Jesus’ Example and Teaching on Submission

 

  1. All submission to others must be a direct outgrowth of, and subordinate to, our submission to the Lord. (Rom. 13:1-7; I Cor. 10:28-33; I Pet. 2:13-16, 18-19).
When we submit to civil authorities, it is not only out of fear of punishment, but “also because of conscience” (Rom. 13:5). As Peter puts it, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men” (I Pet. 2:13). When Paul urged the Corinthian believers not to eat meat offered to idols out of deference to the tender consciences of others, it was not that he was allowing himself to be coerced by the “tender conscience” people (“why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?” [I Cor. 10:29]), but that he chose to uphold an underlying spiritual principle: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Paul seeks not to cause anyone to stumble, but to “try to please everybody in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (I Cor. 10:31-33).

The same principle is made explicit in Ephesians: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:21-22).  Children are to obey their parents “in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1), and servants are to obey their masters “wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men” (Eph. 6:7). In the most explicit admonition to submit to spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17), the rationale is that as these men “watch over you,” they “must give an account” to the Lord of us all for the discharge of their responsibilities, and submission to them is to the “advantage” of the whole Body.

In many of the exhortations to submission in the New Testament, the people being submitted to were not necessarily worthy of the submission, and that was not the reason for the requirement; rather, the principle was to be voluntarily subject to them as a part of our submission to the Lord. Who of us in our right mind would contend that we are worthy of being submitted to? Since only God is worthy of our ultimate submission, we run the risk of a kind of idolatry if submission to another is not a direct consequence of our being submitted to Him. In that context, an act of submission becomes a manifestation of trust in God, and not primarily in the human being to whom secondary submission is being rendered. Accordingly, those being submitted to are given instructions focusing on their need of humility, sensitivity, and a special awareness of the awesome responsibility connected with the position that God has allowed them to occupy. The next principle shifts the spotlight from the submitters to the people exercising authority.

  1. New Testament admonitions to submit are balanced by instructions to those being submitted to, urging them to act with tenderness, compassion, and loving care toward those under their authority, seeking always to build them up and affirm their value, and never to exercise authority in a demeaning or self-exalting way (Eph. 5:21-33; 6:1-9; Col. 3:18-4:1; I Tim. 6:17-19; James 5:1-6; I Pet 3:7-8; 5:1-3)

The most detailed and emphatic teaching of this sort is to husbands, coming after an unambiguous admonition to wives to submit to their husbands (stated twice–Eph. 5:22, 24). Taken out of context, this adminition is often seen as a liability for wives and a license for husbands; it is neither, as the subsequent instructions to husbands make clear:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Eph. 5:25-28)

As a preacher friend of mine tells couples he counsels, for a husband to be the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church means that, like Christ, the husband is to be first in line for the cross; or as C. S. Lewis refers to it in his marvelous little book, The Four Loves (in the chapter entitled “Eros”), if the husband wears a crown, it is a crown of thorns. Far from authorizing a man to demand and enforce the submission of his wife, Paul instructs the husband to give himself up for his wife as did Christ for the church, even going so far as to cover her faults, if necessary, in order to present her “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). That doesn’t sound like a license to be lord and master in any worldly sense of the exercise of power.

In I Peter 3:7 is another balancing command to husbands, following six verses on wifely submission beginning, “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands”; the writer continues, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” The next verse, moreover, is another admonition to mutual submission: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers [and sisters], be compassionate and humble” (I Pet. 3:8). The rationale here is that the husband is to be especially considerate of his wife because of her societal and physical vulnerability to being abused, and respectful of her because she is a “partner” and is as much an heir of God’s kingdom as he is. Describing wives as “the weaker partner” does not imply any kind of inferiority of intelligence or character or ability, for in these areas women often prove to be superior to their husbands, and even to men in general; but rather it refers to physical, emotional, and social vulnerability. It would seem evident that the ease with which women have been mistreated by men throughout history indicates that they are in many ways inherently at a disadvantage in dealing with men, from having less physical strength to their function in the structure of the family, in which their special responsibility for the bearing and nurturing of children creates the need of special support in these activities. In our own society, the large number of single mothers shows the susceptibility of women to being abandoned.  So the obligation of the husband as set forth in this passage is to be especially aware of how his physical, emotional, and social advantage needs to be used for his wife’s benefit and support (not for boosting his ego), so that both of them can experience shared and unhindered prayers as fellow-heirs of the Kingdom of God (3:7).

I have concentrated on the counter-balanced divine instructions to wives and husbands both because they are the most detailed of such instructions and because there is so much misunderstanding and controversy surrounding them. But the principle of mutual submission is reinforced in the New Testament teaching regarding other relationships in which power might be (and often is) exercised in an ungodly way. Immediately following the husband-wife passage in Ephesians are two such teachings (which are also set forth in the same pattern in Col. 3:18-4:1):

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise — “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Eph. 6:1-9)

Even though children are unequivocally instructed to obey their parents, and elsewhere parents are given the charge to require such obedience, there is nevertheless the caution to fathers (as those ultimately responsible for enforcing parental authority) not to “exasperate” their children, but, “instead,” to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Training and instruction are processes that require patience and understanding, and whatever firmness may be required to keep children at the task of learning, they are always to be encouraged and valued in such a way as to engender and build on the hope that they are both capable of learning and worth the trouble of teaching. Any heavy-handed use of authority that would demean them or deprive them of hope (or embitter and discourage them, as in Col. 3:21) is prohibited. In the slave-master relationship, masters are to eschew the impersonal and devaluing treatment (“Do not threaten them”) that might be tolerated or even expected in the worldly view of things, but that has no place in the Body of Christ, since slave and master stand as equals before God.

Abuse of the poor by the rich is scorchingly attacked in the book of James (2:5-7; 5:1-5), and, in a more positive way, the rich are encouraged by Paul to act responsibly and generously with the wealth and power that God has given them (I Tim. 6:17-19). Even the duly appointed spiritual leaders of the Body of Christ are not to “lord it over” those in their charge, but are to be examples to the flock (I Pet. 5:2-3).

(Part 3 next week, “Enforced Submission is Forbidden”)

 

Twilight Musings: “What’s a Body to Do?” – Part 1

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

By Elton Higgs 

            (The following is the first part of an article I wrote several years ago that I think goes along with my recent thoughts on preserving and cultivating harmony between Christian brothers and sisters.  The remaining three parts of the article will be posted in succeeding weeks.)

“What’s a Body to Do?” – Part 1

The Example and Teaching of Jesus

Tensions and conflicts within social organizations develop because people have desires and objectives that clash with each other. Because different groups and individuals feel that they have an absolute right to satisfy those desires and pursue those objectives, even at the expense of others, the outcome of such conflicts is usually determined by which group or individual most effectively exercises power over the others. In one vein of worldly wisdom, this enforcement of a hierarchy is the only way to bring order to the society. There is another vein of worldly wisdom, however, that is less cynical, and that, indeed, expresses a kind of egalitarian idealism, based on the humanistic principle that “all men [read ‘people’] are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” as individuals. This Enlightenment ideal, soaringly and memorably expressed in our country’s Declaration of Independence and associated with the throwing off of tyranny, has evolved in our society into a kind of free-standing, self-validating individualism that trumps every other value and concern. Although the principle of individual rights is generally seen as a noble challenge to the raw exercise of arbitrarily established power, its dominance poses a serious challenge to God’s way of dealing with relationships between people in the church, the Body of Christ. God makes no apology for speaking of His people as His Kingdom, with an absolute ruler and subjects who are to submit completely to His authority and will. But how are we to deal with this uncompromising terminology for the society of God’s people and the biblical principles that are drawn from it in an age where individual freedom and rights are assumed to be unchallengeable ideals? And how are the concepts of servanthood, obedience, and submission which are central to the New Testament church to be implemented without compromising the worth of individuals, which is also a vital part of the Gospel message?

An organism, not an organization

Perhaps close to the core of the problem is that the designation “church” has been attached to Christian societies in such a way as to define them as primarily political entities; it seems rather natural to speak of “Church polity,” but it is awkward to speak of “Body polity.” There is certainly nothing wrong with the word “church”–it is a biblical term that describes the aggregate of those who belong to Christ—but the word has been appropriated and applied in ways that picture the church primarily as an organization, and not as the organism it truly is, i.e., the Body of Christ. I think it is necessary to emphasize the Church as Body in order to correct the impression that the dynamic of politics that obtains in human social organizations is appropriate and applicable to the Body of Christ. Within Christ’s Body, people relate to one another according to the model of their Master and King, and not according to the wisdom of the world.

Let me set out first what I see to be the implications of New Testament teaching on relationships in the Body of Christ for dealing with the seemingly contradictory principles of hierarchy and submission to authority, on the one hand; and assertions of the equality of all Christians on the other.   In Part 2 of this article, I will make some applications of this teaching to practical difficulties commonly experienced in the Body of Christ, based on the primary principles in the headings below.  I shall begin, though, with the foundation truth upon which all of those applications are built:

Jesus is the model for free and positive submission and obedience.

When the boy Jesus was found in the Temple by his parents after a three-day search, he gently chided them for not knowing that they would find Him there; but afterward, “He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). Even this early, He established the practice of being in voluntary submission in a circumstance where He had more understanding than those who had temporary authority over Him. I wonder if Jesus didn’t find it increasingly incongruent to be under the governance of Mary and Joseph.   Although they had been chosen for their dedication to God, they were subject to human limitations which must have been apparent to Jesus as He grew up.  His obedience in this situation must have been preparation for the profound obedience to His Father in Heaven which, the writer of Hebrews tells us (Heb. 5:7-10), He had to learn through suffering, even though He was the Son of God.

Toward the end of His ministry on earth, Jesus had occasion to demonstrate graphically to His disciples the lesson of achieving greatness through being a servant. Having already remonstrated with them about their competing for superior position in God’s Kingdom (see Matt. 20:24-28), He gave an object lesson at the Last Supper to underline His previous statement that “whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve”  (Matt. 20:27-28).  John tells us that

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him!  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:3-5, 12-17)

The contrast between what Jesus was (the almighty Son of God) and what He voluntarily became (a servant to sinful mankind) is strikingly spotlighted in the prelude to the foot washing scene, which states that He was acutely aware “that the Father had put all things under his power.” The fleshly mind finds it hard to understand and accept Jesus’s lesson here: that voluntary submission to others in servanthood is not an act of weakness, but of strength; not a surrendering of individual worth, but an affirmation of it in a more profound way than any human exercise of power and prerogative could establish.

Jesus’s final act of submission came in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He prayed to be delivered from the bitter cup that He was about to drink, but ended with the words, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). As Paul says in Philippians, though Jesus was one with God, He

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death –even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:6-11)

Thus, Jesus’s voluntary submission to the will of the Father, and His humble and obedient servanthood, led to the fulfillment of God’s plans for Him and for mankind: that Jesus Christ be exalted and honored as God’s anointed King and the savior of the world. Even at the end of time and the eternal consummation of all things, Jesus will “be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all” (I Cor. 15:28). He is both our model of positive servanthood and obedience, and the One who enables those who follow His example to experience the fulfillment of God’s purposes in their lives–to be exalted in God’s way, not in the way of the world.

The life of Jesus, then, is the foundation of biblical teaching on submission, and from this foundation flow several other theoretical principles of Body life.

(To be continued next week.)

 

Twilight Musings: “What’s Most Important to Know? Who’s Right? or Who’s Hurting?”

 

By Elton Higgs 

I feel the need for something of a follow-up on last week’s commentary on a church devastated by controversy.  It could take the form of asking the question above: What’s most important to focus on in the midst and in the aftermath of a split: “Who’s right?” or “Who’s hurt?”  Giving priority to “Who’s right?” means limiting the scope of concern, since determining the answer to that question assumes that the most needed response to the situation is to assign blame and give comfort to the injured party.  This approach necessarily narrows the scope of concern for whose pain should be recognized and ministered to.  On the other hand, starting with discerning “Who’s hurting?” emphasizes the need for healing in the whole community, including those who may be considered manifestly in the wrong.

“But,” you might respond, “Should we not be concerned with justice?”  Yes, if we regard the conflict as primarily judicial.  But Paul makes it clear that treating disputes between Christians as law-court matters is scandalously wrong and harmful to the church.  “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? . . . .  Why not rather suffer wrong?  Why not rather be defrauded?” (I Cor. 6:1, 7b).  Paul’s objection here is not concerning merely the technicality of where a case is heard, but rather addresses the entirely different principles applying to disputes in a court of law and conflicts between Christian brothers and sisters.  In a civil court, the whole point is presenting evidence for and against each claim of being injured, determining where the truth lies, and meting out judgment to compensate the injured party and to punish the offending party—i.e., determining who’s right.  Among Christians who have differences, the emphasis is not on determining justice and assigning rewards and penalties, but with showing healing deference to one another, being willing even to accept personal injury rather than allow injury to the church.  We see the same emphasis on gentleness over justice in Paul’s instructions to the Galatians: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-3).

Jesus repeatedly showed people that the priority of his concerns was with the hurting, rather than with those who were “right.”  When he entered conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, she responded with a reference to the differences between them.  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” she asked (John 4:9), anticipating the question she will ask later regarding which of the two groups is right religiously.  In response, Jesus diverts her attention to an even deeper spiritual need than determining the proper geographical place to worship God, that is, the soul’s need for the “water of life” that satisfies forever.  Jesus’ disciples also needed to reassess their principal concerns.  When they returned with food for the Master and themselves, they “marveled that He was talking with a woman,” and, they no doubt thought, especially with a Samaritan woman.  If they wondered at that, how astounded must they have been when Jesus chose to be with the Samaritans for two days, exemplifying to the disciples what it meant practically to pay attention to the “fields that are white for harvest” (Jn. 6:35), rather than only to the Jews, who were right about the rules.

We can all call to mind several other times that Jesus chose to give priority to the hurting, rather than to those who insisted on emphasizing the rules.  Later in the Gospel of John, the Jewish leaders bring to Jesus a woman taken in adultery, and they put pressure on Him to join them in enforcing the rules, for the woman is clearly in the wrong (Jn. 8:3-11).  He turns their professed concern with “righteousness” against them by proving that they cannot judge her without also judging themselves.  He then turns to the hurting woman and restores her to spiritual health.  In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus found in a Sabbath synagogue gathering a man with a withered hand, whose condition cried out for healing.  But the only concern of the Pharisees was to see whether Jesus would once again heal on the Sabbath (breaking the rules in their eyes).  Jesus made clear His priority by healing the man and reproaching the Pharisees, who then went off and plotted how to kill the man who was troubling their nation (and their power as authoritative law-enforcers).  There is in Luke 5:1-6:11 a whole group of examples of Jesus choosing to heal the hurting, whether it fitted the accepted “rules” or not.

Choosing to pursue justice rather than mercy, punishment rather than reconciliation, and self-vindication rather than gentle partnering to restore the community of faith that the innocent Son of God died to make His bride.  Can we be so set on anybody’s rights as to forget that we are all subject to One who gave up all of His rights to save all of us?

 

 

 

 

Image: By Carl Heinrich Bloch – http://masterpieceart.net/carl-heinrich-bloch/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18138698

Twilight Musings: “Church Bombing”

 

By Elton Higgs 

Our church was bombed last night.  Everybody in it was injured; time will tell whether there were any fatalities.  I’m sitting in the rubble, stunned at the damage, as I suspect many others are.  Even those who were not in the building at the time experienced collateral damage from the bombing.  It’s hard to sort out the extent to which any individuals or any group of people were responsible for the damage, but we are all corporately culpable for not adequately defending against it.  Although the maker and dropper of the bomb was outside the church, the church had adequate warning of his intentions.  Such things are disturbingly ordinary in the history of the Church and its individual congregations, and it’s disturbing that in spite of that instructive history, too few congregations are completely armed to defend against the implacable and always active Enemy.

The physical building occupied by the church is still standing, and passers-by will not see that anything has happened.  The destruction was wrought on the spiritual building made up of God’s people.  As a part of that group, I share the group’s failure to defend adequately against what happened to us.  As I told my wife this morning, I am very tired of dealing with human frailty and inadequacy, including those qualities in myself.  In my deep sorrow at what has happened, I feel a desire for God’s release from the battle, since I’ve had such limited success against the Adversary.  But even if we are merely survivors of the Enemy’s bomb, as long as we are alive, we must assume that, although God must be as tired of working with us as we are with ourselves, He means for us to continue.  The question is, how?

I will speak for myself, and others must judge by the Spirit of God whether my convictions have wider applications.

  • First, I must severely examine my own motives and actions and acknowledge any specific instances of manifesting pride, defensiveness, self-righteousness, self-interested slanting of information, or assuming the worst rather than the best in the motives of others.
  • Secondly, I must be so saddened by the outcome of all the strife that led to the “bombing” that my governing and overwhelming attitude toward the outcome is deep sorrow for the pain and injury that people on all sides of the issues have experienced. It is incumbent on me to suffer with those who suffer, even if I think that their opinions and motives are wrong.  Nobody won last night.  We all lost, and the only victor was the Adversary.
  • I must try to get past determining who was (or is) right or wrong. In the midst of high emotions and the compulsion to draw clear lines, I must acknowledge that only God knows the hearts and minds of people and can sort out their motivations.  And even if I am thoroughly convinced that the evidence supports a clear indictment, I must be careful not to take over either God’s role as judge or the Accuser’s role as prosecuting attorney.  If I am obligated to pray for my enemies, how much more must I pray sincerely for a brother or sister whom I believe to be in error.
  • Finally, I must not assume that any rupture in fellowship is beyond repair, if the estranged parties submit mutually to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I am not allowed to assume that attempted reconciliation is entirely the responsibility of the person or persons I am at odds with.  Whatever led up to it, alienation between God’s people is not something that can be merely accepted as irresolvable.  If we take the risk of moving toward mending the breach, God will take it from there.

Twilight Musings: “The Heady Cocktail of Righteous Indignation”

 

By Elton Higgs 

Recently I have been made aware of some confrontations between Christian brothers and sisters that highlight how easy it is for people who differ to retreat into opposing fortresses of righteous indignation, thereby effectively guaranteeing that there will be no resolution of their contentious differences.  Of course, this happens in the secular realm as well, as the present polarization of political groups in our nation illustrates.  But this kind of standoff is especially distressing in a Christian context, where humility and mutual charity are the prescribed norms for attitudes and behavior.  It’s worth examining why Christians are so easily led to indulge in the heady and dangerous cocktail of righteous indignation.

As in every human argument, the fleshly way of dealing with conflict is to concentrate on defending one’s own point of view.  Particularly is this true when the opposing point of view is seen to be unjust, unfair, or unscriptural.  That perception pushes us toward taking on the role of defender of the faith or champion of the oppressed.  Certainly it is sometimes necessary to launch bravely into these roles, but doing so always carries with it the danger of very easily slipping into the feeling that we are morally superior to those we oppose.  This attitude will lead quickly to the mutual entrenchment that leads to church splits and divorce, as well as to political deadlock in the secular realm.

How do we avoid getting to this kind of impasse?  A good place to start is the admonition of the Apostle James: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19b-20).  Anger is one of the first ingredients to go into the cocktail of righteous indignation, following immediately on the shock of learning that we or somebody we feel responsible for has been abused or treated unfairly.  Taking the trouble to listen carefully to someone we feel in conflict with slows down the kindling of anger, and delaying speaking provides time to examine whether we have correctly understood what we have heard.  Speaking too quickly tends to harden our position prematurely, to lock us into our words and make it more difficult to make concessions that can lead to a middle ground of agreement.

Another key element to avoiding intoxication from that “heady cocktail” of self-righteous rigidity is the cultivation of humility, coupled with its companion, a desire to think the best of others, so as not to assume that their actions or opinions necessarily indicate malevolent intent or perverse objectives.  As Paul puts it, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).  Humility enables each side in an argument to reaffirm that we are all fallible and subject to error, even when we behave with the best of intentions.  Humility is a retardant to assuming the worst about our opponents, because we value them as much as we do ourselves.   Humility makes us keenly aware that all of us are of equal value in the eyes of God, all equally in need of and receiving His love and grace.  Humility prevents the emotional detachment that enables us to demonize and depersonalize an opponent.

Finally, just as going into battle gets the adrenalin flowing, so sometimes the thrill of defending what we regard to be a just cause or belief tempts us to make an emotional investment in it that overcomes both our objectivity and any desire to do the hard work of maintaining or restoring harmony.  The battle assumes a life of its own that perpetuates and escalates the conflict, each side feeling increasingly justified by the literal or figurative atrocities committed by the other.  In other words, we imbibe in the emotional high of battle, rather than sipping on the profounder and more complex nectar of swallowing our pride and giving up our partisanship in order to pursue the sober work of being peace-makers.  We are instructed to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3-4).

Although Paul’s words in Eph. 5:18 are addressed to literal drunkenness, they also apply as cautionary words against tippling in the heady cocktail of righteous indignation: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”