“The trouble with self-made men”, someone has said, “is that they always insist on sharing the recipe.” I remembered that recently as I listened to Phil Donahue, the talk show host, being interviewed about his newly published autobiography.
Phil Donahue is no doubt about as genial as anyone on television. But his view of his past is all too sour. He seems to have an especially negative view about his stern upbringing by Roman Catholic parents. And he seems to be especially self-congratulatory about his defection from it, as if leaving one’s religion represented a triumph of the mind.
Of course, it would be unfair to blame this trend today on Phil Donahue. But it does seem that people today have developed a way of moralizing in reverse.
Apart from the fact that we do not believe that the Roman Catholic Church is anything but a false church, I find it still hard to understand how anyone can be so vain about leaving any church, be it Catholic or Reformed, and call such a desertion a moment of personal growth.
We must never lose sight of the fact that forsaking God and His true Church for the world and all it offers is a terrible sin.
To me it always sounds as if the person who has done just that has a case of bad conscience; and just such a view is his attempt to be ingenious. And really, isn’t it just a little bit self-righteous for someone brought up and instructed by the truth of our faith to say in effect that the truth of God’s Word that sustained men like John Calvin or Martin Luther somehow failed to meet the demands of his restless intellect.
It is a shame, but today one’s background is no longer something to be grateful for; it is now something to be overcome. One of the gauges used to measure success today is the person’s rise from a narrow, limited subculture to an urban, mainstream culture.
Lest we as God’s Church fall into just a sin, let us never forget to be grateful for our past. The world would just as soon have us ashamed of our strict background. They would have us believe that the emphasis should be placed on not what you are, but what you have become.
We must also be aware that there are no guarantees that anyone born and raised in the church will automatically be a believer. The history of the church has shown this repeatedly that they are not all Israel that are of Israel.
But to a certain extent, isn’t there some of Phil Donahue’s reasoning in all of us? Aren’t we sometimes just a little ashamed by what we are and what our backgrounds have been? And you don’t have to be an older person to have experienced some of this.
There may have been times in your life, short though it may be, in which you felt uncomfortable exactly because of what you were, a Christian.
Perhaps the fact that you attend church has given you some embarrassment in the past. Or some of your “friends” think your attending a Christian school is stupid. Or maybe the fact that your parents insist in knowing where you are at all time, and with whom you are spending some of your free time, has caused you to wish, if just for a moment, that your life wasn’t so full of restrictions and that you were free to do exactly as you pleased.
The basic problem with this viewpoint is that one tends to be too critical of the group her deserts – the church – and too uncritical of the group he joins. The world may look good to us simply because we are looking in from the outside. The world has nothing to offer but the pleasure of sin for a season, while the child of God has the promise of eternal life.
This is exactly what Satan wants us to think. He presents a picture that shows the world and all that it offers as an almost irresistible goal. And if it were not for the grace of God, we would indeed be swept away by it all. Satan wants us to become a part of the world. If he can get us to turn our backs on the church, and all that it stands for, and move up into the freedom of this sinful life, that would be just great with him. He makes it appear that we have to outgrow the old and embrace the new or people will think of us as simply out of it.
But do not misread what I am saying. There has got to be constant spiritual movement in our lives. We have to grow in the knowledge of God, of Jesus Christ and His Word. The world would have us believe that we can only grow by forsaking the beliefs that we have in God and His Word. But that is no movement upward, but rather a movement downward.
Real movement upward is forsaking all that the world has to offer and placing all our life in Jesus Christ.
We have been given one of the greatest gifts when we have our Christian heritage. It can be traced back to the Reformation. Our covenant homes and Christian parents and our churches and schools serve as the basis for our movement upward, not into the world, but into the church. Soon you will become the fathers and mothers, the ministers and teachers, the elders and deacons of our church. We have an obligation and duty before God to show to others coming after us the way in which they should walk, so that together we will grow in love for God, His truth, and each other.