We moderns are obsessed with “causes.” We love to stand and fight for things. We fight to end racial prejudice, we fight for social justice, we fight to end hunger, we fight to end war, we fight for abortion, we fight to end drugs, we fight for life, we fight to preserve the Constitution, we fight to bear arms, we fight for the flag, we fight for faith and so forth. We really are modern-day crusaders. Our mighty banners of conquest are raised through hashtags, Facebook filters, and a sea of tweets as we exclaim death to the infidels who are our opposites.
Do not misunderstand. Such a critique is not a wholesale denouncement to standing for or against various ideas, values, policies, or platforms. We can and should stand when we see wrongs exercised at the expense of justice and goodness. We should “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” in which we find ourselves just as God exclaimed through the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:7). But as always there is a grave danger that lurks in our midst when we take up such a quest. Even in our campaigning to “make the world better” or “stand against injustice” we can lose sight of Christ; we can become blinded to the True End for which we fight. C.S. Lewis speaks with wisdom on this point. In The Screwtape Letters Lewis’ Screwtape gives the young Wormwood insight into the ways ‘causes’ can be used to slowly destroy his patient Christian’s faith. Read and weep,
All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy [God], are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them…. Whichever [your Christian patient] adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the [the cause he takes up] as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which [his] religion becomes merely part of the ‘cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of [the effort]. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours – and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.
The shift here is subtle, as all the shifts are that we have looked at in the Gentle Slopes series. Notice that at first “The Cause” we take up is secondary and just part of our Christianity. This is when we still are keeping Christ at the center of all our reasoning and intended ends. But then notice, in time our Christianity slowly becomes part of “The Cause,” it becomes peripheral, deadened by earthly concerns alone. In short, Christianity slowly loses its Eternal reality and subsequently its spirituality. And so, we enter a state of being Pharisaical in all the good causes we take up – they become ends in themselves instead of satellites orbiting the greater constellation of Christ. So, for example, Jesus is a white gun-toting red-blood libertarian at our gun conventions, or He is the brown man oppressed by systemic imperial oppression at our social justice marches, or He is the free-caring anti-judgmental “love is love” guru at our sexual liberation rallies, or He is the no nonsense stern faced hyper judgmental commander at our conferences.
The sad thing is that in all of these Christ has ceased to guide the values, ideas, and platform, of “the cause” and instead has become another piece of furniture we rearrange in the rooms of our life to accent our preferences (i.e. our social, theological, or political preferences). What is happening is we are losing sight of the eternal by making that which is temporal our eternal.
THE DISTINCTIVE CAUSE FOR WHICH WE CRUSADE
This is stingily personal. I tend to be the type that can make axes and grind them. I have been a “keyboard crusader,” a social media warrior, and even a professional political ranter. Sometimes simultaneously. I will be frank, I make no apologies for speaking Truth nor standing for Truth, but there is something to be said when the central driving focus, the bread, and butter of existence, of one’s life (thinking of how I can be at times!) becomes consumed with things doomed to ash and shadow (Psalm 102:26, Matthew 24:35, Luke 21:33, Hebrews 1:11).
Once again, do not misunderstand! I am not saying one should not be engaged in great causes or stand for one’s values or ideas or even support a platform or a policy. This is noble, this is good, and this is just. But what we should do as we engage in such causes is ask the fundamental question,
“For what end do I do this?”
It is the Adversary’s job to keep us – through busyness, exhaustion, and service – from ever asking such a question. But we must. If we honestly believe the world is not less than but more than matter and energy, if we truly believe that there is a purpose for which all of Creation was made, if we are truly convinced that humans have a cosmic identity and meaning, if we truly believe Jesus is the climactic spiritual revelation to all human questions and needs, if we truly believe Heaven is a place to be gained and Hell a place to be shunned, then we cannot but ask such a question!
Sadly, much of modern Christendom cannot be bothered to ask such a question. We help in soup kitchens, we assist at shelters, we even drill wells in Uganda, we council drug addicts, we march to end racism, we rally to save the unborn, we teach Kids Church, we coordinate VBS, we organize connect groups, we develop outreach programs, and on and on. But if all of this is devoid of an eternal perspective, if in all of this Christ and His Gospel is vacated, then all of it is shallow and ultimately pointless. In fact, in none of these examples is such work isolated to the Christian Church. Thousands of secular organizations and dozens of religious groups do the same thing!
What then is the Christian distinctive?
Some may argue at this point that the good of such things abovementioned is within themselves. “Helping people is a good in itself and is what ‘it’s all about!’” one could exclaim. There is an element of truth here but it isn’t the whole Truth. Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and even assisting widows and orphans, were done by Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Yet Jesus said of many of the Pharisees “you are whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones” who,
“outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness”
While much could be said here one point is stinging: the Pharisees were often good people doing good things, standing for good “causes,” and yet they still were full of deadness. What deadness? Hypocrisy and lawlessness. In short, they had no focus upon authentic spirituality (hypocrisy) nor the Word (the Law) within the things they did. This is vital to understand: the Pharisees' faults were not found in the execution of the goods they were doing; it was found in the reasons for which they were doing what they were doing. The things/causes/activities became ends in themselves only or they were done for self-centered reasons, which is really two sides of the same coin. In short, the “causes” became their idols – the things they lived for, would die for, got ultimate meaning from, and ultimately worshiped!
The Christian message is not less than the just earthly causes we fight for, but it is much greater! And when such greatness is absent from the earthly cause, we miss the mark. The Apostle James said it this way,
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Notice that there is a duality of the “religious life” displayed. The true pure acceptable religious life is one characterized by an authentic spiritually controlled tongue (i.e. a Christ-centered heart) plus good works towards just causes (i.e. widows and orphans) plus a deep focus on the highest need of spiritual purity without compromise. Well, what is it that keeps us pure without compromise? The Gospel – which is itself something we not only “keep for ourselves” but should be exclaiming to others! Lest the point be lost, consider the words of the Apostle Paul,
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
In other words, Paul makes clear that evangelistic zeal to reach Jews and Gentiles (people of non-Christian faith – like the ones we fight for and with for just causes) cannot be divorced of the central needful thing: THE GOSPEL. It is the gospel which is the power unto salvation, not a bowl of soup or post about racial solidarity alone.
AIMING AT HEAVEN THAT EARTH MAY BE THROWN IN
The meaning of things is inherently tied to their intended ends. When we say we stand for this or that cause because it is “right” or “just” or “good” we are exclaiming that there is a way the World should be; we are asserting, consciously or subconsciously, that Right and Just and Good are actually real and that people (who are agents of rights, justice, and goodness) are inherently valuable sacred ends in themselves. But all of this is only made possible by a transcendent all powerful Creative Moral Law Giver who gives an inherent sacredness to values and life itself. It is such a One to whom we should be ultimately pointing since all purpose’s crescendo in Him. When this Reality is forgotten amid our crusading, we castrate the greater meaning and purposes for which we fight and stand. Even further, we do disservice to those for whom we fight (against or with) because we have failed to make known to them the ultimate beauty and truth that lies behind the earthly acts we do.
In closing, I am reminded of the poignant words of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 205
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, Harper edition, 2001), pp. 134-135
Michael H. Erskine is a high school Social Studies Teacher, has an M.A. in History & School Administration, serves as a Bible teacher in the local church, and is happily married to his beautiful wife Amanda.