Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Churches of God" by A. W. Pink



"For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews" (I Thess. 2:14).

The ignorance which prevails in Christendom today concerning the truth about the Churches of God is deeper and more general than error on any other Scriptural subject. Many who are quite sound evangelically and are well taught on what we call the great fundamentals of the faith, are most unsound ecclesiastically. Mark the fearful confusion that abounds respecting the term itself. There are few words in the English language with a greater variety of meanings than "church." The man in the street understands by "church" the building in which people congregate for public worship. Those who know better, apply the term to the members in spiritual fellowship who meet in that building. Others use it in a denominational way and speak of "the Methodist Church" or "Presbyterian Church." Again, it is employed nationally of the state-religious institution as "the Church of England" or "the Church of Scotland." With Papists the word "church" is practically synonymous with "salvation," for they are taught that all outside the vale of "Holy Mother Church" are eternally lost.

Many of the Lord's own people seem to be strangely indifferent concerning God's mind on this important subject. One from whose teachings on the church we differ widely has well said, "Sad it is to hear men devoted in the Gospel, clear expounders of the Word of God, telling us that they do not trouble themselves about church doctrine; that salvation is the all-important theme; and the establishing of Christians in the fundamentals is all that is necessary. We see men giving chapter and verse for every statement, and dwelling upon the infallible authority of the Word of God, quietly closing their eyes to its teachings upon the church, probably connected with that for which they can give no Scriptural authority, and apparently contented to bring others into the same relationship."

What constitutes a New Testament church? That multitudes of professing Christians treat this question as one of trifling importance is plain. Their actions show it. They take little or no trouble to find out. Some are content to remain outside of any earthly church. Others join some church out of sentimental considerations, because their parents or partner in marriage belonged to it. Others join a church from lower motives still, such as business or political considerations. But this ought not to be. If the reader is an Anglican, he should be so, because he is fully persuaded that his is the most Scriptural church. If he is a Presbyterian, he should be so, from conviction that his "church" is most in accord with God's Word. So, if he is a Baptist or Methodist, etc.

There are many others who have little hope of arriving at a satisfactory answer to the question, What constitutes a New Testament church? The fearful confusion which now obtains in Christendom, the numerous sects and denominations differing so widely both as to doctrine and church-order and government, has discouraged them. They have not the time to carefully examine the rival claims of the various denominations. Most Christians are busy people who have to work for a living, and hence they do not have the leisure necessary to properly investigate the Scriptural merits of the different ecclesiastical systems. Consequently, they dismiss the matter from their minds as being one too difficult and complex for them to hope of arriving at a satisfactory and conclusive solution. But this ought not to be. Instead of these differences of opinion disheartening us, they should stimulate to greater exertion for arriving at the mind of God. We are told to "buy the truth," which implies that effort and personal sacrifice are required. We are bidden to "prove all things."

Now, it should be obvious to all that there must be a more excellent way than examining the creeds and articles of faith of all the Denominations. The only wise and satisfactory method of discovering the Divine answer to our question, What constitutes a New Testament church? is to turn to the New Testament itself and carefully study its teachings about the "church." Not some godly man's views; not accepting the creed of the church to which my parents belonged; but "proving all things" for myself! God's people have no right to organize a church on different lines from those which governed the churches in New Testament times. An institution whose teachings or government are contrary to the New Testament is certainly not a New Testament "church."

Now if God has deemed it of sufficient importance to place on record upon the pages of Inspiration what a New Testament church is, then surely it should be of sufficient importance for very redeemed man or woman to study that record, and not only so but to bow to its authority and conform their conduct thereto. We shall thus appeal to the New Testament only and seek God's answer to our question.
1. A New Testament church is a local body of believers. Much confusion has been caused by the employment of adjectives which are not to be met with in the N.T. Were you to ask some Christians, To what church do you belong? they would answer, The great insivible church of Christ-a church which is as intangible as it is invisible. How many recite the so-called Apostles' Creed, "I believe in the holy catholic Church," which most certainly was not an article in the Apostles' "creed." Others speak of "the Church militant" and "the Church triumphant," but neither are these terms found in Scripture, and to employ them is only to create difficulty and confusion. The moment we cease to "hold fast the form of sound words" (II Tim. 1:13) and employ unscriptural terms, we only befog ourselves and others. We cannot improve upon the language of Holy Writ. There is no need to invent extra terms; to do so is to cast reflexion on the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit. When people talk of "the universal Church of Christ" they employ another unscriptural and antiscriptural expression. What they really mean is "the Family of God." This latter appellation includes the whole company of God's elect; but "Church" does not.

Now the kind of church which is emphasized in the N.T. is neither invisible nor universal; but instead, visible and local. The Greek word for "church" is ecclesia, and those who know anything of that language are agreed that the word signifies "An Assembly." Now an "assembly" is a company of people who actually assemble. If they never "assemble," then it is a misuse of language to call them "an Assembly." Therefore, as all of God's people never have yet assembled together, there is today no "universal Church" or "Assembly." That "Church" is yet future; as yet it has no concrete or corporate existence.

In proof of what has been said above, let us examine those passages where the term was used by our Lord Himself during the days of His flesh. Only twice in the four Gospels do we find Christ speaking of the "church." The first is in Matthew 16:18 where He said unto Peter, "Upon this Rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." What kind of a "church" was the Saviour here referring to? The vast majority of Christians have understood it as the great invisible, mystical, and universal Church, which comprises all His redeemed. But they are certainly wrong. Had this been His meaning He had necessarily said, "Upon this Rock I am building My church." Instead, He used the future tense, "I will build," which shows clearly that at the time He spoke, His "church" had no existence, save in the purpose of God. the "church" to which Christ referred in Matthew 16:18 could not be a universal one, that is, a church which included all the saints of God, for the tense of the verb used by Him on this occasion manifestly excluded the O. T. saints! Thus, the first time that the word "church" occurs in the N. T. it has no reference to a general or universal one. Further, our Lord could not be referring to the Church in glory, for it will be in no danger of "the gates of hell"! His declaration that, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," makes it clear beyond all doubt that Christ was referring to His church upon earth, and thus, to a visible and local church.

The only other record we have of our Lord speaking about the "church" while He was on earth, is found in Matthew 18:17, "If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Now the only kind of a "church" to which a brother could relate his "fault" is a visible and local one. So obvious is this, there is no need to further enlarge upon it.

In the final book of the N. T. we find our Saviour again using this term. First in Revelation 1:11 He says to John, "What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia." Here again it is plain that the Lord was speaking of local churches. Following this, we find the word "church" is upon His lips nineteen more times in the Revelation, and in every passage the reference was to local churches. Seven times over He says, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches," not "what the Spirit saith unto the Church"-which is what would have been said had the popular view been correct. The last reference is in Revelation 22:16, "I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches:" The reason for this being, that as yet, the Church of Christ has no tangible and corporate existence, either in glory or upon earth; all that He now has here is His local "churches."

In further proof that the kind of "church" which is emphasised in the N. T. is a local and visible one we appeal to other facts of Scripture. We read of "The church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1). "The church that was at Antioch" (Acts 13:1), "The church of God which is at Corinth" (I Cor. 1:2)-note carefully that though this church is linked with, yet is it definitely distinguished from "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,"! Again; we read of "churches" in the plural number: "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria" (Acts 9:31), "The churches of Christ salute you" (Rom. 16:16), "Unto the churches of Galatia" (Gal. 1:2). Thus it is seen that, that which was prominent and dominant in N. T. times was local and visible churches.

2. A New Testament church is a local body of baptized believers. By "baptized believers" we mean Christians who have been immersed in water. Throughout the N. T. there is not a single case recorded of any one becoming a member of a church of Jesus Christ without his first being baptized; but there are many cases in point, many indications and proofs that those who belonged to the churches in the days of the apostles were baptized Christians.

Let us turn first to the last clause of Acts 2:47: "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be (the V. R. correctly gives it "were") saved." Note carefully it does not say that "God," or "the Holy Spirit," or "Christ," but "The Lord added." The reason for this is as follows: "The Lord" brings in the thought of authority, and those whom He "added to the church" had submitted to His lordship. The way in which they had "submitted" is told us in vv. 41-42: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls," etc. thus, in the earliest days of this dispensation, "the Lord added" to His church saved people who were baptized.

Take the first of the Epistles. Romans 12:4-5 shows that the saints at Rome were a local church. Turn back now to Romans 6:4-5 where we find the apostle saying to and of these church members at Rome, "Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." Thus, the saints in the local church at Rome were baptized believers.

Take the church at Corinth. In Acts 18:8 we read, "Many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized." Further proof that the Corinthian saints were baptized believers is found in I Cor. 1:13-14; 10:2,6; I Cor. 12:13 rightly translated and punctuated (we hope to deal with this passage separately in a future article) expressly affirms that entrance into the local assembly is by water baptism.

Ere passing to the next point let it be said that a church made up of baptized believers is obviously and necessarily a "Baptist church"-what else could it be termed? This is the name which God gave to the first man whom He called and commissioned to do any baptizing. He named him "John the Baptist." Hence real "Baptists" have no reason to be ashamed of or to apologise for the scriptural name they bear. If someone askes, Why did not the Holy Spirit speak of the "Baptist church at Corinth" or "The Baptist churches of Galatia"? We answer, for this reason: there was, at that time, no need for this distinguishing adjective; there were no other kind of churches in the days of the apostles but Baptist churches. They were all "Baptist churches" then; that is to say, they were all composed of scripturally-baptized believers. It is men who have invented all other "churches" (?) and church-names now in existence.

3. A New Testament church is a local body of baptized believers in organized relationship. This is necessarily implied in the term itself. An "Assembly is a company of people met together in organized relationship, otherwise there would be nothing to distinguish it from a crowd or mob. Clear proof of this is found in Acts 19:39, "But if ye enquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly." These words were spoken by the "town clerk" to the Ephesian multitude which was disturbing the peace. Having "appeased the people," and having affirmed that the apostles were neither robbers of churches nor blasphemers of their goddess, he reminded Demetrius and his fellows that "the law is open, and there are deputies," and bade them "implead one another." The Greek word for "assembly" in this passage is ecclesia, and the reference was to the Roman court, i.e., an organization governed by law.

Again, the figures used by the Holy Spirit in connection with the "church" are pertinent only to a local organization. In Romans 12 and in I Corinthians 12 He employs the human "body" as an anology or illustration. Nothing could be more unsuitable to portray some "invisible" and "universal" church whose members are scattered far and wide. The reader scarcely needs to be reminded that there is not a more perfect organization on this earth than the human body-each member in its appointed place, each to fulfil its own office and perform its distinctive function. Again, in I Timothy 3:15 the church is called the "house of God." The "house" speaks of ordered relationships: each resident having his own room, the furniture being suitably placed, etc.

Further proof that a New Testament "church" is a local company of baptized believers in organized relationship is found in Acts 7:38, where the Holy Spirit applies the term ecclesia to the children of Israel--"the church in the wilderness." Now the children of Israel in the wilderness were a redeemed, separated baptized, organized "Assembly." Some may be surprised at the assertion that they were baptized. But the Word of God is very explicit on this point. "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (I Cor. 10:1-2). So, too, they were organized; they had their "princes" (Num. 7:2) and "priests," their "elders" (Ex. 24:1) and "officers" (Deut. 1:15). Therefore, we may see the propriety of applying the term ecclesia to Israel in the wilderness, and discover how its application to them enables us to define its exact meaning. It thus shows us that a New Testament "church" has its officers, its "elders" (which is the same as "bishops"), "deacons" (I Tim. 3:1,12), "treasurer" (John 12:6; II Cor. 8:19), and "clerk"--"number of names" (Acts 1:15) clearly implies a register.

4. A New Testament church is a local body of baptized believers in organized relationship, publicly and corporately worshipping God in the ways of His appointment. To fully amplify this heading would necessitate us quoting a goodly portion of the N.T. Let the reader go carefully through the book of Acts and the Epistles, with an unprejudiced mind, and he will find abundant confirmation. Attempting the briefest possible summary of it, we would say: First, by maintaining "the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" (Acts 2:42). Second, by preserving and perpetuating Scriptural baptism and the Lord's Supper: "keep the ordinances" as they were delivered to the church (I Cor. 11:2). Third, by maintaining a holy discipline: Heb. 13:17; I Tim. 5:20-21, etc. Fourth, by going into all the world and preaching the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).

5. A New Testament church is independent of all but God. Each local church is entirely independent of any others. A church in one city has no authority over a church in another. Nor can a number of local churches scripturally elect a "board," "presbytery," or "pope" to lord it over the members of those churches. Each church is self-governed, compare I Corinthians 16:3; II Cor. 8:19. By church-government we mean that its work is administrative and not legislative.

A N.T. church is to do all things "decently and in order" (I Cor. 14:40), and its only authorative guide for "order" is the Holy Scriptures. Its one unerring standard, its final court of appeal, by which all issues of faith, doctrine, and Christian living are to be measured and settled, is the Bible, and nothing but the Bible. Its only Head is Christ: He is its Legislator, Resource, and Lord.

The local church is to be governed by what "the Spirit saith unto the churches." Hence it necessarily follows that it is altogether separate from the State, and must refuse any support from it. While its members are enjoined by Scripture to be "subject unto the higher powers that be" (Rom. 13:1), they must not permit any dictation from the State in matters of faith or practice.

The administration of the government of a N. T. church resides in its own membership, and not in any special body or order of men, either within or without it. A majority of its members decide the actions of the church. This is clear from the Greek of II Corinthians 2:6, "Sufficient to such a man (a disorderly brother who had been disciplined) is this punishment, which was inflicted of many." The Greek for the last two words is hupo ton pleionon." Pleionon is an adjective, in the comparative degree, and literally rendered the clause signifies "by the majority," and is so rendered by Dr. Charles Hodge, than whom there have been few more spiritual and competent Greek scholars. Bagster's Interlinear renders it "by the greater portion," and the margin of the R.V. gives "Greek the more." The definite article obliges us to render it "by the more" or "by the majority."

To sum up. Unless you have a company of regenerated and believing people, scripturally baptized, organized on N. T. lines, worshipping God in the ways of his appointing-particularly in having fellowship with the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, maintaining the ordinances, preserving strict discipline, active in evangelistic endeavour-it is not a "New Testament church," whatever it may or may not call itself. But a church possessing these characteristics is the only institution on this earth ordained, built, and approved of by the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, next to being saved, the writer deems it his greatest privilege of all to belong to one of His "churches." May Divine grace increasingly enable him to walk as becometh a member of it.

(Studies in the Scriptures, Dec. 1927, pp. 277-281).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Certifiableand Indisputable Election Results

"Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases." - Psalm 115:3

"By me kings reign." - Proverbs 8:15

"The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes." - Proverbs 21:1

"He removes kings and establishes kings." - Daniel 2:21

"His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.  And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What hast Thou done?'" - Daniel 4:34-35

"Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,  10 Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'" - Isaiah 46:9-10

"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever." - Revelation 11:15

"Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. " - Revelation 19:6

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Finish Strong"

The Dallas sky loomed grey with thick, low-hanging clouds, not ominous, but dull like unpolished steel. A heavy mist shrouded Tom Landry Stadium, no rain, but the atmosphere was heavy and wet and the sharp wind unkind. The runners took their places on the red cinder track and bolted at the starter-pistol’s crack. The grey smoke from the barrel swirled skyward like a silver snake and slithered into the ashen firmament. As the competitors made the first turn through the wintry veil, I noticed a lone runner different from all the rest: tall, athletic, tanned, muscular, and doggedly determined. But he was already several yards behind the pack. When he hit the straightaway on the track, now lagging even further behind, I noticed something else. Every two or three strides he would, almost violently, jerk his head sideways and downward to his right shoulder, and then jerk his head erect again. Stride, stride, jerk, erect. The motion of his head was magnified by his long hair that flopped back and forth with every jerking movement. Then someone said, 

“He has hydrocephalus, water on the brain.” 

Besides the jerking movement of his head, he occasionally veered to the left or to the right as if he were drunk and about to fall down. Hydrocephalus also causes disequilibrium.

But he didn’t fall down. He just kept running.

It was the grueling, sixteen-hundred meter run, and before the runners had reached even a half lap, everyone in the stands knew who would finish last. But I wondered,

“Will he even finish at all?”

I focused my binoculars on him. His crimson track-jersey declared one word across his chest, woven in gold,

“Saints.”

He was a junior at a Christian Academy.

“Saints,” I repeated to myself.

By the fourth lap of the race, he was only on his third. The winner flew by him and crossed the finish line. The other runners, one by one, swiftly lapped him as well: Lions, Tigers, Trojans, Eagles, and even other Saints, all sped ahead to the finish line.

But he would run his last lap alone. Would he finish? He kept running, veering, jerking, nearly falling, but running, running to the finish line.

When he made the final turn, I experienced the most wonderful scene I ever witnessed at an athletic event. As he crossed in front of the grandstands, the spectators rose like an undulating wave. Their voices rose as well with encouraging, appreciative, and tearful cheers, and their hands began to applaud loudly, reaching a crescendo as he approached the finish line. Someone shouted,

“Finish strong.”

Except for that day, I have never before or since seen a standing ovation for last place at a track meet. But, apparently indifferent to the thunderous crowd, the runner persevered until he crossed the finished line. All the other Saints – his teammates – were there cheering for him, high fives and pats on the back, and someone else was there for him as well - the head coach – who fully embraced him. Then someone else said,

“That’s his Dad.”

Although the debilitated runner finished last, he finished strong, and he certainly did not lose the race. In fact, he was the real winner that day; his was the greatest victory, for he had won every heart in the stadium. And so were his teammates victors - the Saints - for every one of them had finished the race with him. He had honored their golden name inscribed across his crimson heart - “Saints.”

Now, it should be obvious why I share that story. The Christian life is also a grueling race, not just because of the distance we must run and the obstacles we face, but also because every one of us is in some way a handicapped runner. Sometimes we wonder, “Will I even finish?” But we have “a great cloud of witnesses” watching us from the celestial grandstands, and though we might find the race difficult, Paul admonishes us that we should “run in such a way as to get the prize.” After all, we’re Saints, aren’t we?

If we do not finish strong, then the world can rightly ridicule and say, “They lost the race. What’s wrong with them? Why were they even running?” But we do not run this race to win the world’s accolades and trophies. We pursue one mark, and desire one prize – a Father’s embrace at the finish line. He knows our disabilities, our infirmities, our weaknesses, our veerings left and right, and our often stumbling strides; and He also knows our hearts, especially whether or not we have the courage, commitment, and perseverance to do what the young runner did that day to bring such joy to his father’s heart.

Our Father commands us to “run with patience the race that is set before us,” to run in such a way that would please Him and encourage one another. After all, we’re Saints, aren’t we? Each of our hearts is woven with crimson and embroidered with gold. 

Do you hear that voice?

“Finish strong.”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to Know and Do God's Will

“I want to do God’s will”—the Christian who makes this statement tacitly admits that God’s will remains in the future as something possibly unknown but certainly undone. After all, if we truly want to do God’s will, why hesitate? Why not just do God’s will and not talk about it? If we were more thoughtful and candid, perhaps we would state the case a little differently, such as “I don’t know God’s will,” or “I know God’s will but I am afraid to do it,” or “I know God’s will but I do not like it.” Those more honest statements provide three valuable insights as to why we hesitate when confronted with choices about God’s will for our lives. The first statement, “I don’t know God’s will,” indicates unawareness or, dare we say, an ignorance of God’s will; the second statement, “I know God’s will but I am afraid to do it,” implies fear of God’s will; the third statement, “I know God’s will but I do not like it,” signifies rebellion against God’s will.

While fear of God’s will or rebellion against God’s will demand inquiry and remedy, we must leave these topics to another day; we aim to encourage the willing Christian who says, “I do not know God’s will, but I want to do God’s will.” Hence, Paul’s maxim to the Thessalonians becomes our mandate–“understanding what the will of the Lord is.” Of course, humility inquires, “How can we, whose own wills are fallible, feeble, and fickle at best, discover, much less do, God’s will?” But if Paul exhorts us to understand God’s will, we must therefore conclude that, not only is it possible to know God’s will, but also that we must know God’s will and do God’s will as well. Therefore, based upon the Pauline premise that we can both know and do God’s will, we set forth seven principles or “steps” by which God’s will may be known and done.

Step I:    Flick the Switch

Had the Psalmist David lived in the 21st century, he might have written, “Your Word is a light-switch in a dark room,” “Your Word is a flashlight on my dim path,” “Your Word is a halogen headlight for the dark highway,” or “Your Word is a laser beam through the black night.” Of course David did not know about a light switch, flashlight, halogen headlight, or laser beam, so he described the illuminating power of God’s Word with imagery familiar to his own experience. Envision David the Shepherd walking at night through a green pasture or up a rocky slope, holding a lamp to light his way to his flock; David the Warrior standing in a pre-dawn battlefield holding a torch to inspect his soldiers; or David the King walking through the midnight streets of Jerusalem with a candle to light his path. No doubt on one such occasion, as David watched the dancing flicker and shadows cast by his path-light, this memorable idea came to his mind, “God’s word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” No matter how we describe it–flashlight, headlight, laser beam, torch, lamp, or candle, when we read God’s Word, it shines, and its radiance lights our pathway.

Step II: Stare at the Star

During the Civil War, runaway slaves traveled at night to avoid detection and thus evade their captors. Through the darkness, the North Star shown down upon them, guiding them to freedomland. How liberating for them, not just to flee their bondage, but to look heavenward and fix their eyes upon the North Star. Scientists tell us that our bodies are comprised of the same matter and energy as the North Star–we are star-stuff. So as the slaves stared at the North Star, in a way they became one with the star, and that oneness kept them on the right path to freedom. We, too, are runaway slaves, and God’s Word is our Northern Star. On our journey, we raise our eyes heavenward and look to that Star whose silver beams penetrate our minds, illuminate our bodies, and shine down into our very souls. Jesus tells us something even more important than scientists, “If your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light.” By “single” Jesus means that our eyes must be sharply focused upon one thing–God’s Word–and by that singular focus our entire being becomes “full of light.” And how is it that we focus upon God’s Word–meditation. When the runaway slave fled for freedom, he did not fixate on the bloodhounds pursuing him; the darkness all around him; or the stones, briars, and thorns that impeded his steps; he kept his eye upon the guiding star. In the same way, if we would find our way through the darkness, around obstacles, and over impediments, we too must fix our eye upon a guiding star, that is, we must meditate upon God’s Word. To meditate upon God’s word means that we clear our minds of every fear and worry and concentrate fully upon God’s Word. We must stare at the Star. When we do that, our whole being–body, soul and spirit–becomes “full of light.” We become Star-stuff, one with God. His thoughts become our thoughts, and His ways our ways–we depend, not upon what we think, but upon what God says; we find, not our way, but His way, His way out of bondage, His way through the dark night, and His way to the sweet land of liberty. Dear Friend, if you want to know God’s way, then look to the Northern Star of His Word. Make your eye “single.” Focus upon God’s Word, meditate upon God’s Word. Stare at the Star.

Step III: Stop Trying to Figure Out Things by Yourself

Perhaps this is the most difficult step in knowing and doing God’s will. Our natural tendency is to try to figure out things for ourselves, to assess our situation, analyze our problems, weigh the pros and cons of doing this or that, and then map out a doubtful strategy in some uncertain direction. But the Bible commands us to do something quite contrary to our nature: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” We learn four important things from that wonderful verse of scripture. First, we learn that, if we really want to know and do God’s will, then we must “trust” God. The Hebrew word for trust, bawtakh, connotes a trust so complete and dynamic as to inspire both confidence and boldness. After all, when we truly and fully trust God, we do not trust in other people or in the uncertain possibilities of the unknown future, much less in ourselves and our own devices; we trust in the LORD, God Almighty, and thus we have both confidence and courage, faith and boldness. Secondly, we learn that to trust God is not a matter of the head but of the heart”–“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,” Solomon says, “and do not lean upon your own understanding.” In other words, knowing and doing God’s will is not merely a rational process but rather a spiritual experience. Third, we learn that “in all our ways” we must “acknowledge Him.” “All our ways” means just that. Nothing is too big for God, and nothing too little for Him either. Stated another way, “No matter what your circumstance, small or big, easy or hard, don’t put yourself first; don’t even put others first. Put God first. Do not think about what you want to do, or what others think you should do; focus upon what God wants you to do. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God” and then everything else will take care of itself or, more correctly, “seek first the kingdom of God” and then God will take care of everything else. Finally, we learn that God “will direct your path.” Isn’t that exactly what we want when we seek to know and do God’s will, for God to “direct” our path? God says He will do precisely that–if we trust God with our hearts and not our heads, and acknowledge God first in every circumstance–God promises us that He will “direct” our paths.

Step IV: Talk to your Father

A good father never gives his child anything that hurts him but always what is best for the child. Jesus illustrates this principle in a parable, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” Of course Jesus’ hearers understood that a loving father or mother would never give a child a stone for bread, a serpent for a fish, or a scorpion for an egg. The same holds true for our Heavenly Father. When we ask something from Him, He always gives us what is best for us. How comforting to know that, when we call out to God in prayer, He promises that “I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.”

That last phrase, “things which thou knowest not,” aptly describes our situation when we face seemingly insurmountable problems for which we can see no easy solution. Even though an infant cannot speak a single syllable, a loving parent can still interpret the child’s inarticulate cry. The same holds true in our relationship to our Heavenly Father; if we do not know how we should pray about a problem, or perhaps we do not even know what to pray, the Holy Spirit “makes intercession for us with groanings which we cannot utter.” To our great comfort, that powerful promise, “the Spirit makes intercession for us,” directly precedes these precious words, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His promise.” We know that all things, even the bad things, will work together for our good and God’s glory because the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us, and because we believe our Father’s promise that He will do “exceedingly and abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

Another way prayer helps us find our way through life’s difficulties is by changing our desires. David wrote, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and he will give thee the desires of your heart.” If we interpret that verse superficially and materially, we will wrongly conclude that God will give us whatever we desire: “Lord, I want a new car; a new job; a new house; more money; greater influence and power, a better education, or perhaps a spouse,” and then God says, “OK, you can have whatever you desire.” But we know that interpretation is false; God never gives us everything we desire, not that He could not give us everything we desire; He could, but our desires are too often not God’s desires, and, besides, God knows that what we desire is not necessarily what we need. What we need is not every desire fulfilled but every desire transformed. That is the true meaning of David’s words, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When we “delight” ourselves in the Lord, He gives us, not the things we desire but the “desires” themselves. The Hebrew word for “delight” infers delicate softness and therefore pliability; He who delights himself in the LORD is delicate and soft towards God’s will, and therefore pliable and moldable to God’s desires. Prayer makes us pliable in such a way that God changes our desires, and by that change of desires, God transforms our affections that we might love the things He loves, and desire those things He desires. That includes life’s pathways as we seek to know and do God’s will. Thus, we should pray, “Lord; I delight myself in you; I am soft and pliable to be molded like clay in your hands; change my heart’s desires that I may desire what you desire and walk the path you want me to walk; change my desires that I may know and do your will.”

Step V: Connect with the Holy Spirit 

Actually, we don’t have to “connect with the Holy Spirit”; He connects with us. Scripture plainly teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells Christians the same way He indwelt the Tabernacle and Temple. The Shekinah glory has come down from heaven and actually resides in our bodies. “Your bodies,” Paul says, “are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes we forget that, like Aaron and Levi in the Tabernacle and Temple, the Holy Spirit is also a Person and therefore has a personality. Every personality has traits, and the traits of the Holy Spirit are “love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, patience, faith, humility, and self-control.” As residences of the Holy Spirit, and through the process of sanctification, each of us gradually and progressively look more and more like our Father, become more and more conformed to the image of His Son, and more and more we think and behave like the Holy Spirit. Through His presence God’s love is shed abundantly in our hearts, God’s unspeakable joy effervesces within us like a bubbling fountain, God’s peace guards our minds and hearts as a royal solder would guard the king’s own son; we become gentler, goodness spurs our motives and redefines our goals, patience calms our anxieties and slows our clock, faith enables us to move mountains, humility teaches us to bow our heads to God and open our hearts to men, and self-control disciplines our passions and appetites. These nine aspects of the Spirit fruit–love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, patience, faith, meekness, and self-control–play a vital role as we seek to know and do God’s will.

The formula is simple–when we desire to know and do God’s will, we should never do anything that disturbs the Holy Spirit. Paul refers to such a disturbance as grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit, and Stephen called it resisting the Holy Spirit. When I make a decision and choose a pathway, I must ask myself, “Is this decision rooted in love; is this path a pathway of love. Does this decision enhance my joy in God, or does it cloud heaven’s skies? Does this decision bring me peace that surpasses my understanding, or does it trouble the Spirit within me? Is this decision gentle toward others? Is this decision morally and spiritually good? Is this decision made in patience, or is it made in haste? Is this decision a decision based on faith in God’s Word, or premised upon self-trust or trust in others? Is this decision made in humility and meekness, or in pride and arrogance? Is this decision made with self-control, or am I out of control just doing what I want to do?” Any major decision that does not meet that ninefold test is a bad decision, perhaps even a dangerous decision, one that will resist, quench, and grieve the Holy Spirit.

Step VI: Look Around with New Eyes

Solomon tells us, “A wise man’s eyes are in his head.” Solomon’s proverb includes three important aspects of knowing and doing God’s will–the eyes, the head, and wisdom. The eyes connote sight, and thus the ability to see things clearly. A blind person always walks a dangerous path, but keen eyes make every path plain and every footstep sure. Anatomically and neurologically, the eyes connect to the head, so that not only do we see but we also possess the ability to analyze and interpret what we see. In other words, we rationalize what we visualize, and this eye-to-head dynamic enables us both to see and think about the circumstances around them and the paths before them. But the most important element of Solomon’s proverb is neither the eyes nor the head but wisdom. In biblical terms, wisdom is more than visual accuracy and intellectual acumen that enable us to analyze problems and find solutions. Wisdom involves rationality but sanctifies it with spirituality. Wisdom includes the rational ability to use our eyes to see circumstances and our heads to analyze situations, but wisdom transcends physical sight and rational thought and reaches into a supernatural dimension of discernment, a miraculous ability to see things as God sees them, and to think about things as God thinks about them. Wisdom is a tangible, God-given ability to look at the circumstances of Providence, interpret those circumstances, and then make a decision that accords with God’s will. This phenomenal ability to think wisely and do wisely lies within the grasp of every single Christian. “If any man lack wisdom,” James exhorts us, “let him ask of God who gives liberally to all.”

Step VII: Obey

Knowing God’s will requires reading and meditating upon His Word; not trying to figure out things on our won; sensitivity to Spirit’s personality; fervent, effectual prayer; and God-given wisdom. But if we possess all those spiritual graces and do not act, we may know God’s will but we have not done God’s will. Then we would fall into those categories of the spiritual coward who says, “I know God’s will but I fear to do it,” or the spiritual rebel who says, “I know God’s will but I don’t like it.” These are sins of which every Christian must repent. Paul’s maxim to the Thessalonians, “understanding what the will of the Lord is,” necessarily implies that, not only must we know God’s will but also that we must do it. This is where grace comes in. Left to ourselves, none of us would ever do God’s will; but by His grace, all of us can, yea, all of us, must, yea, all of us will do God’s will. Otherwise, we cannot call Jesus Lord and thereby enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus once asked His disciples, “Why do you call Lord if you do not do the things I command you?” Jesus’ words imply an hypocrisy–we cannot say that Jesus is our Lord unless He really is our Lord, unless we are submitted and surrendered to His will. On another occasion Jesus said, “Not everyone who says unto me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” It is not as if Jesus Himself was never tempted with fear of God’s will, or rebellion against God’s will. He was. In the Garden of Gethsemane, facing desertion by His disciples and the brutal and cruel cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Though no mortal or angel dare charge the Son of God with sin, we know nonetheless that He was tested in all points as we are tested, including the test of whether or not He would do God’s will. That is truly “the last temptation of Christ,” and the lesson of Gethsemane. While we cannot possibly imagine the terrible prospect that lay before the Son of God, the stinging whip, the cruel mockery, the ignoble cross, the heavy hammer, the sharp nail, the merciless spear, and alienation from His heavenly Father, all of us have our lesser Gethsemanes and our lighter crosses, but Gethsemanes and crosses nonetheless. May God’s mercy embolden us to follow the example of our dear Savior, who both knew and did God’s will. May God’s grace enable us to pray as He prayed, “Father, not my will, but thine.”

In conclusion, let us flick the switch of God’s Word and stare at that star; let us cease from trying to figure things out by and for ourselves, and instead ask our Heavenly Father for wisdom; in the face of difficult or puzzling circumstances, may we neither quench nor grieve God the Holy Spirit, but always subject our decisions and pathways to His graces; let us look around with new eyes, and interpret what we see with a new head. Above all, let us obey. By God’s grace and mercy, may we both know and do God’s will.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Adultery as Art, Part II

Who will deny that much “art” today is both corrupt and corrupting? And yet the Christian community subsidizes corrupt modern art in numerous ways, not the least of which is at the box office. Sometimes I watch movies as well, but I am not the average movie-watcher. As an academic, I tend to look down upon commercial "art"that has broad popular appeal, convicted that, if the savage herd grazes upon it, then surely it must be fodder. However, every few years I come down out of my ivory tower to attend the theater or watch a rented movie. A few years ago, I found myself in a Blockbuster video store staring at the carton of The English Patient. I must admit that I was interested in this movie since its advertisements showed some beautiful scenery, and critics at large, including the Academy, heralded The English Patient an epic success. So I took the movie from the shelf and walked toward the cashier. However, on my way to check out, I noticed that the movie was rated "R," which prompted me to put it back on the shelf. I seldom watch R-rated movies, and never when nudity or vulgarity permeate or even infiltrate a film. So as I stood there in my brief moral dilemma, deciding whether or not to take or leave the film, my artistic sentiments won out over my moral sensitivities. "Besides," I reasoned with myself, "I can fast-forward any objectionable scenes." So I checked the movie out. Upon returning home, I popped the popcorn, poured the coke, and pressed "play." And I was not disappointed (But I was seduced, in a way!).

The English Patient
is certainly one of the most complex, intriguing motion pictures I have ever watched. The plot is a stream-of-consciousness psychodrama in which a burn patient slips in and out of consciousness. This psychic action provides the viewer with two plots, an interior journey into the patient's past in which he narrates his passionate affair with another man's wife, and an exterior journey into the present of two other sub-plots; one, the burn patient's demise and eventual death, and the other, a second torrid affair between the English patient's nurse and an Indio-English soldier who is expert in disarming explosives.

The English Patient grips its viewer at multiple levels - intellectually, aesthetically, and psychologically. At an intellectual level, the movie appeals even to the staid academic with unusually substantive dialogue and plot, interweaving within its fast-paced verbiage such attractive academic motifs as ancient hieroglyphics, Herodotus's historical narratives, and Platonic philosophy.

The English Patient also has fascinating aesthetic qualities. The airborne scenes over the Sahara's golden sands are breathtaking and, from the pilot's point of view over the shining desert, moving swiftly and silently, the visual imagery takes on a surreal, otherworldly, and hypnotic quality as the planes fly silently without the sound of roaring engines or propellers. Numerous allusions to literature also enhance the aesthetic value of the film. Several of the main characters are intellectuals who are widely read and lead exciting lives. The English patient himself, and his illicit lover, seem mystically united by a common intellectual interest in the Greek historian Herodotus, and his mistress cites Platonic philosophy as if it were her major.

The two exterior plots also beg aesthetic appreciation. The English patient spends his last days in a burned out monastery, which gives the setting a hallowed tone including several eye-catching shots of the cross upon the monastery dome against a cloudless blue sky. The other exterior subplot focuses upon the English patient's nurse and her illicit lover. Even though the English patient's nurse is an uncultured technocrat caught up in the war-related necessity of nursing his horrific injuries, her illicit lover, the explosives expert, is a cultured Muslim who seduces her by an imaginative journey into the world of art. From her window to his boudoir, he lights for her a candled path, and then leads her to a bombed out church where beautiful art works hang high on the church walls. Inaccessible to her because of the height at which the art hangs, he creates a rope pulley by which he raises her eye-level to the paintings. With lighted flare in hand, she flies Peter-Pan like through the monastery and surveys the art works, while her sexual accomplice manipulates the pulley and enables her to gaze upon these precious works of art.

The English Patient also grips its viewer psychologically. The movie mesmerizes the mind, moving one's imagination through a complex labyrinth of interesting characters, thoughtful dialogue, and a triple plot. True to Aristotle's formula for a good tragedy, the tragic pathos of the characters evokes an empathetic response from the viewer as we witness their suffering through several cycles of tragic circumstances. But Aristotle not only said that a good tragedy must only arouse in the theater-goer a sympathetic pity for tragic characters, he also said that a good tragedy must arouse fear in the viewer from having viewed such tragic action, and by this fear the viewer should have a cathartic experience through which he might avoid such tragedy himself. But I dare say that such a moral purpose, inherent to classical Greek tragedy, is woefully lacking in The English Patient. The movie knows nothing of anything moral, admitting no right or wrong, demonstrating no cause-effect relationship between immorality and tragedy; the chief protagonist categorically declares at one point in the movie, "There is no God," and no character does anything to diminish the nihilism of that declaration.

The movie ends, having narrated the adulterous lives and tragic deaths of its two main characters, leaving the uncritical viewer with the grandiose delusion that he has witnessed a glorious spectacle of star-crossed lovers caught in adverse time and circumstances that destroy them. "Ah," says the viewer, "theirs indeed was a love to be envied." But this is a deception, subtly and probably unconsciously conceived by artistic minds who have not a clue about how their talents and works of art contribute to the moral demise of an already downward spiraling society such as ours.

The tension between art and morality, as well as art's seductive power to demoralize culture, is one of which many philosophers and artists have been aware. James Joyce, perhaps the greatest English novelist, advocates the essential incompatibility between “art” and morality in his work A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man. In this novel, the main character's name, Stephen Dedalus, symbolically represents Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Dedalus the artisan. The plot is abstract; if Dedalus, the artistic side of Joyce's main character, is to cultivate his artistic talents, then Stephen, the Christian side of the character, must be martyred; more simply stated, Christianity must fall if art is to rise on waxen wings. Another brilliant English writer, Oscar Wilde, affirmed that an artist cannot have "ethical sympathies"; for Wilde, one of England's first public homosexuals, art must express beauty apart from any consideration of moral absolutes. In his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde illustrates his philosophy of art by showing that beautiful art necessarily destroys one's soul, for art requires the soul's careless indulgence into “beauty.”

The next day after I watched The English Patient, I took a country drive. As I meditated upon what I had viewed the previous evening, I was bombarded with movie titles that all did the same thing--transformed adultery into art, such as The Bridges of Madison County and Fatal Attraction (I've seen neither), and television programs, novels, country songs, and other examples too numerous to mention. As I mused upon these art forms, it struck me that adultery is and always has been a favorite subject of art, and that one of the paramount purposes of art is to disguise the moral ugliness and bitter consequences of adultery and make it something beautiful, just as The English Patient had done. Such a purpose in art should make us recoil from it and examine, not only how artists and their audiences celebrate those transgressions God condemns, but also what our response should be as Christian to any art forms that glorify and beautify evil.

On a Satanic level, moral corruption seeks to cloak its dark ugliness and robe itself in a majestic but deceptive radiance that lures our souls to hell as moths to flame. When Lucifer fell, he fell as one perfect in beauty, but his internal corruption did not distort his external radiance. Though a morally and spiritually evil angel, Lucifer transforms himself into an angel of light whose radiance shines with multi-colored beauty irresistible to the natural eye. Every precious stone is his covering: the blue topaz, the shining diamond, the black onyx, the fiery opal; but no stone upon his deceitful breast pulsates with greater lucidity and warmth than the dark, scarlet ruby - adultery. Satan is the father, not only of murder and lies, but also of adultery, for adultery diverts affection and adoration from love's proper object and perversely bestows "love" upon an undeserving and indecent recipient. Lucifer fell because his love for the LORD God was adulterated toward himself and other creatures, and since his fall, Lucifer's business has been to pervert the true image of God and divert the affections of angels and men from the LORD God to adulterated images of deity. The first and greatest commandment is that we should Love the LORD our God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls, and thus the greatest sin is to pervert love by diverting it from its proper object to some other object to be worshiped or adored. Except for false religion, what better device could Lucifer craft to misdirect the souls of men and angels than art? And Satan does misguide us merely through art but through any creature-centered attraction that redirects our affections away from God towards an object of worship. With Lucifer's help we have created gods after our own image, from movie stars to musicians, athletic icons to corrupt politicians and princesses. Our culture is so absorbed in this idolatry and adultery that even we Christians do not realize the extent to which our souls have been seduced.

Weak and pitiful beings we are, whose souls can be stolen away from God by what men's minds have conceived and their hands have created. Like hideous Zombies under a warlock's spell, our culture has been enchanted by an old witch's brew mixed sweetly anew with modern poisons - popular music, the drug culture, Hollywood, television, athletic icons, and, yes, intellectualism, relativism, and art both high and low. Low art-forms such as rock and roll and country music, television, romance novels, and movies, have not only diminished our ability to appreciate higher art-forms, but have also vulgarized our morals, for the subject matter of these lower art-forms is often blatant immorality. By watching and listening to such vulgarity, not only to we desensitize ourselves morally but we also actually unconsciously participate in the evil these art-forms express. High art-forms, such as master painters and composers, can also be the means whereby Satan deceives both the artist and his devotees. No one was ever more evil than the atheist Wagner, and Picasso warped our perspective of the human figure, especially woman, more than any European since the Marquis de Sade.

Plato asserts that art holds a superior sway over its subject matter; that is, the artist is sovereign over his canvas, the musician over his instrument. But art can also hold a superior power over its observer. By spending an hour watching television, two hours at the movie, or a day listening to music, one willfully submits himself to the authority of the artist behind the thing observed or heard, whether music or image. What movie-watcher or music listener can truly watch or listen with complete moral guard, showing no chink in his intellectual, emotional, psychological, or moral armor? Hardly anyone. We cannot take fire into our bosoms without being burned.

The art to which we give our eyes and ears also proves that we have some kind of affinity for what we see and hear, and even more dangerous, art provides us with the opportunity to participate vicariously in what we see and hear. Can mortal men and women, in whose flesh are the motions of sin, deny that our sinful nature cannot be attracted to, excited by and, to some extent, satisfied with watching and listening to that which is evil? Can our fallen emotions, corrupt minds, and lustful flesh concentrate upon art forms which deny moral absolutes, rationalize evil, and subtly invite us to participate in the same folly? To the high-minded and self-righteous who say, "Not I! I can watch or listen without being affected," hear the words of Jesus: "You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do." He who thinks he can stand strong in the face of artistic evil should take heed lest he fall into its quagmire.

Mightier men and more virtuous women than we have been dragged into the pit by lesser powers than those which seek to seduce us. The electronic demons of music, film, and technology fill our ears and eyes with their seductive chants and images. Add to this the dark, spinning vortex of our corrupt society that is spiraling downward to destruction at light speed, the vacuum-like power of evil can suck us into hell's gaping jaws and swallow us up like a fly on a snake's tongue. In view of art's seductive and destructive power, perhaps we would be wise to remember the words of a children's hymn:

O be careful little hands what you do . . .
O be careful feet where you go . . .
O be careful little ears what you hear . . .
O be careful little eyes what you see . . .

Friday, August 24, 2012

Adultery as Art (Part I)


 

No, I have not turned my title around backwards. I did not mean to say "art as adultery" but rather "adultery as art." Art as adultery is, indeed, a common and longstanding idea. Plato asserts that art adulterates reality because it is twice removed from ultimate reality: 

Ultimate Reality- The idea of a chair - The World of Forms

Immediate Reality - The chair - The Material World

Artistic "Reality" - Artistic rendition of a chair, the Aesthetic World

As we know, Plato thought the material world only shadowed a higher, spiritual world, the "world of forms." Therefore, to Plato, not only was the material world one step removed from ultimate reality, but the artist's representation of anything material, such as a paining of a tree, a musical composition, or a poem, was an even vaguer shadow, two steps removed from reality. For Plato, moreover, art inherently posed a double danger. First, Plato considered art a natural deceiver that misled its viewer or listener to focus upon something less than real and perhaps even accept this unreality as reality. We certainly see this malady of art-delusion throughout our culture with its inordinate fascination upon fictitious books, television programs, and movies. We read and view fiction as if it were real. And not only do we often mistake fiction for reality, our fascination with fiction probably indicates that we are a people not happy with reality, not happy with our own jobs, marriages, and lives and therefore endeavor to escape our mundane existence by living vicariously through some fictitious character or situation. Art, for Plato, also held a second danger in that the character of the artist was necessarily and always behind and within his art work, and therefore the viewer of, or listener to, art was momentarily brought under the artist's control, necessarily exposed to, and usually influenced by, the artist's character. If the artist's character was not temperate, just, compassionate, and generally good, but rather intemperate, evil, crass, and lecherous, his art would have an evil influence upon his admirers whether they knew it or not. St. Peter implies the same artist-admirer dynamic when he says, "whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved."

Art as an adulteration of reality has even more profound implications today than in ancient Greece. According to Aristotle, art should be mimetic; that is, art should faithfully imitate reality. This is what we call realism, and realism's highest achievement was perhaps in the paintings of artists such as Raphael, whose portraits and landscapes faithfully and beautifully look like life itself. But since the impressionists, such as Manet, Monet, and Renoir, art has diverted from the path of realism. Indeed, something fascinating attends Monet's canvas of opaque lights, diffuse forms, and pastel colors. But impressionism ultimately does not represent reality but rather distorts it. Obviously, impressionism alters the fine lines that define form and also obscures the natural patterns and images of humans, flowers, water, trees, etc. Whether impressionism is a "beautiful distortion" or not shall be left to another discussion., but impressionism is not, as Aristotle said art should be, an imitation of life but rather an interpretation of life. Now perhaps someone could argue that impressionism imitates life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the historical and philosophical context of Darwinism, Biblical criticism, Marxism, existentialism, and nihilism, perhaps impressionism faithfully represented its zeitgeist. But even if we admit that impressionism faithfully depicts the relativism of its day, are we ready to admit that 19th-century relativism is truth, or do we not rather say that 19th-century relativism is a lie that impressionist painters attempt to "beautify"? Whatever the case, impressionism marks the starting point from which art departed from absolute form and has now led us into the unreality of Picasso's mutilation of the human form, particularly woman; Thomas Kincaid's melodrama; and Serrano's Piss Christ. Who will deny that much of what we call "art" today is both corrupt and corrupting? 

In conclusion, we remind our reader that, although the above discussion focuses upon "art as adultery" from a Platonic-Aristotelian perspective, those remarks are only prefatory to our main topic, "adultery as art," which we shall discuss tomorrow in Part II, God willing.