Today we continue our reflections on The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul (trans. Geoffrey Bromiley; Eerdmans, 1986).
By the 300s, the Church suffered permanent subversion through Olympian succes. It became quantitatively Olympian and lost its qualitatively Christian character. This had consequences.
Biblically, to be a Christian means to live intentionally each day as a witness to all the truth, freedom, love, and vitality that are ours—and everyone’s—in communion with Jesus Christ. It means to share all the light, love, and life of Jesus with all others without conditions. We live as Christians as the Holy Spirit frees us for Jesus and from the six conventional gods of power (politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption).
When the Church became Olympian, it lost this understanding. “Very quickly the church found intolerable and inapplicable features in what Jesus Christ demanded and proclaimed…Jesus says: ‘Go, sell all your goods, give them to the poor, and then come and follow me.’ How are we to take this? All of us,  when we read such statements by Jesus, recognize their impossibility” (41-2).
“The way opens, then, for the sapping work of theologians of all kinds, then of lawyers, in an attempt to explain that Jesus wanted to say something other than what is written, or that these commandments are meant only for a spiritual elite and are simply counsels for others, or that the order given to the rich young ruler was meant for him alone. In other words, the texts have been wrested in all kinds of ways so that we should not be driven into a corner…” (42).
"Go, sell all your goods, give them to the poor, and then come and follow me." Jesus once spoke these words to a rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22). By doing so, he freed that young man from his slavery to Pluto god of money. The young man walked away sad, however, because he preferred his wealth through that slavery to participation in Christ’s kingdom without it.
To live as faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, we would not want to construct a morality from this New Testament reading. Instead, we seek to listen to what Jesus might be saying to us today through this or any other biblical passage. Jesus may never speak to us through this passage; then again, he might speak to us through it tomorrow. Go, sell all your goods. We witness to our freedom from Pluto today when we live lightly enough to be ready to respond to those words should they come to us tomorrow.
The witnesses of the New Testament tell us: You are free, be free. We ourselves stress that Jesus calls us each day to live as witnesses to his freedom, truth, love, and vitality. Jesus calls us, and his Holy Spirit enables us, to live out this freedom in relation to Pluto as well as the other five conventional gods.
We must be free enough to affirm, however, that this freedom, this tremendous gift of Jesus to us, is fiercely attacked by the six Olympian gods of power through our very Olympian society and culture and the very Olympian people with whom we live. It is perversely attacked by the very Olympian members of our own church. It is even hated by our own very Olympian personality which tries its hardest to keep our budding Christian personality as weak as possible.
“Paul was already attacking the Corinthians for their terrible misuse of this freedom… Free, we are totally responsible. We constantly have to choose... Freedom is indeed intolerable. The work of expositors and moralists thus begins. Freedom in Christ will very soon be forgotten. This is very remarkable to me…In the first centuries the…theologians simply pass by it in silence. They talk a lot about faith and love and virtues. When Greek thought invades the church, they rediscover freedom in terms of this philosophy but with no reference to the great proclamation of the Bible. Among the Romans they begin to formulate it in legal terms” (42).
“Perfect freedom, spiritual as well as political or social, freedom because liberation by God from new bondage [to the gods] is the supreme mutation that was not just proclaimed…but achieved, is accomplished in us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; in him fate ceases to exist and we are radically free. All this is contained already in the first act of liberation from Egypt. It is the constant promise of the God of Abraham. It is effected in the incarnation. But it is strictly intolerable [to everything Olympian—especially an Olympian Church] in the fullness of its implications. It is psychologically unbearable. It carries frightening social risks and is politically insulting to every form of power…On every social level and in every culture, people have found it impossible to take up this freedom…” (43).
“A risk with no cover, a joyful and perilous acrobatic feat with no net! It was not what we wanted. This is the pure and simple reason for the rejection of freedom. But since it is at the same time acquired, a tragic conflict develops between effective freedom (transformed into an ideal or formula or so-called need) and the refusal to accept the risk of it. This is the conflict that gives rise to the incoherences of the Western world with its unceasing oscillations between dictatorship and revolution” (43).
Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.