Tag Archives: Damnation

An Offensive Weapon.

I’d like to start this post with a stanza of one of my favorite hymns: Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying, by Stephen P. Starke.

 Though around us death is seething,
    God, His two-edged sword unsheathing,
    By His Spirit life is breathing
       Through the living, active Word.

And now: The Church of Christ Wields an Offensive Weapon.

There is an image of a warrior that resides in the back (or sometimes the front) of everyone’s mind. There is another image that, though usually pushed much further back in the mind, also takes its residence in everyone’s mind: A man dying on his knees. The warrior is tall, he is strong, his grip is iron, his eyes are bright. He may be ruthless and wicked, or kind, a shield to the weak: but he is strong. His enemies fear encountering him. The man dying on his knees is weak, pathetic even. He is bound and has been tortured. His head is shaved and he is thin from being a prisoner. In the mind’s eye, this man is broken into pieces: he is not a man; he is a heap of the fragments of a man. And yet he sings. This man, this broken and dying man, is a witness: a martyr. His blood is spilled because he refuses to deny his Lord Jesus.

Strange, how the mind’s vision is so poor. We ought to look again at the two men before us. It is a paradox that confronts us. When Christ came into this world, everything went inside-out and topsy-turvy. In reality, everything went right-side-up: but if everyone else is upside down, the one who sees the world right side up is ‘topsy-turvy’. When the people of God sing ‘The white robed army of martyr’s praises you’, we confess that these saints, who died ‘poorly’, in truth, died well; that these who were slaughtered with their hands tied, fought and even triumphed in the war.

In today’s world, the church spends most of its time defending itself. It defends its doctrine. It defends its right to speak about what it believes. It defends the lives of the old and the unborn. All this good, yet something of a shame. It is a shame because the church is fundamentally made and equipped for offence. It does not primarily exist to defend its values, or its doctrines or its people. The Holy Church wields, despite appearances, a sharp and well-made sword. It is made to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ It sends its warriors out, and often, they die, and the church grows. The strange paradox that slaughter has never annihilated the Christian faith is explained by the fact that in death, the martyr’s victory over the devil is won for him, and the sword of the church strikes true.

And again, the many in the church spend their time doing their best to sound good. The most charitable construction of this is that they are trying to not be misunderstood: so let us think that. Yet, it is a travesty that the church cares overmuch if it offends people. It is not a coincidence that offensive (the technical term for attacking in a fight) and offensive (as in someone was offended) are the same word. The church has been literally guaranteed to offend people. Are people offended when they are told they are sinning? Yes. Are they offended when they are told that this thing, that the church ought to call a favorite sin, that makes them feel so happy, is going to damn them to hell? Yes! Do people loathe it when they are told that even nice people, people they liked a lot, will go to eternal damnation (which is torment) if they do not have faith? Obviously!

And yet: those who engage in sexual perversion need to be told that they are committing sins, that they are perverted. Likewise, people who gossip need to hear that their gossip is also a vile sin that must be repented of. People within, and especially without, the church must hear the conviction of the Law of God. Without the condemnation of the Law, the Gospel has no impact.

The church must be offensive and call evil, evil; and good: good. The Devil, the world and one’s own flesh will scream. People will take you to court, they will close down your businesses with lawsuits, they will threaten you and may one day again make martyrs in the streets. But consider this: the Church is filled with warriors intended to be specialists in offensive combat, and the most potent weapon in her armaments is the witness of the lifeblood of the saints.

I opened with a great hymn, now I will close with a great comic… If you haven’t spent time reading through at Adam4d, you ought to. Click through for the whole strip.

What kind though, Todd? [silence]

Immaturity

This is certainly the most difficult thing for me to write. If I say that someone needs humility, that sounds awfully proud doesn’t it?  If I say that someone has immature faith that sounds even worse. After all, I’m young yet; I shouldn’t lecture anyone on anything other than Chemistry, the thing I know best. Perhaps that would be good advice for writers, movie stars, and celebrities of every sort. When these people are new Christians whose time and energy is spent on their primary work, I think we can forgive a little Spiritual immaturity. However, there is one type of spiritual immaturity that I must comment on. I am reminded of it every time I read Andrew Klavan talking about homosexuality. He is an author I admire, and he deserves it; he tells gripping stories with real insight into the nature of man. But there seems to be a disconnect on this topic. He argues quite persuasively that Christians should not participate in censorship, using persuasion instead, and here I couldn’t agree more. However, he displays his lack of discernment, or his lack of understanding in articles like this one:  Is Jesus Against Kooky Gay Guys?

It seems in this case that Klavan is demanding that Christians who think homosexuality is a sin shut up. He wants us to censor ourselves because (if I gather correctly over several articles like the one linked, where this exact topic is slightly tangential.): ‘From my reading and studying of the Bible, Jesus is concerned with re-directing your soul through him back toward its creator. Your soul, not someone else’s. He’s very specific about that. If you’re passing judgment on another guy’s soul, you’re thinking about the wrong thing.’ And because he has nice gay friends who are really happy together and he doesn’t think God forbids it, or at least, it isn’t that bad.

For the first, immature Christians are very obsessed by the ‘Do not judge’ passages. (In the article above, Klavan refers to the parable about the speck in your neighbor’s eye.) I find this also fairly prevalent in the Christian Novel Contest I help judge … 🙂 … Here is the problem. If we ‘do not judge’ as Mr. Klavan seems to mean, then are we to never say something is a sin? Are we never to say to someone: This or That is a sin? I certainly don’t suggest that we incessantly tell non-Christians that this specific thing is a sin. They must be first convinced that sin is real and that it is a threat to their eternity before they can even care what specific things might also be sins. But if, as Christians, we cannot point to behaviors, actions, or thoughts of our own, or of others, and say ‘This is certainly a sin.’ Then how, should sanctification proceed? If a Christian who through study of scripture and consultation with those who know more than himself becomes convinced that God abhors homosexual behavior then should he  censor himself? Or should he speak up?

And here is where a level of maturity is required. Simply because I believe that homosexuality is sinful does NOT imply that I find it the only sin, or the worst sin. Strangely enough, I hold to the traditional merciful Lutheran teaching that homosexuality is no worse a sin than adultery. They are both sexual perversions, and, without repentance and faith in Christ, they both lead to damnation. It is harder to have one sin be worse than another when they both lead the soul to damnation. But guess what: other sins known to lead to damnation include pride, avarice, sloth… the 7 deadly sins certainly. And since I am not a Catholic, I do not see anywhere any distinction between mortal and venial sins. I see it nowhere in Scripture, so I do believe that gossiping and the desire to commit a sin, even if never acted upon is worthy of damnation. (If those aren’t venial sins, my Catholic friends will correct me, but the point remains the same.)

But here is the thing, if all sins lead to damnation, then when a Christian points out that homosexuals are sinning, especially ones who are open to the message of Christ and Him crucified, showing someone their sin is the first step to sharing the Gospel. As for the people who speak specifically stridently about homosexuality, (Some of them are obviously, horrifically wrong: Westboro Baptist jumps into the mind). many people single out this sin since it is currently the one that is on a campaign to be normalized as ‘acceptable’ not just throughout  the secular culture, but in the church as well. And on this front, Mr. Klavan is on the wrong side. Jesus does stand against normalized sin in his Church.

And this brings up the other immaturity so rampant among the newly Christian, and the denominations that have deserted their heritage; forgetting to hate the sin. Being a follower of Christ, an imitator of Christ, means to do your very best to love what Christ loves and reject what He rejects. Christ certainly loves the sinner, but you cannot love the sinner without rejecting the sin. Christ, the only one who was qualified to cast the first stone and does not, certainly loves the sinner. Then what happens?

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

He doesn’t just stop at ‘Neither do I condemn you.’ He also commands her to go and sin no more. He never says that her adultery was acceptable, or not that bad. He forgives her sin, and tells her not to do it again.

And that, that is the other side of the coin. We must search out what God himself despises as sinful behavior, and recognize it as such. And if we find ourselves in disagreement with God, well, that too is sinful and we must repent and learn to submit our opinions to the knowledge of God. So, for the many Christians who find themselves in disagreement with traditional church teaching about what constitutes a sin should do something about it. I do not suggest that they must automatically accept the traditional teaching, (again, I’m not a Catholic) but they absolutely must take it into consideration. This is especially true if for almost two thousand years, every Christian group taught something was sinful. This includes those that are schismatic, even those considered to be heretical amongst each other. In this case, the weight of that consensus should demand a careful, prayerful consideration of what the Scriptures do indeed say on the topic. And if you find that you disagree with the Scriptures, remember that you are the one that is wrong.

The belief that God permits homosexuality, so popular in many modern denominations, is a few decades old aberration out of almost two hundred decades of Church history. It also happens to be most popular in denominations that have just as recently abandoned the teaching or doctrine that the Scripture is the inerrant Word of God, and also, frequently the teaching or doctrine that there is only one path to God. It seems from my point of view that these churches are confounded by heresy, and their acceptance of homosexuality is perhaps the least of their problems.

There, I hope that I don’t come across as prideful, but the scriptures say that:

 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

So just between you, reader, and me  🙂

Agnes Mallory

It has become official; I am on a Klavan kick. I have now read 4-5 of his books, which are all well put together and enjoyable. Some are better than others, of course. The Identity Man was good, Corruption was just ok. The Uncanny was quite fun, as was Hunting Down Amanda, the first unpredictable and the second predictable, but both very enjoyable nonetheless. However, there is this one  that I have found to be excellent literature. I don’t think it falls for certain in any genre, but I suppose it would be classified psychological thriller perhaps. Agnes Mallory, I think, should, and perhaps will be remembered as an actual classic. A book whose content, storytelling, plot are so captivating, so well done: a book whose philosophy strikes so true, that it is can stand the test of time.

The narrator of Agnes is a loathsome man, Harry, who had been a relatively typical boy when he actually knew the eponymous Agnes (who is Agnes Sole as a child).  As one reads the book, you are ‘treated’ to the present day Harry, a man whose respectable outer shell has been removed, who has collapsed in on his own depravities as a recluse. You also get glimmers of the past, when as a child, Harry spent time with Agnes.

As I mentioned before, the narrator (and dare I say, the main character) is an ‘inner man’. He has many characteristics of Dostoevsky’s ‘Underground Man’ (Found as the nameless main character and narrator in Notes From Underground: a chillingly accurate look at the nature of man.) He is entirely self-absorbed, he is petty. He is… unmasked. In all too much of modern writing and movies, the false facade that people put up is considered the worst part of a person which is based upon the idea that societies constraints make a person untrue to themselves. This last is, perhaps ironically, true. The true nature of the man without the socially enforced facade of kindness, selflessness, and forbearance restraining the ‘inner man’ is one entirely consumed by corruption and petty, or not so petty, evil.

The other very important person is Agnes (of course). Agnes is a brilliant sculptor, and also, well, crazy. The book does not give reasons for her insanity, but instead shows glimpses of shadows of reasons. I believe that Agnes is crazy because she cannot reconcile the greatness of mankind with its utter depravity. (Seen in the contradiction between the art of the West and Auschwitz.)

In the end, Harry is unable to save Agnes, and the books real power comes with the realization that even if Harry had been a good an, even if he had not been incessantly thinking of sex, and the repercussions of his moral and political corruption, he would not have been able to save Agnes. In fact, no man or woman could have done so.

I do not want to talk at all about the plot in any more detail than this, the book deserves to be read and found afresh, without someone else’s imprint. Agnes Mallory is spooky, is unpredictable, and beautiful in the paradoxical, sad, beaten, and yet still glorious fashion that depicts so well the state of man: simultaneously made in God’s image and cravenly fallen.  The book is worth the time and worth incomparably more than the money. Give it a read (or two) sometime.

The Uncanny: Andrew Klavan

This is a good book by an author I recently discovered. The story dances a line between mystery, horror and thriller, and does so in the best of ways. The Uncanny is a story about vocation, about freewill and fate, about evil and deception, all wrapped up in a well written intriguing plot about good people doing battle with evil. The good people, though, are like good people really are: complicated, sinful, and good. This state of being that Martin Luther called being simultaneously saint and sinner.

The plot revolves around an evil modern cult leader, who has discovered that a particular alchemist’s magic does indeed procure eternal youth. However, there are a few ‘catches’ the major one being that it must be regularly re-used and if it is not reused in time the user dies horribly. Now there  are two parts to the system and the main problem is that a ‘blue crystal’ must be used for which the villain in this story only has a limited amount and no way of making more. This is because the recipe was lost… except that the recipe was preserved in a triptych of paintings that the villain is after.  I refuse to go further into the plot because I believe that based on the plot alone, the book is worth reading. It is rather uncommon to find new authors who tell unique stories. By that I mean that if I can predict the plot and its major twists and turns after reading the first 10% of the book, I am greatly disappointed. In this case, the plot twists, but not for the sake of twisting.

The other main reason that I admired this book, and by extension its author was the accurate and well said portrayal of many foundational Christian beliefs. It is not uncommon for authors to write either without showing their knowledge of their faith (if they are Christian) or showing a lack of knowledge of their subject (if they are not Christian). Here, however, is a story that is almost apologetic in its depiction of mankind, evil, and faith. It shows beautifully or at least realistically several key doctrines. Also, for the sake of the fiction, it is important to note that this is done effortlessly, and without any pretentiousness from the author or out of character monologue from the character.

For one example, the book cuts to the text of a medieval manuscript written by a previous user of the alchemists system for indefinite youth. This sub character writes about the effects of the stone, and very poignantly about damnation. In his writing, essentially his last words, he reveals his knowledge that he is damned, and also his knowledge that with repentance, Christ’s sacrifice and love would redeem him despite his horrible crimes (and believe me, they are vile) and he rejects salvation, through pride and fear and loathing of God, and willfully chooses damnation. This scene shakes the reader, makes the reader tremble with the awfulness of damnation, and effortlessly shows the orthodox Christian understanding that humans damn themselves.

Lastly, the characters are deep, and yet the book moves inexorably like a train, barreling down full speed down the tracks of the uncanny. I do recommend the book, but not for the faint of heart. Although it shows nothing nearly as bad as some books (like Stephen King’s dark half) it implies many evil things. I think it does an excellent job showing evil as evil as it really is, without showing too much, or subliminally inviting the reader to participate in the evil. But still, the alchemist is very evil, and the book has an aura of frightfulness and, well Uncanny about it. It is not long, so go forth, buy, rent from the library, and enjoy The Uncanny, give it to your friends and there will be much to talk about. (There is a theme here for me, I think, perhaps the best books are the one that you not only really enjoy reading, but that you want to spend hours discussing later…)