Many lunar cycles back into TV commercial history, Ivory soap was billed as being 99 & 44/100 percent pure. If the ads did nothing else, they succeeded in implanting that particular fraction in an entire population’s heads.
The interest in “pure and natural” products appeared to plateau for a while but seems to have surged in recent years. For instance, in my conference hotel this past weekend, the brand for toiletry items was not “Herbalessence” or “Garnier” or “Clairol Scentsation,” but simply “Pure”–a good management/marketing choice that is sure, these days, to make no one frown. I mean, who would look at “Pure” shampoo or soap and say, “Bah. I wanted artificial!”?
Frankly, though, I tire of my own compulsion, now pretty well ingrained, to check ingredients lists and to purchase products based on their relative naturalness, regardless of function. Yet I cannot escape this compulsion, and my ever-watchful spouse eggs it on. (Oh, yes, we buy fresh, natural eggs from a local farmer, and these eggs are both better and cheaper; this combination of higher quality and lower cost is unfortunately rare.) Pure and natural is usually a good thing, and I’ll take even three-quarters natural, let alone 99 & 44/100 percent.
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How pure is our Christianity? Or what may be infused into it, causing it to be less than 100% pure? What influences must we acknowledge beyond those of the Lord Jesus and his apostles?
In the wake of the tornadic disasters across our country, I mean no disrespect to the Michigan couple who appeared on a TV news show last weekend. They were interviewed briefly because they had decided to drive (or maybe ride a motorcycle) to Marysville, IN, to help clean up. This seemingly pure-minded, genuinely helpful couple were given precisely two sentences (one for each of them) on national TV. They seemed 100% sincere to me — no fronts, no immediately identifiable agendas or axes to grind. They were not particularly appealing to behold, but not disgustingly unappealing, either. I did detect some artificial sweetener, though. Here’s a facsimile of what I heard.
Reporter with mic: Why did you come here?
Lady: The Lord told us to.
[Intervening blah-blah, not engaging the comment just made in the slightest.]
Reporter: So you have a lot of compassion for these people.
Man: That’s the way Christians are supposed to be.
Now, let’s put their words into the Sincerity Centrifuge. My “purity” rating of the man’s response: 94%. (No one’s much better than that.) The woman’s words, though, seem tainted by something less than genuine. Note that I said her words are tainted, not her heart or intentions. Again, from what I could detect based on a total of 30 or 45 seconds of TV spotlight, they seemed like genuine, decent people. But the words of the woman are doubtless influenced by what I’ll call false charismatism. Whether it was a live preacher/pastor or a book or a televangelist, or a combination, something or someone with a lot of charisma, and probably a belief in continuing charismatic gifts to boot, has influenced this woman to think and say something false about God. And the saccharin left a false aftertaste in my mouth.
It’s not that I don’t believe God could have said to her, “Linda, you and Larry need to get on your Harley and get on down there to Marysville. Go on Saturday. If you leave in the late morning, you’ll avoid a traffic jam around Indianapolis and still be there to help before sundown.” No, the question is not whether He could tell them such a thing. It’s that I don’t believe he did tell them anything. I want to be utterly clear on this distinction–both for the sake of my credibility and “hearing” in the world, and for the sake of my eternal soul, because I would be on shaky spiritual ground if I were to suggest that God doesn’t have such power. However, if I’m right that no inter-spiritual-plane communication occurred between God and Linda, please entertain with me the suggestion that her words (although not the intent, or the heart, necessarily) are less than pure.
Now, all this armchair judging may seem purely cynical or artificially concocted. Maybe so. So I’ll leave my half-cocked assessments and move to analysis of effects. It is my feeling that if the man’s words alone had been aired, at least a bit of credit would have accrued to our Lord’s account in the minds of non-Christians who heard and saw. In other words, this small deposit to the account would have been nice, especially given all the liquidation that occurs on an almost-daily basis because of the bias of most journalists.
On the other hand, I think the woman’s words had the net effect of debiting the “Christianity account.” Anyone with an anti-Christian bias (or even some with a pro-Christian bias, e.g., yours truly) would have been turned off by that unattested¹ assertion that God had spoken to her directly. The effect on the world’s perception of Christianity was a negative one, and all because of something less than pure. It is my opinion that the assertion that “God told me X,” no matter how sincere and well intended, does more to harm pure Christianity than it does to build it up.
Again: what superimposed influences must we acknowledge within Christianity? What false sweeteners or other flavorings or preservatives have been added? How pure and natural is our current concept of our faith?
¹ I just decided to refrain from adding the modifier “rather silly” here. (The reader will kindly disregard the preceding note. But maybe not the next sentence.) The notion that God speaks words to humans today brings the careful listener a little too close to the lunacy of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, the silliness of people who falsely predict the end of the world, etc.
² For those with some additional reading time on their hands (I don’t know many such people, but maybe they exist somewhere), I commend to you many of the writings of Roger Thoman on “simple Christianity.”