This past week, and for the reason of talking about aspects of Catholic faith, I ventured a fact about the Catholic doctrine on sin to a Charismatic friend of mine. I noted to her that the Catholic Church obligates us to attend Sunday Mass. Should we not do so, it is considered a mortal sin and we must exclude ourselves from receiving the Eucharist until we have confessed to this negligence and sin.
Now my friend, like many Christians, has to work hard to give respect to the Catholic Church. After several small skirmishes between us over the matter of doctrine and practice, I found myself delivering a strong rebuttal on the common respect due Catholicism. I had learned at New Hope Ministries that Catholicism is more than frowned upon by many practicing Christians; as if it were some cave of lepers from the time of Jesus. So I was not surprised when what I received back for my offering was a look of disapproval and a dodge from discourse.
Problem One for Protestant and Non-Denomination faithful…. I don’t remember Jesus shunning lepers or loving them less than others. And two, I don’t remember Jesus believing Himself to be called solely to the healthy, wealthy, and wise. You know, the “I know something you don’t know crowd.” In my distant past I would have had my blood boiling for an argument that would be more passionate than informative; more based upon ignorant one-upmanship than upon wisdom. These days, I am more aligned to the idea of not being in charge of controlling other people’s thoughts and actions, but rather to the concept of simply doing what I can to offer up considerations; and so I shall here.
The Protestant and Non-Denomination churches have no obligation that requires the attendance of their congregants at their services. At no time will the authority of such a church find fault in one’s lack of attendance, and affix some sort of penance the person must perform in order to enjoy any of the sacraments of Christ’s Church. Now this matter is of the spiritual world; God’s world. This is His domain. Through His love we find free choice, and if that ability to choose leads one to not attend church services, then so be it and one cannot be considered as loving God less for such inaction. At least this is how these churches view this matter. Interesting.
Now in the physical world, the one where we secede authority to man and government, we find a parallel. Our government has established their church, and we call it the public school system. In this church there is mandatory attendance by all citizens. It varies by state, but it typically starts with Kindergarten, roughly five to six years old, and ends somewhere between the completion of eighth-grade and the completion of twelfth-grade, roughly fourteen to eighteen years old. That’s eight to twelve years of mandatory, daily education to what the state would have you know, and accept as truth, in order to be a participating and hopefully a contributing citizen of the society. This is getting very interesting.
There is a sacrament, for the Catholics, and a sacrament or rite or symbolic action, for the Protestants and Non-Denominations, that is a teaching tool to be somewhat measured against the public school system; Confirmation. This process can vary in its construct and schedule, but it is but a small process in comparison to the public school system in both breadth and depth. Catholics are much more assertive in dealing with Confirmation – viewing it as one of the seven sacraments of Jesus – while Protestants and Non-Denominations less so to the point where Confirmation can merely be a choice of taking a side-route to joining a church and not the main path; that being simply showing up and dropping some coin in the basket.
When one steps back and looks at this whole matter, one can clearly see an interesting contradiction that exposes Christianity’s continuing slide into relativism and man’s will superseding God’s will.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Jesus appears to be clearly delineating between the two authorities while not demoting one beneath the other. And so the questions I have to ask at this moment are, “Why do we see our loyalty to the state as mandatory, while that to God’s Church as optional?” “And why do we believe that penance or penalty is reserved for the discretion of the state – accepting its authority – while not accepting the Church’s authority and discretion to enact penance and penalty?”
Peer relationships between co-existing and cooperative entities are always the healthiest to any society. Where such parity does not exist there rises inevitable conflicts that lead to discrimination and subjugation. Our American government system has long understood this relationship, through its Constitution, and I believe the discrimination the Church suffers under now by this same government is one brought upon itself, for the Church is but the people who are responsible for our government’s behavior towards its own people. That thought is quite the mind twister, isn’t it? If you stay relative in mindset, you can never walk yourself out of the puzzle.
I’m going to venture an initial guess as I write this out. I sense that people see God as too distant and incomprehensible. He is Spirit, and we can only seem to see ourselves as physical. There is the great divide between Him and us that exists in our body and in our mind only. Our body cannot touch Him, and our mind cannot fathom Him; unless we choose to submit to Him. Submitting to God means much more than the dictionary’s definition: “to give over or yield to the power or authority of another.” The definition recites the concept without illuminating the practice. Submission requires giving up all things of this world that obscures God’s presence in our lives, and the results of such actions can be profound in our daily lives. Cars can be the number one sanctum for man’s pontificating of the self and if a car obscures your vision, would you choose to not drive? High-heels are only meant to objectify the female, and so if high-heels obscure your vision of how God sees you, should you wear flats? Can you imagine the Virgin Mary walking about in high-heels? You carry this assertion further and each one of us suffers peril by the possibility of becoming Amish, or worse, a practicing Christian. Lord, this is just too much to ask of us.
I attended the graduation of a class for women called, Purpose and Purity. This class is about aligning yourself with Christ, and finding out what your gifts and talents are so you may better do His work. That’s the Purpose part. The Purity part comes in where God says He is holy and so we should be holy; the word holy meaning: “having a spiritually pure quality, and an entity entitled to worship or veneration as sacred.” The word pure can be defined as, “free from anything of a different, inferior, or contaminating kind; free from extraneous matter.”
I give you these definitions to aim your mind to a particular direction. At the graduation each woman came forward to recite a pledge or covenant to serve God and walk in His way. It was a spiritual statement of declared purpose and purity that would codify this woman to God and His will; a submission. This was a declaration that she had organized her spiritual essence to an order of thoughts, words and actions that embody the purity of God’s holiness. She had submitted herself to the authority of God as the spiritual leader of her physical body and mind.
Amongst the dozen or so women, I was puzzled by the appearances of three women who came forward, and it seemed to assert more as to the state of their spiritual acceptance of God’s authority than words could ever do so. Each woman was dressed in an extremely evocative manner; a matter of dress and make-up that directed the eyes to those parts of the woman’s body that are considered sexual attractants to a suitor male. Pant suits were very, very tight. Dresses and skirts were much too short. High-heels accentuated curvatures. Hair was wildly displayed. Make-up reddened the cheeks and lips as if they were aroused. I do not mean to assert that these women were purposely trying to be seductive, but rather that they do not realize that these manners of appearance are seductive; no matter what the setting and purpose.
Now, I can be chastised as reading too much into their appearances; that it is my mind that is scurrilous, and how could I ever know the truth of their own personal relationship with God. And that is the objection that I would expect. I would be questioned and derided as one who holds judgment against others; clearly not Christian, yes? Is this then the problem at hand? Do we not know where good Christianity ends and bad Christianity begins?
We have clues to this matter. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians discourses on this matter of appearances:
1 Corinthians 8
“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as in fact there are many gods and many lords – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”
This entire chapter is dedicated to the subject of appearances and purported intent; how they might weaken the resolve of faith and taint the purity of the spirit. It notes the insufficiency of man’s will to hold together the unity of mankind with God. And we see in Matthew that we are all called to our brothers’ and sisters’ concern; to acknowledge and confront appearances and actions that weaken the Church’s resolve of faith:
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Jesus is stating at the end of this line of reasoning that where we act together in concert to address our failings we will find God in our presence; acting to our benefit and future good.
It is in the deflection of our task, the ladder of unity and obedience as one Church up to God’s will, in which we find the chute, our personal self-sanctification that denies God’s participation in our life decisions, which then returns us to sin. Sanctification is not an internal assessment of how we think we are doing in our relationship with God, but an external pronouncement upon us by God. Listen and you’ll hear Him tell you exactly where you are along that road of sanctification. There is no missing the tenor of His voice or the meaning of His Word. The bible is there to teach us God’s divine and natural law. Lessons learned refer to, “in what intent and manner do we do something.” It’s not the doing, but the intent that defines the action as good or evil. Man’s problem lies in his deflection of the truth of his intent while engaging in actions of good appearance. Intent is restricted to the absolute of God’s divine and natural law. It cannot be maneuvered to reflect man’s interpretive inclinations.
Has the Church become a board game of Chutes and Ladders? Here’s how Amazon.com describes this board game:
“Be the first to move your child-shaped playing piece from square one to square 100 on the Chutes and Ladders game board–but watch out! If you land on the square that shows you ate too much candy–Ouch!–you get a tummy ache and slide down a chute to a square a few numbers below. But if you end your turn on a good-deed square, such as helping sweep up a mess, you’ll be rewarded by a ladder-climb up the board.”
It seems we infantilize ourselves with our perpetual inclination to our desires while we strive to listen to the Word of God. This all leads to a brief discourse on deontological ethics, and so I will go there simply because it relieves me from carrying a burden that I can be questioned as to its truth since I am sufficiently unworthy to do so. No, here I can leave this matter to minds much greater and worthy than mine. I’ll go to Wikipedia and Immanuel Kant:
“Deontological ethics or deontology is the ethical position that judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a rule or rules. It is sometimes described as “duty” or “obligation” or “rule” -based ethics, because rules “bind you to your duty”.
Immanuel Kant’s theory of ethics is considered deontological for several different reasons. First, Kant argues that to act in the morally right way, people must act from duty. Second, Kant argued that it was not the consequences of actions that make them right or wrong but the motives of the person who carries out the action.
Kant’s argument, that to act in the morally right way one must act purely from duty, begins with an argument that the highest good must be both good in itself and good without qualification. Something is “good in itself” when it is intrinsically good, and “good without qualification”, when the addition of that thing never makes a situation ethically worse. Kant then argues that those things that are usually thought to be good, such as intelligence, perseverance, and pleasure, fail to be either intrinsically good or good without qualification. Pleasure, for example, appears to not be good without qualification, because when people take pleasure in watching someone suffering, this seems to make the situation ethically worse. He concludes that there is only one thing that is truly good:
“Nothing in the world—indeed nothing even beyond the world—can possibly be conceived which could be called good without qualification except a good will.”
Kant then argues that the consequences of an act of willing cannot be used to determine that the person has a good will; good consequences could arise by accident from an action that was motivated by a desire to cause harm to an innocent person, and bad consequences could arise from an action that was well-motivated. Instead, he claims, a person has a good will when he ‘acts out of respect for the moral law’. People ‘act out of respect for the moral law’ when they act in some way because they have a duty to do so. So, the only thing that is truly good in itself is a good will, and a good will is only good when the willer chooses to do something because it is that person’s duty, i.e. out of “respect” for the law. He defines respect as “the concept of a worth which thwarts my self-love.”
Kant’s two significant formulations of the categorical imperative are:
- Act only according to that maxim by which you can also will that it would become a universal law for all mankind and to their benefit.
- Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.
Although not all deontologists are religious, some believe in the ‘divine command theory’. The divine command theory is a cluster of related theories that state that an action is right if God has decreed that it is right. The Divine Command Theory is a form of deontology because, according to it, the rightness of any action depends upon that action being performed because it is a duty, not because of any good consequences arising from that action. If God commands people not to work on Sabbath, then people act rightly if they do not work on Sabbath because God has commanded that they do not do so. If they do not work on Sabbath because they are lazy, then their action is not truly speaking “right”, even though the actual physical action performed is the same. If God commands not to covet a neighbor’s goods, this theory holds that it would be immoral to do so, even if coveting provides the beneficial outcome of a drive to succeed or do well.”
Alright, all of this banter is to demonstrate a point; that it is not for us to judge the intent of one’s actions. That is for God to know, and our busy minds to reflect upon. But, to judge one’s own intent through the tunnel vision of a demanding and tempting society is equally a domain we are clearly deficient in assessing and practicing, and as such we are obligated to the purity and holiness of God’s intent and not our own. Reaching back to the beginning of this essay, Christ created the Church. This is not our government’s domain, but God’s. If we wish to be part of Christ’s Church, then we are obligated to show up, and obligated to submit to His authority and judgment placed upon us. We owe Christ’s Church our obligation of a purpose and purity of relationship with God so we may contribute to His Church, just as we owe our government the obligation of an education that prepares us to be a contributing part of the secular society.
Our success as a secular society depends upon our success as a Godly society. Any erosion of our purpose and purity will cost our secular society dearly, and the withdrawal of ourselves and our children from the engagement with secular society is simply acquiescence to evil intent and result on our part. There is no such thing as the separation of Church and State. We are obligated to engage and not withdraw.
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Look closely to what is being defined and stated here. Christ is not describing Satan’s army marching across the growing hill of humanity at har məgiddô, or Armageddon. He is describing a gate; an object that confines something within and hinders something from without, and it is the Church that charges the gates, and the gates will not prevail where the Church shows faith and perseverance. What do you think those gates actually represent, and what do you think is behind those gates? Just flames and groaning souls? Jesus spoke much in allegory, yes? We speak much of the faith, but carry out so little of the perseverance. And if you ask, “How can I persevere? my answer to you would be “Simply and always just ask God what He wants you to do, and then just do it.”
God’s authority is wielded through unconditional love. Government’s authority is wielded through temporal law. Temporal law, not purified by unconditional love, will reach out to and align with those purposes that appear good of intent, but lack the universal quality of God’s absolute law. This creates discrimination and subjugation that separates one man from the other. It is up to those Christians who can demonstrate, and not merely point to, purpose and purity who will constantly reaffirm the goodness of a society that is in agreement with God’s law for us all. To give a little is to gain a lot.
We know that all things work for good for those who love God who are called according to His purpose.
God Bless – Reese