You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum…it is madness to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. — Bishop Frank Weston to the Church of England in 1923
There’s a theological itch that gets scratched in most every generation of the Church. It started first with Gnosticism and Docetism, but other varieties of this itch have also appeared in the Church based on the larger cultural currents present at the time (Prosperity Theology is a current itch). While no single explanation tells the whole story, let me offer a compelling one for us to consider: this itch is caused by our desire to have a Religion of Glory rather than the Gospel’s Religion of the Cross. Whether it’s Gnosticism, Docetism, or Prosperity Theology, we’re drawn to a religion that focuses on our Glory rather than on the Cross, which the Gospel proclaims as revealing God’s very nature. It’s not Glory that defines God, it’s the Cross.
This recurring itch isn’t surprising given human nature. We’d prefer the Cross only to be an unfortunate, unpleasant means to a glorious end rather than the revelation of God’s very nature. Everything about our current cultural ethos screams “Glory!” Business success, athletic victory, or celebrity attainment are all about achieving Glory for oneself. So, business people daily violate basic ethics, athletes cheat, and celebrities pursue self-promotion to get such Glory. And if we can’t get Glory for ourselves, then we settle for basking in the reflected Glory of those we worship in the culture around us. It then stands to reason that we’d want a religion that would affirm our pursuit of such Glory; a religion that tells us that it’s what God truly wants for us all.
Like with any itch, we scratch this one even though it produces in us only temporary satisfaction. As Bishop Weston so clearly points out: We who worship God must connect such worship to how we live with others. To praise God on Sunday and then to turn around and bully, cheat, or exploit God’s children during the week means we have not yet chosen to learn and follow a Religion of the Cross. A Religion of the Cross confesses a God who gives grace to those disgraced by life, sight to those who have been blind to God’s mercies, healing to those who have been sickened by the world, and life to those who have finally realized just how dead they were without God’s forgiveness.
Beginning today, we’ll all need to have a revived and robust Religion of the Cross because we’re entering a time where, for some, Glory will be all that matters. They’ll further erode ethical behavior, normalize cheating as an acceptable way to be a “winner,” and baptize selfishness by calling it a virtue. We must be steadfast in our humility that God alone is God and we are not. We must insist that God’s grace alone is sufficient for us all. And, we must proclaim that nothing outside of sharing God’s unmerited grace with others has any permanent claim on us. Bishop Weston rightly called it “madness” when we suppose we can have a safe religion while we witness the degradation of God’s children. It’s time to take up the cross and follow Jesus!