Science fiction and/or fantasy proves to be a wonderfully continuous source for profound, spiritual insights… (Don’t you think?) It’s a sad commentary on our times that Religious Seminaries and Bible Schools (not to mention churches and the preachers in their pulpits) don’t resource SciFi writings and movies regularly to help with opening people’s “spiritual eyes”…
Here’s just one example I’ve been reflecting on for a bit: while reading Murray Leinster’s short story about a planet settled by the Irish (“Attention St. Patrick”), the ruling council of the planet, Eire, had chosen to import black snakes from Earth in order to help control a disastrous plague of “dinies” — miniature dinosaur-like creatures that ate everything that had iron in it (from zippers to nails to trucks and tractors and re-bar in concrete structures!)
The spiritual applications in this story are obvious! Right? Amen! (And not jus’ ‘cause it mentions Saint Paddy!)
[Warning — Rabbit Trail: This story, published in 1960, is the first reference to “tweeting” as a form of social networking… See End Note.]
In “Attention St. Patrick”, an official from Home — Ireland, on Earth — has come to examine this planet, Eire, in a distant solar system far from Earth. Eire had been settled as a haven for Earth’s overpopulated Irish cities. This official had the authority to declare the newly populated planet a “safe haven” to receive a huge Irish migration — or to ban it from all further communication with Earth. The only difficulty with approving Eire is that its officials had imported huge, black snakes that loved to eat “dinies”; it could hardly be said that it was as pure of snakes as St. Patty had left Ireland ages before and therefore the planet was likely going to be cut-off from any further Irish settlement.
Refuting this baseless accusation, the president of Eire explained to the Earth official that the huge, long, black critters that ate the “dinies” weren’t “snakes”. His reasoning rested on a Latin phrase:
“It’s a matter of terminology,” said the president sternly. “And it’s not the name that makes a thing, but what it does! Actio sequitur esse, as the sayin’ goes.”
Actually, the classic Latin phrase is agere sequitur credere, translated as“action follows belief” or (in other words) “We act according to what we believe (ourselves to be)”. [This, BTW, is a very spiritual phrase, you understand, found in James T. Bretzke’s Consecrated phrases: a Latin theological dictionary : Latin expressions commonly found in theological writings (Liturgical Press, 1998), p. 10. Can’t hardly be more spiritual than a theological dictionary, can you?]
But once again, the spiritual principle used by the President of the distant planet of Eire was, “It’s not the name that makes a thing, but what it does…”
His argument simply held that those long, sinuous black critters weren’t “snakes” because a “snake” was “… “a creature that sneaks about upon the ground and poisons by its bite when it’s not blarneyin’ unwise females into tasting’ apples. Do the black creatures here do anything of that sort? They do not! They go about their business plain and open, givin’ a half of the road and a how’d’y-do to those they meet. They’re sober and they’re industrious. They mind their own business, which is killin’ the Eirean dinies! It’s their profession! Did yea ever hear of a snake with a profession? I’ll not have it said that there’s snakes on Eire! And I’ll denounce yea as a conscienceless politician if yea dare to put such a name on the honest, friendly, industrious Eirean dinie eaters that up to this moment have been the savin’ of the colony! I’ll not have it!”
[Don’t forget that spiritual principle: “It’s not the name that makes a thing, but what it does…”]
Now, what can that tell us about the state of the Church, Churchianity, and Christendom in today’s world? If church people and their organizations were properly named by what they do rather than some name out of history that they’ve clung to out of habit, would they all be properly callin’ themselves “Christians”? Wouldn’t that name imply that they were “little Christs” or at least “Christlike people”?
But those who have called themselves “Christians” haven’t provided a very good reputation for Christ throughout the centuries. For example, the Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, is famously reported to have said that he would have given Christianity more of a serious consideration if the Christians he’d known were anything like their Master. Which leaves us wondering if the best argument against “becoming Christian” aren’t Christians themselves?
[One old man argued with me about thirty years ago (dead now and unfortunately wiser for it), insisting that he was definitely a Christian. “After all,” he grouched, amazingly serious, “Wasn’t I born into a Christian nation? I wasn’t born into a Moslem nation or a Buddhist nation or some pagan African nation… I was born a Christian!”]
But, as the story of St. Patty’s far off planet says, “It’s not the name that makes a thing, but what it does…”
So, here’s a practical application of that Latin phrase… (This is what learn’ed church theologians call “praxis”: Praxis is “actual practice”, as distinguished from a theological theory which highlights a sizable gap between theory and praxis, text and world…” or even name and action:
A person may be called “Christian”, but it’s not the name that makes a thing so, but what it does…
One can call a building or organization a “church”, but it’s not the name that makes a thing so, but what effect it has in this world…
Jesus told his followers that no one could be his disciple unless they were willing to die to self daily and live for the sake of unselfishly loving others; He did not come to establish a religion; he came out of Love in order to deliver all of humanity from sin and death, taking away from their lives all darkness and in its stead, bringing to them immortality. He came that humankind could move from a broken, corrupt mortality into an everlasting Life.
“It’s not the name that makes a thing, but what it does…” suggests that Christians are people who love like Jesus Christ loved and lay down their lives for the sake of others, as Christ did. And the same measure must apply to “church”: what is a church, if “church” is not “the name that makes a thing, but what it does”?
What, then, is a “church” supposed to be doing (not what is it supposed to be “called”?) Surfing through the New Testament, we find references to what “churches” are supposed to do — not many, since mostly the first century writers focused on what individual Christians were supposed to be doing (like loving one another, putting the needs of others above their own, humbling themselves to be servants to friends and neighbors whether “saved” or “unsaved” like Jesus did, etc.)
But the church is supposed to be doing things too! The “church” is supposed to…
1. … effectively resist the Gates of Hell in this world [e.g., Mt. 16.18];
2. … be gatherings of people who pay close attention to one another in order to care for, encourage, lift up, and spiritually build one another with Spirit-empowered talents [Rom 12];
3. … celebrate the union in Christ of all Believers in any given locality in an Agape Love Feast (reminding them all that they’ve all been taking from sin and death and have been made One in Christ — “they who were divided into many have now become One Loaf, that is, the Body of Jesus Christ…) [e.g., 1Cor 10 & 11e.g., ];
4. … on occasion (as directed by the Spirit), provide financial care for distant gatherings of the church (as in the Believers in Phillippi financially supporting Paul so he could minister to the Believers at Corinth without asking for support from any of them [e.g., 2Cor 11.8 & Php 4.15];
5. … locally manifest the spiritual Body of Jesus Christ, Who fills all in all [e.g., Eph 1.22];
6. … make known to the demonic powers and principalities in the atmosphere about us the manifold wisdom of God [e.g., Eph. 3.10];
7. … be the House of God (not made by human hands) [e.g., 1Tim 3.15];
8. … take care of elderly widows who have no family to care for them [e.g., 1Tim 5.16];
9. … provide a gathering gin which Jesus Himself sings praises to His Father [Heb 2.12];
10. … pray for the healing of the sick [e.g., Jms 5.14];
11. … love & care for those who the Spirit sends in travel to other places to spread the Good News [e.g., 3Jn 5-9];
12. … be patient in the face of persecution and not lose their primary Love (agape) [e.g., Rev 2.3ff];
13. … remain strong during persecution and refuse to allow legalism to replace the Good News of grace [e.g., Rev 2.8ff];
14. … resist false teachers with seducing doctrines [e.g., Rev 2 12.ff]
15. … love & care for others, but refuse to allow spiritua suducers to remain in a local fellowship [e.g., Rev 2.18ff];
16. … hold on to what the Spirit has given them, and stay spiritually *awake* [e.g., Rev 3.1ff];
17. … go *through* any spiritual doors God opens, and hold on to what the Spirit has given them [e.g., Rev 3.7];
18. … refuse to all material wealth supplant the love for God and commitment to Him [e.g., Rev 3.14ff].
Remember — “It’s not the name that makes a thing, but what it does…”
The list above shows us what the “church” was actually doing in the first century. Notice some things that are lacking from this New Testament picture: building immense facilities, collecting monies to support those facilities, financially supporting organizational administrators, gathering once a week only to listen to a sermon and pay tithes, buying ad space in the local media to persuade people to “come to church” and hiring advertising professionals to mount and run such ad campaigns, making lists of church “members” [either you’re in Christ or you’re not in Christ — no such thing in the NT about “membership rolls”!], holding so many different meetings throughout the week (and expecting members to participate) that members have no time for connecting with people (in the community who need to know God) or even connecting with the people in their own families (spouses, sons and daughters. etc.) who get ignored in the face of too much “church” busi-ness), promoting political candidates, building the town’s (or world’s) largest Sunday School, etc.
None of which show up in the records of the early church.
In contrast, look over the (not-inclusive) list above of 18 things the early church was doing and ask yourself (concerning the church with which you’re familiar) how much of the church’s resources and energies are specifically aimed toward accomplishing what the early church had been instructed to do.
Only you can do this examination of your church experience (and of yourself as well!)
(Remember — “It’s not the name that makes a thing, but what it does…”, or what you do, assuming you’re “called” a “Christian”…)
End Note : The First Use of “Twitter” as a Social Communicating Tool
First published in “Astounding Science Fiction”, January, 1960
Author, Murry Leinster, in “Attention St. Patrick”:
<“He was headin,” said the president, “for the cold-storage plant that Sean O’Donohue had twitted me was empty of the provisions we’d had to eat up because of the dinies. It’s no matter that it’s empty now though. We can grow victuals in the fields from now on, because now the cold rooms are packed solid with dinies