Monday, August 29, 2005
The romance myth
Believe me, I know whereof I speak, because I'm one of 'em. For many years, I spurned and despised many of the single gals whom I met, that is to say those whom I had a reasonable opportunity to get to know. On the other hand, I always had time to daydream about this or that gal who was out of my reach. Perhaps she'd change her mind about me someday. All I had to do was be patient, and the hugs and kisses of my romantic dream would all come true.
It's taken a long time, but I think at last I'm coming out of my romantic slumber. Even the great old Hollywood romantic comedies, despite their many charms, provoke in me this reaction: "That's a nice dream, but it's not reality. That may be some kind of lust, but it's certainly not love."
I see now that romance is a myth. The kind of love that produces wonderful euphoric emotional rapture isn't love at all. For one thing, it's notoriously fickle. It comes and goes like a passing shower of rain. How many times have we heard an actress say, "I don't think I'm in love you any more. I just don't feel they way I once felt." Just as a rapturous moment of bliss was all it took to begin the romance, a realization that the bliss is long gone is all it takes to chuck the whole thing and file for divorce.
So is this love? Nope. Whatever it might be, it surely isn't love, at least not the kind of love that God reveals to us in the Scriptures. In the Gospels, we learn that "greater love has no man than this: than that he lay down his life for his friends." Elsewhere, we read that "love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy...does not seek her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil." Moreover, we see that love is not something that comes and goes with the fluctuations of one's emotions, but is rather a duty, one that is expressly commanded: "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself." Husbands are commanded to love their wives, and wives their husbands. As a Christian, I'm actually commanded to love my enemy, the very last person whom I'd feel like loving.
Given this stark contrast between the true and false versions of love, is it any wonder that those such as I who have given ourselves over to the counterfeit have at first glance found the real thing to be something of a drag? After all, sacrifice and self-denial isn't very likely to bring one emotional bliss, and it's certainly not the stuff that makes for a box-office smash. To learn that love isn't an emotional high but is nothing more or less than hard work is like being on the receiving end of a faceful of cold water.
But yet, even in light of the Bible's exceedingly clear teaching on love, the myth of romance endures in the hearts of so many, in particular the single Christian. How single guys and gals desire to find that special someone who will set off emotional sparks! How we long to enjoy that "chemistry" that we believe will no doubt accompany our meeting with Mr. or Miss Right? If I meet Jane Doe and no fireworks go off, I'm strongly inclined to look elsewhere.
On the other hand, much of the stuff that feeds the fire of romance isn't all bad. For instance, it's not necessarily wrong to prefer the blond or brunette or the chubby or the skinny, nor is it inherently wrong to desire a partner who shares your interest in books or ballroom dancing. Personal tastes and preferences are good and right in their place. Besides, it's not wrong to desire to have good and pleasant feelings towards your spouse.
OK, so worldly romance is a myth, but does this mean that there's no such thing as godly romance? Why, the very same Book that commands spouses to love one another literally tells the husband to enjoy physical intimacy with his wife, and an entire book (Song of Solomon) uses a strong metaphor of romantic love to illustrate the love of Christ towards His church.
Therein, I think, lies the key to understanding true romance: it is a blessed manifestation of the affection between a husband and wife who have entered into a self-sacrificing, self-denying, Christ-honoring covenant relationship. Their love begins and ends with God's commandments, but yet in the midst of their duty-love towards one another they enjoy the tender affection that Hollywood and Harlequin romances promises but can never deliver. Moreover, because God always gives grace to those who strive to obey His commandments, the true romance is available to all couples who make obeying God their highest priority. What a delightful state of affairs this is, because in this type of relationship, God so often grants the emotional fulfillment and pleasure that the world promises, but yet builds it upon the bedrock of duty and committment. It is this type of love that will truly endure until "by death do us part", by God's wonderful grace.
Two ditches on the side of the road
Regarding the question, "Whom can we consider to be a Christian?", I think it would be useful to consider the analogy of a narrow country road with a ditch on either side. So long as you stay in between the ditches, you're on good, smooth pavement, but if you find your way into either ditch, you're looking at a serious accident. The ditch on the left is named "pietism" and the one on the right "latitudinarianism." These ditches are the danger ground, ready and waiting to trip up anyone who veers into them.
Since we're a support group for folks leaving the Charismatic movement, I suspect that pietism is going to sound rather familiar. As I understand it, the word "pietism" is most closely associated with a 18th or 19th century movement within the German Lutheran church that encouraged a strong emphasis on the Christian's personal spiritual life, or, to put it in the modern vernacular, "my personal relationship with Jesus Christ." As such, pietism encourages a move towards self-centered religion as well as a move away from engagement with the church. Sadly, modern evangelicalism has drunk deeply from the well of pietism: what's all-important is "me and Jesus", with my relationship with the church having little or no importance. Make no mistake: pietism is a great danger.
Our other ditch, with its peculiar name of latitudinarianism, may be unfamiliar to you. I've found a helpful introduction at this site:
Some excerpts from this page:
'This critical label became attached to a group of Anglican divines in the late seventeenth century whose thought displayed a high regard for the authority of reason and a tolerant, antidogmatic temper ("gentlemen of a wide swallow")...They reacted against the Calvinism of the Puritans and were broadly Arminian in outlook. They aligned themselves with progressive and liberal movements in the contemporary intellectual world...Their comprehensiveness allowed only a narrow core of fundamentals in religion. They resisted the Laudian or High Church insistence on conformity in nonessentials such as church order and liturgy...Above all they held that "true philosophy can never hurt sound divinity," which in practice normally meant harmonizing Scripture and the fathers with the light of reason. Theologically vague and spiritually insubstantial, their religion was strongly moralistic.'
In a sense, latitudinarianism is the polar opposite of pietism. Whereas pietism features a narrow focus on the individual, latitudinarianism features a broad, ecumenical view that's eager to welcome practically everyone into the church. So long as your denomination adheres to "a narrow core of fundamentals", the latitudinarian will be happy to greet you as a brother Christian. Whereas pietism is closed in on the individual and disinterested in the church, latitudinarianism tends to be exclusively interested in the broader church and disinterested in personal spirituality. The danger on this side of the road is that we are liable to be so open-minded about welcoming this or that person or church into the church that we come to care too little about the individual's right standing before God.
As I drive down our narrow country road, I have to take care to avoid both ditches, but since I drive on the right-hand (or, in the UK, left-hand) side of the road, one ditch is closer to me than the other. In modern evangelicalism, the closer ditch has undoubtedly been pietism. As you and I come out of Charismatic error, it is quite understandable that we will find ourselves coming to a higher view of the corporate church. Doing so will increase our distance from the pietistic error, but yet as we learn to place the church in higher esteem, we ought to take care that we exchange our pietism for latitudinarianism.
Indeed the Christian faith isn't just about "me and Jesus", but the fact of the matter is that the church is made up of many members, with each and every one of those members being an individual. Moreover, the invisible church--the bride of Christ, the true sheep, the circumcised in heart--is entirely made up of these individuals: the Elect.
In God's providence, the Elect are found in many sheepfolds: the Reformed, the Baptist, the Methodist, etc.. We often call these sheepfolds the "visible church." In some sheepfolds, the true Gospel is preached clearly, at some times more clearly than at other times, but in other sheepfolds it is very dimly preached, if at all. The light of Gospel truth was not always dim in these sheepfolds. In many cases, it took many, many centuries for the light to go out. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to identify the point in history at which the light went out in a particular sheepfold, but history is not our infallible guide. Our sole, sufficient guide for what consititutes the true Gospel or a healthy sheepfold is the same: the Scriptures. In a world of imperfect churches, the best we can do is to encourage one other to seek out those local sheepfolds where the Gospel light shines brightest.
As the Christian drives down the narrow road that is the Christian life, he does so both as an individual sheep--saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone--and as a member of the church. He must never think that he can go it alone without the church, but yet in the final analysis Christ saved and called him as an individual. A Christian ought to be a useful member of the church, but yet being a member of a church--even one which enjoys bright Gospel light--doesn't make one a Christian. Therefore, as we consider the question of whom we ought to consider to be a Christian and what is to be considered a Christian church, let's take care to avoid our two dangerous ditches. Let us neither define the Christian life too narrowly or too broadly.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Pat Robertson shoots from the hip (#1,731 in an ongoing series)
For some time now, I've been skeptical of the political activism that's been promoted by men with names such as Robertson, Falwell, Dobson, and Colson, and to be perfectly frank, episodes such as Robertson's latest outburst are just going to make the evangelical right look ridiculous, but the situation is far worse than that. When an individual who claims to be a Christian minister speaks out in such a manner--calling for the death of a political leader even though the Scriptures make it clear that it is God and God alone who raises up and tears down the powers that be, whereas Christians are to pray for those in authority however wicked them may be, not strive to tear them down--he gives the enemies of Christ abundant cause to blaspheme, not merely to ridicule the religious right, but also to deride the very name of Christ.
I pray that God will have mercy on Robertson, bring him to repentance, and provide him with the opportunity to make a public apology to all whom he has given offense. Although he has the right to air his disagreements with the actions of Chavez, he has no right to call for the man's death.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
The other "C" word
Although it's true that the primary reason why I've remained single so long is God's providence, one of the major secondary causes for this has been my complacency. By this I don't mean that I've been lacking in the desire to find a wife, but rather that up until the last few years I'd been satisfied to do little or nothing about pursuing what I desire, instead relying on friendships with women to satisfy some of my desire for companionship. In this manner, I (unconsciously) strived to enjoy some of the advantages of the married state without incurring the liability of committment or the risk of rejection.
During my season of complacency, God spared me from overt sexual immorality, and I managed to treat my friends with a degree of kindness and a giving spirit, but although I avoided blatant fleshly sin, I now see that it was God's sheer mercy that it was so. In fact, I had to bring many of these friendships to an end when it became evident that either my feelings or those of my friend were shifting from the agreed-upon "just friends" arrangement. It was wise that I backed out, for in each case to be more than friends would have been at best unwise or at worst adulterous, but this begs the question of whether I ought to have gone along with a "just friends" situation to begin with. Although I once thought that such friendships could be good and proper so long as both parties were in agreement regarding the relationship, I no longer think so, so for several years now it's been my practice to keep friendships with women on a very casual level unless we're actually dating/courting.
Although I'd long believed that my lack of success in finding a spouse was strictly on account of circumstances beyond my control, I now see that I am responsible for a number of lost opportunities (including a couple gals I rejected because I then believed that God had through a personal prophecy promised me someone even more wonderful), not to mention a lengthy period of total inaction. Moreover, I allowed sinful fear to hinder me from incurring the risk that my advances may be rejected rather than accepted. I am to blame for all this, not God, so I have sought His forgiveness and His grace. I have foresworn the idea of being "just friends" with any woman whether single or married, and I'll consider a close friendship only if she and I are agreed that we are willing to take the relationship to wherever the Lord may lead. If either she or I are unwilling to consider the possibility of marriage down the road, I'm not going to hang around her like I used to hang around my woman friends of the past. As of this writing, I'm still waiting to meet someone who's willing to pursue such a relationship, so I'm concentrating on hanging out with other Christian men.
Thus, my story is that of a guy who has in many ways seen great mercy from God in sparing me from sexual immorality, but who's come to regret the foolish way I used my time and opportunities for so many years. Nonetheless, I believe that I serve a merciful and gracious Lord, and thus remain confident that He will somehow work out all this, the good and bad, together for my ultimate good. Whether or not His plan will involve giving me the spouse I pined for so long but did so little to pursue I will leave up to His ultimate wisdom.
Drink diet soda, gain pounds?
Drink More Diet Soda, Gain More Weight?
For the last few years, the (In)Scrutable One has drunk mostly water, milk, apple/cranberry/grape juice (preferably unsweetened), and unsweetened iced tea, and is happy to report that so far his caloric intake remains modest and his physique remains slender. His favorite "sweets" include dried plums and flavored oatmeal. Thus, he minimizes his intake of not only artificial sweeteners but also the real thing. Of course, skipping the coconut on his chocolate cake helps, too. :-)