My family recently watched the new Disney Pixar movie “Strange World”. Beside Disney Princess films, I’m also a big fan of Pixar movies.
In that film the main character, Searcher Clade, discovers a source of energy in these plants, and for twenty-five years helps grow and harvest that energy, transforming a backwards agricultural society into a more advanced, modern one. But then, disease starts effecting the plants, and Searcher sets out on an adventure to discover why. That adventure leads him to the source of the plant’s energy, deep in the ground. In that place, there are these strange creatures attacking the source of the plants. Just as he and his crew are about to launch an assault on those creatures, in order to save the plants and his modern city, Searcher discovers something that radically changes his perspective.
The world he lives in is a large, living organism, and the plants that power his city are a virus that’s killing it. With this new revelation, Searcher has to fight against his crew, who don’t believe him, and also kill the virus to save his world. Sometimes the same kind of story plays out in the Church.
There are these two kinds of Churches in our world, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between them. One is more akin to God’s design, and the other more akin to Satan’s. They are mixed and mingled together, both drawing energy from the same source. Just like Searcher Clade, sometimes, there are these rogue Christians in the Church that seem like they are attacking the Church, when they’re really trying to save it. Those rogue Christians are Prophets.
Jesus was a Prophet. Jesus told a story about plants. Jesus told a story about good and bad plants, and how to deal with them. This was the parable of the Weeds and the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). In that story Jesus talked about a farmer who planted a wheat field. But at night the farmers enemy came and spread weeds among the wheat. After some time, when the plants began to sprout, the farmer discovered what his enemy had done. His farm hands wanted to tear up the weeds, but the farmer cautioned against it saying, “while you are gathering up the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them” (Matthew 13:29). Instead, the farmer decided to let the weeds grow up with the wheat, and to separate them at the time of harvest, destroying the weeds and storing the wheat.
This is a strange story. This is a story about Church. There are two kinds of Churches. One is like wheat, and the other like weeds. The enemy of the Church planted his Plan like seeds in God’s wheat field. But instead of attempting to tear out those weeds as they began to grow, God’s Plan was to let them grow to maturity, and then sort them out. God’s Plan for the Church has been growing alongside Satan’s for two thousand years.
God Plan’s is to allow for Satan’s Plan, for a time. This doesn’t make sense. What we don’t understand is that God’s wheat field isn’t just an institution or organizational structure. It’s a group of people. God’s Plan is a group of people belonging to Him. We are God’s field, each of us individually. We are souls with soil that can receive God’s good seed. But we can also receive the seeds of our enemy, Satan. Every Christian has a garden of the soul. In that garden are things good and bad. Growing in that garden is the wheat of God and the weeds of Satan. There is no such thing as a pure person, with a soul-garden of only wheat.
Because it’s made of up of impure people, there can be no such thing as a pure Church. The Church will always be a mix between the Bride of Christ and the Prostitute of Satan. God’s Plan was never a pure Church, or perfect Christians in this life. God’s Plan is to continue refining both until Jesus returns. God is always in the process of sorting out our souls.
We start out full of weeds and hard ground. The process of coming back to God isn’t a magical transaction where our garden of weeds gets suddenly transformed into a wheat field. The process is a slow purging of our garden, inch by inch, plant by plant. God must do a lot of work in our soul. The main tools God uses in that process are the Cross of Christ and Sword of the Spirit.
Paul wrote in his first letter to Corinth that the Cross is the power of God to save us (1 Corinthians 1:18). Jesus stated explicitly that his disciples must take up their cross and follow him, the Gospel of Luke adding the word “daily” to that command (Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, 14:27). In his Ephesians letter Paul mentioned the Sword of the Spirit, and the Hebrews writer talked about a sharp, double-edged sword that can pierce and divide between soul and spirit, judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12).
Another prophet, Jeremiah, once wrote that the human heart is deceitfully unknowable to any but God, who searches the heart and tests the mind (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We have no good ability to discern the weeds and wheat within our own lives. Human perception is limited and lacking. Human reason is a dim light that cannot overcome the darkness within us. We cannot make human intellect the center of our Christianity, because the sickness of the soul is like a cancer at the heart of every human. We cannot use a sick system to address that same sickness. What we need is something better from the outside to come in, assess the problem, and offer a solution. The problem within us is sin, and that outside system is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit uses the Cross like a sword to deal with our sin. Sin is not the wrong things we do, in opposition to God’s good principles. Sin is the wrong things we do out of separation from God.
We have within us a corrupted operating system by which we try to deal with our sin. Scripture calls that wrong operating system the Flesh. Paul specifies that system more clearly as the Mind set on the Flesh (Romans 8:7). Our ability to understand the problem of sin and work out a solution is the Mind set on the Flesh. Our own reason and intellect cannot possibly perceive the problem of sin within us, and our own efforts apart from Christ could not possibly fix the problem of sin, even if we could perceive it correctly. To overcome both of these, Jesus gave us the Spirit. We must take up our cross in order to follow Jesus because there are things in the way of the Spirit’s leading. Those things are summed up as the Mind set on the Flesh. The Cross is God’s means of crucifying our old way of dealing with sin, so we can enter God’s new way of redemption through Christ and the Spirit. We can’t follow Jesus if we are following ourselves.
The Faith/Reason synthesis Augustine began in the fourth century was a means of building a solid structure around the truth that every person is in need of God’s remedy through the Cross of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Faith/Reason synthesis built a sturdy and time-tested structure in which to house the Cataphatic. From the time of Augustine, moving forward, the Church undertook a mighty effort to continue refining and building a good Orthodoxy and Systematic Theology in which to house and preserve the Cataphatic side of Christianity. But the whole purpose of the Cataphatic is to education people about their need for the Apophatic. We need to learn about God so we can come to know God for ourselves.
All we are doing in the Cataphatic is preparing for the Apophatic. It’s not until we begin to hear God through the Spirit that any work in our soul-garden can begin. Everything up to that point is a preparation for the main act of God in the life of the Christian. We can spend a long time in the Cataphatic, preoccupied with our own understanding of God, before that begins to translate into knowing God Himself.
During the Patristic Period, with the rise of One Leader over One Church, what also began to develop was One Truth. There was a good intent during that period to hash out and hone a more Orthodox approach to the Cataphatic side of Christianity. There are things that define the Christian perspective on God. God is a specific Being with specific qualities. It’s good to have a well-defined idea about who God is, in our attempt to know God Himself. A well-developed Orthodoxy in the Cataphatic stage is like a well-defined map of where we’re trying to get to. During the Patristic Period there seemed to be a lot more focus on drawing a good map, and not as much on where it was meant to take us. On top of that, those more concerned with getting to where the map should lead were beginning to isolate within a subset of the Church, hidden away in Monasteries and Convents.
Two distinct and separate focuses were forming in the Church during the Patristic Period. One was more concerned with developing the Cataphatic, the other with the Apophatic. Those more concerned with the Cataphatic were also more in control of individual churches, and the Church at large. As a result, certain spiritual gifts more akin to leadership and intellectual truth were rising to prominence in the organizational structure of the Church, and many of the other gifts were being isolated in monasteries, or greatly diminished altogether in the daily life of individual churches.
Jesus’ mission for the Church was to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). During the Patristic Period, the mission of the Church began to be more about determining who was allowed to lead and participate in the Church, based on a litmus test of right beliefs. The original intent of Jesus was bringing people back to the Father, through a growing intimacy with Him through the Holy Spirit. The new intent of a more Orthodox Church was about who was in line with it. A relationship with the institution of the Church itself began to slowly take the place of a relationship with God. The Cataphatic was becoming the point of Christianity, and the Apophatic was becoming a sidenote, a special pursuit of special individuals in special places, but not the focus of the average congregate in the average church.
During the Patristic Period, the Church was being divided between two sides of the same coin. There were those more focused on the Orthodoxy of the Cataphatic, and the those more about the Contemplative practices of the Apophatic. It’s hard to see how that was playing out in individual congregations. How things are represented in the authority structures of institutions isn’t always in line with the average beliefs of individuals within those institutions. There’s always an interplay between the more organic and institutional sides of Church. It’s likely that there were still mature, spiritual Elders and Deacons in individual churches with a strong value for discipling others into Christ. But the authority and control of the Church during the Patristic Period was being consolidated into the hands of a smaller group of people. Those few people had a large ability to control what happened in individual churches, and the Church at large. As long as those few people were following the organization of Church as Jesus intended, there was no real problem created by consolidating the control of the Church. But, if Satan’s ideas were able to take root in those few people, the whole Church would be affected, and infected with the virus of his Plan.
Changing the structure of how the Church was organized didn’t necessarily have an immediate effect on the day-to-day discipling of younger Christians by spiritually mature Elders and Deacons. But it did set the stage for the kind of change Satan wanted to enact, in his attack on the Church.
From the outside, the Church during the Patristic Period looked healthy. But from the inside, a virus was beginning to take root. That virus was meant to attack the Church at its heart.
The heart and health of the Church is the Holy Spirit. The heart and health of the Church can’t be judged through outside activity, but through discerning the spiritual health of individuals. Spiritual health has to do with our connection to God. It was that connection that Satan wanted to attack the most. He needed his weeds to choke out the life of the Church from the inside out.
The seeds of Satan’s Plan were already in place.
Now all they needed to do was grow.