Imagine with me for a moment. There’s this beautiful young girl. She’s skillful with her hands, and can make a mean supper. She’s kind and loving toward everyone, and welcomes strangers to her table.
This girl thrived in persecution. She wasn’t wealthy, but always found that God provided, and continued to serve others. She was happiest serving others.
Then one day people started talking about this girl. They told stories to cast doubts on her character and her past. They used these stories to try to discredit her.
In response to these hecklers, her older brother made her veil her face when she went out. It wasn’t that she was immodest, but he didn’t want these people to say that she was. He spoke for her virtues in the public square, and he preached on her honor and purity.
A while passed, and one day she was assaulted and robbed, by one of her older brothers, who then lied brazenly to their father and those in the world around them. The truth was eventually found out, and this brother repented and was welcomed back into the family.
Her younger brother was humiliated by this, and he begged her to cover herself completely, only to show her hands when she went out to do what was needed. This new outfit hindered and slowed her, and that which was meant to protect her handicapped her.
The people continued talking, and they soon forgot her good works for her strange appearance and her withdrawal from the world. She moved like a shadow, unable to speak and losing her effect quickly. Her brothers urged her to make her trips shorter and to be selective about who she helped
Eventually. she rarely left her home. She still cooked, but it was decided that she ought not make and eat rich foods as before, and so lose her shape and risk the displeasure of her betrothed.
This girl was made to sit, eating only the smallest amounts of the plainest foods, losing her vivacity, her love and her passion for justice. Her strength withered away, and she was forgotten.
There are several ways to interpret this tale. Aside from the blatant criticism schools which would use psychological analysis about the dysfunction of this family, or the feminist argument regarding gender inequality. However, neither of these are what I, the author, has intended.
This girl is the Church, the bride of Christ. Like in the story, the Church was once service based, loving and caring for the world around them. They were not idle, and they gave freely to those in need.
Due to heretical teachings, church leaders, represented here by the older brother, chose to try to protect the church from disgrace, holding her to higher standards, standards of modesty and discretion.
Despite this, she was robbed and poorly handled by those who were intended to care for and protect her. I chose to end this brother’s story with a message of hope and redemption. Good can come out the worst places- Jesus himself was a Nazarene, after all.
Further reforms resulted from this, by well-meaning church leaders. Although I didn’t enter into the topic, the political landscape that surrounded the church through the periods of corruption- namely the Middle Ages and the Renaissance- is fascinating, and adds an admirable amount of complexity to the history of this institution.
Young, fervent protectors emerged to care for the Father’s people- the younger brother- leading to a series of extreme reformations and separations. These hindered the Church in fulfilling our commissions and harmed our credibility.
The attitude towards the Church shifted and even we bought the lie that we’re irrelevant in a world of science and math. Reforms kept coming, and we grew sluggish, inneffective.
This is where we are today, and we ought not be here.We need to regain the love and the life of that young girl. We need to undo some of our reforms.
Which leads me to the second interpretation intended by the Author. There was a purpose to each reform, however it was no only the usefulness we lost, but the beauty.
If you have ever witnessed a Catholic, Orthodox, or High Lutheran, Anglican, or Episcopalian church service, you would realize the beauty of their worship. It is designed to engage all the senses in worship, and it is deeply symbolic. By contrast, as you go through the less liturgical churches, you see the services and the buildings themselves lose that.
The reforms were made out of fear. We wanted to divorce ourselves from the pope, because we saw the sin and corruption in the church. By doing so, we forgot our beauty, the beauty of worship. Just as the girl was beautiful as she served, so should we be beautiful. Maybe it’s time to strip off that which separates us from the world, let them see the bride of Christ.
Similarly, our fear and misplaced hatred has chased our awareness of the goodness and beauty that can be found in creation. We see only the inside of the church building, see only the darkness, and subsist on the smallest amounts of the blandest food- i.e. the word of God.
THIS SHOULD NOT BE! God declared all of creation good, and although you can see the scars that fallen men have left on it, the goodness remains. Just as one can see the image of God through the fall of mankind in your fellow human beings. He loved humanity so much that he made us capable of appreciating beauty, and put us in a beautiful world, so that we could be in awe of it and the wonderful Creator who made it so.
Despite this external beauty, it is true that there’s some beauty which is not good. This is the beauty to be had in a corpse at a funeral. It was made beautiful by creative pains, but it lacks a soul. This is all the glamour of the secular world, and ever so slowly is the church becoming like this. We need to come to life before this darkness entombs us, too. That which was intended to protect not only hinders, but serves as our burial shroud.
For my third and final point, I mentioned in the story that some of the things the girl did were supposed to be in preparation for her groom. I did not, however, mention what the groom wanted.
Let us pause and consider this, A young man melts a girl who cares for everyone. Her care for the world around her makes him pause, and he loves her for it. It makes her more beautiful in his eyes. He loves her as he is, flaws and all, and he wouldn’t change a thing about her.
He sees the changes come over her, and his heart is saddened. He knows her brothers are trying to protect her for him. But he also sees the girl he loves, dying slowly.
Does he still love her? Yes. Nothing could change his love for her, ever. But these changes are breaking his heart.
What does Christ see in his Church? We are his bride, and he is our groom. His heart must surely be breaking as he watches her die off. Shouldn’t the bride of the one who died for her be alive?
The time comes for us to make a choice. Should we die, or will we throw off what hinders us, and become alive?