As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Slaves, Hirelings and Sons

Early on, as I began to move from Evangelical Christianity to Catholicism, I began thinking of the motives people have for becoming Christian. I found that the method of the Revivalists that so many Evangelicals hearken to seemed to be attempting to scare people into heaven, or out of hell. Consider this excerpt from Johnathan Edward's sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:
The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God.

The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.

Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let every one fly out of Sodom: "Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed."
Steve Camp penned some lyrics to a wonderful, Evangelical response to this sermon. I can't find them, but I remember a part of the chorus in which he sings, "But the hands of an angry God are pierced and bleeding." Leaving aside the heresy of an angry God, I return to my first point. Edwards, and other preachers, were trying to scare people out of hell.

The more I thought about that idea, the more I hated it. It was the spiritual equivalent of a shotgun wedding. What groom wants a bride who only marries him because, if she doesn't, he'll kill her? Actually, there's probably quite a few, but men who actually love their wives don't want them to love out of fear (as if you could), but ... well ... out of love! I expressed this idea to my family, and one of my sister's said, "How dare you!? You are going to remove the method of saving some people from hell!" I didn't change my mind then, but I recently came across a quote from an Orthodox source which makes me question my conviction:
Some people obey God out of fear of hell; these people are slaves of God.
Some people obey God out of hope of reward; these people are employees, trusting that God will honor their faith.
Some people obey God simply because they love Him and want to be and do what pleases Him. These people are sons and heirs.
But in a great household, all three - the slaves, the free hirelings, and the sons, all are members of the household.
At Communion, in the Greek tradition, the deacon calls "With fear of God, with faith, and with love: Draw near" calling all three kinds of Christians to union with God in the Eucharist.
Interesting, says I. Perhaps this is a bit more realistic than my perception. It recognizes that the best way is to be loving sons and heirs, but there is still a place for the slaves and hirelings too. OK, I can accept that. Here's another excerpt, this one from George MacDonald's sermon on Freedom:
Those to whom God is not all in all, are slaves. They may not commit great sins; they may be trying to do right; but so long as they serve God, as they call it, from duty, and do not know him as their father, the joy of their being, they are slaves—good slaves, but slaves. If they did not try to do their duty, they would be bad slaves. They are by no means so slavish as those that serve from fear, but they are slaves; and because they are but slaves, they can fulfill no righteousness, can do no duty perfectly, but must ever be trying after it wearily and in pain, knowing well that if they stop trying, they are lost. They are slaves indeed, for they would be glad to be adopted by one who is their own father!

Where then are the sons? I know none, I answer, who are yet utterly and entirely sons or daughters. There may be such—God knows; I have not known them; or, knowing them, have not been myself such as to be able to recognize them. But I do know some who are enough sons and daughters to be at war with the slave in them, who are not content to be slaves to their father. Nothing I have seen or known of sonship, comes near the glory of the thing; but there are thousands of sons and daughters, though their number be yet only a remnant, who are siding with the father of their spirits against themselves, against all that divides them from him from whom they have come, but out of whom they have never come, seeing that in him they live and move and have their being. Such are not slaves; they are true though not perfect children; they are fighting along with God against the evil separation; they are breaking at the middle wall of partition. Only the rings of their fetters are left, and they are struggling to take them off. They are children—with more or less of the dying slave in them; they know it is there, and what it is, and hate the slavery in them, and try to slay it.

The real slave is he who does not seek to be a child; who does not desire to end his slavery; who looks upon the claim of the child as presumption; who cleaves to the traditional authorized service of forms and ceremonies, and does not know the will of him who made the seven stars and Orion, much less cares to obey it; who never lifts up his heart to cry ‘Father, what wouldst thou have me to do?’ Such are continually betraying their slavery by their complaints. ‘Do we not well to be angry?’ they cry with Jonah; and, truly, being slaves, I do not know how they are to help it.

When they are sons and daughters, they will no longer complain of the hardships, and miseries, and troubles of life; no longer grumble at their aches and pains, at the pinching of their poverty, at the hunger that assails them; no longer be indignant at their rejection by what is called Society. Those who believe in their own perfect father, can ill blame him for anything they do not like. Ah, friend, it may be you and I are slaves, but there are such sons and daughters as I speak of.
I think this hymn best captures these ideas, and I hope it to be true for me:

My God, I love thee, not because
I hope for heaven thereby,
nor yet because, if I love not,
I must forever die.

Thou, O my Jesus, thou didst me
upon the cross embrace;
for me didst bear the nails and spear
and manifold disgrace.

Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ,
should I not love thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven,
nor of escaping hell.

Not with the hope of gaining aught,
not seeking a reward,
but as thyself hast loved me,
O everlasting Lord.

So would I love thee, dearest Lord,
and in thy praise will sing;
because thou art my loving God
and my eternal King.

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Blogger fra edwin said...

I have often wondered about what the Apostle's reaction to the Crucifixion really was. The Jews accused Jesus, the Gentiles crucified Him, and they ran away denying Him. If God washed the whole of humanity from the earth, apart from Noah and his family, due to sinfulness - what would God do about the death of His ONLY SON.

It seems strange to me that more people do not question this - especially those who are of the "Turn or Burn" variety of Christians. I wonder because the answer is "The Good News."

St. Paul says:
"But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. ... For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life." (Romans 5:8, 10)

It goes against all human reason that God would be reconciled to us and us to him by the death of Jesus. Indeed, we should have been destroyed for this ultimate sin. Instead, this death redeemed humanity.

By the crucified Christ, we too die to sin, so that by the Risen Christ we can be renewed.

2:17 PM  

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