Friday, September 12, 2008

The Bounds of Freedom

There are a lot of people in the Church who under the mistaken impression that freedom is absolute. That simply isn't the case. There are limits to freedom imposed that exist for the sake of God-ordained order. Here is what the pagan Stoic Epictetus says:

For he is free for whom all things happen in accordance with his choice, and whom no one can restrain. What! Then is freedom madness?!

So far, Epictetus certainly sounds like any number of church-goers who advocate absolute and unbounded freedom. They believe that freedom is the power to have things as they will them. That, of course, is madness to even the uninformed.

But Epictetus goes on to qualify what he has said. Freedom is truly doing is in accord with your desires, but if such freedom is going to be creative and not destructive, if it would be anything but chaos and madness, first the desires must be disciplined.

Do I want to write my name with letters of my choosing, or with letters of my own creation? No; but I am taught to want to write it as it ought to be written. And what is the case in music? The same. And what in every other art or science? The same, or otherwise there would be no purpose in knowing anything, if it were to be adapted to each person's whims. True instruction, then, is this: not considering things proper that I desire, but learning to desire the things as they properly are.

So what does this have to do with the Church? Or Liturgy?

Well, you give your children more freedoms when they demonstrate that they have already learned and disciplined themselves to desire what is good; in this way, you trust your children to use their freedom of doing as they will because you know that they will what is right.

In the same way, you withhold freedoms from your children when they demonstrate self-will and that they have NOT learned and disciplined their desires to constrain them only to what is proper.

Many congregations seem to think that their freedom is absolute and that they may deviate from the historic liturgy of the Church and do whatever they want. Even the pagan understands that such freedom is only granted those who can be trusted to want what is proper and promotes good order.

Our first duty is to learn and be disciplined to desire the proper practice, and then we can all use our freedoms to DO what we desire.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Church in Drag

When a young student of rhetoric came to him who has his hair arranged in a rather elaborate fashion and was in general richly dressed, Epictetus said...

What is it, then, that makes a dog beautiful? Is it not that excellence appropriate to dogs?

What is it, then, that makes a horse beautiful? Is it not that excellence appropriate to horses?

So what makes a human being beautiful? Must it not be the presence of that excellence appropriate to human beings, namely: justice, temperance, self-control - in a word, virtue.

So then, if you make yourself such a person, you can be sure that you will make yourself beautiful; but while you neglect these things, whatever contrivances you employ to appear beautiful, you will necessarily be ugly.

-The Discourses of Epictetus, Book 3 Chapter 1

A fantastic argument! Shall we apply it to the Church? What makes the Church beautiful? Is it not that excellence appropriate to the Church? Of course it is. And what is the nature of this excellence?

The pure preaching of God's Word - Law and Gospel.
The proper administration of the Sacraments.
Orthodoxy. Catholicity. Virtue.

You get the drift.

So then, the Church should busy itself with these things in order to be beautiful as Church.

What would Epictetus the Stoic say about Church Growth, Contemporary Worship, and all the other gaudy baubles that are contrived to make the Church beautiful and appealing apart from the Word and the Sacraments?

"While you neglect these things, whatever contrivances you employ to appear beautiful, you will necessarily be ugly."

Thanks, Epictetus. Thanks.