In such lands as Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Church was forbidden to bring the current statecraft before the bar of God and, even more significant, was shut off from an effective educational access to the oncoming generation. In “liberal” countries—Sweden, England, the United States, for example—the Church was more and more regarded as a polite confraternity of occasional pious individuals, which had little or no social function except to lend a tone of respectability to a culture secularistic, man-centered, man-devised. In such countries the Church was not persecuted; it was granted every possible liberty. This was due not so much to a singular nobility as to the fact that it was felt that the Church could be relied on to “mind its own business,” the said business being defined as providing a poetic delight for those who happened to crave its form of emotional release.
If one looks at the New Testament, the scriptural charter of the ecclesiastical enterprise, or if one examines the nineteen centuries of Christian history in an attempt to analyze the causes of alternating periods of success and failure, it seems plain enough that the Church’s business is the simple and difficult bearing of witness, in terms of creed and code and cult, to the nature of God, the nature of man, the right relationship between the two, as these are revealed in the person and teaching of Jesus; the offering of Him, as solution of man’s problems individual and social, to a world which does not desire Him but cannot get along without Him, a world which for its own safety must be brought to adore and obey him, a world which cannot be brought to do that except by those who do themselves adore and obey Him. The function of the Church is, with complete conviction of the divine inevitability of what Christ reveals about life, to resist all lesser, carnal interpretations of life—resist them in love but with firmness and consistency, convinced that thus it may persuade natural man, turn him to the right-about, save him from conceit and folly and cupidity and from the destruction these engender.
Any significant impact of the Church upon the day whose sun is sinking into a confusing twilight, or upon the tomorrow which struggles in the womb of night, must necessarily be an impact of challenge, of opposition.
Christ did not teach that the Church should seek to establish itself as a sort of rival State, and … Christian moralists are unsympathetic with theocracy. The State is rather to be regarded as directly responsible to God. As Father Kelly of Keiham once put it in terms of the English scene, “It is the duty of Lambeth to insist that Westminster obey God. It is not right for Lambeth to attempt to make Westminster obey Lambeth.”
(Bernard Iddings Bell, H/T Rod Dreher) Bell’s essay, Will the Christian Church Survive?, appeared in the October 1942 Atlantic. Dreher didn’t discover it on his own, but a reader kindly sent him the link. Both Dreher and Bell are well worth reading.
It surprises people to discover that as far back as the 1930s, T.S. Eliot described the West as “post-Christian”. Many of us conservative Christians (and perhaps liberal ones too) have this false idea that Christianity didn’t start to fall apart until the 1960s. It’s just not true.
There will be some who read Bell’s essay and think, “He predicted the church’s demise in 1942, but it’s still here. Bell was a false prophet.” That’s a serious misreading of his argument. Here is Bell’s core thesis:
- modernity has pushed the church to the margins, and Christians don’t even understand what’s happening to them;
- Christians themselves have forgotten what the church is for, and what the teachings of Jesus Christ require;
- the church will not recover until and unless its people abandon their complacency, and realize that the church is not supposed to be a therapeutic chaplaincy to the liberal bourgeois order
In 1942, Bell saw this. True, as Eliot said around the same time, Christians cannot live out a privatized faith and still be faithful to the Great Commission. Bell was not calling for that. How we Christians in 2017 learn the difference between the Church and the World, and, more crucially, how to live that difference effectively, is the chief challenge facing the American church today.
This is not a problem that’s the World’s business to solve. This is on us Christians.
More from Bell:
The morality of Jesus is based on these convictions:—
(1) That human life is more than a brief existence between birth and death; that the things which most matter are beyond the power of the grave to destroy; that all which is, including man, exists to subserve a supramundane purpose; that earthly happiness may often well be sacrificed, and sometimes must be sacrificed, for the sake of spiritual integrity; that man’s chief end is to know God and to enjoy Him forever; that nothing short of unity with God can satisfy man’s searching, lonely soul; that for individuals to be sane and happy, or for society to remain secure, it is necessary that in their whole scheme of thought men and women shall place at the center more than transitory values.
(2) That patriotism is all too apt to become a snare and that racialism is a delusion; that all men, near and far, rich and poor, wise and foolish, black and yellow and brown and white and red, are brothers, made to live for one another in a mutually sacrificing sociality; that to exploit one’s fellows by way of privilege is disobedience to God, fratricidal folly, cause of war, and this whether the privilege be within a nation and due to accident of birth or misuse of ownership, or between the nations and maintained for the moment by tariffs, embargoes, and suchlike tricks.
(3) That it is better to serve than to be served; that he who exalts himself will be brought low and that it is the humble who will be exalted; that servants are quite literally more pleasing to God than masters, and that the redemption of a master is made possible only as he becomes the servant of his servants; that the more abilities and talents one possesses, the greater is one’s obligation to take care of the welfare of those less gifted than oneself.Noblesse oblige.
(4) That enemies are to be loved; that if they hunger they are to be fed; that we are to do good to those who hate, revile, despitefully use us. In the light of that teaching of Christ, the Church’s moralists in all ages have faced the problem of war. Christians of today, too, are compelled to face that problem; they cannot avoid it; the world at large will not permit them to avoid it. Some few Christians in every generation have insisted that to obey this command involves complete pacifism, utter non-resistance; but most of the moralists have said no to that. Evil may sometimes get such control of men and nations, they have realized, that armed resistance becomes a necessity. There are times when not to participate in violence is in itself to do violence to the welfare of the brethren. But no Christian moralist worth mentioning has ever regarded warper seas other than monstrous, or hoped that by the use of violence anything more could be accomplished than the frustration of a temporarily powerful malicious wickedness. War in itself gives birth to no righteousness. Only such a fire of love as leads to self-effacement can advance the welfare of mankind. Such love is expensive.
(5) That it is useless or worse to refrain from doing right today for fear of what may eventuate therefrom in the future, and also that a seeking to find palliation for our present inability or cowardice in hope of a Utopia to be builded by our children is evidence of diseased minds; that a man must live each day as though it were the last day; that our responsibility is with our own conduct; that now is the prince of this world judged.
(6) That children are the most important of all people and more particularly the determinants of marriage; that it is more important that offspring should be nurtured than it is that fathers and mothers should continue “to be loved.”
(7) That it is immoral to lay up riches with the hope that with them we may buy, for ourselves or for our heirs, exemption from the common lot of useful and productive labor; that an economy based on an increasing, unpaid, interest-bearing debt, in which men seek to acquire some ownership, that thereby they may gain relief from the necessity of earning bread by work, is an unnatural economy, doomed to result in social chaos. It is right for man to desire a reasonable security, especially in age; but such security cannot rightly come by increment from private investment. A Christian security must be a social security.
The Obama administration began the practice of disbursing Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies to health insurance firms under the Affordable Care Act, even though the funds in question have never been appropriated by Congress. Now, President Trump is making the situation worse by trying to use these illegal payments as leverage to force the legislature to do his bidding.
If it is illegal for the executive to spend money on X, it is also illegal for him to offer to continue to spend it on X so long as Congress does what he wants on some other issue. If, on the other hand, the payments are mandated by Congress, after all (as the Obama administration dubiously claimed), then Trump has no right to withhold them.
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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)