Sunday, August 2, 2009

Augustine and Pelagius For Us Ladies

"O God, command what You will, and give what You command," prayed Augustine, the 5th century bishop of Hippo, Africa, and so answered the growing heresy of the day taught by, among others, a British monk named Pelagius. Pelagius answered Augustine's thought with his own: God would never command something that is not in the ability of man to do.

This was not the first serious doctrinal conflict that had arisen in the church, but it is one of the first that provided theological labels still in use. Although Pelagius' views were condemned as unbiblical at the Council of Carthage in 418, they remained popular with many and have persisted in one form or another to this very day. Most of us in the church are unaware of these historical events and unfamiliar with the terms Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, yet the views of Pelagius and others like him still deeply affect our understanding.

This conflict of understanding is one reason we have trouble growing and changing into the image of Christ, which is God's will for us. The New Testament words of Jesus and the apostles concerning how we are to live, and what sort of people we are to be, can seem so hopelessly beyond us that our eyes (and hearts) glaze over. We just can't apply such high standards to our own lives! Or, we determine to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get with the program of obeying God's commands. We make resolutions and "decisions" for Christ that harden eventually into a rigid lifestyle of rules. We really want to be holy, but feel it must come by our own efforts.

Either way we fall short of God's requirements. He does demand that His people be holy, set apart and conformed to the image of His Son, but He is not glorified by our own attempts at righteous living resulting in rigidity and self-righteousness. They are doomed to fail.

This is the dilemma that has led multitudes from Isaiah, to Paul, to Augustine and Luther to fall on their faces before the righteous demands of God and cry out, "God, you are holy and I am not! Command what you will--I have no say-so or argument anymore with Your holy and just law. Only, give what I need to obey Your commands!"

This is the prayer from the heart that God is waiting to hear. We have to come to the end of ourselves, and see very plainly that we will never fulfill God's righteousness by our own efforts.

This stuff really matters (thus a world-wide council convened in 418 A.D. in order to get it settled, or so they'd hoped.) And to bring it all down to our world, it matters greatly to us women; the stakes are so high that Paul says if we let the ball drop, and don't become doers of the word and not just hearers, we will actually aid the enemies of God and bring reproach to His gospel (Titus 2:5). What will we do about commands like this, which we cannot obey in our own strength and we dare not simply glaze over?

"Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.

For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening" (1 Peter 3:1-6).

We'll fly to Jesus for help.

Lord, command what You will, and give what You command.

(learn more about Augustine and Pelagius here)

Photo by janusz l