Whenever it appears to watchful eyes that religious devotion among Christians is waning, there are calls for some sort of spark to reignite a spirit of zeal. Some call it ‘revival’ and others call it ‘reformation.’ Among Catholics, ‘renewal’ is used. Whether it is a calling of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit or the fiery cheerleading for outward expressions of emotion, the goal is the same: get those who claim to follow Christ to be zealous about it.
The problem is always the same. Zeal, enthusiasm, and tearful weeping may elicit boastful rededication toward a changed life, but like other good intentions driven by human passion, they can wane in the stormy darkness of a fallen world. That moment of raised hands and shouted hallelujah is good on a Sunday morning, but six days of grinding under the weight of a fallen world can take its toll and leave a man needing another fix of emotional worship. No one would deny that joy should be part of the Christian life, but there is a difference between the hyper-exileration of Sunday morning and the quiet sense of truth that permeates every moment of every day.
Before the nineteenth century saw the full emergence of emotion-based Christianity, in response to the inability of Christians to rationally argue against Enlightenment thinking, religion was was based on expectations of men being devoted to the truth of Jesus Christ, devotion manifested in consistent rites and routines. While not overly emotional nor outwardly zealous, the habits of sacrament and virtue had the potential effect of building serious men of serious faith that was not dependent on elation, but on devotion as a labor of love.
Today, what served Christian men in centuries past can accomplish the same in the stormy midst of a world becoming brutally hostile to Christ and His Church. Young men are being raised in the emotional dominance of women which translates into severe emotional dependency that feeds the perpetual adolescence of modern worship, with all of its feelings-based relevance. And when men fall off, the call is to intensify the emotional experience, to up the dosage of the drug, to get men “fired up” for the Lord.
But men prove to be their best over time. It is not the Sunday-morning zealot that is ultimately remembered. It is the steady man that was capable of building and leading his family, that was a stalwart of wisdom and good decisions through seasons of happiness and sadness, that proved himself faithful over an entire lifetime, who is remembered.
The older world understood this need for longevity, and valued it. Religious tradition fostered longevity and devotion through a life of virtue. The traditions of the old world church ultimately built better men, who were far greater in their lives than the sexualized boys of today, boys who live only for today, have abandoned yesterday, and care nothing for tomorrow.
One of the aspects of traditional, old world Christianity is that wisdom and knowledge do not begin with zeal and celebration, though those may follow.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is prudence. – Proverbs 9:10
Recognizing the complete nature of God, of His sovereignty over the affairs of a man’s life, of His grace and judgment, is the place where a man should start a life of devotion. As Job declared:
… the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord … If we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil? – Job 1:21, 2;10
This sober and somber stance of humility does not eliminate zeal or void joy, but it tempers the temptation to run wild like naive children through a fallen world, to make the sensation of happiness the highest goal. A man may convince himself through his emotions that he is invincible, but the lion waiting to devour him cares little for his emotions.
To revitalize Christian men will take more than fires of zeal. Instead it will take men who are genuinely committed to the great cause of Western Civilization, including Church, Manhood, and Family. It will take men willing to walk away from “good friends, good food, and good times all the time,” the marketing point for modern America.
Needed for men is not a revival, but a reverence for Christendom and the Truth it preserves, even as both weather brutal assault.