Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trueblood on the Sabbath

In Foundations for Reconstruction (1946), in Chapter 4, "Freedom From the Angelic Fallacy," Elton Trueblood suggests that one of Protestantism's worst mistakes in strategy has been to minimize church attendance. While it is a half-truth that "[n]o external ceremonies are necessary," it is also true that "many [external ceremonies] are extremely helpful" (49). Trueblood earlier observed that one of the chief reasons why the southern kingdom in Israel survived whereas the northern kingdom was never revived after its fall, was the emphasis that Ezekiel and other prophets like him in the southern kingdom placed on the Sabbath. Observance of the Sabbath was one of the major instruments of cultural survival. "Once each week the people stood up to be counted in their alien environment and, though the weaklings naturally fell away, the faithful were consequently strengthened" (42). "The point is that the institution of Sabbath congregational worship saved a precious heritage from extinction" (43). "Mere individual religion does fairly well in prosperity, but something stronger is needed in a genuine crisis" (43). Alas, we are men and not angels or saints incapable of lapses. "The fundamental reason why men need the ministrations of the church is that human life, left to itself, has a natural bias toward evil, a bias which is abundantly demonstrated by the fact that our most ideally constructed communities are tainted with the struggle for prestige and personal power" (47). Theologically, this would most accurately be termed total (and inherited) depravity. "External helps are important, not for their own sake, but precisely because they are helpful in leading frail and forgetful humans into what may truly become a religion of reality" (49). "The error of the devotee of individual religion lies not...in his criticism of those inside the churches, which is correct, but in his implied flattery of those outside the churches, which is erroneous. The awful truth is that the sinners are quite as bad as the saints, and sometimes worse" (48). One of the insights to be gained from Trueblood's reflections on the fourth commandment is the importance of both individual and corporate worship. Christians are not intended to be lone rangers. We are, in the words of Stanley Grenz, "created for community."

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