Does this sound familiar at all?
What follows is a lengthy quote from Cyprian, the somewhat controversial bishop of Carthage in the 3rd century. Cyprian if often quoted today as having written in “De unitate ecclesiae” (On the unity of the church) the following: He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother, which is put forth as a defense of Roman Catholicism specifically and organized religion in general. Of course this ignores what Cyprian writes just a few sentences earlier: The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure which certainly flies in the face of those who tout the value of the “visible” church containing a mixture of believers and unbelievers. That isn't the point of this post though.
Cyprian was not a perfect man by any means and had some questionable theological stances but his description below of the “lapsi” or "lapsed" is interesting. The lapsed were those who, during the horrific persecution of Christians in Carthage, turned away from the faith and proved themselves to be false professors. When the persecution receded, they desired to come back to the church. Cyprian was outraged that they were accepted back without question after having failed to stand fast. This is how he describes them:
Each one was desirous of increasing his estate; and forgetful of what believers had either done before in the times of the apostles, or always ought to do, they, with the insatiable ardour of covetousness, devoted themselves to the increase of their property. Among the priests there was no devotedness of religion; among the ministers there was no sound faith: in their works there was no mercy; in their manners there was no discipline. In men, their beards were defaced; in women, their complexion was dyed: the eyes were falsified from what God's hand had made them; their hair was stained with a falsehood. Crafty frauds were used to deceive the hearts of the simple, subtle meanings for circumventing the brethren. They united in the bond of marriage with unbelievers; they prostituted the members of Christ to the Gentiles. They would swear not only rashly, but even more, would swear falsely; would despise those set over them with haughty swelling, would speak evil of one another with envenomed tongue, would quarrel with one another with obstinate hatred. Not a few bishops s who ought to furnish both exhortation and example to others, despising their divine charge, became agents in secular business, forsook their throne, deserted their people, wandered about over foreign provinces, hunted the markets for gainful merchandise, while brethren were starving in the Church. They sought to possess money in hoards, they seized estates by crafty deceits, they increased their gains by multiplying usuries. What do not such as we deserve to suffer for sins of this kind, when even already the divine rebuke has forewarned us, and said, "If they shall forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they shall profane my statutes, and shall not observe my precepts, I will visit their offences with a rod, and their sins with scourges?" (Cyprian, Lapsed, VI)
I think this is very interesting. See how much of what Cyprian wrote describes the church today. The were concerned with increasing their own wealth even as those they claimed as brothers starved. They married unbelievers and women devoted themselves to their immodest outward appearance. Arrogance and covetousness were common place. The elders among them lacked soundness in doctrine and exhibited no works of mercy. I especially was struck by how the pursuit of financial gain amidst the suffering of others bothered Cyprian. I sometimes look around at the values of the Western church and wonder if we worship Christ or if we worship capitalism. I fear that in the midst of even the mildest of persecutions, the likes of which we have never experienced in America, churches would be empty. A religion that is appealing when comfortable and easily cast aside when not bears no resemblance to Biblical Christianity regardless of how flowery the words are that come from the pulpit or how solemn the administration of the sacraments.
What do you think? Do you see the resemblance between the lapsed church-goers of the 3rd century and the bulk of those in the institution of what is called “the church” amidst the Western culture of today?