Means and Ends

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St. Seraphim of Sarov is quoted as saying, “You cannot achieve good ends through evil means.” I have taken this to be a given since I first read it. It does not mean that God does not work all things together for good. But it does mean that I must consider carefully how I go about seeking to do a “good” thing. In the history of Christianity there have been many tempatations to use evil means to achieve good. More than one leader of the Church, bishop, pope, General Convention, Synod, etc., has defended a bad decision by the good he or they thought it would achieve. These are tragic moments in the life of Christianity.

One of the great modern tragedies in Christianity has been the mistaken understanding of evangelism. “I have become all things to all men if by any means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22),  is St. Paul’s famous self-description. It has been lifted out of its context for a number of years (as well as similar passages) to justify any number of actions by Christians in order “to save some.” Most particularly in our modern world, some denominations (and “non-denominations”) have themselves become a members of the market, recognizing the unbeliever as a consumerof religion, and itself as a purveyor. God, or salvation, becomes the commodity.

Besides the obvious errors in that calculus, the is the failure to recognize that the nature of the market is that it is governed by the “passions.” Thus, particularly in our modern world of sophisticated advertising, our basest instincts are used to sell anything and everything to us. Whatever works. Sex sells – and thus automobiles somehow become entwined with sex in the eyes of consumers. Young girls are marketed into anorexic neuroses by the manipulation of their passions. Virtually nothing is sold to us that has not made some appeal to our passions.

It is interesting that the early Church generally practiced a three-year catechumenate, the better part of which was spent in spiritual formation (and this prior to Baptism). The entry into the Church was an entry not through the passions, but in spite of the passions.

There is something disordered in the marketing of the gospel by an appeal to a baser instinct (success, happiness, or free candy and bicycles). I might add (stepping on the toes of some of my fellow Orthodox) that there are similar questions to be asked about fund-raising through games of chance and the like. Stewardship is a fundamental Christian virtue and should be taught and inculcated in our members. “Raising money” is, in fact, not the point.

As a side note to any who wonder, my Archbishop practices and teaches the tithe and encourages only this Biblical teaching in the area of stewardship. I follow his lead. 

If we teach that human beings are saved by grace (which is indeed correct), why is it that we believe that the gospel must be marketed as though it were a commodity? Are we saved by the same forces that sell a Chevrolet? This not only demeans the gospel, but, in fact, denies the doctrine of salvation by grace. We cannot achieve good ends through evil means.

When St. Paul said he became “all things to all men,” he did not indicate that he in any way became a sinner in order to save sinners. Instead, he was an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). None of us are called to be anything less. Strangely, it is illegal for American companies to use bribes overseas in order to sell American products. May God give us the grace to believe in grace.

Comments

  1. says

    Is there any such thing as organized evangelism in Orthodoxy then? It seems to me the best way to reach out and invite people to “taste and see” is through personal relationships of one person to another. I assume this a question for many former Portestants who are used to a large focus on strategic evangelism.

  2. says

    I’ve heard of various means. It’s not unusual to have a special speaker or program.

    My parish started in a warehouse 10 years ago. We have a website and a notice in the paper. We’ve grown slow and steadily over the years. No mega church stories. And I surely could have done a better job as priest. I certainly believe and practice preaching the gospel, and using every opportunity given me. But there has been no use of gimmicks. Indeed, I believe it’s good to be patient with those who visit. Grace will do its work and I need to trust that.

  3. says

    That’s refreshing. Ambassador versus Salesman.

    Another question:
    You wrote “…a three-year catechumenate, the better part of which was spent in spiritual formation…” What was/is there in catechism besides spiritual formation? Theology?