Friday 18 October 2013

Sweetness and strength - the Christian combination


I think Christianity is supposed to display both sweetness and strength, which combination is the consequence of love; as shown in human affairs by a good mother or father with respect to their children - but this is a difficult combination for an institution to sustain.

Few churches have succeeded steadily in achieving this combination; but temptation lies in both directions, and even the best churches oscillate around the optimum.


Liberal Christians (as individuals, not the leadership) often display sweetness, warmth of heart, kindness and breadth of welcome - but they are weak, and easily and rapidly conform to secular world, cease being Christian, then switch to being anti-Christians, who feel good about themselves while serving the enemy.


But hazards lie in the other directions too - in pursuit of strength Christians may become ultra-correct, hard-line; they fall into extreme narrowness, harshness, legalism, pedantry; they cease to be loving and starting enjoying hatred and punishment. Thereby they cease to be Christian but begin to work against it: they, too, have switched sides.


There are those who are repelled by the unloving harshness of the hardliners who soften their Christianity down to nothing or its near-opposite; and there are those who are repelled by the sentimentality of Liberals who harden their Christian practice into something which will reject and/or persecute any real (that is, loving) Christian.


In sum, there is no institutional formula for avoiding both weakness and harshness - and any formula designed to avoid the one will tend to encourage the other, and also provoke a backlash; and this is a fact of life because there is no formula for love.

But love is real - or at least potentially so.


I don't think this is theoretical - I think it is a real problem.

In the modern West the churches, and the variation within churches, do generally seem to be too-far in one or the other direction: mostly sweet, broad and submissive; but with other parts of Christianity tending too much toward the harsh, narrow and bossy.

We need the discernment of the heart to find churches that are truly both sweet and strong: a combination only possible when motivated by love. 



Adam G. said...

This is very wise. C.S. Lewis was probably talking about this in Pilgrim's Regress.

Love desires the welfare of the beloved. Too much love too acceptingly, and we cease to help the beloved improve and be better off. Too little, and we likewise cease.

One of the Mormon apostles caught flack from liberals several years back for preaching that God loves everyone unconditionally but that he loves his saints more. But I think the apostle was right, unconditional and conditional love both have a purpose and a place.

The Crow said...

Sweetness and Strength :)
I like it!
Sounds like pickled jalapenos, or Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Thank you.

In terms of this blog's readership, the lessons are mostly:

1. To be strong and also to be anti-Liberal are not enough, and may easily become anti-Christian in effect.

Furthermore unloving hard-liners may push people out of a church such that they are for *good* reasons - I mean, people may feel pushed-out because of a real environment of cold-hearted hatred (and not simply be using this as an excuse to leave).

And, of course, this is encouraged by the mass media - who give unloving hard-liners a national/ international platform, and label them as typical Christians.

But this is impossible to combat, so long as people are in thrall to the mass media, as at present. The real problem is when there is real-lfe actual hard-heartedness (e.g. ruthless legalism) among 'Christians' and when this is taken to be the same thing as strength of faith.

2. Sweetness may well be associated with great strength in resistance to persecution and also great activity in evangelism.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was an excellent example of this combination - being both warm-hearted and compassionate and also unyielding in conviction and fortitude; and I hear credible reports of the same combination among some modern African Protestant Christians.

The combination is a hallmark of the best Christians, indeed the combination may be almost unique to Christians - at least it does not seem to be valued by other religions who seem happy to go all the way one way (to extreme compassionate weakness) or the other (to extreme legalistic harshness).

These thoughts came after re-reading some sections of Charles Williams' Descent of the Dove history of Christianity (from an Anglican perspective).