Saturday, January 17, 2015

Quid pro quo

The Church as it has existed at least from the times of the late Roman Empire under Constantine has manifested on earth both as
“a mystery with structure”
and a “structure with mystery.”
She seems to fluctuate between these two poles, which are inversions of each other.

A mystery with structure—that is, a mystery (the presence of God among us and all that it produces) with structure (visible activity, real estate, hierarchy, dogmatic decrees)—this is the pole that reflects the Lord’s teaching, “Set your hearts on God’s kingdom first and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added as well.” (Matthew 6:33, paraphrased)

A structure with mystery—that is, a structure (professionalism and legalism among us and all that it produces) with mystery (clergy privilege, laity subjection, sanctimonious activity and false religion)—this is the pole that reflects the Lord’s warning, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1 NIV, see also the rest of the passage, John 10:1-10)

Here is an excellent quotation from a Church father, one who knows what he is talking about, and this is what prompted my thoughts above.

A man who takes pride in natural abilities—
I mean cleverness, the ability to learn, skill in reading, good diction, quick grasp, and all such skills as we possess without having to work for them—this man, I say, will never receive blessings in heaven, since the man who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful and vainglorious in much.

And there are men who wear out their bodies to no purpose in the pursuit of total dispassion, heavenly treasures, miracle working, and prophetic ability, and the poor fools do not realize that humility, not hard work, is the mother of such things. The man who seeks a quid pro quo from God builds on uncertainty, whereas the man who considers himself a debtor will receive sudden and unexpected riches.

I think that what John of the Ladder (Klímakos) is talking about applies particularly to those who seek to serve Christ in the Church as ordained ministers. It goes without saying that the same observations apply to all of us, but in the case of the clergy, it has far more critical significance. His first paragraph reminds me of some Orthodox clergy, and his second paragraph reminds me of the faith healer type Pentecostals you see on television. The first group are so often carried away by the eloquence and seeming relevance of their own words, that they imagine themselves “lords of the whole world.” The second group reaches the same conclusion about themselves, based on the efficacy of their miracle-working powers.

Those who are called to serve the people of God as shepherds must have only one purpose, to follow their Lord and Master Jesus Christ, and to tend His flock as they see Him tending it. Or, as John of the Ladder so aptly put it in a biblical metaphor, “the man who considers himself a debtor will receive sudden and unexpected riches,” that is, he not only plants the seed of salvation in the hearts of the people, but he is thereby assured of his own salvation as well.

A man ought to be very solicitous as to his salvation, for if the whole world were full of men even up to the clouds, if that were possible, and among all these none was to be saved but only one, yet each should follow up his grace so that he might be that one, for to lose heaven is not to lose a shoestring. But woe to us! There is one who giveth and there is none who receiveth.

—Brother Giles of Assisi

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