Do not be conformed to this world

The title is from Paul’s letter to the Romans (12:2), and is some of the best advice one can take as a Christian. Many of us, including me, ignore this when it suits us. But that doesn’t change its wisdom.

The point is that there are truths that don’t just stand the test of time; they were true in the beginning and will be true until the end of time. We evade these truths, often to the point of actively denying that they are true. And then go to great lengths to attempt to justify ourselves.

A case in point is today’s article in the Washington Post religion section on how some churchmen live their lives. The comparison could not be starker: an Episcopal bishop in Cleveland who just bought a mansion in a posh suburb for $1.66 million; a Catholic bishop who lives in a rectory with four priests in downtown Cleveland.

The article’s author, to his credit, cites what Jesus himself told us to do if we would be his disciple:

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.(Matthew 19:21)

However, since it is the Washington Post, the absolute authority of Scripture mustn’t be acknowledged, let alone treated as normative. Hence this bit of “I’m ok, you’re ok” philosophy:

Today, spiritual leaders are challenged by different theological imperatives. At one end is the prosperity theology movement that sees individual wealth as a sign of God’s favor. At the other end are theologians who say spiritual leaders should live with their flocks.

“If people are looking for nice, simple, neat formulas, they don’t exist,” Blomberg said. “It’s probably best discerned community by community.”

Yes, the author is correct. There are two “ends.” Joel Osteen is an example of one who puts forward the gospel of prosperity. Jesus Christ is the standard, however. Not Joel Osteen. And there’s not much in the true Gospel about placing any priority on earthly riches. Just the opposite, in fact.

The Episcopal bishop, hardly a servant, justified his choice thusly:

The elements that went into deciding where to live were primarily personal and had to do with finding a home for our young family that had access to schools and proximity to my office and also a place where we could offer hospitality to the diocese,” he said.

God will be the final judge on this high churchman, and, given the vanishing nature of the Episcopal Church, perhaps he’s the best frontman for its decline.

As for the Catholic bishop, he’s doing what any who would claim to be Christ’s intermediary on Earth ought to do.


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