From its birth, the Christian Church has been sent into cultures and societies filled with people who thought they were "progressive", when they were anything but. What is at stake are two competing visions of the human person, human freedom, human flourishing and human progress
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - In 2009 I wrote an article expressing concern over the decision of the "Evangelical Lutheran Church in America" to ordain non-celibate practicing homosexuals to their clergy. I claimed the denomination had succumbed to heresy.
I wrote the article because it involved significant news. I also did so because I am a Catholic. As a Catholic, I believe I should be concerned about other Christians who are struggling within the communities which evolved from the Protestant Reformation.
The article generated some disapproving comments. They ranged from the reader who wondered why such an article was "even published on a Catholic Web Site", to others which used the term "schismatic" in reference to all Protestant Christians.
Some objected to my use of the term, "orthodox' to distinguish those Lutherans who adhered to what C.S. Lewis would have called "Mere Christianity" - by accepting the fundamentals of the Christian faith - from those who had succumbed to error within their own denomination.
Still others wanted to re-fight the Protestant Reformation and offered combative comments concerning where these communities erred in their initial division with the Catholic Church. I agreed - to some extent - with the analysis of some of my readers on these topics.
After all, I am a Catholic by choice. However, that was not the point of the article. Rather, it was to report on the sad turn of events within a community of fellow Christians with whom we share a common baptismal bond.
Finally, some readers accused me of lacking compassion because I called the intentional ordination of practicing homosexual's error. There is a huge difference between respecting the human dignity of all men and women, including those who struggle in this area, and failing to help fellow Christians reject error.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) erred when the leadership of that community "voted" to abandon Christian orthodoxy. Their national assembly in Minneapolis struck down a policy that no longer required those with same sex attraction issues to remain celibate. In doing so they rejected the clear unbroken teaching of Christianity.
Christians abandoning the teaching of the Sacred Scriptures and the Christian Tradition is not a new phenomenon in the 2000 year history of the Church. What is new is the massive support that such a sad turn of events now receives in some segments of the media which seem to delight at reporting on such matters.
All one has to do is look to the first few centuries of the Christian Church to see that this matter is not new. The same struggles existed very early on in the Church. Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon, France, was born in Asia Minor in the year 125. His efforts are one example of the many early Church Fathers who contended for the truth - and pulled no punches.
His seminal work was entitled "Against Heresies". It was dedicated exposing and opposing false teaching in order to protect the Christians of that day from poison. His treatise is a refutation of the teachings of certain "Christian" Gnostics whose followers fell for similar errors and condoned disordered sexual practices in the process.
Irenaeus' goal, stated in the Fifth Book of the treatise, was to ".reclaim the wanderers and convert them to the Church of God" and to "confirm at the same time the minds of the neophytes" (Preface, Book V).This imust be the response of the Christian Church in our age. Irenaeus loved the heretical Christians enough to speak the truth precisely to try and lead them back to the faith. We must follow his example.
The AP report in 2009 contained these words "The ELCA - the nation's seventh-largest Christian church - reached its conclusion after eight years of study and deliberation. That culminated Friday when the church's national assembly in Minneapolis struck down a policy that required any gay and lesbian clergy to remain celibate."
The length of time it took for this group to reject Christian orthodoxy and embrace this heresy has no bearing upon the matter. Truth is not subject to change based upon a vote!
The struggle we face today involves a clash of worldviews, Christian and pagan. The positions espoused by the "majority" of the ECLA who voted in 2009 were heretical. The lifestyles affirmed by some who claim the moniker "progressive",l even in the Christian community, are anything but progressive.
They are an example of the regressive effort to turn the clock back to pre-Christian paganism.
It was the Christian vision of faithful, monogamous marriage, family, authentic human freedom, the dignity of every human person and the existence of objective truth from which we derive a common morality which has guided social progress.
In fact, it was these very insights which have helped to free people from the bondage of disordered appetites and unshackle them from the tyrannies - personal and social - rooted in sin and the structures which it fosters.
It has been the Christian vision of the human person, the family, the just society and the true common good that has helped to overcome the slaveries which arose from flawed pagan ideologies and superstitions.
From its birth, the Christian Church has been sent into cultures and societies filled with people who thought they were "progressive", when they were anything but.
Many of those cultures practiced primitive forms of abortion and even "exposure", a practice of leaving unwanted children on rocks to be eaten by birds of prey or picked up by slave traders.
Ancient Christian manuscripts such as the Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve), the accounts of Justin Martyr and other early sources, expose cultures - not unlike the one in which we live - where people were treated as property, "freedom" was perceived as a power over others and unrestrained license masqueraded as liberty.
The early Christians did not back down from contending with the pagans of old. They knew then - and we must reassert in our own day - that what is at stake are two competing visions of the human person, human freedom, human flourishing and human progress.
The early Christians demonstrated the superiority of their claims by their compelling witness of life. So must we. They lived in monogamous marriages, raised their children to be faithful Christians and good citizens, and went into the world of their age offering a new way to live.
This "way" (which is what they first called the early Church) presented a very different worldview than the one that the pagans embraced. As a result, they sometimes stirred up hostility. Some of them were martyred in the red martyrdom of shed blood.
Countless more joined the train of what use to be called "white martyrdom", living lives of sacrificial witness and service in the culture, working hard and staying faithful to the end of a long life spent in missionary toil.
Slowly, not only were small numbers of "pagans" converted and baptized, but eventually their leaders and entire Nations followed suit. Resultantly, the Christian worldview began to influence the social order.
The "clash of freedoms" continued, but the climate changed significantly. It was the Christian faith and the practices of these early Christians that began to win the hearts of men and women.
Cultures once embracing pagan practices, such as plural marriage, active homosexual practice, exposure of infants and abortion began to change dramatically. This dynamic continued for centuries.
Christianity taught such novel concepts as the dignity of every person and their equality before the One God. The Christians proclaimed the dignity of women, the dignity of chaste marriage and the sanctity of the family.
Christians insisted that freedom must be exercised with reference to an objective moral code, a law higher than the emperor, or the sifting sands of public opinion; a Natural Law which could be known by all men and women, through the exercise of reason, because it was written on the human heart.
Christians presented a coherent and compelling answer to the existential questions that plagued the ancients such as why we existed and how we got here. What was the purpose of life? Questions like how evil came into the world and why we could not always make right choices? What force seemed to move us toward evil and how we could be set free from its power?
Christian philosophy began to flourish and the arts also flourished under the Christian worldview. Philosophies of government and economic theory began to be influenced by these principles derived from a Christian worldview. It offers the same genuine liberation to the contemporary age.
Some say we live in a post modern age; indeed others call it a "post Christian" age. I will not use either description. If anything, it is a pre-Christian age, ripe for the "New Evangelization" of the Church. The future belongs to the Church.
The message and gifts she holds for every age pave the road of true progress. The contemporary re-emergence of ancient paganism, even embraced by some within some Christian communities, is not the path to freedom and flourishing but to misery. It must be exposed, opposed and rejected.
Fortunately for Catholic Christians, we have a "Magisterium", a teaching office, which, continuing the apostolic mission, guards the deposit of faith against heresy in both doctrine and practice. Many of our friends in other Christian communities do not.
We need to pray for the faithful Christians within every community in our own day. Together we must rededicate ourselves to standing "Against Heresies" by proclaiming the Truth which alone sets all men and women free.
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