Proper Fellowship

How is proper fellowship found in the body of Christ? We come together as men and women of the faith, in person and afar, with words of affirmation and songs of praise, in common appearance and motion with the tides of the Spirit. And yet, much as white plaster can conceal the rot just behind it, signs and appearances are insufficient in obtaining certainty of the steading of every man and woman with respect to the other in the Church. While I admit readily it is beyond the finite knowledge of man to know another’s heart fully, and thus all may be well while a Christian is needlessly doubtful of the sincerity of his brother’s intentions, it would be equally foolish to remain in the bliss of ignorance while the Church is wracked with fraying bonds and a quenched Spirit. It is to this ignorance that I speak today.

What creates a community? This is a simple question with a ready answer: that which brings people together. Community is a collection of persons bound together in common purpose. It is often begun and lead by a smaller group within the community, such as a pastor or a coach or a director. Communion is neither good nor bad; it is the natural state of man to congregate with others, and when he has the choice, to congregate with those of like mind. By this rule, a dappled sea of school colors can often be seen to shift before a football stadium in the Autumn, its wearers shouting the songs of their Alma Mater as they ready themselves to cheer on their team. Likewise, the eternal company of fellow musicians find kindred bonds over shared experiences of countless performances in a hundred lilting halls. It is unnatural for man to isolate himself from community, and when this is his choice, he suffers the aimlessness and despair that are its bedfellows.

The opposite of community is division: the separation of a common people, dictated by a source which impels them to the separation. The source might be as simple as disagreement on which days to hold holy, or which food to be considered sacred, which, if it split the body of Christ, its proponents ought to be ashamed. For, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). “Dissensions and factions” are considered anathema in the letters to the early church, contrary to the “[life] by the Spirit,” and are rather evidence of the “sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16,19-21). It is at best misleading to say there can be divisions which are good – not between carnality and righteousness, which is holiness – for the act of exclusion that is the work of human pride is itself the evidence of sin at work in me. And this is not to say that a body of righteous believers who appear “divisive” in the times in which they live are in fact divisive, only that they live in the unity of the Spirit; no, it is the world which has brought the division, an act whose source again is pride, and thus is an act of the sinful nature.

This is the definition of community, delineated from its opposite. What, then, makes a Christian community? Or, what creates a community of fellow believers? The first and most obvious candidate is location. That the body of Christ meets in one shared location means that the possibility for community exists, since we may actively seek out relationships with others. If there was no location for meeting, then we would not know who shares this faith with us, and we could not have community. But a shared location is not unique to the church, for many communities exist which are not Christian and yet meet in the same place, such as in concert halls and political rallies. And other locations exist where many come and yet there is no fellowship at all. I myself do not expect to begin a bible study when I enter a restaurant.

St. Peter’s Basilica

The destination at the end of this road, if followed to its conclusion, is the magnification of the meeting house of God instead of God Himself. For even as Solomon built the temple paneled with fine cedar, “carved with gourds and open flowers,” and the inner sanctuary overlaid with pure gold, and many more carvings of gold and olive wood and pine, the condition upon which God would live with the people of Israel was not the finery of the temple, but to “follow [His] decrees, carry out [His] regulations and keep all [His] commandments” (1 Kings 6). Yet this fact was blatantly ignored by 120 years of papal authority in the 15th century. And if their worship of the cathedral of Man over God Himself were not enough, they funded this meeting place of God’s people with the tithe of their guilt – indulgences – as if salvation could be purchased by the work of one’s own hand! But St. Peter’s Basilica has already been built, long before like as me were born to criticize it, and even with such reservations I recognize its glory. No, not the glory of the men who built and adorned it, but the God who gave them such authority, and who brought its elements into existence, and made us capable of recognizing beauty when they are arranged in certain forms.

Louie Giglio with Vince Vitale and Ravi Zacharias

The next candidate is oft represented by a single man in the congregation: the pastor. His duties are to the spiritual needs of the flock given him by God and the institutional Church more broadly, separated as it is across space and time. Is not this man capable of bringing us together under the banner of Christ? If this be the thought of the man whom God has chosen to lead the church, led him be warned of the great danger by which pride works the downfall of the sons of God. No clearer is this lesson taught than in the days of the great King David, a man after God’s own heart, who slept with the wife of Uriah and killed her husband to conceal the fact (2 Sam. 11-12). And this lesson is taught again and anew, year by year, as godly men forget the power of sin at work within, fail to grow in fellowship with their brothers in the faith, and leave a holy legacy on earth tarnished by moral failings. Such was the sadness of news recently brought us, that a man who spoke the truth in love so consistently could fall so greatly from the path of Life. But God knew Ravi’s heart, and so only He can preside over him as the perfect Judge.

The last candidate, and the loudest, is music. Surely music can bind us together? Who today has not been washed with the worship of the modern age? How many inspired lyricists have pricked our hearts with words that melted our hardened exteriors and reduced us to tears, or played chords so beautiful we collapsed in silent praise to the One who alone can receive it? It can be a wonderful thing, to live in the twenty-first century. How, then, can a ministry so divine not be the anchor of our community? But may I remind you, brothers and sisters, that Hillsong may have brought as many to tears as Demi Lovato. And certainly there are as many fans of the latter that would swear as deep a bond of kinship with fellow fans as do those of the former.

Portland Rioters burning the American Flag

This is perhaps a contentious issue in the church today, and so is quietly mentioned and quickly forgotten, but doubtless too many Christians come together with the expectation that music alone will summon up the feeling of community which has long since been lost to them. Indeed, to rely on music alone for any deep relational or theological revelation is almost certainly to quench the Spirit. And to trust the fellowship of believers to those graced with the musical gift is as grievous an error as the previous, except it is rare to find a musician who can also defend the historicity of the resurrection, and emotion is often a more dangerous currency of investment. A community built solely on the chords of feeling with certainly come to a swift end, if it doesn’t first annihilate its surrounding social structure in the process. No more clearly have we learned this lesson than by the legions of rioters plaguing the streets of this America and bent on its destruction.

Marty Sampson, Hillsong Worship Leader

How easy to allow the heart to soar to great heights when fog-machines surround us with a façade of the spirit, and rays of light shoot up from a stage as though we were in the presence of the cherubim, and the subtle effects of deep fade and reverb are added to the vocalist as his voice rebounds in heavenly verse throughout the sanctuary! Do I believe it is good for the vocalist to sing well? Yes! Glory to God. Do I believe it is good for the sound technician to know how to set a mix, and connect speakers for the voice of another to be heard? Yes! Glory to God. And much more can be said on this subject. But do I believe it is good for the musician to draw the gaze of the Body of Christ from her Bridegroom – Christ Himself – to the passing glory of man? No! The consequences of forgetting to “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” are too grim to contemplate, yet contemplate them we must, or Sunday by Sunday we will yield to man a little more attention as we think he deserves it, and to Jesus a little less, until one day we awake to the realization that we are genuinely losing our faith, and it doesn’t bother us in the slightest. This is the road to Hell, a trail of crumbs that satisfy our momentary cravings of spirituality, or loneliness, or guilt, leading into the waiting arms of Death itself.

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…”

-C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This is not to downplay the importance of praising our God! We ought to praise God constantly, “in songs and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19), for our God by very definition of His nature deserves glory. For this reason I affirm my belief that we ought to give our all in praising him. But it is this definition that reveals to us the error of our ways, if we substitute the “glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man” (Rom. 1:23), whether it is the image of a soaring cathedral, or an eloquent speaker, or an angelic muse.

The result of our swim in these difficult waters is the discovery that Christian community cannot ultimately be bound together by these earthly gifts. Such things, glorious as they are, were made by man, and are therefore not the source of his ultimate purpose. Where, then can Christian community be found? If not in location, or in a pastor, or in music, what hope do we have left? But thanks be to God, for there is one place, and one place alone, in which all three of these elements of the community converge, and yet which is not itself any of these elements. Where can all true followers of Christ be found? At the foot of the Cross. Who would lead us, and where might a disciple hear His words? Christ at Calvary. What song can be sung by all in solidarity of faith? The music of the good confession, by which all hear our faith, and God is glorified.

The Cross is the ultimate expression of the Christian community. As it is one place, it is the location at which all true followers of Jesus will discover one another. If we go to the Cross and do not meet who we expect to meet – and by this token, communion with that brother is lost – do not be worried! This simply means that he has not yet decided to come simply before the Cross of Christ. Though the heart may ache, these things must be if God is to remove “what can be shaken… so that the unshakeable may remain” (Heb. 12:27); that is, the true Church refined by the fires of tribulation.

The Cross is the ultimate example for the Christian disciple. His death – and subsequently His resurrection – was both his word of salvation preached, and his example demonstrated, so that anyone who would follow him must do the same. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'” (Matt. 16:24). We are not disciples of a mortal man, but of the Incarnate Word made flesh (John 1:14); not of a speaker of great renown, but of “one from whom men hide their faces” (Isa. 53:3); not of a learned man or a teacher of the law with a train of accolades, but One who accused such men of being “hypocrites” and “white-washed tombs” (Matt. 23:27). Who better to lead this fellowship of “sheep gone astray” (Isa. 53:6) than the very Anointed One who died for them? Who better to bind together the disciples than the One whose words brought them together in the first place? Jesus Christ lived in the world, and yet was without sin; therefore, he can never disappoint the trusting heart. We cannot say the same of any man.

Finally, the Cross is the ultimate reminder of our present salvation and future destination. In the first place, it reminds us of the sacrifice already made. In the second, of the fact that it is empty. And in being empty, it reminds us that He did not remain dead, but rose again. But how can it be empty, and still remain standing? Surely it would have been torn down long ago? By the Romans, yes, for they were a thorough empire. And yet it stands in history and in the minds of His followers. Why? Because He is not yet done with His work on earth, and until That Day, we who come to the foot of the Cross will learn to pick it up and follow Him. But herein lies the great cost of our day! For who would walk through the crowd of mockers to kneel before the Lord, naked and pierced at a public crossroads? How many of us would deny Him before being put through public humiliation, and that far less than even His own? Or who would risk the political consequences of revealing loyalty to Jesus by walking before the Roman Empire and declaring not Caesar, but Jesus, as Lord? This is the present cost of the good confession: alienation from our fellow man. And while alienation is often the consequence of holding to the creed of the Apostles – which again is no division at all, but holiness – we must hold to it unswervingly, because it is by a common creed that the bonds of brotherhood are sealed. To walk among others as strangers seems to us the greatest misery, but without this great risk we cannot hope to discover true Christian community.

Affirmation of Truth

S: Bounded set theologians believe that there are people who will be saved, and people who won’t, and they categorize people in terms of this “truth” that they define in order to tell the good people from the bad people. Centered set theologians believe that it is more of a three-dimensional sphere in which all people are being drawn towards the center; namely, Jesus Christ.

Usylvus: But there is a distinction between what is true, and what is not, correct?

S: Yes, but that is between what has personally been revealed to me and the One who revealed it. It’s not my job to judge the fruits of someone else’s belief.

Usylvus: But this still presumes there is truth.

S: The truth I know is what I believe based on my circumstances, my past, my environment, and so forth. My truth is not the same as your truth.

Usylvus: But that would imply that all truth is subjective.

S: All truth is subjective.

Usylvus: Is that true?

S: What you just did was paint me into a corner, and then demand I respond to your question on your own terms.

Usylvus: But that response only evades the question. Is it true that all truth is subjective or not?

S: Everyone filters the world through their particular lens. The idea that “truth exists” is based on your Western Judeo-Christian background, and most of the rest of the world does not see things in that light. Many Eastern philosophies, for example, are exercises in holding one belief in one hand and a completely contradictory view in the other, and deciding never to resolve the paradox. It’s only the inability of the Western mind to hold paradoxes in tension, and their subsequent desire – which stems from a Fundamentalist worldview – that all things be made known, that makes them decide one view is “right” and another is “wrong.” But you cannot have faith without first having doubt, just as you can’t truly know what light is without first being in the dark.

Usylvus: So if a Fundamentalist were to say, “objective truth exists,” would that make their statement wrong?

S: No, but you’re missing the point that your truth is coming from a filtered reality.

Usylvus: I agree we see the world through a filtered reality. That is why we have to be vigilant in determining what is true as opposed to merely what we’ve come to accept as truth.

S: I say there’s no difference.

Usylvus: Again I must ask: Is that true? Isn’t that statement itself an absolute? And if it isn’t, then it’s false, or else everything is reduced to absurdity. Can I look at my face in the mirror and say, “I exist”? No, absurdity! Can I say child rape is wrong? No, absurdity! Is two plus two equal to four? No, absurdity!

S: It’s common for people from your position to jump automatically to the extremes in every question, such as “Is rape wrong?” or “Is murder wrong?”

Usylvus: That’s often because these questions are rarely answered.

S: What about God, then, the great moral Lawgiver? Didn’t He command the Jews to murder the Canaanites? Wasn’t that wrong? But then isn’t he breaking his own law?

Usylvus: But that would imply it’s wrong to break your own law. Why not believe it’s morally good to make a law for everyone else and then not follow it yourself?

S: I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m just saying you can’t know.

Usylvus: But that’s precisely the point. If you can’t know, you have established an absolute – namely, that you can’t know – which refutes your own argument. The reason for the extreme examples is to demonstrate that there are in fact some things in this world which are objectively true. Evading them does not answer them. If we can agree, for example, that two and two make four, then it follows there is at least one objective truth in the world. And if one, then maybe more. Thus, it may be objectively wrong to break your own law, and thus a perfectly good (or, at least the Christian) God cannot exist. Or, there may be other pieces of that story that mean His existence is not actually refuted. In any case, if two and two do not make four, but five, then you do not accept that (1) truth exists and (2) it can be attained. In affirming truth’s subjectivity, you have agreed to the absurdity of all things, and therefore we can no longer even have an argument, for an argument presumes there is something being spoken about. But clearly that cannot be true, or even false.

Usylvus: The real trouble lies in your inner agreement to hold up two mutually exclusive views, and never question if perhaps one hand refutes the other. This is contradiction, and one cannot be speaking the truth in doing so. But, nevertheless, it is done, and even has a name: “doublethink.”

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.”

-Orwell, 1984

Usylvus: To ascribe to this viewpoint, finally, means the end of civilization. To believe that moral truth is “decided upon” by a society or group of people who live together is to give up the whole game, for in this case the loudest, the most popular, the “intellectuals,” the cultural betters and moral superiors to whom the vast majority of this society’s populace will naturally look, will be the deciders of what is right and wrong; what is truth. And if man’s heart is so desperately wicked, as history has shown it to be; if his nature is barbarity, as Thucydides recognized; and if truth lies ultimately in their hands, then does the French Revolution murder the innocent; then do the Maoists purge Red Jiang; then do the Aryans confessors of the German church turn the truth of Christ into a lie.

These, then, are the steps of the argument:

  1. Truth is subjective.
  2. If truth is subjective, then truth is determined by the individual.
  3. But the individual cannot be divorced from the society in which he lives. Therefore, his truth will be affected by the collective society.
  4. Furthermore, individuals are more likely to agree to what is popular, and less likely to agree to what is unpopular, especially if truth is relative.
  5. Since what is popular is often determined by the leaders (cultural, political, moral, spiritual), the leaders in that society will have the most influence on what is and is not true.
  6. If the leaders of that society have sufficient influence, the truth they decide will be the truth generally accepted by that society.
  7. Man’s heart naturally tends toward abuse of his neighbor, especially for his own gain.
  8. Thus, the leaders of such a society will naturally tend toward evil, and the society as a whole will tend toward totalitarianism.

Corollary: In order to maintain the possibility of a society not marked by evil and injustice, (1) the objectivity of truth must be affirmed, and (2) sufficient influence (absolute power, control of the flow of information, etc.) must be restricted from being attained by any one discernible source, where a discernible source is any individual or group which can influence others by means up to and including coercion.

In order to accomplish Corollary (2), such methods are employed in economies and governments which assume the inherent selfishness of man from Argument (7) such as free-market economies (which decentralize means of production and incentivize creativity) and separation of powers and elections (which increase the probability that no one Party holds all political power), respectively.

In order to accomplish Corollary (1), one must simply affirm it. In the old language, this is referred to as “the leap of faith.” And besides, whether one chooses to affirm or deny it, or forget the question altogether and run to the arms of a hedonistic oblivion, one cannot escape Truth. As certainly as two and two make four, Truth must exist, in some way, in some degree. If it does not, then the words in this discussion are meaningless. Everything is absurdity. If the Party controls the Truth, then does it any longer exist? That is the great struggle. Who knows which side shall prevail while time yet constrains us.

But I choose to have faith that Truth exists.

“You would not make the act of submission which is the price of sanity. You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one. Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.

-Orwell, 1984

The Fundamental Commonality, Part II

The first part of this discussion clarified what is the most fundamental attribute of all mankind, which binds us irrevocably together: our inability to live up to the Image that we perceive. In this there is no division, but unity in our irredeemable state, if unity there is within our natural proclivities toward division.

The second consideration following the first part is in fact not a unity intrinsic to mankind, but an elected unity. As certainly as we find ourselves helpless to meet standards set either from without or within, it is definite that this second bond is not one basic to our being, but contingent upon our will. The decision of humility before the Cross is neither a natural position of the human frame, nor a pledge idly taken. Yet the human person craves fellowship within the bonds of a common creed as surely as death is preferable to loneliness. Thus, as water flows away from the higher ground to water the lowlands, so men will follow the natural paths away from the hill at Calvary to those communities more appealing to their inflated sensibilities. It is for this reason that we encounter factions, groups of shared identity, opposing communities, and lines of division too numerous to comprehend. Man will wander the restless paths of Cain across the face of the Earth (Gen. 4:14) and walk in desert wildernesses for forty years (Numbers 32:13) before coming simply to the foot of the Cross. He will build his cities, form his troops, proclaim his oaths before witnesses, and wage wars to build mighty kingdoms marked by boundary stones in his own image before ever proclaim as Peter did, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Thus was Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made low in the time of Daniel:

As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals… Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men.”

-Daniel 4:28-32

If we desire a unity not merely of nature, but of purpose, in which not division but communion is the daily practice, then we must become One in Christ.

How, then, are they characterized who are One in Christ? Is there an outward sign, like the mark of Cain, that all who strike him dead should be avenged (Gen. 4:15)? Is it by a constructed “holy atmosphere” through music and high words by which members feel or feign religiosity? Can we deduce it by the number of races represented in the institutional church? To contend that Christ’s Body can be detected by outward appearance in the third part, or projection of emotion in the second part, or rejection of structural forms of obedience in the first, is to display the same weakness as Samuel before the sons of Jesse. No, it is not by these means that the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) is made and maintained. Even the strongest contender in post-modern ideology – race – has little hope of binding together a mosaic of peoples from every “tongue and tribe and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). For even as they are being gathered in one place, they are fragmenting in accordance with the blood of those with whom they share.

No, there is a stronger bond than blood, and that is creed. Those who are one in Christ hold this as true above all else, spoken by the early apostles and repeated by those who regard Christ, and not his own efforts, as final:

I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

-The Apostle’s Creed

This, then, is the mark of those who are one in Christ: those who hold fast to this confession, unwavering and in conviction of spirit and word and work, until the end. The unity here spoken is again one of decision, made by the individual, but it is not merely a “voluntary act of uniting by the members of Christ’s body” (Oden, Classic Christianity, p. 720), for that would be to reduce it again to the lowly state of human community. Rather, it is one which, after affirming this creed in all her members, is set apart by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of service to God. Indeed, the unity of the church itself serves a powerful purpose in our world of factions and division:

By her unity the church gives expression in time to the oneness of Christ’s body so as to unite in hope all humanity to God’s reconciling activity.

-Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, p. 720

If we hold to this shared belief, are we unified? If we are not unified, then what divides us? By what means might we divine the barriers separating brethren one from another, and so unify once more under the banner of Christ, as the church ought, spread out in time and space in the armor of God, wielding faith in one hand and the Word in the other? If we are one in Christ, and we are also divided, then we are not one in Christ. We would do well to ask ourselves – and not our brethren, who in our weakness we are apt to condemn – how often do we affirm the common creed? How often do we dwell on the words, “I believe in God”? “In Jesus Christ… our Lord”? “…in the Holy Spirit”?

The Apostle’s Creed contains the most primal elements of the Body of Christ. They must be examined anew every morning; they must be shouted from mountaintops; they must go down into the “inner parts” of a man; they must be the last word at night. If these truths are known but not held daily, they will fade into a worldly dimness. And in fading, a hundred contradictory worldviews and exploded systems of thought clutter the believer’s mind, and the ancient false choice is quietly proposed by the Enemy of our souls: By whose wisdom shall you live? Your own, or God’s? It was by this lie that Eve took and ate of the apple, as time and again we choose our own paths instead of God’s. But this is to evade the thrust of that first commandment, for to live as one we must live, not by rules, but by relationship. The false choice is to encourage the believer to forget that he is to choose, not between our wisdom and God’s, but between our wisdom and God’s love.

Were it not for the love demonstrated by Christ on the Cross, there would be no possibility of election into this communion. But because Christ did come to earth, and in coming die, and in dying rise, He gave us this hope for “peace on earth,” that one day every “tongue and tribe and people and nation” will proclaim as one that Jesus is Lord.

The Fundamental Commonality, Part I

It has been a common practice of the present day to speak of our brothers and sisters by terms consistent with what separates them from ourselves, though this is by no means a novel revelation. For, in the days of Saul, king over Israel, the Lord knew Saul had “rejected the word of the Lord” (Samuel 15:26) and because of this sent Samuel to look among the ruddy sons of Jesse’s house for a new king. And when Samuel beheld them, he thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:6), as men are apt to do in the presence of natural strength.

But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

-1 Samuel 16:8

And so it is with us. To appraise a man’s worth for his appearance is like to consider a beaker of liquid good for drinking if it be clear; not only is this the folly of apathy, and a scornful rejection of healthy scientific inquiry, but if it is consumed with the same irreverence it has the potential to kill. Thus the settlers of Jamestown met their fate, and so also the student of chemistry if he is not sufficiently cautious.

So what are the things of the heart which God sees, and we are to see if we are to look beyond mere appearance? If we ask God in humility, He will be sure to show us. In an instant, the sheet is pulled back, and we reel in horror and shame. The effect of this revelation and swift demolition of our pride is what the Puritans called the “gift of tears,” or in the current vernacular, repentance. For what we are first shown is not some noble hero, stark against a world swirling with uncertainty, authentic, progressive, wielding a voice of truth against a nameless power, but a blackened tumor pulsating and growing with the passage of time. Here is the first shared bond between all of humanity:

We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…’

-Romans 3:9-11

To a sensitive conscience two-thousand years displaced from these thundering words of condemnation against humanity, indignance might be the first order of business. Who is this Paul to condemn myself, a perfectly decent fellow, whom he has never known, and would never harm a soul? Am I a racist, like some, or a bigot, like others? And anyways, how does a collection of outworn documents apply to the human condition today?

But these objections are easily met. If we recall the First Affirmation:

that values exist, in whatever form; that they are fixed and unchanging with respect to human argument; and that they appear to impress themselves upon humanity from without,

then we readily see the fallacy concealed in these objections. For Paul was a human being, as we ourselves are, and he spoke according to that ideal or standard which transcends Nature and therefore does not change with argumentation or passage of time. Therefore, in making this pronouncement against the baser nature of humanity, he affirms a truth that is undeniable to any student of history and itself has not changed since it was first penned: that we do not measure up to this standard.

At this point, it is necessary to augment the First Affirmation with the following: that the intrinsic moral worth of human beings is both equal among all beings, and fixed with respect to time. Thus, human beings are not malleable in the sense of their moral worth being modified, or else due to the irregular distribution of influences throughout the earth – whether cultural, geographical, academic, or otherwise – some would progress differently or more rapidly than others, and their intrinsic worth would change with respect to those with whom they still share the same biological species. In doing so, those “more equal” than others would help the less equal along by virtue of their societal duty to mankind. This is the primary fallacy behind Oceana’s “Ministry of Love,” in which one man more equal than another – O’Brien – raises the lower – Winston – to the same state of righteous exaltation as he, by medieval arts of torture:

We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable.

-O’Brien to Winston, 1984, p. 269

But if men are malleable, then would it not follow that at the birth of every new babe, the collective gap between our baser nature and the Image we perceive would close? I am assuming that this Image is either rightfully perceived as transcendent, or else designed by the more righteous engineers of society. Would it not be the experience of all men to observe deeper affections and greater comraderie with the other, and to see that civil body of which they are part grow in solidarity and progress toward righteousness and maturity? How greatly is this not the case! How greatly do our passions war against us daily, and how feeble are the admonitions of treating others with public kindness. Even by the image made by the art of man, we discern the gap between the ideal and reality. Man cannot even achieve his low expectations.

This is the response to the objection, that since men do not change, then the words of Paul apply not only to the Romans, but to the Americans, and to the Chinese, and to the British, and to the Portuguese, and so forth. Surely Thucydides pronounced rightly that civilization was a “thin veneer” over barbarism. And with every turn of the electrical knob, O’Brien proved that Paul’s proclamation stands: “There is no one righteous, not even one.”

So this is the first bond between one man with another, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). And if we together are one race of sinners, then we all share yet one more mark of commonality, if indeed we yearn for salvation from this body of death: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). Those who fall short “are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24), and if we all have fallen short, then we all have access to this justification by grace through faith. This justification is not apportioned to an elite few; those peoples or races or intellects or artisans or musicians whom God has picked above all others from the faceless masses of humanity, as the Gnostics once argued. It comes “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

By saying, “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” Paul clarifies what every adopted son and daughter already knows, what is the yearning of every sick soul desperate for peace from the tense divisions of the identitarian idealogues, and that which this latter hateful crew fully despise: that there is no division at the foot of the Cross. Christ does not justify according to race, but according to faith. Thus, we are all fundamentally bound together by our faith in Christ, and ultimately by our adoption as sons and daughters into the kingdom of God.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

-Galatians 3:28

Affirmation of Values

There exists among the shared experience of those civil, rational, and nobly inclined persons of the earth a comprehension of values without which the happy haze of a good life would not daily exist, and if denied by all its members the civilization within which they reside would utterly fail. While the values may subtly change in degree or description from person to person, and to a greater extent from culture to culture, what is not often denied is that these values change in kind from one to the next, and never that they do not exist at all.

That these values are shared is implicit in the set of persons who partake in a civilized society; that is, they are its builders and defenders at best, and are neutral with respect to its flourishing at worst. Such persons recognize the intrinsic value of truth, being able to deter the stirrings of emotion for the benefit of their own powers of reason, and are thus inclined to consider a wealth of perspectives and evidences different from those they themselves hold. From such an explication, we may divine a deeper maxim from this set of persons: theirs is an aspiration to an image of civic nobility. This maxim does not require that those who hold to it are themselves the perfect bearers of such an image, but rather in striving toward it the ideal of civilization is obtained: not perfection, but progress toward perfection. This is the essential message of the apostle Paul to the Philippians when he wrote:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 3:12-14

In this way, the argument for striving toward the noblest ideal of mankind is made, and the daily struggle of civilization toward the image which its individuals bear is described in the broadest of strokes. But often now, as in times past, the good intentions of broad political philosophy for the purpose of individual study and meditation have been corrupted precisely in the exploitations of those ambiguities in which the “better angels of our nature” once played their mystic chords (Lincoln, 1st Inaugural Address, Mar. 4, 1861). This is the danger of modernity: where once there might have been consensus on the definitions of common English words as “perfection” or “civic nobility”, we must now dissect with excruciating precision those terms, or else at the end of the pilgrimage of perfection face the guillotine for the betterment of society, and while the blade shrieks on its rails to sunder another wrecker of society, quail under the massive cry for “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!”

Before defining the image impressed upon all men, and for which all who desire the better civilization over its present form strive, let us consider an example of how the ambiguity inherent in simple terms can be corrupted to a state far from the original intent of its author. The impressionist Claude Monet, a man who interpreted the world through the strokes of a brush, painted a woman holding a parasol. The woman wears a white dress and stands in a field, her scarf like the colored grasses around her fluttering in the breeze, a red flower or clasp pinned near her waist, her hair a combination of blues and greens reflecting the subtle shades of the parasol; a moment caught forever on canvas. Much might be said of the painting, as in through swirls of color the sense of Nature in movement is evoked, but in moving it remains fastened to a deeper stillness around which all points revolve, and which itself does not move – T.S. Eliot’s “still point of the turning world” (Eliot, 1st of Four Quartets) – or the fashion in which the woman is in some way like the clouds in the background, or the grasses in the foreground, or further how the absence of definition in the face renders her identity intractable, and yet acquires the identity of all who behold her, as they become the woman in that moment in the field.

Woman with a Parasol, Monet, 1886

That the painting is of a woman with a parasol, may be in question, though the title of the painting ought to put it beyond doubt. That deeper themes cry out from their simpler forms, requires a trained eye. But that the painting is beautiful, should be evident to the apprehension of all who can still perceive the beautiful things of this world. This was almost certainly the original intent of the artist; to make something that is beautiful, and can be appreciated as such in its own right. Yet beauty is a simple concept, and yielding as the petals of a lily under a brute’s finger.

Extending this example, we consider next such a brutish pressure. Among the academic circles of today exist many collections of persons whose ultimate objective, cloaked though it might be behind such virtuous words as “progress”, “equality”, or “social justice”, is the disintegration of such values as should be plainly affirmed by all mankind. From this perspective, one might imagine the painting to be, not of a woman, but of an ideological construct, presented as simplistic and unidentifiable, yet rife with elemental discord. The painting in fact revolves around the unnatural color of her hair, a symbol of social rebellion in which the binary nature of sexuality is discarded, or the redness of the clasp, evoking implicit bias against the character of the woman, much as Hawthorne’s scarlet letter had done, and in so doing reveals the social oppression of womanhood within the beholder.

This is not to say that any of the preceding points are necessarily true or false, but rather that such a discussion misses the point entirely. Monet’s ultimate purpose was to create something beautiful, not fashion a weapon. But by exploiting the vagueness of the art form, proponents of certain ideologies well-versed in rhetorical fencing have lured the blank and naïve woman out of the picture, painted upon her an image after their own likeness, and skewered her through the heart.

Here, then, is the first inkling of transcendent values placed within man, and here too the hope for their shared affirmation. For even as closed academic circles sound the death knell of beauty by supplanting it with revolutionary ideology, yet the woman remains beautiful for a future and distant generation unfamiliar with the sophistry of her critics. Beauty remains above and apart from all persons, and does not change with argument, however well reasoned, just as a tree would not cease to be a tree even if Socrates himself asserted otherwise.

The preceding deliberation reveals the first affirmation: that values exist, in whatever form; that they are fixed and unchanging with respect to human argument; and that they appear to impress themselves upon humanity from without.

The second affirmation follows from the first: that there is an ideal, or image, to which all humanity attempts to conform.

The truth of this second affirmation should be plain to all who have followed the reasoning thus far. Though the curve and form of that image may yet be in question, yet it cannot be denied that there exists this ideal. For just as the woman who applies cosmetics does so to conform to that society’s definition of feminine beauty, and even as this yields a delineation between values of culture and values universally acknowledged, it is the latter that is not disproved by the desire that all women be called beautiful. Similarly, rarely will an employer be confounded by a prospect interviewed with the phrase “I abhor hard work!”, for such would almost certainly deny the interviewee the opportunity for gainful employment at that place of business. That is, there is an image of the ideal employee impressed upon the mind of the interviewer, formed through experiences both successful and adverse, to which the man or woman before him is compared. And this does not begin the procession of representatives from which this second affirmation is divined, for what corporate executive would deny competence in his own field of business? Or what coach would disavow the primacy of victory and his success at producing a team capable of achieving it? Or what few politicians would recuse themselves from office over questions of integrity? – though this last example may border on an exception, however great their protestations.

From these points, we peek through the keyhole and attempt a narrow view of the Glorious Hall beyond. But how can we begin to perceive the Image impressed upon us? What process, or what frame of mind, marks the first step upon the pilgrimage of discerning those values which transcend what can be seen or felt or touched? That their effects are evident in nature is beyond question, and more so in their absence, as a poor navigator of the oceans will quickly find his vessel lost or broken upon the rocks, and everything of value lost, up to and including his life. Thus Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”

We may begin the path by setting our whole selves apart from influences that may corrupt our thinking, that these values which are self-evident may allow their way with us. This is the ancient practice of holiness, one much lauded in the Judeo-Christian tradition and often forgotten in modern times. And it is by this act or practice that one may see the Image within which all values find their source, just as the old saying affirms: “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Practically defined, it means to leave behind the things of man: his cities, his works, and his many words, and seek asylum in the quiet places of the world, without and within, that this Image may make itself known to us. And this is not a single journey or final discovery, for to treat it as such merely reveals the immaturity present within each who first tread these ways, and once upon returning declare “Enlightenment!” and proceed to write books about it and spread their newfound holiness like a stillborn child from hand to hand through the arms of modern television. And thus shall be the fate of all who regard the first fragile steps as itself the achievement, and not the echoes of a new and better direction.

With the knowledge in hand that it is not by fanciful speeches or thundering pronouncements, but a daily following of this Path, that we may know what is the Source of these values, the affirmations which follow are almost certainly beyond doubt for any who honestly seek after truth, and cannot be denied without contradiction by their opposition:

Affirmation Three: that Truth exists, and that it can be objectively known.

Affirmation Four: that Reason is an intrinsic property of humanity above all other known species, and can be used to apprehend truth.

Affirmation Five: that the attitude of one’s life is primarily dictated by influences early in that life, and that there are institutions which positively or negatively affect it.

Affirmation Six: that perseverance, sacrifice, discipline, and individual application to a worthwhile goal will yield success of intrinsic value.

Affirmation Seven: that inherent to the previous six affirmations, those who uphold these truths must of necessity be among those of the living, that they have the liberty to daily walk this path, and that they may possess what they of right earn through efforts of mind and hand.