Monday, July 30, 2007

Seven? Now Eight

God Grant It, is a series of devotions written from C. F. W. Walther’s sermons. Last Thursday’s spoke to resisting temptation. Walther writes,

One of the greatest and strongest dangers and temptations for Christians to depart from the path of godliness is the evil example of the children of this world. It is easy enough to see that, for the most part, it goes well for the children of the world in their sinful life. They hurry from desire to desire, and from pleasure to pleasure. . . By this enticing appearance of earthly happiness, which surrounds the children of the world, many a pious person is blinded, deceived, and tempted to fall into sin.

For this reason, Saint John admonishes his spiritual children: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1John 2 15-17).

Countless people in the midst of the severest temptations of the world have remained faithful to their God. The Bible offers some examples. Lot… Joseph…Moses. [Moses] might well have fallen away from the religion of his fathers and become ashamed of his despised Israelite brethren according to the flesh. But it says of him in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (11:24-26).

Gregory the Great (540-605) is credited with codifying the Seven Deadly sins. This was not to suggest that some sins are more damnable than others, for the wages of [all] sin is death. For the sake of catechesis, Gregory emphasized those sins which were tempting, yet could be resisted, but too often were not. These were sins of habit, leading to a lifestyle (habitus) from which it was difficult to free oneself. These sins are known as, by both their Latin names and their translations, saligia: superbia (pride), avaritia (greed), luxuria (luxury, later lust), invidia (envy), gula (gluttony), ira (anger), and acedia (sloth). C. S. Lewis addressed these sins throughout The Chronicles of Narnia. For example, Edmund personifies gluttony in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which Jadis exploits to her advantage with Turkish Delight.

An eighth deadly sin can be added to this list: abdicatus (renunciation). This is the sin of accommodation, and it is the worst of them all. It is the one that finally says that not only can temptation not be resisted; it must be entered into for our own good and human betterment. Moreover, abdicatus is especially heinous because practitioners are quite adept at using scripture to support their cause—just not all of scripture. Abdicatus is conformation with what Walther calls the children of the world so that scripture is used to support their ways and habits, rather than to mark and avoid them. Often the Gospel itself is used as a shield. By this means, one’s own baptism is renounced for he willingly enters into what God has not granted, and yet claims God’s permission upon it because he is baptized.

Abdicatus says that the world has changed, and so must the church. This is as much as to say that the church can no longer withstand temptation, but must accommodate herself to every whim of culture that come along. Let’s ask the question foremost on the minds of theologians in churches that do not ordain women: If all those other churches do it, why can’t we?

Why don’t we press this another direction. There was a time when it was uncommon for couples to live together before marriage. This is no longer true, even among Christians. Sometimes the fact is not even hidden, or is supported by the couple through their own scriptural and theological examinations.

Now, there is scriptural basis for chastity, just as there is for the all-male pastorate. However, society accommodated itself to thinking of virginity as a burden and marriage as a curse. Then "true" liberation was found apart from these things. Marriage was a societal necessity only “for the sake of the kids,” or financial reasons, etc. Marriage, as an icon of Christ and His Bride, is—from the beginning of scripture to the very end—wrapped in Christ. Marriage and sex are sacred, sacramental. The sanctity of marriage is lost when emancipation is found in extra-marital sex and society and the church as a whole embraces this idea.

So what are we to do with any other of the articles of the doctrines of the church? Shall we concede to the temptation of the world and renounce the Apostolic Faith when we do? That is what happens when the church accommodates to the surrounding culture instead of resisting the temptation it presents. The world and its apparent happiness, its growth in numbers, its wealth, all appears to be a success. Still, God has His own way of measuring success. Success for God was measured in His Son’s death. We can’t even begin to imagine how much love that took for Him to send His own Son for our sakes, and yet how painful it was to have His Son die as a sinner. The contrast is blindingly impossible.

We have not even begun to resist our temptations as Christ did, to the point of blood in His own perspiration. He neither gave into temptation, nor did He accommodate Himself to the culture of His day. Christ was obedient to His Father in all things. He told His disciples to be about the business of “baptizing and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19b-20). He also says that His disciples are those who remain in His word (Jn 8:31). It is a foregone conclusion: abdicatus, (renunciation, accommodation), is not the way of the Christian. In fact, accommodation to temptation says that the Gospel is powerless in the face of the devil. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7). The latter follows the former. Those who have first been submitted by God to Him are able to resist the devil and all his temptations. The Gospel overcomes the devil and his ways.

"I am baptized" is the answer to all temptation, not the reason for accommodation to sin. St. Paul writes, "Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Ro 5:2-5). If there is a corresponding virtue to abdicatus, and one supposes there must be, it is virtus (character).

We often think of virtus as virtue, but it is not limited to that. It also means courage, manliness. St. Augustine wrote that his mother Monica was a woman who had the faith of a man. By that he meant she had the courage to withstand the temptations life threw before her, and treated them as chastisements from God. She trusted herself to be a son of God by virtue of her baptism into Christ. Temptation was wrapped in the form of freedom from suffering for her
however briefly it might have been. Isn't that true for any of us though? Sexual temptation is suffering for the teen; ordination for some males only causes suffering for some women. Giving in to these things (sex without marriage, women's ordination) as if that's the way things should be is abdicatus. The courage of a manly faith that is Christ's alone, given in Baptism to every Christian is that which resists these temptations.


Marie N. said...

I was not familiar with how the seven deadly sins came to be so considered. That was in interesting lesson and your points following are most appropriate.

Lawrence said...

Hence, my accommodation of (or excuse for) beer?

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

Beer, like wine, is a holy food. It needs neither excuse nor accommodation, only celebration and thanksgiving.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

St. Em, I'm slow in replying to your comments, but did want to say that I appreciate your thoughts here very much. It seems to me that you have touched upon a very pressing aspect of our life as Christians in this world, and have done so in a helpful way.

My only concern (if I may say it even that strongly) is that one can take such scruples too far in the direction of pietism and a reliance upon one's own works. That is another temptation to which we are prone, though I don't have a Latin word for it at hand. Out of one ditch into another, that is the way of sinful flesh.

Nevertheless, the danger of extremes in either direction is no excuse for not striving to enter by the narrow door. That is really to speak of laying hold of Christ in His Word, wherein He lays hold of us, unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sin.

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

Pr. Stuckwisch,

Thanks for replying!

Isn't pietism a risk in every virtue? That's the opposite error, so to speak. But then, you said that yourself.

My point was that there are so many now who *don't* lay hold of God's word because they claim that when it was written circumstances were different. Times change and therefore we must now make accommodations.

The only way out is a return to God's word.

There was an editorial some time back in Touchstone magazine. I've mislaid it temporarily, which isn't unusual. The author argued that accommodation to error is actually the denial of God. He's right. God gives us the means to judge properly right from wrong by His word. To not do so is to deny His existence by denying the veracity of His word.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Yes, I think you've touched upon the key, which it to rely upon God's Word to determine and reveal what is right and wrong.

And even in laying hold of the Word of God, we do not rely upon ourselves, but upon Christ and His Spirit, poured out upon us generously through the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. When faith is so instructed and fed by that forgiveness, then we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the entire counsel of God as He intends, for our good, for life.

I like the quote (or paraphrase) from Touchstone magazine. I think I would be inclined to rephrase it slightly: Accommodation to the world is to make of it a false god. And this is ultimately damning, not simply because it is very, very bad, but because it is misplaced faith in that which cannot give life. God does not command us to fear, love and trust in Him in order to get His jollies out of being so "popular," but in love, because it is the Father's good pleasure to give us the Kingdom of His beloved Son.

Dcs. Emily Carder said...


Luther says it so well in many places, but particularly well in his Galatians Commentary. We cannot climb up to God to apprehend Him in His glory. We must approach Him the way Christ comes to us, in the manger as a lowly infant.

Accommodation starts with such good intentions: love for neighbor, peace on earth, trying to get along, etc. We get caught in what *we* see as good, forgetting that God has already told us what He sees as good. Sometimes good from God includes a healthy dose of chastising His sons! We tend to forget that He is a Father who is doing this to those whom He regards as *sons.* It's a family affair.

When we accommodate to what God does not tolerate, what are we saying about ourselves? We are saying that we are better judges than He of what is right and wrong. That's idolatry. It's also making a mockery of Jesus' death under the Law. He Himself said He did not come to abolish the Law. So the Law remains, not to condemn us because Jesus has taken its burden away, but to serve as our guide and mirror.

I tell my students they had best learn to love the Ten Commandment now because in heaven they will be keeping them perfectly. Jesus died keeping the Law for us, and all who are in Jesus have the Law kept by Him. In heaven the Law is kept perfectly. It is not simply done away with. They take a second look at what is happening in this life and realize it is not the one that matters the most.