The title of this post is a well-known phrase to readers of C. S. Lewis, as it is a chapter in his book, Mere Christianity. At the end of this post is a comment I left on the blog whence my previous post Even now the axe… was taken.
They're worried about bad interpersonal behaviors among their ministry team members, apparently not a big issue to them, but just a minor detail that they think they can correct by exercising a little more self-discipline. While I don't disagree with that idea, it was clear to me that this group needs much more help than they can supply themselves. They are dealing in symptoms, but if they or anyone want to get to the root of the matter, one must use the axe of holy scripture to get at that root of sin and cut it out.
The classic Catholic/Protestant debate, indeed what got the crack in Western Christendom started, was the issue of how does one become a new creature, that is, how is one saved, and what does that salvation mean in daily life?
Catholicism was for confessing our total depravity, throwing ourselves in complete abandon upon God's mercy, and through a complex system of sacraments, pilgrimages, confessions, penances, and the excess merits of saints applied to one's load of sin, to escape hellfire and damnation. On earth, meanwhile, since people are sinners, they can more or less live as they always have, sinful, rebellious, greedy, lustful—in a word, barbaric—because if they play the game right and follow all the rules, their complete abandonment to God's mercy will save them.
Protestantism was for confessing our total depravity, throwing ourselves in complete abandon upon God's mercy, and through the possession of the correct doctrine of grace and works, by being one of the elect, and by prospering through industry and thrift, to escape hellfire and damnation. On earth, meanwhile, since people are sinners, they can more or less live as they always have, sinful, rebellious, greedy, lustful—in a word, barbaric—because if they play the game right and follow all the rules, their complete abandonment to God's mercy will save them.
Wait a minute! What's so different about these two views of salvation that would've caused a split?
Essentially the views are the same and differ only in minor details. This was noticed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer among others. He called both systems, "cheap grace."
Today, because church members and leaders are alike so unfamiliar with the bible except in knowing how to quote it to bolster their opinions and practices, we have situations like the one that prompted my post about the axe. Even after reading the testimony given there, it's as if nothing was testified and nothing heard. Instead, the discussion was diverted to a philosophical point, just as Photiní diverted attention from her sin when Jesus uncovered it, and posed a question about temple worship, thus diverting attention from the fact that she was wanton.
Listen! From the Lord's viewpoint, there's nothing immodest about looking closely at our sins, since He already knows everything about us, and because He is only looking at them closely as a doctor examines a diseased organ closely because his aim is to heal it.
Back to the original discussion, bad interpersonal behaviors, minor perhaps, but still annoying and unproductive.
The group is challenged to try to behave better. To justify what they are doing to remedy this situation from the bible, one of the team members bolsters their approach by quoting in full James 3:3-12, the passage about the evils of the tongue, overlooking completely the evangelical reason for this phenomenon. Jesus Himself says, "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him" (Matthew 12:35 NIV).
So I wrote back once more, asking…
What is going on here? Are you trying to be nice guys, or have you abandoned everything to become new men and women?
Reality cannot be chunked into tiny splinters, as you guys seem to be doing, and worked on, one splinter at a time. The fact is, it is not we, or rather you, who are to work on it, the problem of too casual, snappish, disrespectful, swaggering attitudes among yourselves. If you try with this approach, you will fail, because at best you will be nice. That splinter of reality will have gotten so polished, it may blind you to the fact that the plank is still there, as horny and rough as ever.
Do you know any people who live in the Word of God, who have made it their home, in such a manner that they don't even have to carry the book around with them everywhere (though they often do), and who don't think in terms of improving their behavior or self-image, because their trust in so unshakably in the truth of the Word, in Jesus, that they are content to just follow Him in everything, not looking at themselves or others (hence, not judging), but only at Jesus, who is the author and finisher?
These people are around in the Body of Christ, but not always in church, that is, they may be church members but their real life is lived in that hidden place, where the Father alone sees them, and their actions, speaking louder than words, are sometimes overlooked by others, because they do not preach themselves, but Christ.
When we are seeking Christ in everything, we notice these people, and little by little we join their number until we too "do good and disappear."