Those who judge the erring are merciless and bitter, while those judging the upright are unfair and hostile. This evil is so firmly rooted in us that we have become more brutish than the beasts: At least they herd together with their own kindred, but we reserve our most savage warfare for the members of our own household. – St. Basil the Great
Disagreement motivated by piety is superior to concord held together by sentiment. – St. Gregory the Theologian
As I sit here on this July 4 reflecting on what the American Founding Fathers accomplished, I think of how through their various backgrounds they were able to challenge and defeat one of the most powerful nations on earth (at the time). They did what no one had done before; challenge Great Britain. Though the Declaration of Independence was signed prior to July 4, July 4 is when the proclamation was made to all that America was truly free.
The signers came from a multitude of beliefs; they were Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, Deists, and Agnostics. Some were devout, others were nominal, and still others laid claim to no specific religious beliefs. In all of this, however, they unified for a common cause, the cause of freedom. They all had the common belief that America would be better if she could rule herself rather than allowing some kingdom far away rule America. Not all colonists agreed, which sparked division, but those who did agree with the Founders united in that common cause.
234 years later, we Americans find ourselves under a new kind of tyranny and that tyranny is secularism. This tyranny seeks to prevent all religious displays from finding their way into the public eye or public conscious. We have redefined the “freedom of religion” found within the First Amendment into “freedom of worship.” Such a rhetorical shift is shocking. Under the phrase “freedom of religion” we are not only allowed to worship as we desire, but can evoke our religious background in defending our view on public policy. We can bring religion into the public square and put it on display for others to see, whether we are a factory worker, a CEO, or even an elected official. We cannot force others to worship our God or participate in our religion, but we can proudly espouse the virtues of our religion. Under the phrase “freedom of worship,” however, we are limited in our religious activities. We are allowed to worship our God, so long as that worship takes place behind closed walls and is not seen in the public eye. Should you worship your God in a public school or at a government building, you will be quickly told that such activities violates the secular ideals of our government.
As Christians, what are we to do? The tyranny of secularism has begun to erode away the moral foundations of our nation, substituting the absolute and unshakable morality that the Judeo-Christian tradition respects and replacing it with the shifting sands of relativistic ethics (if such activities and beliefs can truly be called “ethics”). A nation founded upon the shifting sands of ever-changing morality is a nation that cannot survive the storms of perilous times.
WE MUST DIVIDE
What disturbs me more is how we see Christians buy into the tyranny of secularism. When secularism says, “do not pray in public,” these Christians capitulate and say, “Well, Jesus didn’t want us to pray in public anyway.” When the secularists say, “Be more tolerant,” these Christians bow before the golden calf of Tolerance and say, “Jesus wanted us to be more introspective and not force our faith on others.” When the secularists tell us not to share our faith in the public sphere, these Christians shackle themselves under tyranny and say, “Well Jesus never went out preaching.”
Some go so far as to adopt the ‘theology ‘of the secularists, denying or doubting the Deity of our Lord or treating Him as just a “wise teacher.” Jesus was a wise teacher, but He was far more. Some even adopt the ethics of the secular world. They accept abortion as a viable alternative for a woman who finds herself pregnant, ignoring science, logic, Scripture, and tradition all so that they appear acceptable to their secular overlords.
Such Christians are those who have forgone the way of Christ and instead sit at the table of the absent-minded and feed off their scraps. These Christians enslave themselves so they might enjoy the crumbs from these skeptics. These Christians debase themselves and abandon Christ in the hopes of being accepted by the world.
But is this the tradition laid before us in Christianity? I submit to you that capitulation is nowhere to be found in the tradition of Christian or even pre-Christian martyrs. We look to Daniel who was told not to pray in public, yet under threat of the lion’s den he went to his room’s window to pray for all to see. We look to his friends who were told to bow to the statue of their leader, who was viewed as a god. As all others – including those who claimed Judaism – bowed down before this false god, the three remained standing in solidarity with their God. For this, they faced the fires of Babylon, but were saved by God. We look to Maccabeas who, under threat of Antiochus, were told to abandon their faith. Instead, these brave seven brothers, along with their mother, lept to their torturers and embraced their punishment and death with such glee that it frightened their captors.
We look to the ultimate martyr Christ, who though He had the power to end His suffering and overtake His enemies, instead chose to die for our sake.
We look to the early Christians, the bravest sort to whom we in America do not compare. We look to the first Christian martyr Stephen and see that as he was being stoned to death, he kept proclaiming the love of his Savior. We see how Polycarp, when told to recant his faith in Christ and admit that Caesar was Lord (that the government was Lord) or else be burned alive, bravely responded, “The fire you threaten me with cannot go on burning for very long; after a while it goes out. But what you are unaware of are the flames of future judgment and everlasting torment which are in stone for the ungodly. Why do you go on wasting time? Bring out whatever you have a mind to.” Rather than capitulate under fear of rejection or death, Polycarp only became more bold in his faith. Polycarp is but one of many who suffered persecution for his belief in Christ. The road to our salvation is paved with the bloody bricks of those who have gone before us. The Romans called for submission to the government and acceptance of all religions; the Christians would have none of it. Instead of capitulating, the Christians suffered.
We look to our Christian brothers and sisters today and ask if we follow in their footsteps. Rather than submit to the laws of their lands by abandoning their faith, they face beatings and death. These Christians refuse to accept the philosophies of the world or remain mute in their faith. Acceptance by the world is not something to be desired by these Christians, but instead is something to be abhorred and rejected. For this, they suffer.
In light of the above tradition, we American Christians who adhere to orthodoxy must disassociate ourselves with those who would bow before the golden god of secularism, who would admit Caesar is Lord, who would strip Christ of His saving power and instead accept all religions as equal, all so that they can enjoy a betterment to their lives or enjoy a life free from interference. This is not to say we cannot work with them or vote with them, but instead that we cannot have them in our churches, at least in positions of leadership or taking communion with us. They have abandoned Christ, so how can we who are for Christ accept them into our ranks?
WE MUST UNIFY
Those who adhere to the orthodox tennets of our Christian faith would agree that we face a tyranny beyond any monarch or regime. The tyranny of a monarch or regime attempts to control the body through taxation and conscription, but can do little to control the mind. Secularism, however, takes captive the very thing that makes us human by capturing our reasoning. This is the tyranny we face.
But how shall we survive such a tyranny when we are so bitterly divided ourselves? How can we prevail against the gates of Hell if we are too busy attacking each other? We Christians who adhere to orthodoxy do ourselves, the world, and Christ a great disservice by hiding behind our denominational barriers! If the Baptist and Methodist agree on the basic tennets of the faith, what is to prevent them from serving the poor together? If the Roman Catholic and the Presbyterian agree on the basic tennets of the faith, what is to prevent them from working together to end the moral erosion of our society?
While we must separate from those who would abandon their faith for a lie, we must unify with those who adhere to true Christianity. We who believe in one God, distinct in three persons. We who believe in God the Father, who begets but is not begotten. We who believe in the Word, who is begotten by the Father, who took on a human nature without compromising His divine nature or merging His divine nature with His human nature. We who believe in the Holy Spirit, who procedes from the Father and is our Comforter and illuminates all spiritual things to us. We who believe that the Word was called Christ, who was both human and divine, who lived a human life without sin, died upon the cross for our sake, and rose from the grave to give us an escape from the tyranny of sin and offer us the hope of the resurrection. Those of us who can ascribe to these most basic beliefs, what excuse do we have for combatting against each other?
Certainly the doctrinal issues that divide us are great and worthy of discussion, but is now the time for that discussion? Should the Baptist and Presbyterian wage war against each other over when we should baptise a believer when the tyranny of secularism claims the souls of those we should baptize? Should the Pentecostal and Eastern Orthodox found separate charities for the poor because they disagree on Church government?
While these issues are important and we should continue discussion on these issues – and while these issues are big enough to divide us on where we worship – are they big enough to prevent us from unifying against the tyranny of secularism? Are these issues big enough for us to war against each other before we war against the Devil? I would argue that while some of these issues are significant and would prevent us from worshiping together, they are not big enough to prevent us from working together towards a common end. For what is the debate over sanctification worth if there is no one left to be sanctified? What is the debate over baptism worth if people no longer believe in Christ? What is the debate over the purpose of atonement worth if people no longer view Christ as real? Such debates cease to be relevant in the face of secularism.
I plead with my Christian brothers who are still brave enough to espouse orthodoxy to be braver still and embrace ecumenicalism. I am not asking you to give up your Sunday (or Saturday) traditions. I am not asking you to abandon your distinctives. I am not asking you to join in one denomination. I am most certainly not asking you to be ecumenical for the sake of unity, for unity for the sake of unity forces us to abandon Christ. But division over distinctives forces us to divide Christ. I ask that we who adhere to the orthodox doctrines of Christ begin to work together toward a common goal, the goal of defeating secularism. I ask that we declare our independence from the old tyrant who denies our Lord and begin working together to bring about an end to this tyrant.
To close with the words of St. Gregory the Theologian:
“Why in the world, then, do we, the disciples of love, hate one another so? Why do we, the disciples of peace, engage in wars which do not admit of treaty or truce…We exchange blows without limit not only against those who hold different views and stand apart from us on the definition of faith…but now even against those who profess the same faith and with whom we share a common enemy on common issues: this is what is most dreadful and deplorable…Will we not decide among ourselves which issues we should not look into at all, which should receive our attention, but with restrictions, and which we should concede and relinquish, whatever form they take, to those who like to argue, on the grounds that they are matters that do not adversely affect our doctrine in any way?…Will we not hold to a single test of piety, the worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one Godhead and power in the three, without overworshipping or underworshipping one in particular…and carving up their single majesty with novelties of language?
Once this at least has been defined, we shall reach agreement on all the other points as well; after all, we worship the same Trinity, subscribe to virtually the same beliefs, and belong to the same body; and the futile and barren offshoots and excrescences of the issues currently under discussion [the heretics] we shall cut away like a public cancer and destroy…Let us revere peace, the gift of the God of peace, which he left for us as his special parting legacy when he went form this world. Let us know a single war, that against the power of the Adversary. Let us say ‘brother’ even to those who hate us, if they will permit it. Let us forgive the small affront that we may espouse the greater good, concord. Let us give way that we may prevail.” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus’ Oration 22)