Friday, December 30, 2005

Resurrection and the Fear of Death

"I suppose that a man would have your confidence in a larger degree, and would have more weight with you, if he had come hack to life and should declare from experience that there is no evil in death."
-Seneca's Moral Epistle XXX (R.M. Gummere, trans.)

In the midst of speaking concerning the great respect he has for the opinions concerning death of an acquaintance very near death, Seneca suggests that perhaps the only more convincing person on the topic of death and the fear of death might be a person who has died and returned to life.

This is a very reasonable assertion, and one which serves the Christian witness quite well. It is true that the opinions concerning death and the fear of death that might be received from any person who has not died carry less weight than the opinions concerning the same that a person who has died should carry.

Christians find themselves in the position of receiving counsel concerning death from one who has Himself overcome death: Jesus of Nazareth. Remarkably, however, the resurrected Christ said absolutely not one word to His disciples concerning what should await them beyond death; Jesus' very presence was evidence of bodily resurrection.

Our Seneca had in mind a person dying and returning to life of the same order that is lived by those to whom he might speak and teach concerning death. Jesus Christ demonstrated a return from death as one who was irrevocably transformed by the process of death-and-resurrection into a human being of a new order.

His resurrection only confirms, then, the promises He has made to all those who follow Him through death and resurrection:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment."
John 5:25-29 (ESV)
To purchase volumes of Seneca's works, follow the following link to the Loeb Classical Library homepage:

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Pleasing the Masses

"For who that is pleased by virtue can please the crowd? It takes trickery to win popular approval; and you must needs make yourself like unto themgelves. However, what you think of yourself is much more to the point than what others think of you. The favour of ignoble men can be won only by ignoble means."

-Seneca's Moral Epistle XXIX (Richard M. Gummere, trans.)

Once again I read the words of "our" Seneca to his student Lucilius and find words most pertinent to the life of the Christian Church. Everywhere we turn we find churches and mega-churches doing everything in their power to appeal to the masses of nominal Christians and unconverted. Crosses are removed in order to prevent offense. Sin is a dirty word. Depth of sermon content is traded for turns of phrase and quirky object lessons. The important thing is that the people are actually attending services, after all... right?

Myself a Lutheran, my wife and I visited a church in New York while visiting family. The service was shallow, generic and feel-good. While leaving my wife commented that her father (a Baptist pastor) could have attended and felt perfectly at home due to the absence of anything distinctively Lutheran about the church and service. She said, "When that is the case, the church is either confused or dishonest." Now, I'm not promoting Lutheranism necessarily. The same should be true of any church. If there is nothing distinctive about the content of a service, nothing of any substance to set it apart from any other type of church, then perhaps there is a bit of dishonesty or deception involved.

Seneca has put his finger on the problem. It requires dishonesty for those who love virtue to appeal to the masses. Churches are becoming generic and compromising the very things they should be most proud of. Why? "It takes trickery to win popular approval; and you must needs make yourself like unto themselves. "Unfortunately, this is death for a Christian congregation. The end sought by a congregation is that those without become transformed and assimilated into the life of the church. The opposite is taking place with the result that the congregation is transformed and assimilated into the life of those without.

Seneca's advice: "What you think of yourself is much more to the point than what others think of you." If you are Baptist, be proudly and distinctly Baptist. If you are Methodist, be proudly and distinctly Methodist. If you think yours is the most virtuous and perfect religion, then why would you want to compromise it to please the masses?


"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions." 2 Timothy 4:3 (ESV)