A parable for the Church in our time

In preparation for a Lenten series on heresy (the avoidance of it, not the encouragement of it), I am reading G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics today. I ran across this gem, which seems to me an apt parable for the Church in our time.

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something — let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached on the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good…” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamppost is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmedieval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp we must now discuss in the dark.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Photo by flickr user Florin Draghici.

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4 Responses

  1. Bob Chapman says:

    The discussion should not have been about the nature of light. The discussion should have been about why do you want to remove the gas lamp from the start.

    Even if there had been a discussion about light, and it was decided that light was a good thing, there are still questions. How do you generate the light? What type of lamp standard?

    Instead, if you had started with a discussion about why you want to remove the lamp, you still wouldn’t have settled the issue. What you would have done is clarify the issue or issues at hand further.

    That guy after the iron may still want light. Instead, he wants it using light standards of modern design (for example, a base that breaks away if hit by a car), with modern materials, using LEDs. Or, he is will to accept some of it. [I take no shame in transposing Chesterton to the 21st Century.]

    Those after no good could by removing light for nefarious purposes or creating anarchy would be discernible and rejected.

    Even so, having a discussion about the nature of light first would be better than removing the gas lamp without any consideration of what happens afterwords.

  2. A very interesting parable that feeds into my own sense of self-hereticalness:

    As mentioned before, the thoughts of all the people were what to do (immediately) with the vessel holding (emitting) the light, and not the light itself. Having made no such plans, they lost (they are lost from) the light.

    So if our faith tells us that we carry the light of God around with us in earthen vessels (ourselves and our service), so that others may know that the light is God’s light and not our own…

    Why are cathedrals full of polished silver and brass and gold, and not well turned-hand-thrown clay? Why are there “Princes” of the church?

    The “light” is GOD’S light and we cannot enhance it or make it prettier than what it already is.

    Yet, if we remove the silver and gold and brass without first throwing and firing the clay, we then are lost from the light we so hastily threw away.

    It’s an interesting conundrum that becomes a mobius, turning forever inward on itself: how we “see” God (or not…eg the nefarious man) in the trappings all around us.

  3. Scott Gunn says:

    Bob, I think you hit upon my point. Too often we get busy on the process without considering of the aim. Elsewhere in the same book, Chesterton says that healthy organizations focus on their aims, while unhealthy organizations focus on process. Reminds me of all the evangelism programs, when maybe people do, in fact need to talk about the Light: the Light of Christ.

  4. Phil Snyder says:

    Elsewhere in the same book, Chesterton says that healthy organizations focus on their aims, while unhealthy organizations focus on process.

    What is TEC but a huge process oriented church? It seems that many in TEC want to be “free” of the old restrictions on belief and practice, but are not willing to look to the consequences of their belief. TEC is knocking down the lamp post without considering where it will receive light or if it even wants light.

    Phil Snyder

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