MARCHING TO A WORTHY DRUMMER INSTALLMENT #8

 

Chapter 4: The Western Christian Church’s Viewpoint of the Nature of the Holy Spirit

An essential item on our dogtags was our religious affiliation. In our boot camp entrance paperwork we were instructed to fill in the appropriate blank, which would then go onto the dogtags. As I had no religious affiliation at the time, I didn’t know what to put down. When I asked, a corporal supervising our assembly set me straight. “You’re either Catholic or Protestant, screw,” he explained. “What’s a Protestant?” I pressed. “A Protestant is someone who’s not a Catholic, dumbass,” he sneered. (His epithet actually was more colorful than that, equating me to a part of my anatomy that never sees the light of day.) I knew I wasn’t a Catholic, so I put down “Protestant”, and “Protestant” is what my dogtags read, although I didn’t know what a Protestant was.

I had no religious affiliation for the simple reason that I wasn’t religious. My parents weren’t religious and, in fact, often scoffed at those who were. But I did have some minimal exposure to the concept of God, as a few years previous my brother and I, along with a friend, decided to embark on a life of crime. We had acquired a taste for beer, but, not being old enough to buy it legitimately, we decided to steal it. When the inevitable happened, I was dragged out of the police station by very angry parents, who tossed me into a Methodist Church forthwith for sorely-needed instruction in morals.

That didn’t work out too well, because the Church itself offered no insight regarding God. On the third Sunday, after the pastor expressed his opinion from the pulpit that “nobody really expects Jesus to return again”, I went home and confronted my parents with the certain knowledge that God didn’t exist, even in the eyes of the pastor. “If there really is no God,” I told them, what good is moral instruction that comes from a lie?”

They were forced to agree, after which I didn’t darken the doors of a Church again until I was in my late thirties. Perhaps it was a good thing that when I did go back to Church after realizing that God did indeed exist and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, I possessed some maturity of thought, including a certain cynicism regarding the plethora of differing doctrines associated with the various Christian denominations. It was this understanding of Church fallibility that led me to sample a number of different Churches before settling into a favorite. But even after finding a Church that we called home, I was well aware of the confusing number of issues over which the various denominations disagreed: infant baptism, free will, the identity of the elect of God, the stance regarding modern Israel, Mary’s immaculate conception, Mary’s perpetual virginity, Mary’s status in heaven, the role of the Holy Spirit in the modern Church, dispensationalism, etc. The list went on and on.

I soon discovered that among all the contentious issues there was one that nobody wanted to address: the nature of the Holy Spirit. Holy Father and Holy Son were well-defined, but the Holy Spirit was not, and it became apparent that this absence of comprehension was common to virtually all the Churches whose doctrines I was familiar with. I eventually came to my own understanding of the Protestant viewpoint regarding the nature of the Holy Spirit: there wasn’t a viable position. The typical position was that the Holy Spirit, like Father and Son, was truly and fully God, existed with Father and Son throughout eternity, and, like Father and Son, was to be worshiped and adored as a Member of the Trinitarian Godhead. There were accompanying relational words like “proceeding from”, but which were intuitively empty of substance. Beyond this common vague description, there was an essentially universal acknowledgement of confusion and incomplete understanding. I was to find out later that the Catholic Church suffered under the same vagueness of understanding, although she responded to that confusion in a strikingly different manner. The following is my take on the nature of that confusion and some preliminary thoughts as to how it came about. I go into greater detail on the “how” in Chapters 10 and 11.

From the very birth of Christianity at the first Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection, there was a sweeping away from the Christian faith of the decadent and often lewd practices associated with the worship of the pagan gods. Gone was the old leaven, and, like a breath of fresh air, the Holy Spirit came to indwell, ennoble and thoroughly clean human temples. With the new faith came an urgent call to demonstrate its difference from the crassness and moral filth of the surrounding secular society.

The Church eventually trespassed beyond the bounds of loving worship, propriety and common sense in her effort to cleanse herself, even to the extent of corrupting Scripture. But that took more time, on the order of several hundred years.

The Church’s initial success in this endeavor generated a loathing for Christians among their secular associates that contributed greatly to the persecutions that followed, particularly as the rulers found it convenient to exploit this antipathy of secular society toward Christians for their own benefit. But the persecutions only stiffened the Christian resolve to stand apart from the surrounding society.

It was in this setting that the Christian faith itself developed the canon of the New Testament and established its structure and dogma as it confronted a number of serious heresies that threatened to undermine the character and teachings of Jesus and His Apostles. The canon of Scripture, always directed by the Holy Spirit, remained untouched by the human condition. But the Church and the formulation of her dogma were heavily influenced by the deep antagonism in the minds of the Christian leadership between the new nobility of spirit and the old darkness of self-absorption and lust.

Foremost in the minds of many of the new Christians were the lewd and disgusting bacchanalias associated with the devotions to the Greek and Roman gods, who themselves were prone to bouts of lust and sexual perversions. In sharp contrast to the gross depravity of these gods, Jesus stood apart, radiant in shining moral splendor. At a time of rampant sexual excess, Jesus’ Words sparkled like swords of righteousness and were taken deeply to heart. Among these were His own pronouncements of the place of sexuality within the Christian economy, which were immortalized in Scripture. His Words that are handed down to us in Matthew 19 must have been very important to the new Christians:

“The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read that he who made them at the beginning, made them male and female; and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore, they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her who is put away doth commit adultery.

 

          “His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, except they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother’s womb; and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

 

The new Christians, in overlooking much of what Jesus actually was teaching, placed a heavy emphasis on the latter part of this saying by Jesus, the part that dealt with eunuchs. It may have called to mind a piece of Old Testament Scripture, verse five of David’s fifty-first Psalm, attaching to it a meaning that went beyond the words:

“Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

This passage was written after Nathan confronted David with a scathing rebuke over David’s murderous lust for Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and was an expression of guilt, which very much included his own, over the baseness of motivation behind some sexual unions.

Paul, too, in support of the Christian desire for moral cleanliness and writing to a Church that was in danger of returning to the materialism of society at large, added his obviously conflicted opinion of the meaning of sexual purity and the role of women within the Christian economy, but questioning himself as he did so as to whether he was writing on behalf of the Holy Spirit, or whether his was doing so entirely on his own. In 1 Corinthians 7:1 and 2, 25-40, he said this:

“Now concerning the things about which ye wrote unto me, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. . . .

          “Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose, therefore, that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless, such shall have trouble in the flesh; but I spare you. But this I say, brethren, The time is short; it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away. But I would not have you without care. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit; but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not; let them marry. Nevertheless, he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So, then, he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to when she will, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment; and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.”

 

Although Paul repeatedly noted that the union between man and wife is not sinful, it was his admonition that life as a eunuch was better, in that it permitted undiluted focus to the Lord. It was that sentiment which stood out in the early Christian mind as the golden standard of behavior.

That standard was expressed, for example, by Justin the Martyr in his first apology for (defense of) Christianity, as compiled in the book Early Christian Fathers, edited by Cyril C. Richardson. This commentary was written around the middle of the second century A.D., about a half century after the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation. In it, Justin echoed the sentiment of Paul regarding sexual circumspection:

“About continence [Jesus] said this: ‘Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart before God.’ And: ‘If your right eye offends you, cut it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of Heaven with one eye than with two to be sent into eternal fire.’ And: ‘Whoever marries a woman who has been put away from another man commits adultery.’ And: ‘There are some who were made eunuchs by men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake; only not all [are able to] receive this.

“And so those who make second marriages according to human law are sinners in the sight of our Teacher, and those who look on a woman to lust after her. For he condemns not only the man who commits the act of adultery, but the man who desires to commit adultery, since not only our actions but our thoughts are manifest to God. Many men and women now in their sixties and seventies who have been disciples of Christ from childhood have preserved their purity; and I am proud that I could point to such people in every nation. . . But to begin with, we do not marry except in order to bring up children, or else, renouncing marriage, we live in perfect continence. To show you that promiscuous intercourse is not among our mysteries – just recently one of us submitted a petition to the Prefect Felix in Alexandria, asking that a physician be allowed to make him a eunuch, for the physicians there said they were not allowed to do this without the permission of the Prefect. When Felix would by no means agree to endorse [the petition], the young man remained single, satisfied with [the approval of] his own conscience and that of his fellow believers.”

In writing about the sexual purity of Christians, Justin intended to contrast this behavior with that associated with the false gods and the rampant and often cruel immorality that not only was involved in the worship of them, but which had infected secular life as well:

“Far be it from every sound mind to entertain such a concept of deities as that Zeus, whom they call the ruler and begetter of all, should have been a parricide (killer of a relative) and the son of a parricide, and that moved by desire of evil and shameful pleasures he descended on Ganymede and the many women whom he seduced, and that his sons after him were guilty of similar actions. But, as we said before, it was the wicked demons who did these things. We have been taught that only those who live close to God in holiness and virtue attain to immortality, and we believe that those who live unjustly and do not reform will be punished in eternal fire.”

“Secondly, out of every race of men we who once worshiped Dionysus the son of Semele and Apollo the son of Leto, who in their passion for men did things which it is disgraceful even to speak of, or who worshiped Persephone and Aphrodite, who were driven made by [love of] Adonis and whose mysteries you celebrate, or Asclepius or some other of those who are called gods, now through Jesus Christ despise them, even at the cost of death, and have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impassible God. We do not believe that he ever descended in mad passion on Antiope or others, nor on Ganymede, nor was he, receiving help through Thetis, delivered by that hundred-handed monster, nor was he, because of this anxious that Thetis’ son Achilles should destroy so many Greeks for the sake of his concubine Briseis. We pity those who believe [such stories], for which we know that the demons are responsible.”

“That we may avoid all injustice and impiety, we have been taught that to expose the newly born is the work of wicked men – first of all because we observe that almost all [foundlings], boys as well as girls, are brought up for prostitution. As the ancients are said to have raised herds of oxen or goats or sheep or horses in their pastures, so now [you raise children] just for shameful purposes, and so in every nation a crowd of females and hermaphrodites and doers of unspeakable deeds are exposed as public prostitutes. You even collect pay and levies and taxes from these, whom you ought to exterminate from your civilized world. And anyone who makes use of them may in addition to [the guilt of] godless, impious, and intemperate intercourse, by chance be consorting with his own child or relative or brother. Some even prostitute their own children or wives, and others are admittedly mutilated for purposes of sodomy, and treat this as part of the mysteries of the mother of the gods – while beside each of those whom think of as gods a serpent is depicted as a great symbol and mystery. You charge against us the actions that you commit openly and treat with honor, as if the divine light were overthrown and withdrawn – which of course does no harm to us, who refuse to do any of these things, but rather injures those who do them and then bring false witness [against us].”

[to be continued]

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