The Fundamental Commonality, Part II

The first part of this discussion clarified what is the most fundamental attribute of all mankind, which binds us irrevocably together: our inability to live up to the Image that we perceive. In this there is no division, but unity in our irredeemable state, if unity there is within our natural proclivities toward division.

The second consideration following the first part is in fact not a unity intrinsic to mankind, but an elected unity. As certainly as we find ourselves helpless to meet standards set either from without or within, it is definite that this second bond is not one basic to our being, but contingent upon our will. The decision of humility before the Cross is neither a natural position of the human frame, nor a pledge idly taken. Yet the human person craves fellowship within the bonds of a common creed as surely as death is preferable to loneliness. Thus, as water flows away from the higher ground to water the lowlands, so men will follow the natural paths away from the hill at Calvary to those communities more appealing to their inflated sensibilities. It is for this reason that we encounter factions, groups of shared identity, opposing communities, and lines of division too numerous to comprehend. Man will wander the restless paths of Cain across the face of the Earth (Gen. 4:14) and walk in desert wildernesses for forty years (Numbers 32:13) before coming simply to the foot of the Cross. He will build his cities, form his troops, proclaim his oaths before witnesses, and wage wars to build mighty kingdoms marked by boundary stones in his own image before ever proclaim as Peter did, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Thus was Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made low in the time of Daniel:

As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals… Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men.”

-Daniel 4:28-32

If we desire a unity not merely of nature, but of purpose, in which not division but communion is the daily practice, then we must become One in Christ.

How, then, are they characterized who are One in Christ? Is there an outward sign, like the mark of Cain, that all who strike him dead should be avenged (Gen. 4:15)? Is it by a constructed “holy atmosphere” through music and high words by which members feel or feign religiosity? Can we deduce it by the number of races represented in the institutional church? To contend that Christ’s Body can be detected by outward appearance in the third part, or projection of emotion in the second part, or rejection of structural forms of obedience in the first, is to display the same weakness as Samuel before the sons of Jesse. No, it is not by these means that the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) is made and maintained. Even the strongest contender in post-modern ideology – race – has little hope of binding together a mosaic of peoples from every “tongue and tribe and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). For even as they are being gathered in one place, they are fragmenting in accordance with the blood of those with whom they share.

No, there is a stronger bond than blood, and that is creed. Those who are one in Christ hold this as true above all else, spoken by the early apostles and repeated by those who regard Christ, and not his own efforts, as final:

I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

-The Apostle’s Creed

This, then, is the mark of those who are one in Christ: those who hold fast to this confession, unwavering and in conviction of spirit and word and work, until the end. The unity here spoken is again one of decision, made by the individual, but it is not merely a “voluntary act of uniting by the members of Christ’s body” (Oden, Classic Christianity, p. 720), for that would be to reduce it again to the lowly state of human community. Rather, it is one which, after affirming this creed in all her members, is set apart by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of service to God. Indeed, the unity of the church itself serves a powerful purpose in our world of factions and division:

By her unity the church gives expression in time to the oneness of Christ’s body so as to unite in hope all humanity to God’s reconciling activity.

-Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, p. 720

If we hold to this shared belief, are we unified? If we are not unified, then what divides us? By what means might we divine the barriers separating brethren one from another, and so unify once more under the banner of Christ, as the church ought, spread out in time and space in the armor of God, wielding faith in one hand and the Word in the other? If we are one in Christ, and we are also divided, then we are not one in Christ. We would do well to ask ourselves – and not our brethren, who in our weakness we are apt to condemn – how often do we affirm the common creed? How often do we dwell on the words, “I believe in God”? “In Jesus Christ… our Lord”? “…in the Holy Spirit”?

The Apostle’s Creed contains the most primal elements of the Body of Christ. They must be examined anew every morning; they must be shouted from mountaintops; they must go down into the “inner parts” of a man; they must be the last word at night. If these truths are known but not held daily, they will fade into a worldly dimness. And in fading, a hundred contradictory worldviews and exploded systems of thought clutter the believer’s mind, and the ancient false choice is quietly proposed by the Enemy of our souls: By whose wisdom shall you live? Your own, or God’s? It was by this lie that Eve took and ate of the apple, as time and again we choose our own paths instead of God’s. But this is to evade the thrust of that first commandment, for to live as one we must live, not by rules, but by relationship. The false choice is to encourage the believer to forget that he is to choose, not between our wisdom and God’s, but between our wisdom and God’s love.

Were it not for the love demonstrated by Christ on the Cross, there would be no possibility of election into this communion. But because Christ did come to earth, and in coming die, and in dying rise, He gave us this hope for “peace on earth,” that one day every “tongue and tribe and people and nation” will proclaim as one that Jesus is Lord.

The Fundamental Commonality, Part I

It has been a common practice of the present day to speak of our brothers and sisters by terms consistent with what separates them from ourselves, though this is by no means a novel revelation. For, in the days of Saul, king over Israel, the Lord knew Saul had “rejected the word of the Lord” (Samuel 15:26) and because of this sent Samuel to look among the ruddy sons of Jesse’s house for a new king. And when Samuel beheld them, he thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:6), as men are apt to do in the presence of natural strength.

But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

-1 Samuel 16:8

And so it is with us. To appraise a man’s worth for his appearance is like to consider a beaker of liquid good for drinking if it be clear; not only is this the folly of apathy, and a scornful rejection of healthy scientific inquiry, but if it is consumed with the same irreverence it has the potential to kill. Thus the settlers of Jamestown met their fate, and so also the student of chemistry if he is not sufficiently cautious.

So what are the things of the heart which God sees, and we are to see if we are to look beyond mere appearance? If we ask God in humility, He will be sure to show us. In an instant, the sheet is pulled back, and we reel in horror and shame. The effect of this revelation and swift demolition of our pride is what the Puritans called the “gift of tears,” or in the current vernacular, repentance. For what we are first shown is not some noble hero, stark against a world swirling with uncertainty, authentic, progressive, wielding a voice of truth against a nameless power, but a blackened tumor pulsating and growing with the passage of time. Here is the first shared bond between all of humanity:

We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…’

-Romans 3:9-11

To a sensitive conscience two-thousand years displaced from these thundering words of condemnation against humanity, indignance might be the first order of business. Who is this Paul to condemn myself, a perfectly decent fellow, whom he has never known, and would never harm a soul? Am I a racist, like some, or a bigot, like others? And anyways, how does a collection of outworn documents apply to the human condition today?

But these objections are easily met. If we recall the First Affirmation:

that values exist, in whatever form; that they are fixed and unchanging with respect to human argument; and that they appear to impress themselves upon humanity from without,

then we readily see the fallacy concealed in these objections. For Paul was a human being, as we ourselves are, and he spoke according to that ideal or standard which transcends Nature and therefore does not change with argumentation or passage of time. Therefore, in making this pronouncement against the baser nature of humanity, he affirms a truth that is undeniable to any student of history and itself has not changed since it was first penned: that we do not measure up to this standard.

At this point, it is necessary to augment the First Affirmation with the following: that the intrinsic moral worth of human beings is both equal among all beings, and fixed with respect to time. Thus, human beings are not malleable in the sense of their moral worth being modified, or else due to the irregular distribution of influences throughout the earth – whether cultural, geographical, academic, or otherwise – some would progress differently or more rapidly than others, and their intrinsic worth would change with respect to those with whom they still share the same biological species. In doing so, those “more equal” than others would help the less equal along by virtue of their societal duty to mankind. This is the primary fallacy behind Oceana’s “Ministry of Love,” in which one man more equal than another – O’Brien – raises the lower – Winston – to the same state of righteous exaltation as he, by medieval arts of torture:

We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable.

-O’Brien to Winston, 1984, p. 269

But if men are malleable, then would it not follow that at the birth of every new babe, the collective gap between our baser nature and the Image we perceive would close? I am assuming that this Image is either rightfully perceived as transcendent, or else designed by the more righteous engineers of society. Would it not be the experience of all men to observe deeper affections and greater comraderie with the other, and to see that civil body of which they are part grow in solidarity and progress toward righteousness and maturity? How greatly is this not the case! How greatly do our passions war against us daily, and how feeble are the admonitions of treating others with public kindness. Even by the image made by the art of man, we discern the gap between the ideal and reality. Man cannot even achieve his low expectations.

This is the response to the objection, that since men do not change, then the words of Paul apply not only to the Romans, but to the Americans, and to the Chinese, and to the British, and to the Portuguese, and so forth. Surely Thucydides pronounced rightly that civilization was a “thin veneer” over barbarism. And with every turn of the electrical knob, O’Brien proved that Paul’s proclamation stands: “There is no one righteous, not even one.”

So this is the first bond between one man with another, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). And if we together are one race of sinners, then we all share yet one more mark of commonality, if indeed we yearn for salvation from this body of death: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). Those who fall short “are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24), and if we all have fallen short, then we all have access to this justification by grace through faith. This justification is not apportioned to an elite few; those peoples or races or intellects or artisans or musicians whom God has picked above all others from the faceless masses of humanity, as the Gnostics once argued. It comes “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

By saying, “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” Paul clarifies what every adopted son and daughter already knows, what is the yearning of every sick soul desperate for peace from the tense divisions of the identitarian idealogues, and that which this latter hateful crew fully despise: that there is no division at the foot of the Cross. Christ does not justify according to race, but according to faith. Thus, we are all fundamentally bound together by our faith in Christ, and ultimately by our adoption as sons and daughters into the kingdom of God.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

-Galatians 3:28