the Great Iconoclast, or why would you write such things?
“You must preach Christ.” These were the words given by Charles Spurgeon to a young preacher who had just delivered a sermon. The sermon was well done and he had taught the concepts of the passage well through doctrinal truths. The preacher noted that Christ did not come up in the passage. Spurgeon went on to explain that Christ is the starting point and the end point of all preaching, no matter what the passage may hold.
I so agree. It is Christ whom we long for, Christ whom we need. Often we have been caught up in teaching doctrine and motivation to be involved in church with the result of reinforcing the church culture. (And I do not suggest the binary opposite that we simply throw all that away. There is also a time and purpose for such things.) But to preach Christ is to let loose the wild man, the Great Iconoclast Himself. The way of His coming into this world as frail and helpless turns over our systems of doing church, our hierarchies and our ways of knowing. I suspect that if Christ is truly preached, the church culture, which permeates so much of what we do and think, would collapse. From those ashes, Christ rises.
In my last post on syncretism, I called Jesus the ultimate syncretist, in that He joined us, even became us, in our very lowest state. We work so hard to be distinct and separate, yet He comes and does something like that. A few people have remarked, why would you write such things? It’s startling to say the least. Mostly I find that we tend to ignore this stuff because the separation of the Holy from the mundane and lowly (particularly when its us) is a far safer thought. But I am thinking that this is what it means to be holy and to preach Christ with our very lives – it is to become as Christ.
Again this will mess up church, but anyhoo…
In the novel “Silence” author Shusaku Endo describes the agony of a Catholic priest/missionary from Portugal who is being pressured to apostatize by the Japanese government. Much of the novel includes his internal struggle and worry that he may not be able to bear the torture that had forced a previous priest to apostatize as well. He watched many of the small faithful flock of Japanese Christians go to horrible deaths.
He is presented with the worst case scenario. He hears the agonized cries of Christians suspended in pits, groaning loud enough to wake in him in his jail cell. He is told that if he apostatizes, their torture will stop and their wounds dressed and bound. The former priest who had already apostatized tells him this:
“You make yourself more important than them. You are preoccupied with your own salvation. If you say that you will apostatize, those people would be taken out of the pit. They will be saved from suffering. And you refuse to do so. It’s because you dread to betray the Church, like me….yet I was the same as you. On that cold, black night I, too, was as you are now. And yet is your way of acting love? A priest ought to live in imitation of Christ. If Christ were here….”
And Ferriera (the priest being tormented) broke out in a strong voice, “Certainly Christ would have apostatized for them.”
So he apostatized, becoming one rejected by the Church as unfaithful and blasphemous. He could not return home and he was scorned and hated by the Japanese as well. The Christians were set free and he became the dregs of society, the lowest of the low. And yet in doing so, he preserved his faith. For to give up his Christianity, he become as Christ for others.
We often spend so much energy and time preserving our faith – what we believe, our moral codes and who we will associate with, that we lose Christ- the one who utterly emptied Himself to do what Love requires. This is how Holiness acts, setting apart from even what we hold dear as the means of our own salvation and reputation to be as Christ. This is how we preach Christ with our very lives. Most of us will never face such a dire scenario as Fr. Ferriera. But what would it look like and what would we need to lay down in order to become as Christ even now?
Just some light ponderings for a Sunday morning.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
~1 John 3:16