I recently heard a speaker who I thought was excellent – what he said was biblical, clear and passionate. The audience loved it….but I struggled. And here’s the problem – I couldn’t work out why. There was just something that did not connect for me. I have been trying to identify the problem. Was it just me? The speaker was excellent and everyone else loved it. Was the world mad? Was I the only one out of step? What about the Church? So I struggled in my heart and was confused in my mind, and then read this from Chrysostom…
“Let us then at last come to our sober senses again – let us watch. For I do not fear so much the battle without, as the fight within; for the root when it is well fitted into the ground, will suffer no damage from the winds; but if it be itself shaken by a worm gnawing from within, the tree will fall, even though none molest it.
How long do we gnaw the root of the church like worms? For such thoughts come from earth – no – not from earth, but from dung, having corruption for their mother; and they do not cease to desire the detestable flattery that is from women.
Let us at length be generous men, let us be champions of philosophy, let us drive back the violent career of these evils. For I behold the mass of the Church prostrate now, as though it were a corpse. And as in a body newly dead, one may see eyes and hands and feet and neck and head, and yet no one limb performing its proper office; so truly, here also, all who are here are of the faithful, but their faith is not active; for we have quenched its warmth and made the body of Christ a corpse.” (Homilies on Second Corinthians XXVII)”
This was like a shower that cleared my mind.
As Christians, we ask ‘what is wrong with the world? ” We struggle with the evident hatred and hostility to the Gospel. We are deeply concerned about ourselves and how we will survive in such a hostile environment. We either want to fight for our rights, or to retreat into our monastery. We see the problem as being out there – because it is. There are storms and winds and earthquakes in society – and we are not immune from them. It is right for us to address such storms, not only for our own sakes but for the love of humanity – and the glory of God.
But we need to go deeper. Chrysostom is right. It is the fight within, rather than the battle without, that is the problem. What’s wrong with the world today? The Church. As the worms of sin, self, pride, hypocrisy and unbelief gnaw away internally, then the tree cannot stand when the storm comes. We move away from the Rock, we undermine the sure and certain Word of Scripture – either by adding to it or taking away from it – and the rot sets in. Outwardly the church looks the same but inwardly it has no root, no depth and no immune system. It folds like a pack of cards when the tsunami hits.
When Chrysostom talks about ‘ the detestable flattery that is from women’ he is not being a misogynist – blaming women for all the evils in the world. He is referring to the practice of male preachers seeking their praise from their adoring female fans. In other words a key problem is Church leaders who seek their own glory and who abuse their own power. They seek not the things of Christ. Plus ca change…..!
Later on he goes on to speak about how we are ‘divided against one another like wild beasts’. The rot within soon results in division. That is inevitably where selfish ambition leads. The Church is like a corpse. We see the members of the body but they do not function together. It is still. It is cold. It is asleep – if not dead.
I’m not talking here just about the ‘liberals’. So much of the Established church in the UK and elsewhere has been living on borrowed time and the capital of the past. That capital is gradually eroding – and soon nothing will be left except the rotting corpse; a state/society sponsored religion advocating moralistic therapeutic Deism – paying lip service to Christ whilst trashing his Word and denying his glory. No – I think of the evangelicals – of whatever hue – those of us who really believe in the basics of the Gospel and say that we live by His Word. Sometimes we too are comatosed. We have the members of the body, we cover them in (sometimes garish) clothes – but where is the life? Where is the Godly passion? Where is the unity? Where is the humble service? The joyful acceptance of suffering for Christ?
What’s wrong with the world is not the world – but the church. The fields are white ‘unto harvest’ but where are the labourers? The thirsty ground is desperate to be refreshed with rain, but where are the watering cans? People are drowning in a sea of virtual and real hatred, but where is the love?
The problem with what I heard was not what I heard – but what I didn’t hear. Sometimes we neatly divide the world into ‘them and us’ as though the problem were with ‘them’, when in reality it is ‘us’.
I am reminded of GK Chesterton’s famous short letter to The Times.
Dear Sir, What’s wrong with the world? I am. Yours sincerely, GK Chesterton.
What’s wrong with the world? The Church is the main problem. What’s wrong with the Church? I am.
So I must look within – and then I must look away – to Christ. In the words of McCheyne “for every look at self, take ten at Christ”
Chrystostom says that he tells his hearers this not to ‘parade our condition, but to shame you and make you desist”. We need to be aware of our sin-sick condition so that we will turn afresh to the great doctor of our souls and receive the Balm of Gilead……
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich, and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:14-22)