Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Father Stephen on Ancient and Modern ways of Approaching God

Father Stephen, a former Episcopalian priest, now Orthodox priest, always has interesting things to say. Today, he has an interesting post about how different the ancient and modern worlds approach teaching new believers in Christ:


We approach things so differently in our modern world (as opposed to the ancient world). All of us have access to a great deal of information, although the information that comes to us when we are in the passive mode is less than useless (here I mean television and popular media). Thus I would paraphrase Our Lord and say, “How hard it is for a couch potato to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Having said that by way of introduction - how was the approach to things different in the ancient world? (I confess to thinking of several things said by Mel Brooks at this point but I will resist that temptation). For one - the Christian faith was not presented as an argument most of the time - and was not even presented in its fullness until after someone had been Baptized.


Thus we have the ancient phenomenon of “Mystagogical Catechesis.” This was the training and teaching that was given to the newly Baptized and Illumined members of the Church. By and large this was done in the season after Pascha (which was also the season when the Gospel of John was read in the Church). We have examples of such catecheses in the preserved Mystagogical Catechesis of St. Cyril of Jerusalem and other writings.


Generally what makes these catecheses “mystagogical” was that the teaching led the newly initiated members of the Body of Christ into an understanding of the “mysteries,” that is, of the sacramental life of the Church. This is more than simply lectures on the sacraments or the correct approach to receiving communion, etc. (although there are references to such), but rather a deeper understanding of God in Christ as known in the life of the Church (which is primarily expressed in the Church’s worship and thus is sacraments or “mysteries” as they are more commonly called in the Eastern Church).


What separates this approach from our modern world is that it presumes that you can only know God by living your life in a certain manner and through worship and the inner life of the Church’s mysteries. Our modern world, particularly the American modern world, presumes that knowledge, like all of our modern culture, is a consumable product. If I want to know something, I deal with the “sales pitch” and then decide to purchase it. Much of modern Christian evangelism is given in this consumerist approach. Many understand this to be taking the culture seriously on its own terms, but fail to consider that a consumerist approach may be a false presentation of the Christian gospel.

Read it all.

I think that Father Stephen is unquestionably correct that the modern church approaches knowledge as a consumer product. The difficult question is this: how can we be successful evangelists in modernity without succumbing to the consumer culture?

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