Saturday, December 21, 2019

Accommodation for “the Gospel's sake”—the risk of paganizing Christianity

Last night, I read a recent post [link] by the Baptist pastor Kent Brandenburg wherein he provides a quote from an Evangelical pastor, Paul Washer, which piqued my interest:

If you use carnal means to attract men, you're going to attract carnal men.  And you're going to have to keep using greater carnal means to keep them in the church.

Later in the post, pastor Brandenburg brings up two important Biblical concepts, that in my experience, are rarely discussed, and/or practiced in our day: church discipline and separation.

While reflecting on the above issues of carnality, discipline and separation, some of the quotations from the writings of John Henry Newman that I have recently provided here at AF—see this post—came to mind, and seem germane to our topic at hand. Here again are the quotes I am thinking of:

There is in truth a certain virtue or grace in the Gospel which changes the quality of doctrines, opinions, usages, actions, and personal characters when incorporated with it, and makes them right and acceptable to its Divine Author, whereas before they were either infected with evil, or at best but shadows of the truth. This is the principle, above spoken of, which I have called the Sacramental.  (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878/1989. p. 368 - bold emphasis mine.)

Confiding then in the power of Christianity to resist the infection of evil, and to transmute the very instruments and appendages of demon-worship to an evangelical use, and feeling also that these usages had originally come from primitive revelations and from the instinct of nature, though they had been corrupted ; and that they must invent what they needed, if they did not use what they found ; and that they were moreover possessed of the very archetypes, of which paganism attempted the shadows; the rulers of the Church from early times were prepared, should the occasion arise, to adopt, or imitate, or sanction the existing rites and customs of the populace, as well as the philosophy of the educated class. (Ibid. pp. 371, 372 - bold emphasis mine.)

In the course of the fourth century two movements or developments spread over the face of Christendom, with a rapidity characteristic of the Church ; the one ascetic, the other ritual or ceremonial. We are told in various ways by Eusebius, that Constantine, in order to recommend the new religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward ornaments to which they had been accustomed in their own. It is not necessary to go into a subject which the diligence of Protestant writers has made familiar to most of us. The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness ; holy water ; asylums ; holydays and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields ; sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church. (Ibid. p. 373, - bold emphasis mine.)

I suspect that pastor Brandenburg would equate the adoption of “instruments and appendages of demon-worship”—i.e certain pagan ceremonies, festivals, rituals and eventually the use of images—with ‘carnal means’. I am not so certain that I can provide a solid apologia to discourage this.

But, with that said, of late I have been reflecting on a concept which some have termed, ‘accommodation’. The apostle Paul alludes to a form of accommodation in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. (1 Cor. 9:19-23)

The question that needs to be addressed is: when does adoption and accommodation become ‘carnal means?

Grace and peace,