Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Fashions Of The Age

     Enough of politics and current events. These things are the source of much agony and fear, especially just now. Let’s have a day away from them. Perhaps more than one day; we shall see.

     This therefore I say, brethren; the time is short; it remaineth, that they also who have wives, be as if they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as if they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away. [1 Corinthians 7:29-32]

     Read superficially, the passage above seems to express a belief that was common among the Christians of Saint Paul’s day: i.e., that “the world”–a vague and expansive term, difficult to define then as now–would soon be no more. That message seemed to be consistent with Jesus’s own proclamation that the kingdom of God is “at hand.”

     Yet a more literal reading of the passage suggests that Paul had another meaning in mind. It would not be “the world” but the fashion of the world that would soon pass away. And it was so. Christ Himself had caused it: by preaching the Gospel to the Jews of Judea for three years; by going to Jerusalem to face death by torture; and by rising from the dead and returning to His followers in demonstration of His divine authority. The Christian message changed the world. The simplicity and directness of Jesus’s teachings made it possible for ethical monotheism, the great religious / philosophical achievement of God’s Chosen People, to reach every part of the globe.

     Christianity first transformed Europe. The pagans of the continent rapidly absorbed and accepted the Faith as superior to their previous ways. As Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, it changed every fashion the Old World had known before it. Europe became Christendom: a continent united by faith in Christ’s Gospel. Though Christian political unity eventually dissolved, the Gospel message continued to spread, finding converts in every part of the globe. It continues to spread today.

     Yes, the Faith has known setbacks. The Great Schism of the Sixteenth Century was one such. The efforts of totalitarian regimes to stamp out Christianity knew a great deal of temporary and superficial success. Militant atheists, who claim to oppose all religious belief, concentrate their preaching, as they always have, against Christianity. Yet it continues to grow, for it is a living truth.

     A living truth—a truth tied not to any particular population, locale, or conditions–is unkillable. It will grow regardless of what forces are marshaled against it. And as it grows it sweeps all contrary fashions from its path. For Christianity isn’t a fashion, but a transforming force. It wields no weapon other than the truth. It penetrates men’s hearts through an innate power that no other message or dispensation has ever possessed.

     What is the secret of Christianity’s power? A simple set of interlocking ideas that sit at the heart of Christ’s Gospel:

  1. God loves you, so you should love Him back.
  2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  3. Repent of those times when you’ve departed from #1 and #2 in this list.

     That triad of ideas continues to change the world.

     Christianity’s core precepts constitute a message of hope. Hope dispels fear. Fear not, said the angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem. Let not your heart be troubled, the Redeemer said to His Apostles on the eve of His Crucifixion. Be not afraid, He said to them when He appeared to them after the Resurrection. Christ’s Gospel is from end to end an exhortation to hope.

     The world and its fashions will strive to make you fear. Yet with the Faith for your guide and armor, you can withstand all terrors and all threats.

     The message of hope is particularly important today. Massive institutions do all they can to promote fear: to smother all hope and joy under a blanket of terror. The threats they brandish at us are many: political threats, economic forces, social disruptions, family instability, aging, abandonment, disease, and infirmity. The only tool with which we can combat those forces is hope—and there is no greater source of hope than the Christian message.

     Many years ago, there was a remarkable woman named Aimee Semple McPherson. She was the best known and most effective Christian evangelist of her time. Her methods were the modern ones of radio, movies, and the stage, coupled to the mass revival meeting. However, her message was classically simple: Christ’s Gospel. In a terrible time characterized by warfare, economic depression, advancing moral dissolution, and a decline of faith in Mankind itself, she garnered converts by the tens of thousands.

     Powerful forces, including the clerics of established churches, strove to destroy Aimee McPherson. She withstood them all by sticking tightly to her message. Her faith protected her. It withstood all sectarian squabbles, political controversies, and personal attacks. Christ’s Gospel was what mattered; all else was triviality and dross.

     Here’s what the Boston Evening Traveler said about Aimee’s message:

     Aimee's religion is a religion of joy. There is happiness in it. Her voice is easy to listen to. She does not appeal to the brain and try to hammer religion into the heads of her audience. Rather, she appeals to the hearts of her hearers. She radiates friendliness. She creates an atmosphere that is warming. She is persuasive, rather than forceful; gracious and kindly, rather than compelling.

     At a time when hope was what Americans needed most, Aimee Semple McPherson brought them hope from the one unfailing source: the love of God and the truth of Christ’s Gospel. The fashions of the day could not stand against it.

     Neither can the fashions of our day: the threats, the terrors, and the uncertainties that beset us. They will all pass; Christ’s Gospel will not.

     May God bless and keep you all!

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