Friday, October 13, 2006

Christianity—faith and works

I love this passage from TIME Magazine's When not seeing is believing, by Andrew Sullivan (adapted from his book The Conservative Soul):

[O]ur religion, our moral life, is simply what we do. A Christian is not a Christian simply because she agrees to conform her life to some set of external principles or dogmas, or because at a particular moment in her life, she experienced a rupture and changed herself entirely. She is a Christian primarily because she acts like one. She loves and forgives; she listens and prays; she contemplates and befriends; her faith and her life fuse into an unself-conscious unity that affirms a tradition of moral life and yet also makes it her own. In that nonfundamentalist understanding of faith, practice is more important than theory, love is more important than law, and mystery is seen as an insight into truth rather than an obstacle.

Christianity has bounced back and forth in the "faith or work" debate. Is it faith that makes you Christian, or works? I never understood why there would be any question, until I learned that in olden times, "works" were considered the religious sacraments, not things like doing good to others or healing.

So it first was about obeying religious laws. This was easy for the church hierarchy to measure, and for people to feel they were safely on the road to salvation. If you just do what the church tells you, you're all set.

Eventually, though, some inspired thinkers realized that you could do these things and still be very hypocritically hateful or sinful in your heart. Hence the shift to emphasizing "faith," or an inner conviction of God's presence and love. Prayer and spiritual communion, rather than literal ritual, began to replace the sacraments as the way to salvation.

But then humanity found that even that wasn't enough. A faith that has you just sitting at home or even in church, basking in the joy of God's presence, but doesn't result in your helping anyone else was too self-serving to some to be considered truly spiritual. It's important that your spirituality both redeems you as a person and has results—has a positive impact on those around you.

So to my mind, if I’m going to claim to be a follower of Christ Jesus, I need to be doing both. Daily consecrated effort to cleanse my being and draw closer to God, accompanied by willingness and readiness to serve others.

Interestingly, having these things on my to-do list doesn't leave me much time to be judgmental or hurtful or angry. I don't have time for the negatives, because not only would they take time away from the positives, they would require me to do more of the positives to tip the balance back. It's more Christianly efficient to stay in the positive and not waste time on the negative. Like Liz Imbrie said in The Philadelphia Story, "I can't afford to hate anybody. I'm only a photographer."

So I’m taking stock of both—faith and works. I frankly think they're both essential.


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2 Comments:

At 10/14/2006 06:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't have time for the negatives, because not only would they take time away from the positives, they would require me to do more of the positives to tip the balance back. It's more Christianly efficient to stay in the positive and not waste time on the negative." I love that! What a wonderful, thought-provoking post. Thank you.

 
At 10/15/2006 03:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came upon your blog during my random sojourn through the "next blog" button and wanted to let you know that I visited. What a comprehensive blog.

 

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