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The Means Of Grace

The emblems of this mystery are the bread and wine through which theLord holds out to us the true communication of his body and blood. We are talking of spiritual communion, which is effected by the bond of the Holy Spirit alone, and which in no way requires a presence enclosed in Christ’s flesh through the bread or his blood through the wine. For although Christ, exalted in heaven, has left behind this earthly abode in which we are still pilgrims, yet no distance can dissolve his power by which he feeds his people with himself. Although they are very far from him, by this power he grants them to enjoy a communion with himself which is nonetheless very close.

So it is that in the Supper the Lord gives us teaching which is so certain and unmistakable that we must be assured without doubt that Christ, with all his riches, is there presented to us, no less than if he were placed before our eyes and touched by our hands.

The power and efficacy of Christ are such that, in the Supper, he not only brings to our spirits an assured confidence in eternal life, but he also makes us certain of the immortality of our flesh. For our flesh is already given life by his immortal flesh and, in some way, share his immortality.

John Calvin, “Truth For All Time”

Social Anxiety and the Gospel

Any time I come across a moment that the reformed community, primarily because it is my community, attempts to honestly, even in passing, address issues of mental illness and health, my attention is grabbed. As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, PTSD, and panic issues, I am particularly attenuated to the mention of such things. And so, when I came across an article on Core Christianity I was intrigued.

The emphasis placed by Rev. Cruse on the Gospel as fundamental to a proper anthropology and that we are by virtue of our creator’s design communal creatures is excellent and necessary and something which, as someone in the trenches, I am going to address more thoroughly in subsequent posts. But for the purposes of my immediate concern, I will focus on one particular line of logic.

Christians are no more spared from the effects of social anxiety than the rest of the world, but Christians are particularly equipped to address and defeat it. That’s because the only real cure for social anxiety is in the Gospel.

The Lies That Are Feeding Your Social Anxiety and How the Gospel Confronts Them
By Jonathan Landry Cruse 

A primary cause of social anxiety, our perception of our place in the world and our contextual value to it, are themselves products of conditioning events and treatment in the world itself. For example, emotional and physical abuse are instances of external treatment that can have profound effects upon a person’s ability to perceive themselves in healthy, and with Christians, biblically sound ways. In other words, we are taught what our worth is to the world in which we dwell that subsequently sets the standard by which we build our personal worth. Society teaches us what we are worth and we act accordingly.

Undoubtedly our perception is infected with a cognitive distortion powered by the noetic influence of sin. What this also means though, is that social anxiety is not a condition which germinates and flowers in a vacuum, so declaring the gospel as the only true curative to a “social anxiety’ understood in a de-contextualized way seems a tad insensitive, seasoned with some prosperity gospel. Because the next step of a Christian afflicted with some form of social anxiety that seems resistant to the healing balm of the Gospel is to believe that they are afflicted because of a lack of faith, on account of personal sin, or the absence of true saving faith altogether. And as someone who spent a few years of my youth within the prosperity gospel movement, I can attest that those conclusions are common and can wreck the faith of weak brothers and sisters.

The Gospel is indeed a powerful salve and means of inoculation against the destructive consequences of unchecked social anxiety. I think though that it is dangerous to present it as the only real remedy to social anxiety; especially this side of glorification. But it is a conversation we must have because those afflicted with mental illness, not only social anxiety, all too often feel marginalized in an by the Church as those merely suffering from unrepentant sin or looking to escape culpability.

The Tendency of Empire

Tacitus, in describing the Romans…and it feels all too familiar.

They have plundered the world, stripping naked the land in their hunger, they loot even the ocean: they are driven by greed, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor; neither the wealth of the east nor the west can satisfy them: they are the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal passion to dominate. They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace.

Cornelius TacitusDe Vita Gnæi Julii Agricolæ cap. xxx (98 CE) in the Loeb Library ed., vol. 35, p. 80 (S.H. transl.)

Courage On Account Of Our Sin

Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent. Pay attention to what the devil did to you. These are two things: sin and repentance. Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame and repentance possesses the courage.

+ St. John Chrystotom, Homily 8, On Repentance and Almsgiving (Fathers of the Church Patristic Series)

Come What May

I never really had much interest in growing up, though it is admittingly useful. And if my age and my adolescence could reach a detente, I’d be satisfied. More to the point, my wife would be pleased…and suspicious, and also insist that I replace adolescence with immaturity. And I ramble. I repeat random trivia as if for the first time, which she indulges far more than I deserve. And when that moment of epiphany arrives, it arrives with exasperation and disappointment; though probably warranted.

And these are moments when what I think is important to say seems banal and pretentious; my interior life persevering as a famished shambling spectre of squandered potential and spent vitality. It may be the manifest futility of not seeming to have become what I thought I would. Though, in defense against the pilums of my own self-loathing, I submit that we can’t ever be other than who we are and are becoming. And at the risk of seeming fatalistic, from beginning to end, our lives travel along a straight path, crooked as our steps may be. Because what we did we would never not do because that is who we were, it is where we were, it is who we were with. In the same way, the decisions that we make now and in the future are not and will never be other than what they are and will be. They are set in stone precisely because what we do is the cumulative result of all that is wise and foolish that we set store by. By all whom we loved and hated and who loved and hated us in return.

And so we arrive along the crooked straight path I’m on. Do I judge whether what I think or happen to let fall out of my mouth matters? Whether it reflects a reformed, confessional married 40-year-old father of three who dabbles in theology or the insurrectionist teen that won’t be pacified in peacetime? I don’t. I open the gate and let slip the dogs of war come what may. Because to quote the Dude, “it’s like, your opinion, man.”

The Dumbing Down Of Reverance and Awe

Ever since I found myself apart of the confessional reformed church, I have always been struck by the reversal of roles that often occurs in the “liturgies” of contemporary evangelicalism, more so that I have been removed from the Sabbath practices of American Evangelicalism, specifically. Dr. Horton, more succinctly than I, identifies the unintentional estrangement from the historic worshipping church that results from the reorientation of biblical anthropology and ecclesiology. Continue reading “The Dumbing Down Of Reverance and Awe”

Christian Hegemony

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. ~  John Adams, Thoughts On Government Applicable To The Present State Of The American Colonies.: Philadelphia, Printed By John Dunlap, M,Dcc,Lxxxvi

The insistence that America was and is a Christian nation, by an Evangelicalism broadly defined, is built upon a Christianity that is dominated by a Jeffersonian egalitarianism that has very little to do with orthodox Protestantism or even a traditional Catholicism. It’s a Christianity conceived as an individual perception and conception, eschewing both tradition and education; an intentional disconnect from the faith of our fathers. It’s a system the dismisses any authority that is does not elevate the will of the parishioners as primary; it insists to such a degree the priesthood of every believer, either by not acknowledging or through ignorance of the definition of the clergy as a vocation and its requisite qualifications, it sees no point in the education of ministers, nor the guidance of church history in its breadth nor narrowly by particular creeds and confessions.

As a consequence, rejection of the past and the intellectual isolation it brings seems righteous and liberating. And in its infancy, appears the correct choice, as a repudiation of the sins of our forefathers both real and imagined. But as often happens in revolutions fueled by tyranny and oppression, the enlisted soldiers of liberation, both of the masses or the minority become the inquisitors. In the pursuit of preventing the sins of the past and granting humanity to the memory of the fallen, they become the abusers of the new underclass.

And that seems to be the thing that we either avoid confronting or just don’t have the time to contemplate — that revolutions propelled by violence, be it through force of arms or political coercion, never produce equality. It always demands reparations. It always demands vengeance cloaked in acts of justice.

Liberals and Conservatives, Meh

The social gospel, the belief that Church has the skills and obligation to ameliorate the moral deficiencies society, both real and imaginary, is not only a disorder of the liberal church today but of those that ostensibly identify as conservative evangelicals. But the real differences are largely circumstantial, rather than largely substantial. Both seem to be more concerned with a socio/political vision of the perfect society than with the person and work of Jesus; the great society rather than the great commission. This is where we’ve come to, where the differences between the liberals and conservatives in the church are ones of moral persuasion rather a commitment to a transcendent message.

As a result, the politics and the ideologies that develop with the subsumption of theology to social activism contribute to the privation of sanctuary that the church is supposed to provide for the body of Christ. There is no escaping the travails of society in the Church when to it has been co-opted by politicians and those they manifest from as a wing of their political party and a means of legislative dominance. And Evangelicalism has embraced the message and vociferously dispensed with the spirituality of the Church. And without the spirituality of the Church, one may argue that the institutional Church vanishes, along with any true and lasting influence, namely the gospel.

Almost a hundred years ago J. Gresham Machen, seeing something similar in his own day, and foreshadowing our current predicament, closed Christianity and Liberalism with this.

Is there no refuge from strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus name, to forget the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world.

J. Gresham Machen
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