To the Church or from the Church

Very often we meet those “wise and calm” who do not mingle with any of their people, and, as they say, ” they mind their own business”. They want to look better and smarter then the rest of us, to themselves and to us, while they are up to their necks in various troubles, and chaos of ordinary and common things, and secular or religious tasks. They are “disappointed”, they say, “because there are always disagreements and partitions in Church”. When, by chance or some kind of a miracle, they stray away into the Church, and they do not find angels, but people made of flesh and blood, prone to all sorts of human faults, they disappear from the Church forever. They think of the Church as a community of only the pious, the calm, and the righteous. Heaven on Earth

Because of that and because of those many “calm and peaceful”, we see that our religious business is managed by a few who are determined to not despond they themselves, and start “minding their own business”. And thanks to them, those previously mentioned, who mind their own business, when they stray away into the church, even just to stay out of the rain, they still have a place to enter, and things to criticize

Let’s make things clear for everyone: the Church is not a quiet port, a place of calm and peace; the Church is not a senior’s home packed with friendly old people, nor it is a dwelling of Angels. The Church is a community of people made of flesh and blood and composed of many threads of all kinds of virtues and vices.

The Church is the front-line where the most difficult battles are fought. The Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven, is the dwelling of the righteous, while here, on Earth, there are only a few of the righteous

What can we say to these words of our Lord: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Matthew 10:34-35) Christ is therefore, that stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23), or better said, a boundary block that separates people into those who, although sinful, still strive for salvation and those who reject all sound teaching (2 Timothy 4:3) and wilfully exclude themselves from the process of salvation

It is true; the early Church was the most ideal imaginable society on earth. “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but all things were theirs in common and abundant grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32-35

And it would have lasted if the one that finds work for idle hands to do, didn’t fill the heart of an unfortunate, named Ananias, who had kept back part of the money he received after selling the land (Acts 5:1-11), and that way he had ruined the beautiful idea of equality and disrupted the Christian community

To those who think of Church as of an idyllic and calm place, I would recommend reading the Letters of St. Paul, at least just skim through them, so they can see all the vices and faults of early Christians that good Apostle Paul illustrates and all the sins that he attributes to their souls, and how he labels them. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans. And you are puffed up, ought you not rather to mourn, so that the one having done this deed be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2

And this is only one of numerous testimonies about false Christians, sufferings and difficulties of the early Church. The Apostle paints us and our, in my opinion unfortunate, time in even darker colours. He says to Timothy: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power, for among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. (2 Timothy 3:1-8

And again the “wise and minding-their-own-business” people tell me: ” You just argue all the time.” Correct. And when was it that people, therefore, Christians, did not argue? “For it has been reported to me” – St. Apostle Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth- “that there is quarrelling among you, my brothers”. (1 Corinthians 1:10-11) and then he reproaches them for jealousy and strife. (1 Corinthians 3:3) “To have lawsuits at all with one another” – he says – “is already a defeat for you. But you yourselves wrong and defraud – even your brothers.” (1 Corinthians 6:7-8

All these disturbances, disagreements and arguments of the early Christians worry our good Apostle Paul and he suffers for that. But understanding human imperfection, he accepts that necessity, and as a consolation he even finds its sense and its purpose. So he writes to the Christians of Corinth: “Now in this instructing, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better, but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a Church, I hear that there are divisions among you. and I believe it in part, for there must be fractions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (1 Corinthians 11:17-19) As our people like to say: “Calamity is a touchstone of a brave mind”

We hear all sorts of weaknesses and peculiarities being attributed to us, the priests, and even to our bishops. That’s no news. Even God, our Lord, Jesus Christ, was heavily criticized. “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance, we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” (Matthew 11:16-19

And Apostle Paul – in his body or outside his body – he wasn’t even certain about himself – was taken to the third heaven and he heard unspoken words that a man was not allowed to say – his contemporaries did all kinds of evil and tried to find his flaws that even though he was innocent he often had to justify himself and to prove his apostolate. He informs the Christians of Corinth that he will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost for, he said, “a wide door for effective work has opened to him, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9), and dangers in Ephesus are many and are everywhere. (2 Corinthians 11:26) So he sums up all his troubles into one sigh: “conflicts on the outside, fears within.” (2 Corinthians 7:5

So why are there quarrels and conflicts in the early Church as well as in that of today? Because of our adversary, the devil, which finds work for idle hands to do and “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) The Church is his regular target and he assaults those that are in Church most often. Those who surrendered to him, and gave him their soul, he might even reward, but he never forgives his adversaries. So he sends his apprentices who take on the appearance of piety and as such they enter the Church so they can destroy it from within. “And no wonder – explains the Apostle – for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

So the Apostle Paul – to all latter times for remembrance – tells about two men who shipwrecked their faith: Hymenaeus and Alexander, who caused him a lot of trouble, and whom, as he said, he “has handed over to Satan, so they might learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:18-20) “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds,” (2 Timothy 4:14) damns the Apostle. In the beginning, that man who shipwrecked his faith was even very successful and he had advantage over the Apostle, and he called whole Paul’s mission into question. “At my first defence no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.  (2 Timothy 4:14-17) The Apostle came out as a winner

Troubles and strife, even though very unpleasant, are inevitable. But that does not mean that we should not lift a finger and accept the defeat. After all, God loathes the most those who are fearful, those who vacillate, those who are fainthearted, and those who are double-minded. “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3: 15-16)

Apostle Paul invites Christians to engage and to oppose the evil. He often uses the word war. He calls us to fight the good warfare (1Timothy 1:18) and to expel the evil from our environment. “Expel the evil from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:13) he commands. He also adds, just in case, that no matter how numerous those evil are and how hard it seems to oppose them, the Church will always win. There will be stumbles, and falters, and hesitations and falls, but never defeats. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)