The following is an excerpt from an essay by Mallory Patrick. Read the full essay here. Mallory is my sister-in-law and founder of Gathered Fragments Book Sanctuary. Gathered Fragments seeks to preserve books of all times and places that present Christ crucified.
The Commonality of the Indwelling Christ
Any believer who hungers to know Jesus better will encounter books written by believers who were born in different times and cultures. Christian views tend take on the flavor of the times. Believers from past generations lived in a different world and even used the English language differently. This can make it difficult to understand their writings. Even so, it seems as though those ages produced saints of great substance.
Culturally, times have changed. We see the world differently than believers of one hundred years ago. The church world has changed too—at least in the West where there has been a departure from the bedrock truth of Christ and Him crucified. We have traded its manifold wisdom for more transitory Christian ideals (cf. Eph. 3:10).
The state of the modern church world has created a vacuum that has left many believers (such as yourself, perhaps) looking for something more satisfying—some spiritual truth with more longevity. To satisfy our longing hearts, we must turn to those who have the spiritual food and drink we crave—those who have gone before us, who have truly and deeply known the Lord.
The truths these believers present have long been long held by the church and confront the extraneous beliefs that have sprung from our own culture, era, and denominations. Believers immersed in modern church culture may be shocked to realize that some of what they hold to be the essence of Christianity is, in fact, peripheral. It is not easy to critique one’s own church culture!
Navigating the Unknown While Searching for Christ
While reading various writings from different backgrounds, it is possible to come across an author or subject with which we disagree. This brings us to a crossroads: Will preference for our Christian culture’s way of doing things win the day as we take our Bibles and go home in a huff? If so, we cut ourselves off from two thousand years of saints and the wisdom they have to offer. That is a lot of wisdom and a lot of saints. Or will we, in our quest to know the crucified and resurrected Christ, remain open as we navigate unfamiliar writings? If we do remain open, what are we to do when presented with ideals and doctrines we cannot accept?
The answer is at once both simple and complex. On one hand, Christ is simple, so fundamentally simple. If we are looking for Him alone, it should not matter who the bearer of the message is. The Spirit within the believer will bear witness to those who are declaring the true Christ.
On the other hand, our need to see more of Christ renders the process complex. The soul of man is the abode of the self-love which has plagued our existence from the beginning. Our preferences and sensibilities blind us. If we are governed by the insensitivities and prejudices that spring from self-love, differences between us and the messenger will blind us to the Jesus we need to see.
Repeating the Error of the Pharisees
“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”– Matthew 15:11
Believers tend to be suspicious of and avoid those whose declarations of Christ seem unfamiliar. By embracing a suspicious stance toward brothers and sisters of other denominations and ages, we repeat the error of the Pharisees. They believed that interaction with “unclean” people and things would render their own persons unclean. Jesus countered that it is the things which proceed out of the mouth and heart that defile a man (cf. Matt. 15:1-11).
Jesus ate with sinners, touched lepers, mingled with unclean multitudes, and was loved by prostitutes. Yet, His holiness remained unstained. Now, Jesus lives in you. As a believer indwelt by the very Spirit of God, there is nothing you can touch that will make you unclean. It is not another individual’s faulty belief system that defiles but the attitudes and motives of one’s own heart. Pride welling up from within will defile long before another saint’s doctrinal shortcomings.
When we are offended by the doctrinal errors and cultural limitations of others, we ought to consider: Maybe our own traditions and preferred doctrines are getting in the way of seeing them as members of Christ. Unclean things proceeding from our own hearts will skew our view of other imperfect (though true) believers. We cannot get past their “unwashed hands” and fault them for handling unclean things. But all the while we overlook the heart of the matter: They are just as much in relationship with Christ as we are and might even have something to say if our hearts are open enough to listen.