Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas as D-Day

The Mithraic god aion

We are, as Christians, not of this world. 

“The world from which we must be detached, the world that is Satan’s kingdom, is not the planet, not matter, but our own greed and lust for it. The word for ‘World’ in the New Testament is aiōn. It is a time word, not a space word. It means ‘the old order’, ‘the fallen order’, ‘the Adam order’. Christ has invaded that kingdom, that order. Christmas was D-Day. We are liberated and called forever away from the old order.”
— Peter Kreeft from his book Back to Virtue.

This aion from which we are to detach is akin to the sarx or carnality that St. Paul describes, and which I wrote about yesterday.

I sent out a plea on Facebook regarding that - "Does anyone anywhere preach death to the flesh and rebirth in the Spirit any more?" I asked.

A friend of mine who is very devout, an Evangelical preparing to enter the Catholic Church, answers ...

Kevin, yes, this was preached constantly in the Evangelical circles I ran in as well as those I'm still associated with. The thing I find interesting about it is, while the 'flesh' is verbally acknowledged as an abstract concept closely associated with the sinful nature, it is in practice abstinence from outward physical evils. My experience has been that the  teaching on this is a strange blend between Puritanism and Gnosticism. The idea of putting to death the 'flesh' is quite literal. 'Don't smoke, don't drink, don't listen to music not produced by Christians, don't see R-rated movies, don't closely associate with people who are not "Christians".' Somehow the outward informs the inward and not vice versa. The 'flesh' is evil and the soul is good.
I would even venture to say that's why the doctrine of Purgatory is offensive to Evangelicals. "How is it possible, if Christ fully redeems us, that after shedding the 'flesh' the inner man could somehow still be in need of purification?" When I first began studying Purgatory that was my mindset. In Evangelical circles It is largely the denial of the sacramental life—because salvation is mostly passive on our part. Once we repent, we are saved. Thus, the participation with grace has run its course and it is now simply a matter of controlling carnal appetites (in fairness, with the help of the Holy Spirit). Perpetual regeneration, through participation with the graces available to us, is not taught in Evangelical theology.
So, the short answer is 'yes', it is taught all the time. However, in my experience, it is taught from the point of view that personal holiness is achieved through how well we abstain from those things on the naughty list and not how completely we surrender to the Holy Spirit's continual reshaping of the inner man.

If that's accurate, then the situation is this ...

  • The Catholics have taken to ignoring completely the entire tradition of flesh vs. spirit and world vs. Kingdom.  We hear that God loves us and that we should love one another - true enough!  But we don't hear that this is done not really by our own efforts, but by dying to our old selves and actually and literally being remade into new selves.   We don't hear about mortification and transformation.

  • The Protestants who still preach this doctrine of death and rebirth fall into the trap of either keeping things too external - "Just hit the things on this list and you'll be fine" (which, ironically, tends to be a kind of salvation by works) - or keeping them vaguely and indefinably internal - "The new man is the inner man and as long as you've got the inner feelings, you're OK" (which is the flip side of the Gnostic coin: since flesh and spirit are divorced in Gnosticism, there's really no significant communion between the two).

But if I would have to point to one thing that has helped me more than anything else in trying to stop being a hypocrite and start being a Christian, it's been the courage to die to the part of me that seeks fulfillment from the world - to die to the sarx and to turn from lusting after the things of the aion - and thereby to let God's grace do the work that I am always resisting.

Of course, I'm still a hypocrite and I don't have this right, but the key to keep in mind this Christmas, is the Cross - death, the tomb and the life that comes from it.  The Passion is present even in the manger, and from that comes our greatest hope.

Christmas is indeed D-Day.

1 comment:

Tom Leith said...

"Just hit the things on this list and you'll be fine"

The pope describes this as Pelagianism and it is seen sometimes in Catholic circles.

What I've never understood about Evangelicals is why they think they need to hit the things on the list. They repent, they're "saved" the end, right? Luther said "Sin Boldly". (How's that for passive salvation?)