April 1, 2020

Liturgical Gangstas 11: Be Perfect? What?

UPDATE: Alan Creech has added his answer.

Welcome to IM’s popular feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different liturgical traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Peter Vance Matthews is an Anglican priest and founding pastor of an AMIA congregation.
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction. (Alan’s not a priest. If he is, his wife and kids need to know.)
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.

Here’s this week’s question: How do you interpret Matthew 5:48 within a larger picture of the Gospel and the Christian life? (48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.)

Father Ernesto/Orthodox: Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”‘ then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Abba Abraham told of a man of Scetis who was a scribe and did not eat bread. A brother came to beg him to copy a book. The old man whose spirit was engaged in contemplation, wrote, omitting some phrases and with no punctuation. The brother, taking the book and wishing to punctuate it, noticed that words were missing. So he said to the old man, “Abba, there are some phrases missing.” The old man said to him, “Go, and practise first that which is written, then come back and I will write the rest.”

Amma Theodora also said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. There was an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked them, “What makes you go away?” “Is it fasting?” They replied, “We do not eat or drink.” “Is it vigils?” They replied, “We do not sleep.” “Is it separation from the world?” “We live in the deserts.” “What power sends you away then?” They said, “Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.” “Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?”

Abba Joseph said, “If you will, you can become all flame.” The command to be perfect is one that Our Lord expected we would obey and follow. That is why St. Paul said, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” And again, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, . . . I myself should become disqualified.”

Notice that St. Peter echoes Jesus’ call to perfection and gives an outline of how to get there. “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

But, the best understanding of the call to Christian perfection is found in the various collections of the sayings of the Desert Fathers. Like Jesus, and many Middle Eastern teachers, they tended to speak in stories and sayings and demonstrations rather than in logical theological language. Go to the Greeks for theological writings, but go to the Desert Fathers for wisdom. And, to grow towards perfection, one must go to the Desert Fathers. In the Desert Fathers, one finds a group of people, men and women, who had an uncanny appreciation of just how sinful we are and how deep that sin goes. They were unremitting and scathing in their analysis of the depths of our sin, even when we think that we are behaving correctly. Not one of them is ever recorded as saying that they have become perfect. As you can see from the quote from Amma Theodora, they were also unswervingly clear that none of their ascetical practices would get them one step closer to God, in and of themselves. To be accepted by God is a total free gift that is merely received in humility. And, as Amma Theodora says, it is that humility and obedience that the demons most fear, because, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus . . . He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

At the same time, like St. Peter and St. Paul, the Desert Fathers were overwhelmingly clear that the person who is not striving to grow in Christ, and is not practicing self-denial, as a voluntary choice in obedience to the commandments of God, is in as much danger of losing what they have as the man who was given only one talent in the Parable of the Talents. Self-control, self-disciplining of your body and mind, is one of the steps in the process that both St. Peter and St. Paul outline if we wish to grow towards perfection. When we do this, we imitate Christ, of whom the Book of Hebrews says, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. . . .” In part this is why Abba Abraham only copied parts of the book that the scribe requested. You see, there are many truths of the Christian life which will not be understandable nor will they open for us unless we are willing to add virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, etc., to our faith. Do you wish to know our Lord better and to understand His Word better? Learn to discipline your body and bring it under subjection. As St. James says, even the demons have intellectual knowledge. But, wisdom and true knowledge only come to those who discipline themselves.

Finally, an overwhelming theme throughout both Scripture and the Desert Fathers, and one that I have not had time to cover, is the help of the Holy Spirit. And, not only the help of the Holy Spirit, but also the help of the angels of God, and of your fellow saints. It is clear that the Helper is the only possible way in which we can grow correctly into the image of Christ. Without the Holy Spirit, there is no hope of growth. To quote Luther, “. . . the Spirit and the gifts are ours, thru him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.”

And, so I counsel you. Many of you have plenty of intellectual knowledge already. It is time to seek wisdom and, yes, perfection. As Abba Joseph said, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: This question was an opportunity to pull out my old seminary files to find the assignment I wrote for a class in Matthew’s Gospel in 1999. The question was “What is the meaning of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:48?” My initial thought was not to spend a whole lot of time on the exegesis part – except to set up my understanding of what Jesus is saying – but instead spend a little more space on how that plays out in the Gospel and in Christian life. That didn’t really happen, though. I’m one of those annoying people who often tells too much of the back story of what could be a very brief narrative so I apologize in advance.

I am an heir of John Wesley and this passage is one of the central texts in our theological heritage of Christian Perfection which I’ve written about in a previous Liturgical Gangsta’s post. The best way I can describe this doctrine is with a post I wrote last year called Humanity as Sanctification (hey, it’s either this or several more paragraphs of explanation). I’m not the best writer in the world but if I could sum up what I was trying to say in that post is that sanctification (and ultimately Christian Perfection) is bound up in the saving work of Jesus Christ which not only secures an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance kept in heaven for us (1 Pet 1:3ff) but it also undoes the effects of the fall by transforming us by the Holy Spirit into people who are images of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. This is the Gospel I preach: that Jesus Christ died on the cross to atone for our sins so that by his blood we are free from the guilt and punishment of sin (justification) and the power of sin (sanctification) and that through the resurrection Jesus is making all things new and will make us new (glorification). All of this is by grace through faith in the one who loved us and gave himself up for us.

With that lengthy introduction in mind, Matthew 5:48 is before us. I spent a few hours on that assignment about ten years ago and the fruit of that study was that perfection and it’s other meanings (completeness and maturity) are what God is. God is perfect. God is complete. God is mature. Why does this sentence of Jesus arise where it does? It seems a little out of place in the context of this passage. It comes out of nowhere. Earlier in Chapter 5, Jesus tells his audience that unless their righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and scribes, none of them will enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus then begins to reinterpret the laws and rules of the Jews in a such a way that the Pharisees themselves cannot even fulfill them, thereby rendering the scribes and Pharisees unrighteous. “You have heard that it was said,” begins the smaller passages and Jesus tells them, “But I say to you,” as a follow up. A person is faithful to God’s covenant if they don’t murder someone, but Jesus says that you are unfaithful to that covenant if you are angry with someone! Who can live under such an interpretation? What? I can’t even ogle an attractive woman without being guilty of adultery? Lord have mercy!

Finally, Jesus tells the audience that they must love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” He then says, “Therefore, you must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is the Gospel! The heavenly Father loved his enemies and sent the Son for those who persecuted him with their sinful acts. Paul writes in Romans 5 “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” How can this be anything but good news? Jesus would preach the Sermon on the Mount and then demonstrate it completely in his death and resurrection.

I think that’s where this passage falls in the larger picture of the Gospel, but what about Christian life? If we want to follow Jesus we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. God is remaking people who trust Jesus with the Holy Spirit. I have no natural inclination to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. I want to see them get what they deserve but that is not the cross-saturated, self-denying life Jesus is calling me to live. So where in life can I possibly love my enemies? By remembering that Jesus loved me when I was his enemy, by earnestly praying that God will give me love and compassion for my enemies, that God will help me mean the prayer, “Not my will but yours be done,” and that God would bring that person to full salvation and bless the socks off of him.

This is one of those real world Gospel passages that my flesh resists at every turn but the man that Jesus saved is aware deep inside that this is how I want to live in the face of adversity and persecution. May the completeness and perfection of God’s salvation bring me to a maturity of Christian life in which Jesus is magnified above all else. I am thankful to Jesus every day that there seems to be a little less of me and a whole lot more of him present in my heart through the completing and perfecting work of the Holy Spirit.

Peter Vance Matthews/Anglican: Peter is a holy man.

Peter is working on being the perfect Anglican.

Which probably means things we don’t want to talk about.

I’ll bail him out, but I may need contributions from the audience.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic:
Opening one’s self to God in order to be fully transformed – really and truly – into the Image of Christ – in some sense, “seeking perfection,” is NOT the same as “perfectionISM.” Not even close. The term perfectionism is probably not even one that should be used in a Christian context. It could be, I suppose, but that’s not what we’re really talking about when we say something about people who want to seek perfection through their own efforts. That’s not perfectionism. Perfectionism is a neurotic disorder toward having to have everything around one and about one BE “perfect” or you can’t handle it mentally or emotionally. It has nothing to do with trying to be a good person for the sake of God rewarding us for being “perfect.” The the Scripture in question, I’m thinkin’, has nothing to do with either.

And to say that someone who is trying to explain that the whole business of God in Jesus is about us actually becoming different kinds of beings – becoming like Jesus – is not talking about “the good news” – i.e., The Gospel, is a bit high on the horse. I might be tempted to say that a version of the Gospel that says what God wants to do for us in Jesus is merely to apply a fond feeling toward us through thinking of His Son and not of us, leaving us unchanged, yet forgiven and filthy, certainly might seem “good” to some, but – and then I would stop myself and realize that yes, that sort of is PART of the good news, the Gospel of Christ, but not the whole. Our Salvation is more than being forgiven little dirty, broken children of disobedient Adam. Of course that’s how it starts. We’re all broken. We’re all dirty. We’re all unworthy, etc., etc., etc. But God – But God wants more for us than that.

God wants us to be like Him. He wants to be like our Brother, Jesus – the FIRSTborn of many siblings, not the ONLY born. He wants to be transformed from glory to glory into the Image of Whom we gaze upon – the Lord of Glory (2 Cor. 3:18). And Who does the transforming? Us? Nonsense and foolishness. And if any Catholic says that, they are foolish. We cannot transform ourselves into the image of anything better than what we are when He found us wallowing in the muck. Even any action tending toward the good, toward God, that “we” do, is only a response to Grace empowering us to act. Even as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, it is always Him who acts in us to do anything good (Phil. 2:12-13) – drawing us toward Him, closer inward – and the deeper we go, the more we are made new.

Here’s a great quote that helps to flesh out what I’m trying to say…

“Jesus not only teaches us the Christian life, He creates it in our souls by the action of the Holy Spirit. Our life in Him is not a matter of mere ethical goodwill. It is not a mere moral perfection. It is an entirely new spiritual reality, an inner transformation.”

“The Divine Spirit purifies the image of God in my soul by faith. He cures my spiritual blindness, opens my eyes to the things of God. He takes possession of my will so that I no longer remain the captive of my own passions and compulsions, but am able to act in the fruitful tranquility of spiritual freedom. In gradually teaching me charity He perfects the likeness of God in my soul by conforming me to Christ. For my union with Christ is much more than an imitation of His virtues as they are described in the Gospel: it must be a union created in me by the transforming action of His own Spirit.”
–Thomas Merton

See, this is what I’m talking about. When Matthew records this phrase, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” I believe he’s talking about our being like God, not just acting in a morally perfect way. Not just practicing virtues, but having the “stuff” that makes up our personhood transformed into different kinds of “stuff” – the God kind of stuff that it originally was. Now, people who are made of “God-stuff” will naturally act like God. So, no need for excessive moralism or any kind of over scrupulous perfectionism. Being like God is something He has to accomplish in us. Of course we have response-ability, the ability to respond to the Grace He gives us, but even that is a gift. We can choose to put ourselves in the way of God’s Life, in the stream of His transforming Presence, and as much as we do this, is as much as we will be transformed into His Image.

The Matthew 5 Scripture is much like another familiar Scripture – Ephesians 5:1 – “So be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Imitate God? What the? How are we supposed to do that? I have always thought that the second little piece of that verse was key – “as beloved children.” We are His children. We are not simply being called on as strangers to look upon some impersonal God figure Who is all good and imitate that goodness. We are being called on to imitate our Father, as His children. He has given us His Life. We are once again of His kind, a part of His family. He has enabled us, by His very Presence within us, to “imitate” Him – to be like Him, to be “perfect as He is perfect.” None of this, again, has anything to do with God requiring some kind of mistakeless perfections out of us before He will accept us as His children, or love us, or anything like that. It is Him, loving us, re-making us into the children He created us to be in the first place.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: Man I wish I was a Dispensationalist, then I wouldn’t have to answer this question. (ok, just funnin’!)

Probably no other sentence in Scripture (with the possible exception of “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”) has been subjected to the intense and ruthless acts of butchery that this verse has been subjected to. It has been used to bolster a stifling perfectionist legalism on the one hand and, on the other hand, has “died the death of a thousand qualifications” at the hands of preachers and laypeople who wittle it down to mean almost nothing. To be sure, it is a hard word and a difficult word.

I believe it means what it says. “We must be perfect” as God is perfect. We must. As if the preceding words of Jesus’ sermon (in which he shows that all of us are culpable of the most heinous sins not because we’ve necessarily done them with our hands but because we’ve done them with our hearts) weren’t devestating enough, He moves onto this amazing statement: “You must be perfect.”

I think the verse is God-exalting. It is only secondarily about man. It is about God, first. Barth’s warnings that one day anthropology would eclipse theology in the churches has proven true, and so it’s easy to reduce this verse to being mainly about moral betterment. But it’s not. It’s about the nature of God: that God is absolutely holy and, as such, true communion with Him likewise entails perfection.

And then it is a statement about man. I do agree with those who say it creates despair, though I loath the reductionist approaches to the Sermon on the Mount that make it say that God was only trying to create a crisis moment here and not that the teachings have a specific content and application to life. Nonetheless, they do create despair.

It’s interesting to me how many people, myself included, love that wonderful little soundbite from Augustine’s Confessions about our hearts being restless until they find their rest in Thee. That’s beautiful, but that’s terrifying. How am I to rest in the presence of a Holy and perfect God?

So this much seems to me to be true from Scripture: (1) God is holy. (2) Man must be holy to stand before Him. (3) But no man, including God’s people, are perfect before God in the living of their lives. (see 1 John for instance)

I stand by those three assertions, so they lead me to a fourth: (4) Outside of an alien righteousness being imputed to me, I am condemned.

So the question is, does God impute an alien righteousness to me? Does the word of God teach this?

This morning I preached on Lot. Frankly, his behavior through most of Genesis 19 is absurd and pitiful. And yet Peter in 2 Peter calls him “righteous.” The same, of course, with Abraham who’s faith was counted to him as righteousness.

So I ask, “What’s going on here? How are the unholy called holy and the unrighteous called righteous?” And then I see 2 Corinthians 5:21 where Christ becomes sin for me so that I might become the righteousness of God.

This is breathtaking to me. If anybody says I’m playing games with words or creating a legal fiction here, I’ll say balderdash! (Try it.)

The heart of the gospel is that the perfect Son of God dies in my stead, for my sins, so that, through faith, by grace, I can be clothed in His righteousness and perfection. And this clothing is a living clothing that every day through the ministry of the Holy Spirit fits me a bit better as I grow in grace towards the reality that has already been proclaimed over me.

So what does Matthew 5:48 mean? It means just what it says. It means that I must be perfect just as God is perfect. And am I? I am proclaimed so by and through the blood of the perfect Lamb who intercedes for me. I am growing towards this positional declaration in the reality of my life, though I am far from home. But I know that if I sin I have a perfect advocate with the Father and that when I come home, the reality will match the proclamation, and I’ll give glory to the Perfect one who saved me.

So the statement creates a crisis, but it’s a crisis that drives me to glorious hope and awe at the amazing grace of a loving God.

William Cwirla/Lutheran: First a few notes about Mt 5:28 itself. The verb is a future indicative, not an imperative, though the future indicative can have imperative force. It can be heard descriptively (“You will be perfect…”) or prescriptively (“You shall be perfect….”). The same is true of the Ten Commandments, by the way, in both Hebrew and Greek (LXX)! The adjective translated “perfect” “teleios” means whole, complete, undivided, unblemished (TDNT) (eg, see the LXX 1 Kings 8:61;11:4 of the undivided heart). Jesus says to the rich young ruler, “If you would be teleios….” (Mt 19:21). Finally, this passage has its parallel in the Torah at Lev 19:2 “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.”

Mt 5:48 is part of a greater literary unit called the “Sermon on the Mount” (ch 5-7) in which Jesus appears as the giver of the new Torah, hearkening back to Moses on his mountain. Yet Jesus is a completely different covenant mediator than was Moses. Where Moses began with commandments, Jesus begins with beatitudes, blessings (5:1-12). Moses went up to God, but Jesus, as the Son of God incarnate, comes down to the people. No one could come up to Moses’ mountain, lest he die, but with Jesus, even the crowds are invited to listen in.

Mt. 5:48 is the last verse of a section that begins at 5:17. Jesus has not come to abolish the Torah and the Prophets (ie the Tanach, the written Scriptures), but to fulfill them. In this section (5:17-48), Jesus challenges the rabbinic tradition (Talmud) of the scribes and Pharisees who had codified the Torah into 613 positive and negative commandments in an attempt to establish a righteousness by works. The apostle Paul would later expand on this in his letter to the Romans wherein he argues that the Torah is properly interpreted as a Torah of faith in the promise and not a Torah of works, that a man is justified before God by faith apart from the works of the Torah. The foundation of Paul’s teaching of forensic justification lies here in the Sermon on the Mount.

The rabbinic tradition, in its attempt to establish a righteousness of works, failed to deliver the goods. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). The Pharisees played with the Law of God as though it were a toy poodle; Jesus unleashes a Doberman with fangs. He expounds the Law on his own authority over and against the tradition (“You have heard it said…but I say to you”), much to the delight of the crowds who were accustomed to their teachers credentialing themselves by their rabbinic succession to Moses. Jesus speaks out of His own authority.

Jesus delivers the proper understanding of the Law contained in the Torah. Not only does the Law judge the action, as the rabbinic tradition held, it also judges the attitude and orientation of the heart. Therefore, hatred of one’s brother in the heart is the same as murder (5:21-22); a lustful look the same as adultery (5:28). No one is left unscathed; no one can be justified by the Law. Anyone who would justify himself by his works under the Law, will be found wanting, as was the rich young ruler (Mt. 19:21). You might say that Jesus uses the Law to beat the religion out of the religious, or more gently, as a pedagogue to lead His hearers to Himself (Gal 3:23-25). If you think you can ascend the ladder of holiness to God by your commandment-keeping, think again. If anyone nearly did it, it was the scribes and the Pharisees, and they fell far short.

The righteousness God seeks is whole, complete, unblemished, teleios. This is not possible in ourselves, born as we are in sin. It is only possible in Jesus Christ, who came to fulfill the Torah by His active obedience, keeping every iota and dot (5:18) and His passive obedience, becoming sin for us and suffering the consequences of our sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). In the sweet swap of our sin for Jesus’ righteousness, received through faith (that is, trust in the promise of Jesus’ blood), we have a righteousness that does indeed exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, a righteousness that comes through faith and not through the works of the Torah.

So back to our verse. “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” As commandment, this is fulfilled in Christ who loved God and loved His neighbor wholly and completely as the unblemished Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is teleios for us all. As gift and promise, Christ’s perfection is granted us as we are found in Him through baptismal faith. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Gal 3:27). We are indeed perfect (in Christ), even as our Father in heaven is perfect.


  1. Brother Wyman,

    Thank you for your post. That answered a lot of questions for me. The others were good too, but yours spoke right to me.


  2. Father Ernesto said, “Go to the Greeks for theological writings, but go to the Desert Fathers for wisdom.” I agree.

    And to, “Without the Holy Spirit, there is no hope of growth,” I say “Amen.”

    Matthew said he prays, “…that God will give me love and compassion for my enemies….” That’s my prayer too. I pray, “Jesus, help me to love.”

    Wyman writes, “And this clothing is a living clothing that every day through the ministry of the Holy Spirit fits me a bit better as I grow in grace towards the reality that has already been proclaimed over me.” Wonderful, Wyman!

    William writes, “The Pharisees played with the Law of God as though it were a toy poodle; Jesus unleashes a Doberman with fangs.” Now that’s an original analogy! He also writes, “We are indeed perfect (in Christ), even as our Father in heaven is perfect.” That’s a relief!

    Thanks to all of you for your responses. I look forward to Alan and Peter.

  3. I will admit to not reading every response entirely, though I read some of each one, and most of a few of them. No one said what I’ve come to understand this verse to mean. The word “perfect” is not being used to suggest without fault, but its meaning is more like “complete.” In the ESV, both words appear in James 1:4. The Bible is clear that not one of us is wihtout sin, but completing the work that has been started within us is the goal of every Christian.

  4. You go, Bill Cwirla! Excellent!

  5. Dan Smith says

    While “telios” is absent, 2Pet 1:3-10 is, for me, the clearest description of maturity/completeness to be found in the NT.

  6. In a former church the legalistic pastor once said from the pulpit that we should make it our goal to “out-pharasee the pharasees”. Unfortuantly he did just that and only a few years latter he was exposed as an adulterer and chronic liar…

    I like all the responses above. Jesus is perfect. In Him and His grace, His perfection is freely given to to me. I want to be like him; perfect… In the life to come, by His grace and mercy I will be… PRAISE THE LORD!!!!!

  7. And so my morning meditations are given to me unexpectedly, and with such delight. Thanks to all of you.

  8. Go to the Greeks for theological writings, but go to the Desert Fathers for wisdom.

    Even though I have a love-fear relationship with the Desert Fathers I can’t help but agree with you and it is their way of following just this sort of instruction (“Be perfect”) that makes their way of wisdom most shine.

  9. Austin et al.,

    I’m glad you’ve found these responses useful. I am enjoying the discussion in the comments.


  10. “Why does this sentence of Jesus arise where it does? It seems a little out of place in the context of this passage. It comes out of nowhere.”

    Only William Cwirla attempts to place this verse in its context. It seems to come out of nowhere to those who are listening to a different message. Just read it as it is written. Jesus lists his Hall of Fame of “perfect ones” at the very beginning — the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek,

  11. It is not just this verse that is problematic, but rather the whole Gospel of Matthew. It seems that the emphasis on the cross in our lives, fidelity, the permanence of marriage, the possibility of celibacy, real forgiveness of others (in order to be forgiven), and actions more than words implies that some real transformation is either expected or promised in this lifetime.

    Sad to say I usually don’t see it in myself or the Christian community. I do see it more in secular humanists and sober alcoholics after AA.

  12. It would be interesting to hear the views of others interacting with the view of Rev Cwirla.

    Also a question – why is it that inspite of this sort of teaching Lutheranism tends towards pietism?

  13. …i have it on good authority that when Jesus said this and observed the crowds reaction, He excused himself..went behind a big rock..and LAUGHED OUT LOUD…

  14. Those Lutherans, with their silly grammar and analysis of the original languages!

    I think the Desert Fathers missed the Gospel. Don’t go the Desert Fathers for wisdom–go to those who lived in the grit and messiness of daily pastoral life. The latter have far more in common with the lives of Jesus and the apostles than any desert mystic.

  15. I think that’s why Christians are seen as trite by many in other religions, Joe M.

    When you become a Buddhist, for example, people expect to see real and significant change in your behaviors and actions.

    If we monitored the daily actions of a hundred Americans, I doubt we could tell the churched from the un-churched, if you will. The baptized from the un-baptized. Those who take communion vs. those who don’t.

    Once-saved, always-saved seems to have had the unfortunate effect of reducing or even eliminating the struggle to be more perfect.

  16. Hate to double-post, but back on the Buddhist example, the concept of karma is a direct call to move toward perfection.

    You’re not forgiven for that sin; you’re going to pay for it down the road and your best bet is to try and do better starting today. Because you might die tomorrow.

  17. Chris E.
    Pietism is a blight on Lutheran heritage that is hard to get rid of because despite our teaching we are still human, and pietism appeals to our Old Adam. Lutheran’s often fall into the pietist ditch, in other words, because despite the fact that we are perfect in Christ, we are still sinners.

  18. “Also a question – why is it that inspite of this sort of teaching Lutheranism tends towards pietism?”

    Short answer: We don’t believe it. Being justified by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake alone is very difficult to get used to. It’s not a natural concept for the old Adam who seeks to justify himself. Gerhardt Forde called “sanctification” our getting used to be justified and living accordingly. You could do worse for a working definition.

    “Jesus lists his Hall of Fame of “perfect ones” at the very beginning — the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek,…”

    Of which Christ alone is these things in Himself.

  19. Joe M:

    I agree completely. What’s the benefit of Christians concurring that the verse does call believers to holiness, when, in reality, there is no difference between the unbeliever and believer??

    It seems to me that the supposed Biblical presentation of our faith is so far removed from
    reality. I just don’t understand why more Christians don’t have a problem with this.

  20. @ Joe M
    Precisely. Although you often see that transformation in new converts, you don’t see it in a lot of cradle Christians. I often feel ashamed because I am such a poor ambassador for Christ. Am I therefore doomed, because I haven’t been regenerated? Once in Sunday School I asked what happens if you pray and pray but keep committing the same sin. One person piped up and said that true Christians are regenerated and that doesn’t happen to them. Ouch. I was already depressed, and that didn’t help.

  21. Good responses, but Fr Ernesto, I loved yours so much I printed it to ponder. I can’t wait till we are breating with both lungs. Blessings, AnneG in NC

  22. Wyman:
    Is it necessary to pose such a dichotomy between God and man? Consider the following maxim: A perfect painter paints perfectly.

    If God is the perfect creator, then we were created perfectly and, in the end, we will be perfect creations. Is the perfection of the painting in conflict with the perfection of the painter? Certainly not, and contrarily, the perfection of the painting is predicated on the perfection of the painter. Furthermore, one may say equivalently “You are a perfect painter” and “Your paintings are perfect”. You must agree that these compliments are one and the same?

    Look at a painting in its intermediary stages. It will not be half-perfect or perfect here and there, but rather, it will be drab and ugly. The colors will be flat and unfinished, forms will start and end with no meaning. If we were to say to the painting “be perfect”, the paint would surely say “How can this be? I am only paint, I cannot move at all or add to myself. I do not have eyes to see what I am nor do I know what I should be!” And then surely we should say to the painting: “Do not worry, paint. You will be perfect but for no other reason than that your painter is perfect, a true master, and he will not leave you as you are!”

  23. Curtis,

    Forgive my delay. I’ve been visiting sick folk all day! Man, I can be slow at times, so please don’t take this as dismissive or trite. I do want to get your point and respond in a reasonable and respectful manner.

    I’m not sure I quite understand what you’re saying, though I think I “kind of” understand.

    In my post, I posit that God is perfect, that we are fallen into sin (“dead” to use a biblical word) and are imperfect, and that the perfecting of fallen man is all of God from start to finish. So I’m not sure that I agree with what I think you mean by a “dichotomy between man and God” though, in another sense, I would argue that there is, of course, a profound dichotomy (i.e., man isn’t God).

    But not “dichotomy” in the sense that the positional declaration of perfection in Christ and, eventually, the actual perfection of our natures, is somehow cut off from or distinct from the perfection of God. On the contrary, to keep with your analogy, I’m assuming that any perfection of anything in the entire created order can ultimately be attributed only to God and His perfection…though this recognition does not conflate the distinct natures of man and the God who makes him.

    Or am I misunderstanding?


  24. Pietism is an overreaction to antinomianism and defining faith as graduating from confirmation class. Pr Cwirla and others will be quick to point out that the Confessions condemn such things, and they do, but nevertheless, the problems that the relevant articles in the Confessions address do crop up continually in the actual playing out of Lutheran history.

    In general, Lutherans have a tendency to react to an extreme position by rushing to the opposite extreme, as Pietism was an extreme reaction to another extreme. So one Lutheran reacts to the church growth movement by becoming a liturgical legalist, while another reacts to the legalist by ditching liturgical traditions entirely, both of which contradict what our Confessions have to say about traditions. Meanwhile, one Lutheran reacts to lackluster evangelism and missions by embracing syncretism or unionism, while another reacts to the syncretist by declaring that the Church needs no more mission than to celebrate the liturgy correctly…again, neither of which are in harmony with the Confessions.

    It’s just how we roll.

  25. “In general, Lutherans have a tendency to react to an extreme position by rushing to the opposite extreme…”

    I agree, though this is certainly not a characteristically “Lutheran” trait. The pendulum never stops in the middle. Just look at the trends in Evangelicalism and the fads the blow through your average Catholic parish. It is also the tendency in all of us individually. As long as we are “simultaneously sinner and saint” there will be a tendency to go from one ditch to the other. As CFW Walther (one of our LCMS Lutheran fathers) once noted: The proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel (and it proper application, I would add editorially) is taught by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

    Historically, Lutheran pietism (there are other forms), was a reaction not against antinomianism (the opposite of which is legalism) but against an arid orthodoxism which made doctrinal purity the mark of the church and the measure of the Christian. It was the old “head vs heart” dichotomy; knowledge about Christ versus faith’s existential experience of Christ in the life of the believer. Objective vs Subjective.

    It shouldn’t happen among Lutherans who are both/and theologians, but unfortunately it does. Embracing the paradox of Law and Gospel can be tricky business, as the interpretation and application of Matt 5:48 would indicate.

  26. wmcwirla –“Of which Christ alone is these things in Himself.”

    So the Beatitudes in the light of Matt 5:48 is Jesus saying, “If the Perfect One — the Father — were here as a mere human, this would be His experience.”

    Of course, Jesus was the Perfect exposition of the Father — so it was His.

    And, therefore, Godly perfection in us is so reflected.

    Is that right …?

  27. Fearsome Comrade, it sounds as though you may have bought into the old canard that the Desert Fathers didn’t pay attention to Christ, that they were just trying to get into heaven by their own efforts, etc. In my opinion this does them a profound injustice. See “The Word in the Desert” by Douglas Burton-Christie.

  28. Bob Sacamento says

    First of all, this is a great post. This verse, and the way it’s been interpreted by some of the Christian leaders I’ve had in my life, has been an undening source of anxiety for me. Thanks, Michael, for the topic and thanks, Gangstas, for your answers. Hope I can ask a couple of more questions. And, Michael, I hope you’re not moderating, because this is going to be a long one.

    Fr. Ernesto, if you’re reading, you said, “Learn to discipline your body and bring it under subjection. As St. James says, even the demons have intellectual knowledge. But, wisdom and true knowledge only come to those who discipline themselves.” OK, here’s a bit of my story: I became “earnest” in my faith at age 13. In college, under the direction of some fundie “spiritual authorities”, I really went into overdrive. I felt pretty bad about my behavior and attitudes alot, but, looking back on it, I would put my “purity” at that time up against that of anyone, even the “authorities” who were pushing me along the way. I was basically a nice guy, but an emotional wreck. To make a long story short, one day, sitting at my desk, my hands shaking like a 9.0 Richter scale earthquake was rattling my body, it hit me, “I am about two weeks away from a nervous breakdown.” I saw three ways it could all pan out. 1) I could give up my quest for perfection. 2) I could keep on with it, and Jesus would ride in at the last minute and turn my sorrow into joy. 3) Or I could keep going and lose my sanity. It actually occurred to me that my sanity might be, as elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount, an eye I would have to pluck out or a hand I would have to cut off. I couldn’t have put it in stark terms like this back then, but basically, I decided that I did not trust Jesus to come riding in and save me, and I was not willing to give up my sanity. So I disobeyed Jesus and his injunction to be perfect, and I gave up. When my friends (My gosh! I actually got a few!) went to R-rated movies, I went. When they drank beer I, well, tasted it. (I have problems, but I’ll never be an alcoholic. Can’t stand the taste, as it turns out.) I stopped trying to think about God and Jesus every second of the day. In short, I’m still pretty straight-laced compared to alot of people, even compared to alot of my fellow evangelicals, but I’m just not killing myself anymore. But I’m disobeying the best understanding I have of what it means to follow Jesus. And to this day, twenty years later, I’m just not sure what he thinks about that. So anyway, your part of the post didn’t so much rub me the wrong way, but sort of “interesected” with my story in an “interesting” way. I would just appreciate your thoughts. But, oh yeah, please don’t tell me I should have been seeking my perfection “in the power of the Spirit.” I knew I was failing at that too. Thas was just another part of the torment.

    And Michael, thanks again for this topic. I think I whine alot on this site. I hope it doesn’t get old. But I’m looking for answers, and no one, and I mean no one, here in my “real life” wants to hear me say stuff like this.

    One more question: The idea came up a couple of times that Jesus was here pointing us to his own imputed righteousness. Well, why the heck didn’t he just say that??? 🙂 Thanks.

    Whew! I’m done.

  29. Surfnetter –

    I would change that last sentence to say:
    And therefore God’s work perfected in us is so reflected.

    As I like to put it:
    We in Christ is our justification; Christ in us is our sanctification.

  30. I am usually always impressed by Father Ernesto but I got to say that Deacon Alan did a wonderful job on this one.

    The point of inner or rather full transformation and not just a mental or rather (semi-eastern pagan) view of denying the self but become what God has set aside by the rite of Baptism that is a new creation in Christ.

    This I think highlights the importance of daily conversion to Christ. In which we affirmatively respond to God’s Grace in accordance to our vocation.

  31. Alan, I like your, “We can choose to put ourselves in the way of God’s Life, in the stream of His transforming Presence, and as much as we do this, is as much as we will be transformed into His Image.” And in your, “We’re all broken. We’re all dirty. We’re all unworthy, etc., etc., etc. But God – But God wants more for us than that,” I kind of got from what you wrote here that you don’t think God wants us to focus so much on our unworthiness as he does his love and glory. I think some folks may think Catholics focus on suffering (and maybe there was more of that centuries ago) but from my having spent time first in the Catholic Church and then some Protestant churches and then back to Catholic, I see Catholicism really focusing of the love of God for all people and all creation. That is where I want to focus…on God’s love for us and on God’s wanting us to be united to Him through the Holy Spirit and by us being transformed by Jesus. The more we have the mind and heart of Jesus, the more we are in God and of God.

  32. Everybody’s always tryin’ to promote me on this thing. 🙂 Thanks Giovanni, but I’m not a Deacon. I don’t think I’ll take that as prophecy either.

    But yes, the whole concept that what God wants for us, and what He initiated in Jesus, was our complete recreation, is huge. And in this question, it’s important, I think, to point out that by saying that, we’re not talking about somehow struggling in ourselves to become morally perfect so that God will grant us status as His children. He already HAS made us His children and it is inside that relationship that we are able to allow His Grace to transform us – to finish the job, as it were. Peace.

  33. Bob Sacamento,

    I’m looking forward to Fr. Ernesto’s response to your post. The desert Fathers, I think, truly understood that humility is the key to knowing God and being transformed by His power. The way up is down.

    My story is similar to yours. I was a “sold out” member of an evangelical campus ministry during college. But there was always a “desert” inside. I was hailed as a spiritual giant and leader, but I knew it was a lie where it really counted – in my heart. After college, I just gave up on living the Christian life. After seven or eight years, I found Reformed theology, which I believed had all the answers for me. But after 15 years of drinking deeply at this well, it never came close to quenching my thirst for God and my desire to be like Him. I needed a transformation, not just a doctrinal overhaul.

    Six months ago, my wife and I were chrismated into the Orthodox Christian Church. While this has been the hardest transition in our lives, it has been the most wonderful as well. There is such joy and peace here. By the Holy Spirit, the Sacraments have transforming power. I’m beginning to have victory in my life over besetting sins that have plagued me for years. The spiritual disciplines prescribed by the Church are extremely helpful without being legalistic. I hope this doesn’t sound proud because I don’t feel proud…just grateful for the Lord’s kind leading and grace. I now have hope of really be changed into Christ’s likeness and sharing in His righteousness in this life (and not just in some imputed, positional sense). I’m far from “perfect” but I am being changed….

    Anyway, I hope you don’t mind me sharing about my journey. God bless you as you seek Him.

  34. Bob Sacramento said “…But I’m looking for answers, and no one, and I mean no one, here in my “real life” wants to hear me say stuff like this.”

    I can so identify with this. From 1st grade ’till mid-way thru my Junior year of HS, I went to a fundie private school that drank at the well of Bob Jones University and Pensecola Christian College. Separating ourselves from the world and saving lost souls was the whole of life. The “Wretched Urgency”, as Michael has described elsewhere on his blog, was drilled into me. So much so that I literally fear for my salvation because I’m not out witnessing to everyone I meet. (I’ve come to realize that, despite all the talk about saving people from hell and the joy of seeing people “make decisions for Christ”, neither were my fundie brothers & sisters.) Combine this with other circumstances from my youth and my own psychological make-up, and I feel as though I’m a complete wreck. (I’ve spent major coin on therapy to get past some things, to say the least).

    I am currently in a pretty dark period of my spiritual journey–often on the brink of renouncing my faith altogheter. Over the years I’ve attempted to talk about these issues with various (non-fundie evangelical) people in my life, but rarely does anyone really understand. Most have been genuinely caring. But usually, for those who’ve even wanted to engage my questions, it seems they eventually become impatient with me, and I come away re-convinced that I really am going to hell because I cannot bring myself to evangelize. People in evangelical circles just don’t know what to do with someone who seems to be experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome when it comes to evangelizing.

    I, too, look forward to Fr. Ernesto’s response. I know he won’t be able to give me the final answer, but I am encouraged to keep my faith when I read these posts by the Liturgical Gangstas. Now, if only there was a person near me that I could look in the eye and have this conversation with… 🙂

  35. “Imputed righteousness” is never be simply “just a positional sense,” but an act of the living and active Word which does what it says. We are not only declared righteous (we in Christ) we are also being made righteous (Christ in us).

    It is helpful sometimes to speak of our own spiritual journey. I too am grateful that I was brought into the sacramental life of Christ and His Church at the age of five weeks and have had the joy and privilege of experiencing the renewing work of the Holy Spirit through the Word, Absolution, and Supper for the past 52 years. I too am far from being “perfect” (that is, in myself) but I have the comfort of knowing that I am perfect in Christ and am being perfected as He works in me, transforming me “from glory to glory” until that day of resurrection when I will be delivered from this body of death and given to see what I must now apprehend by faith. Thanks be to Jesus.

  36. Phil U, I will pray for you. So many of us are hurting…so maybe it helps to know that you are not alone in this journey to know God. No one could understand, not even my wife, what I meant by the spiritual desert that I was in. For years I thought and was told that I just needed to do more good works or claim for myself what is true positionally and my spirit would follow. But that is exactly backwards. We need our souls healed first. We’ve been damaged by years of wrong teaching and wrong thinking. We needs God’s grace to heal us and, I believe, this must happen through the Sacraments. Good works come as the overflow of joy in your life (Psalm 51), not as an obligation but as acts of love for God. You are created in His image and are of infinite worth to Him – He is most interested in you personally, not in what He can get out of you. Forgive me if I sound as though I have figured it out because I have not…I just hope I can encourage you to keep seeking Him.

    Lord, have mercy on us!

  37. So it’s okay to speculate about this but not okay to write your actual experience with it?

  38. Sorry for the one day delay in getting back to here, but our mission is growing and is moving to a bigger building. So, I have been having “fun” with building inspectors, fire marshalls, certificates of occupations, movers, etc.

    Alan – I really liked your response about being wrapped in God’s love.

    To answer a couple of you, I picked the three Desert Father stories on purpose. In every one of the three, one of the people involved is trying to find a “method” to grow holy. In the first, Abba Lot lists what he has done in the same way that the rich young ruler lists for Jesus everything that he has done. And just like Jesus says that he lacks only to sell everything so does Abba Joseph do something that appears to Abba Lot as impossible, a Holy Spirit moment, in order to shake Abba Lot up and take him out of his methodological thinking about growing in holiness.

    In the second story the brother who came to the scribe apparently wished to grow in intellectual knowledge, but the scribe surprised him by forcefully pointing out to him that intellectual knowledge without a lifestyle is like the author of the Book of Hebrews says, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Catch the self-training motif that is so evident here. True knowledge does not come from only intellectual reading but also by doing, by the Holy Spirit, and by the Mysteries.

    In the third story, Amma Theodora rips apart anyone who thinks that any of what they have done will get them salvation. Does she not sound quite Protestant? Or is it that the Protestants, at times, sound like the Desert Fathers?

    A horrible thing happened in the West. The Romans developed a theology of supererogation, the idea that you can do more than required and thus build up a bank of grace for other people to draw from. The Desert Fathers would have slapped them silly for that. They constantly acknowledged their deep sin. Supererogation threw the whole area of growth in holiness smack into the idea that if you follow the correct methods you can accumulate grace. And, so, indulgences, holy pilgrimages to gain grace, etc., what the Protestants rightly “protested” were works-righteousness.

    Over against that the Protestant over-reaction essentially nullified the possibility of growing in holiness as something one could work on. So intense has the Protestant fear of legalism and “works-righteousness” been that growth in holiness almost seems to be something that just-sort-of happens. There is an incredible fear against someone unemotionally deciding that it is appropriate that they help the poor because God would like it and it will help them grow in their spiritual life, and then proceeding to plan that. Rather, that someone must help the poor because they have received a call. They must almost have had a crisis experience that pulls them into helping the poor, or they must have this experience of LUV within them that pulls them into helping the poor. Otherwise, Protestants argue, it is probably works-righteousness and will not last. The Desert Fathers would have surely slapped them silly for that attitude.

    Sadly, the Protestant Pietist and holiness movements almost always quickly degenerated into some type of legalism, and the Romans have had a difficult time leaving legalism. [Indulgences are still possible as is supererogation.] So strong is the cultural heritage that works are tied to salvation that it is hard to break that mind-think.

    But the Desert Fathers did not have that mind-think. Here is another story. “They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, as it is written, a god upon earth, because, just as God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he did not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not hear them.”

    The Desert Fathers stories often have the holiest of the monks being the most forgiving and tolerant of the faults of others. For them their asceticism was personal training, not a way of salvation. How do I learn to control my body? By fasting. Have any of you dieted and successfully lost weight? Congratulations, you learned how to fast so as to control your body. Are you a legalist because you now eat only the correct amounts and exercise? No, you are a healthy person.

    In the same way, like St. Paul says, the training of your body, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, leads to increased self-control in other areas of your life. Provided you handle it in humility and common sense, it makes you a mature Christian who is able to pray, read Scripture, control your body and tongue, and be of great use to the Body of Christ.

    Can one fall into legalism? Of course, look at the stories above. But, by ignoring the training, can one become “lawless?” Of course, look at the statistics on Christian behavior in this country versus secular behavior. (Odd that somehow we have managed to produce a nation full of churchgoing people damaged by legalism while, at the same time, we see little or no actual change in the behavior of churchgoers versus non-practicing people.)

    There is a reason why the Church has some of the ascetical rules she does. They form a yardstick that helps one to find the balances. Go too far above the yardstick and you are probably in danger of becoming a legalist. Go too far below the yardstick and you are probably becoming licentious. But, it is a yardstick and not a law.

    I had better stop, but there is much more I could say on the “yardstick”. LOL.

  39. It occurs to me that often we want to think of being perfect as having “arrived” at some kind of state of (often moral) perfection. Maybe this is because “perfect” is so often used as a synonym for “flawless.” But, laying aside the question of moral perfection, which as far as I can tell (at least in my own life) is not achieved in this life (hence my utter need for humility), what other kind of state do we “arrive” at in which we might be considered to be perfect?

    With an infinite God such as ours, when will we ever have arrived at the end of the line? In the communion of inexhaustible love and unplumbable depths that we enter with the Father through Christ by the Holy Spirit, I think we never “arrive” at all. We never will exhaust his bounty, grow weary of his wonders, or reach the point where we have “been filled to the limit” with the uncontainable God. Rather, it seems that it is in the instance of will that pursues the Lord and his will and the desire that prefers his presence at the cost of all other things that we might find ourselves to be perfect (in the sense of fulfilling our telos, being whole as that which we were created to be). In this respect, the desert fathers and others like them indeed have something to teach us, even if our lifestyles never resemble theirs.

    This state might not be how we live our lives at every moment of every day in this fallen world, but I think we can at least entertain the possibility of experiencing it from time to time, perhaps most crucially at the moment of our conversion, which is really the first moment in a series of moments of sincere repentance, turning back toward God after every moment when we clearly have not been perfect in any sense of the word. In moments of repentance, which are also moments of humility, we find ourselves present with Christ (even if we don’t feel it), and thus we find ourselves present with our eternal fulfillment, our perfection.

  40. Y’all have just given me something to chew on as the youth group bible study I assist in being one of the “panel members” for hard questions continues through Matthew 5 over the next few weeks. Pity I’ll be overseas when they do their basic exegesis on 5:48, but I’m taking a printout of your responses with me overseas to think through on the 8 hour flight.

  41. “The Desert Fathers would have surely slapped them silly for that attitude.”

    As well they should, though they would be slapping a straw man.

  42. Phil U,

    You are not the only evangelical who has been unable to witness. I was one for most of my life, never had a dramatic witness story and really remember only one witnessing time.

    I do remember being open while travelling (after all, you know all those stories about being in the right place next to an unbeliever on the plane, and leaving with a new Christian) and it never happened.

    I admit that my immersion wasn’t as deep as yours.

    Funny thing, though. When Jesus is talking about separating the sheep from the goats, he talked about doing things for people, such as visiting them in prison, feeding them, giving them drink to quench their thirst.

    PS Don’t be afraid of the dark periods. Many people whom Catholics recognize as holy went through periods like that. St. John of the Cross, Mother Theresa of Calcutta and others.

  43. Fr. Ernesto-
    You’ve brought up so many excellent points!!! For the sake of time, I’ll just pick one:
    “There is an incredible fear against someone unemotionally deciding that it is appropriate that they help the poor because God would like it and it will help them grow in their spiritual life, and then proceeding to plan that.”
    Thank you for bringing this up! This applies in so many ways, like when we ‘unemotionally’ serve our mate, or battle with cancer, or pick up the trash on the street …
    The phrase “having a heart for ____” drives me nuts. No, I don’t have a heart for changing dirty diapers! But I do it because, like you said, God likes it when I do, and it helps me to grow spiritually.
    Lastly, maybe I’m reading too much into this, but you mentioned “proceeding to plan that.” I’ve had (well-meaning, probably!) Christians tell me that ‘making plans’ meant I was not having faith. So you’re saying we can actually, in humility and faith, do things we don’t want to, and plan to do them??? Unheard of! 🙂
    OK, just one more thing that I liked: “a nation full of churchgoing people damaged by legalism while, at the same time, we see little or no actual change in the behavior of churchgoers versus non-practicing people”…yes! It’s like we’ve spun ourselves into a web.

  44. Bob Sacamento says

    Fr. Ernesto,

    Thanks very much. Will think on what you have said.


    Thanks for sharing your story. It breaks my heart to think about all the poor college students who are going to get bent into spiritual pretzels by these high pressure groups. (Though, actually, I will admit those group can help keep the typical, non-interospective college student on the straight and narrow.) I have often thought that if I ever decide on a big break with evangelicalism, it would probably have to be for the Orthodox church. But I am really not anywhere near there yet. Hope it works for you.

    Phil U,

    Thanks to you as well. I think that if not witnessing enough (or — I admit it — at all in a long time) is a sign of a lapsed faith, then heaven is going to be very sparsely populated. I think God is more merciful than that. Here’s hoping for the both of us that I am right. Have prayed for you. Keep praying.

  45. Ah, but Pastor Cwirla, the difference between a generalization and a straw man is based on how accurate the description is. It is true that faithful Lutherans do not fit the generalization, hmm, but Lutherans are not a large part of the USA Christian population, though they are significant members of it. GRIN.

  46. To use the term “Protestant” as the default for not-Roman Catholic and not-Eastern Orthodox and then to make a generalization about Protestant theology and life is pure straw regardless of the poll numbers.

    Historically, Lutherans are the first “protestants,” having protested at the second Diet of Speyer in 1529. Demographcially, all Lutheran groups combined are among the top five religious groups in the US.

    You could easily have made your point without the gratuitous side shot to the “horrible thing” that’s happened in the West. My understanding of our Liturgical Gangsta exercise to put forward the best of our traditions in a positive way without dwelling on the specks in our brothers’ eyes. I think you could have extolled whatever virtues you perceive in the writings of the desert fathers without the western digs.

  47. There seems to be a conflation here. The “horrible thing” that happened in the west, according to the above comment, was the doctrine of supererogation. Certainly, the Protestants agree that it was horrible, since much of the original protest was rooted there. The “straw man” that the desert fathers would be slapping silly is not necessarily straw at all. The evidence that it is flesh and blood is found in many of our fellow Christians all around us. That this is so, even in Lutheranism (at a certain terminus of the pendulum’s swing), seems to be confirmed observationally by the above comments made on April 28 at 5:38 a.m. and 6:57 a.m.

  48. So, see, no problem, the Protestants and the Orthodox can agree that we Romans are the purveyors of the horrible things – awesome. 🙂

    AAaaannnyway – (hear this in Marlin Brando, Godfather accent…) My dear friends, we are here representing our 6 families, yet together, all part of this thing of ours. Let us then refrain from fighting amongst ourselves. We have our differences, this we know, but let us not let these things lead to bloodshed in this room.

    OK, now is where we all kiss each other on both cheeks and hug and we give each other gold watches and stuff.

  49. “OK, now is where we all kiss each other on both cheeks and hug and we give each other gold watches and stuff.”

    I like the part about gold watches and stuff. I can do without the man kiss.

  50. Giovanni says

    Alan I think you are trying to walk around the issue there is no infighting its just another round of dump on the western Church.

    Orthodox are quite funny sometimes when they critizise at the front door and yet agree with us at the back door. i.e. Transubstantiation.

    I am going to go out on a limb and say that that “supererogation” is yet another one of these instances.