Manhood in the Church

John C. Stults on how men should be Christian

G.K. Chesterton purportedly said that most men in his day were reduced to Victorian lapdogs when it came to Christianity. Little has changed. Today, men are supposed to be ‘nice’ in church; quiet, compliant, seen only and seldom if ever heard. When this sense of unfittedness is coupled with the fairly pervasive depiction of Christ as a simpering, sweetish man with manicured hands, his hair parted neatly down the middle and his beard immaculately trimmed, there is small wonder that men are uncomfortable and therefore unwilling to be Churchmen.

Nuptial imagery

Further, I know I’m not the only man who is uncomfortable with the concept that I’m a bride of Christ. I really don’t want to be anyone’s bride and I recoil at the thought of a Christ who would demand that of me. Leon Podles offers a theory of how Western Christian piety was feminized in the 12th and 13th centuries. Part of that feminization was the invitation of "the individual believer to picture himself or herself (rather than the Church as a whole) as the bride of Christ. ‘Bridal Mysticism’ was enthusiastically adopted by devout women, and left an enduring stamp on Western Christianity." (Quoted from the article "Why Orthodox Men Love Church" by Frederikca Matthewes-Green).

There is no argument being made here that men shouldn’t be civilized. Men desperately need the civilizing influence of women or else they become feral. But men need to remain men and there has been too much of an effort to feminize men rather than civilize them. Men like things that give them mystery, danger, adventure, and discipline. They need to know they have what it takes. They need to know that God made them men for a reason and that they are indeed a vital and absolutely necessary part of Christianity. The modern, antiseptic, non-smoking Church has done its best to erase from its understanding that Christ was a carpenter in an age that didn’t have power tools or deodorant.

A macho Jesus?

Jesus was meek at times and wild at times. He was gentle at times and harsh at times. Meekness, however, is defined as ‘strength under control.’ He was meek to his persecutors. He who had legions of angels at his command allowed himself to be crucified for the good of mankind. He was wild when he overturned the money changers’ tables and drove them out of the temple with a whip. He was wild when he challenged the Jewish religious leaders for their hypocrisy. He was gentle, as men should be, but the gentleness came from immense strength. He who "suffered the little children to come to him" was also He who stilled the storm. He was harsh when he let it be known that a man might have to leave his father, mother, sisters, spouse, or even children for His sake. He was a Man with a mission and he carried out that mission. He was a Man of discipline and purpose. Men need to know that about their Christ. They need to realize that He was the manliest Man of them all and they are enjoined by Christ’s example to be as manly as possible.

I’m not convinced that a Church service should be a test of physical endurance as some believe, but I am convinced that men must develope spiritual endurance. Men must bend their wills to the lordship of Christ as their Lord and Master. They must develope the discipline to be Churchmen and study to be men of the Church they profess allegiance to. Where is the masculine influence in the Western Church, that strong, purposeful presence of men going about their Lord and Master’s business? Men need marching orders and comradeship as they wage war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. They need the discipline of ordered ranks and the sound of clashing arms; the life of Christian soldiers, not murkily-conceived brides of Christ.

Enjoying the gift

If this isn’t underway in your church already, you may be asking yourselves about where to begin. Men, remain men and learn (if you haven’t already) to rejoice in your Christian manhood. Begin by service projects, barbeques and laughter, shooting, hunting, fishing, rebuilding cars and trucks. Enjoy the wonders of torque and recoil and perhaps a good cigar. Our Book of Common Prayer tells us "it is meet, right, and our bounden duty, at all times and in all places, to give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God."

Anglicanism can provide men with a Church (and a church) where they can be men appropriately, enjoying the gift of masculinity in the sight of God where He would be welcome to join in the fun. Serious conversations will occur about the true nature of Christ. Men speak to each other on deep levels when they’re busy with some project or pursuit. Their minds are busiest when their hands are busy. Once men come to the realization that God enjoys their manhood in the church, identity and gratitude follow, which engenders the desire for service. Men want the discipline of service born out of gratitude.

So, men, form your group at your church and start your engines. Spend time together in a common, enjoyable pursuit (I suppose that golf might count) with the understanding that you’re doing this to discover the Christ who enjoys manly fellowship and yourselves as Christian men. It will be a great adventure and it will require that you be men like never before. ND

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