Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Why is there no middle?

Albert Mohler says the middle is now impossible, and everyone must choose. Why?

Because in essentials, we must have unity, of course. In non-essentials we can have diversity; and that's where the middle is: in those things we we don't have to agree on. But we must have the essentials, and we must agree on them, and so there is no middle left: time to fish or cut bait.

After all, aren't these things decided by the consent of the governed? Isn't this a time when a decision is demanded? Is this not the either/or which ethics demands?

Well, perhaps. But what then, of charity? What, in fact, if the call understood by the American church, is the call of God to sacrifice Isaac (since we have invoked the ghost of Kierkegaard with our "either/or," let us invite him to stay and explain the religious to us, as well). I'm not saying it is. But can you say it isn't?

Which is not very helpful either, is it? (I'll resist saying "or is it," but I won't resist very well). What is the solution to this dilemma? To raise the knife in hope God will supply the offering, but intently certain God already has? Is Mohler right, and there is no middle way, and all of Christianity is just a struggle over who gets and holds the ethical upper hand?

Or is there charity involved?

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never faileth: but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail; whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease; whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity.
If Paul is right, charity is what makes the teaching and preaching and morality of the church possible. If Paul is right, charity is patient, does not seek power or control or victory; bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. If Paul is right, charity alone never fails. If Paul is right, faith and hope are great, but charity is greatest of all. If Paul is right, it is not about power, or either/or, or even right or wrong, unless it is first about charity.

And if we consider that, as Christians, it should be "in all things, charity," then where do the greatness of essentials and non-essentials, which are certainly not even as great as hope and love, stand?

If there is no middle, perhaps it is because we don't take charity seriously enough. If there is no middle, perhaps it is because we think "love your enemies" means "after you have conquered them and they grovel at your feet." If there is no middle, perhaps it is because we have not reflected on what "all things" would cover, and how great, how truly great, charity is.

If there is no middle, perhaps we are to blame. Or perhaps there is a middle, and we just need to consider the the first should be last, and the last first; and that charity, or, in the modern vernacular, love, is what the Church is, first and foremost, supposed to be about.

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