April 06, 2011

Culture and Sacrament

A friend of mine, whom we'll call Mysterium, was written a letter from a friend of his, Ralph.  Mysterium and Ralph went to seminary together.   Ralph's nephew, Jack, is a Christian and is intending to marry his Christian boyfriend.  Ralph wrote to Mysterium for his thoughts. 

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I have a few thoughts about Jack, but no advice.  My thoughts can be summed up in two points, but there is so much to say on the subject of the fate of Christianity in American culture, that my two points can't be put simply.  I will reach the two points by way of a recent experience:
 
I was on the campus of Oral Roberts University.  When I pulled into campus my first impression was the extreme ugliness of the buildings.  The architecture is not merely ridiculous, it is decidedly unchristian.  I say this as a former architecture student, an amatuer art historian and an Orthodox Christian.
 
Every culture produces art (painting, music, architecture, literature) that expresses and communicates its cosmology.  Every culture.  There are no exceptions. Roman Catholic culture as well as Reformed Protestant culture as well as Hindu or Islamic culture.  All human beings express themselves in collective as well as individual modes.
 
The architecture of ORU is the product of a futuristic materialism.  Many people notice this, but few will ask the important questions: How did this happen?  When did Protestantism lose its native art forms?  Or, why did it consciously (or unconsciously) trade in the transcendant architectural language of the Church for the empty language of space-age sensationalism?  The man who built these ugly buildings and named them after himself also called himself a Christian.  He was either ignorant of Christian tradition or he chose to reject it. 
 
Yet, if you walk around campus, seeing no Christian architecture, you will see lots of Christian words - signs inicating that one of these bulidings is a "chapel" and one of them is a "prayer tower." 
 
Here's one conclusion: Christianity has no language in which to express its unique Revelation.  It cannot any longer take and transform the world   It can only paste labels over the deeply etched impressions of secularity.  And for anyone really paying attention, the secularity is still the most outstanding feature.
 
What if my example of the campus buildings at ORU is indicative of Evangelicalism overall?  What if this hideous architecture is the norm? 
 
What if, in all areas where cultures conflict, Christianity has already given Secularism the upper hand - thinking that "Well, science is doing great things.  Look how fast we're spreading the 'gospel.'  Look at the all the compassion and charity we can send out to the world.  Look at the giant churches and amazing architecture we have produced..."?
 
Eventually, this trend continues from the external to the internal things.  Surrendering our symbolic language, we soon lose our spiritual language.  What if, as soon as we are willing to slap a Christian label on bad buildings, we are willing to (and now practiced at) re-labing morality?  We borrowed marriage and monogamy from Secularism so long ago, we think they are Christian concepts.  But they are not!  The Pagan and ancient Hebrew worlds knew marriage and monogamy.  
 
Now confusion is added to confusion, and we take the secular idea of equality and the naturalist idea of homosexuality, and paste on them the 'christian' labels of marriage and monogamy and we think we have made homosexuality Christian! 
 
The genuinely Christian concepts that correspond to marriage and monogamy are Sacrament and Chastity.  How long has been since these words were dismissed from the Christian vocabulary - especially the Protestant vocabulary?  Perhaps a century or two?  Perhaps longer: marriage-as-sacrament was rejected at the Reformation.  Slowly, the idea crept into the Christian mind that marriage performed in the church and marriage performed by the state are equally valid and equaly meaningful.
 
I can't stress this point enough.  For Christians, Marriage is only valid when it exemplifies the Kingdom of God.  Monogamy is only valid when it is according to and submitted to the spiritual life of the Church.  They are good ideas of benefit to humans in the fallen world, but they have no eternal value when taken from their sacred context.
 
So I have round-aboutly made my two points. 1, Christians gave up 'Christian Marriage' (Marriage as a sacrament) long ago. And 2, for American Christians, any thing, action, or idea is Christian if it bears a 'christian' label.   
 
After a few generations, no one can tell the difference between Christianity and Secularism without effort.  Christianity is a commodity for sale in the global marketplace.  Why should a young man honor marriage more than other Christians?  Why shouldn't he spend more time in front of the television than at prayer - yet call himself a Christian like his parents and other Christians do?  Why should he worry about his soul when Christians are selling Heaven under the brandname "assurance of salvation"?  Why shouldn't 'marriage' be legal recognition of his sexual orientation - like it is for other Christians?  Why shouldn't he go to an auditorium every Sunday to hear a lecture and a concert - and call the auditorium 'church' and the concert 'worship'?
 
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This is, of course, just the context for a discussion about Jack, and it is rather rough.  I think Jack is probably doing well with what has been given to him.  But he is obviously not digging too deeply into the genuine Christian heritage. 
 
Very few are willing to dig deeply in these shallow days.

2 comments:

Jon Marc said...

Shallow indeed...

GretchenJoanna said...

The situation we find ourselves in seems to me very clearly explained here. Thanks for posting this, disturbing as the reality is.