Friday, March 14, 2014

Out of church - The Instructor on a compendious view of the Christian life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read my introduction to this chapter as it will help you understand his views in this area.
"Such ought those who are consecrated to Christ appear, and frame themselves in their whole life, as they fashion themselves in the church for the sake of gravity; and to be, not to seem such—so meek, so pious, so loving. But now I know not how people change their fashions and manners with the place... so, laying aside the inspiration of the assembly, after their departure from it, they become like others with whom they associate. Nay, in laying aside the artificial mask of solemnity, they are proved to be what they secretly were. After having paid reverence to the discourse about God, they leave within [the church] what they have heard. And outside they foolishly amuse themselves with impious playing, and amatory quavering, occupied with flute-playing, and dancing, and intoxication, and all kinds of trash." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
It is not what we appear to be but who we truly are that matters to God. I think men are especially good at compartmentalizing their lives. We have our home life, work life, recreation life, and church life and we are often comfortable being different people in each compartment of our life. Yet God would will that we would be the same person in every area of our lives. What matters is not what we pretend or purport to be but who we are in reality. Jesus taught us, "every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit." (Matthew 7:17-18) If we go to church and worship God along with the brethren, then leave and once again become like those in the world, then we deceive ourselves and the truth lies, not in our worship, but in our conformity to the world. The truth of who we are is the truth we live out in our daily life, not that which we pretend during a couple hours of worship. For those who live a cameleon life, Clement continues,
"The apostle very firmly assails them. 'Be not deceived; neither adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers,' and whatever else he adds to these, 'shall inherit the kingdom of God.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
John put it this way, "Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning." (1 John 3:7-8) We may fool ourselves and our neighbor, but there is no fooling God. We must look beyond mere appearances and feigned behavior to the heart where the real issues of life spring from. A transformed life can only be achieved through a transformed heart. Let us not be like those whom Isaiah prophesied of saying, "this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote." (Isaiah 29:13) Rather let us be like those whose heart and actions are in harmony with each other and with the character and nature of God.

David Robison

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