Monday 3 October 2011

Blogger 'Benedict Seraphim': "neutrality is not only impossible, it's damning"




“I mean this,” said Dimble in answer to the question she had not asked. “If you dip into any college, or schoool, or parish, or family–anything you like–at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous.

Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing.

The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder. . ..”

(That Hideous Strength - by C.S. Lewis - p. 283)


One might well argue with Lewis whether Dark Age Britain was a place where one could be both Christian and develop knowledge about the elemental powers of the world. Lewis, is, after all, writing a fairy tale, and borrowing from Tolkien.

But what is most certainly true, since the coming of Christ and the bringing forth by the Spirit of the Church, the Truth of the narrowing of choices, the Truth of the two paths and the two masters, has been becoming ever more real.

If there is a narrow and squeezing path, the one of life, there is only one other path, the broad and level one leading to death. This is no melodrama. It is the stark reality of the Gospel. It is why we must repent.

Which does not mean adding a bit here, a bit there, some of this, some of that, and icing it over with some “Christian” words. Christ is the stone on which we are broken, or underneath which we will be crushed. We either know his love as mercy or as judgment. We cannot know it as indifference.


While some Christian teachers would focus on various world events to foretell the scheduled events of the Apocaplyse, it seems to me that a look at the Christian world of thousands of denominations is perhaps a better barometer.


Take for example, the Great Schism. In the sixth century, when the council of Toledo introduced the filioque, one could perhaps afford to be somewhat tolerant of the innovation.

But when combined with the Roman bishops’ quest for political supremacy, with the ever-growing distance in language and culture, by Christmas Day 1054, such neutral choices were no longer available.


Or the Protestant Reformation. At the time, it was intended as, indeed, a reform.

But with social and political retrenchments growing on both sides, excommunication surely came. By the time of Trent, it was no longer possible to be neutral.


One could bring up lesser, if not the less important, matters of our own recent days. In the Episcopal Church, one might have found it possible to be neutral on the sexuality issue.

But this is no longer a possibility. For good or for ill, one must now choose one’s allegiance across the divide of a non-celibate gay bishop.


In the evangelical world, the choices are more numerous because the divisions are so rife, and the consistencies of constituencies so inconsistent.

But with the proliferation of choice, one’s actual choices narrow.

Simply because one can choose from dozens of Bible translations, worship styles, ecclesial polities, and ministries, one is finally faced with only one choice: the serving of self or God. (...).


This, I think, is what C. S. Lewis means through his Dr. Dimble. And I agree with the thought: we live in an age where neutrality is not only impossible, it’s damning.

If we cannot answer “Yes” that some decision will more clearly reveal the Lordship of Christ in our lives, then to make that decision will be to unmake ourselves.

For the reality is that we are servants. It is given to us, in the multiple thousands of choices each day, to decide whom we will serve.





Wurmbrand said...

Oh, but please, caution, caution.

Many Christians in 2011 are faced with issues that may exceed their capacity to resolve. In such cases they may have to be "neutral," at least for a while

For example, let us take a person raised in an American evangelical free church milieu.

He knows that the Bible is sacred Scripture. He knows that there is no salvation outside of the work of Jesus Christ.

And he reads around and begins to realize that he has been raised with an impoverished understanding of Holy Baptism, Holy Supper, Holy Church.

If there were but one denomination claiming to be THE Church, the untarnished New Testament Church, the Una Sancta, he might well seek to be inducted into it.

But there are at least two denominations that make this claim, and they differ on important issues. The Roman Catholic communion claims to be THE Church, and regards its doctrine of the papacy as an integral part of the Faith once given to the saints. Disagreeing with Rome about papal infallibility etc., the Orthodox family of churches claim to be THE Church. Now I say that our inquirer may well find that he cannot make the decision between them. Each might fault him for being "neutral."

I was that raised-American-evangelical person, basically. I have finally (?) settled on the Lutheran Confessions and the churches that adhere to them. But this took years, and I am not absolutely certain that I will always remain here, although I think that I will.

What was I to do -- make a premature decision, thirty years ago, to end my "neutrality"?

Surely that is not a good idea.

But I could well imagine that even people with a lot of leisure to read, visit churches (perhaps even having Orthodox, Roman, Lutheran, Anglican, etc. churches in their area), talk to older Christians, etc. could have trouble resolving the issues.

For "Benedict Seraphim" this is nt the situation, but surely it is that of some.

For many Anglophone Christians, by the way, Orthodox church attendance is not feasible. Are they to move somewhere where it is, on the chance that they will become persuaded that Orthodoxy is the end of their quest?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - these are fair points - but that was not what I got from the piece. Within Orthodoxy the same thing happens over and over again as described between denominations - and leads to the same kind of choices.

We seem to be at a point in history when the option to discern a Good institution and simply obey is hardly available - *so many* people have been incrementally led-away from Christianity and into secular Leftism by their humble wish to obey The Church that the situation can be bewildering.

Absent a clear institutional embodiment of the true Church, we can only trust our own judgment yet the one thing we know is that our judgment is likely to be feebler and more error prone and corrupt than at almost any time in history. If there is an answer, it must be prayer, I think - more frequent and more fervent.