The post is in light of this particular saying of Jesus, upon which I’ve been meditating upon. Here He has taught His disciples concerning the true life in the Kingdom of God, apart of what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount”.Thus He says:
“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
What our Lord teaches here is that our words, and our speech, reveal the content of the heart, the seat of the Human person with all his thoughts, reasons, understandings, and emotions.
On the outset, I agree with the regular interpretation about the words we say. When we cuss out someone after thinking hearing Christ telling us to love our enemies, it shows there’s a disconnect. Paul Tripp published an article on this “Spiritual Schizophrenia” speaking to the same effect. Or as Luther would understand it, every wicked deed or sin is at root an act of unbelief. And while we live here in a sort of limbo, awaiting the resurrection of the dead, these sorts of things will continue to occur.
Yet it’s not a justification for these actions either. Rather each time our words reveal what we’re really trusting in, or what we really see, it should drop us to our knees in repentance. There is no room for a kind of Gnosticism where what we say and do have no real connection to what we really think. In fact, Jesus draws the lines very strongly the other way. There is no other way to judge but by what one sees or hears.
Of course, that’s also prefaced by a call to cautious judgment and self-criticism over and above pointing out the problems of others. Both the “Judge not…” and “Pull the Plank…” passages can be warped to be calls to individualism. In other words: leave me alone, you have no warrant to say anything to me.
Of course, that’s not it either. We’re to not judge because in such a way we too will be judged, and to pull the plank so we may, in fact, see better. Of course, many church bodies have sold-out to the right-hand of a Nation instead of serving the One at the Right Hand of Majesty, or have become insular, pharisaical, and sectarian. What that produces has been the judgmentalism that has rightly caused disgust among pagans who want nothing to do with such a toxic environ.
Many unfaithful churches have licked the boots of the powerful and oppressed the weak and broken. They have reserved judgment for the kings and poured it out on the least of these. Instead of proverbially flipping tables in the Temple Court, they fawned over the rich and praised the industrial spirit present in those selling and trading. Instead of blessing the least of these, they have offered empty words, of both hate and saccharine love, to those with empty stomachs and empty souls.
That’s the other part of this saying that is crucial. The words that Jesus speaks about are not merely feckless comments, but more to how one uses language in general. How we speak about anything and everything must be accounted for, and it may, sometimes, reveal our own frameworks for how we understand (or don’t) things.
First, let me caution that this doesn’t mean we need to scrutinize every word we use, or try and play psycho-analyst with every word someone else says. That would be an abuse of what I’m calling for.
Instead, how we formulate our words and utilize our language reflect the way we would engage with ideas. There are no “pure ideas”, but are language-based creatures. So when we try and dialogue with one another, these patterns can facilitate growth, or, they may breed disconnect and misunderstanding.
John Howard Yoder commented that this was James’ meaning when he wrote about the uncontrollability of the tongue and a warning to teachers:
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
The tongue was more than the thing in the individual mouth, it was rather an idiom for language. The power of language has the power to build or to destroy, not only through harsh or kind words, but through how we speak about ideas and things. How our language is utilized may wrongly join two things together that are separate, or divide two things that should really be together. The implications are weighty and the accountability before the Throne of David will be high indeed!
An example of this, which I’ve considered over the past couple months, is language that utilizes the word “Christian” as an adjective. This has caused all sorts of mischief.
One error is applying it to material things. Thus there is “Christian music” or “Christian art”, which can be understood in two ways, and they blend. This may be, as it is in much of American evangelicalism, a ghetto way of thinking that links up so-called praise-music inside a little ghetto of Christian merchandise. The other error is marking it culturally, for some reason or another, in an attempt to claim certain cultural constructs as belonging to the Church. Either way, it is an attempt at a power play. It doesn’t matter if it’s an attempt at world-straddling Christendom such as there was in the Medieval period, or a little ghetto chiefdom, both misunderstand the Kingdom.
The use of “Christian” as an adjective continues up the ladder through less tangible things, such as careers, activities, and hobbies, culminating in the ridiculousness of “Christian life”. This one seriously baffles me, because it’s as if the Pilgrim’s life can be divided up into sections, as if prayer and repentance are somehow less woven up with raising kids, going to work, studying, being with friends etc etc. Again this misunderstand the Kingdom.
Yet the language of using “Christian” as an adjective, which seems rather common-place in our day and age, is unveiling a categorical error and a misapprehension of the Kingdom. It is not in a gnostic, separable existence, anymore that body, soul, and spirit can be trichotomized and trissected. Neither is it in taking over the culture, the world, or the social order, or whatever. The Kingdom is in this world, but not of this world.
I’ve made this error as well, asking people how they were doing “spiritually”. As opposed to what? We ought to think in terms of holistic unity, where when someone asks “How are you?” prayer, repentance, growth, finances, emotional flux, and on and on all make sense and woven together.
Jesus did not come to bring about an addition, a mere lacking, at the top of the Human person. Or in Thomistic terms, he did not bring about some grace to touch up nature. Or in other words, he did not take man, as he is, and give him religion. That makes a mockery of the whole Gospel story.
Rather, Jesus, as the Second Adam, came to recreate. Through His death and His resurrection, there is a new humanity. Yet that’s not enough, in Jesus there is true humanity. Humanity as it ought to be. Thus we do not get a mere dusting to our already immortal, but dysfunctional spiritual souls. It’s recreated continuity. Still human, but reordered, from the ground up.
Thus our spirits were wayward and dead, our minds corrupt, our understanding confused, our bodies perishing. Our hearts were stone. But through the Spirit, behold, He makes all these things new. And in the Eschaton, we see them all complete.
Yet without the proper use of language, we will still talk foolishly. Yes, there are limitations of what already exists, and the errors already made. Thus I still expect Pagans to say “I’m not really religious”, though they actually are. I still expect to hear, “I don’t believe in God”, when they do have gods, or “I believe in God”, which is one of the many demons that exist as shadows.
What they are not is united to Christ, which is living humanly. The ways of the World lead to death and alienation, and yet the Lord made us for life and friendship.
This is not deny the particularity of our being Jesus People, as over against Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists etc etc. and we understand all things through the lens of our Messiah. Yet it doesn’t change the thing done, but the heart in the midst of it.
Not everyone will want to engage in parsing through this, but neither is everyone called to be a teacher in the Kingdom. Teacher as apostolically defined, not some careerist vocational understanding. But with good teaching would come better and truer words, and thus would convey the heart better. Our faithfulness could be better understood. Perfectly? I won’t answer such a silly question.
And let it be known that there are many other gifts that are present and necessary in Life in the Spirit. Teaching is one that many would seem to recognize, but it gets flooded in loyalty not to the Tradition of the Apostles, but such defined, clouded and limited man-made constructs. Teaching is not utilized for a wild and life-giving Truth, but for the promotion of a party or sect without recourse beyond.
May we avoid such errors and be blessed with good teachers. Yet the Lord’s will be done nonetheless.