the Great Iconoclast, or why would you write such things?

iconoclastwine“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.
~Mt. 10:39
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

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Showing 13 comments
  • lindy
    Reply

    I know that I keep having to dump my beliefs out of the box again and again and again and again and teach myself to cling to the robes of Jesus instead of what my human pea brain can grasp. *wink*

  • Skip
    Reply

    Doggone it Ellen,
    why WOULD you write such things?
    “But what would it look like and what would we need to lay down in order to become as Christ even now?”

    Just stick with the theoretical will ya! Quit being so iconoclastic, like the Master.

    Peace

  • Alice Yadon
    Reply

    wow, this goes right along with what Bobby preached on this morning

  • Michael Morkve
    Reply

    Amen! In denying Christ he actually affirmed Christ. Thus, many times it may be that the one who professes Christ, even unto death, is the real apostate. Of course doing the will of God is never static but ever situationally subjective, even as it comes to the actor. We are to do nothing of our own will or inclination but, as Christ did, only what the father tells us; which lay beyond the subjective terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

    Isn’t this, in fact, what it means to act AS Christ and BECOME sin on behalf of the other. Is it more Re-presentational, RIGHTeous and LOVing to refuse to deny Christ and in so doing consign others to untold tortures or to deny Christ and in so doing purchase their pardon?

    • ellenharoutunian
      Reply

      He seemed like a type of Christ to me while reading the novel. Wow, can we imagine that kind of call upon our lives?

  • David Murdoch
    Reply

    I think Fr Ferreira should have let the prisoners be killed rather than apostasy.

    Although this post brings up good points and I think a much better example would be pointing out St Francis of Assisi who led a life of humble poverty in a church that was growing increasingly worldly. Our faith is about a face, about a man, about Jesus Christ and the essence of our identity as Christians is to love as He loved us.

    God Bless,

    • ellenharoutunian
      Reply

      I wondered that too, David. But it seemed that he didn’t truly apostatize in that he become more identified with Christ in his choice, not less. But he lost everything to do it.

  • Michael Morkve
    Reply

    Doesn’t this then also argue that we should physically, even violently defend the other that we might purchase their freedom with our blood and in so doing re-present the selfless righteousness and love of the One who becomes sin on our behalf, dying to Himself and His own need to maintain sinless purity or even oneness with the Godhead? ‘My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?!’ The Father turned His face away. God has forsaken Himself, that which defines His very being; His Oneness, in order that others may enter into relationship with Him; the greatest ‘evil’, bringing about the penultimate ‘good’. This is the way of God which seems utter foolishness to mankind and goes much deeper than what has been discussed here.

  • Gregg Tucker
    Reply

    Ellen,

    Good stuff. I came across this section of John Calvin today that also speaks to the primacy of Christ:

    “We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.” If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth…If we see redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.” (Institutes, II.xvi.19)

    Also good stuff.

    One thing though (sorry): You seem to set up a false dichotomy between “teaching doctrine” and “preaching Christ”. In fact, I think you called them “binary opposites”. You did mention that doctrine shouldn’t be “thrown out” and that there is a “time and purpose for such things”, but I guess I don’t see it as an “either-or” (so modernistic 🙂 ), but rather, an “and”. How is “preaching Jesus” – like who He is (“the wild man”) and what He did on earth (“the Great Iconoclast Himself”) – different than doctrine (A principle, or body of principles, presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group)? I don’t know that this distinction is necessary. If you are referring to (and criticizing) the impulse some of us have to dissect the Bible into doctrinal statements but miss the stories and, worse, not be transformed by it, I’m totally with you. But I believe “doctrine” AND “Christ” can, and should, go hand-in-hand. What do you think?

    -Gregg

    • ellenharoutunian
      Reply

      A binary would mean something like setting up preaching doctrine as all bad and in contrast preaching Christ is all good. But my point is, preaching doctrine is useful, but we can follow Christ with or without it. Doctrine is useful but Christ is all. Fr. Ferriera lay down doctrinal truths (more evident in the novel) and much more – to become as Christ. It doesn’t work the other way around. (Giving up Jesus to keep true to church tradition or orthodoxy? I don’t think so.)

      • Gregg Tucker
        Reply

        Ellen, I hear what you are saying (they are NOT binary opposites), which I agree with. But I think you actually illustrated my point well when you said, “Doctrine is useful but Christ is all.” You see, the statement “Christ is all” IS doctrine. That’s why I’m saying I think it’s a false dichotomy. It’s more like “Doctrine is useful, especially the doctrine that says Christ is all.” And don’t get me wrong. I am not elevating doctrine above Jesus, it is using doctrine to give meaning to the life of Jesus. We can tell people about Jesus every day until He returns again, but without some doctrinal content filling up what we mean by Jesus and why He matters, we are just shouting slogans, not proclaiming any kind of intelligible gospel. Does that make sense?

        And a couple questions regarding the other comments … I’d be interested to read the whole story of Fr. Ferriera, but when you say “he apostatized”, what does that mean? Like, what did he do? Did he “lay down doctrinal truths”, as you said? If so, which doctrines did he lay down? Or did he just deny the Church? Or did he deny Christ (as Michael said above)?

        -Gregg

        • ellenharoutunian
          Reply

          Then you get the point. There is no false dichotomy. And I happen to love theology (from which doctrine flows). But I disagree that without doctrine we are just shouting slogans (though often, even with doctrines and theology we often speak more rhetoric than anything else). Do you need doctrine or a Mercy-ology to understand your wife? Or do you know her personally & intimately so that you can speak of who she *truly* is? (I know that answer to that! Congrats on your anniversary!) My point is merely that we often mix up the form for the Formless. We use our theology (and/or doctrines) and in some traditions, tradition itself to speak of God, but ultimately, those things reduce God. As Augustine once said, once we believe we have understood God, it is no longer God.
          As for Fr. Ferriera, it really helps to know his internal struggle before he did what the Japanese forced him to do, which included stepping on an cherished icon (and all that it meant to this devout man), announcing apostasy to all and being stripped of the priesthood, then being forever exiled in Japan. But he realized that he gave up all that, but especially the anointing of the church and respect of the church (internally can anyone really change what we believe?) and became as Christ was to them. So it seems he didn’t truly apostatize at all. Would you like me to send you a copy of the novel? I think you’d like it.

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