THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS
Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
Having explored some of the intellectual and moral disagreements between
Christianity and modern thought, we can turn from the negative to the positive.
The Christian life and the Biblical world view can not only withstand critical inquiry,
but they can inspire critical inquiry. Christianity is a positive advantage to the
person who seeks knowledge and truth. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
proved themselves “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters” at the
University of Babylon (Daniel 1:21). Not only were Daniel and the others allowed
to study at Babylon, but they excelled. Modern Christians may not be able to attain
the same ratio over their unbelieving colleagues, but the principle seems to be that
those faithful to the God of the Bible have an actual advantage in the pursuit of
The intellectual resources of Christianity are vast and rich. Christians, though, must
learn to draw on those resources; if they do not, it will be difficult for them to
stand against the onslaughts of the unbelieving mind.
One of the Christian’s most precious, and often most underused, resources is the
Church. The Bible teaches that a group of Christians becomes greater than the sum
of its parts. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the
midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). When even two Christians come together in the
name of Christ, Jesus Himself is there. In fact, groups of ordinary Christians make
up no less than the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
It is difficult to be a Christian by oneself, especially in a hostile environment. Christ
ordained that the Christian is to be nourished and supported by other Christians.
The local church, fellowship with other believers in one’s profession or field, the
solidarity with the Christian Church through the ages, with its store of wisdom and
with its great intellectual tradition—all of these manifestations of the universal
Church can be a bulwark against the intellectual and moral temptations of the
modern age. The Church can also offer support, direction, inspiration, and a rich,
complex source of ideas that can provide a context and a foundation for one’s own
studies. Christian students and thinkers need to take advantage of the spiritual and
intellectual interplay that can be found in what the creeds refer to as “the
communion of the saints.”
Being a part of the community that is the Church is extremely helpful in battling
what may be the most subtle and damaging temptation of them all in academic,
professional, or intellectual circles: worldliness. The desire to be accepted by
colleagues, to be fashionable, to fit in with the dominant social or intellectual circle,
is very powerful. Such desires may be innocent at first, but after a while they can
make the Christian faith seem embarrassing, then an obstacle to full acceptance by
the group. The desire to be intellectually respectable can lead to hybrid breeds of
secularism and Christianity as seen in modern liberal theology or to sheer unbelief.
The desire to be socially respectable can erode the sternness of Biblical morality
into a free and easy tolerance that can come to excuse, both in others and in
oneself, the rankest immorality.
Such peer pressure (which is just as common in adults as in young people, by the
way) is what the Bible means when it warns against the temptations of “the
world.” The Church can offer a counterweight, a good peer pressure, so to speak,
that can keep a person from sliding away into conformity with an unbelieving
world. Such conformity not only can be caustic to faith, but it is also stifling
One form of peer pressure common in academia and other professions is that of
social class. Peter Berger, the great contemporary sociologist, argues that there is
a new elite in American society, a social class that is based not upon wealth, as in
the old social classes, but upon information and the manipulation of symbols and
knowledge. This new elite social class includes educators, journalists, artists,
members of the helping professions, social scientists, and government workers.
This new class tends to stress liberal social, intellectual, and moral values. It is thus
in conflict with the old business class, with its more conservative, business-oriented
values. Because academics and intellectuals find themselves in this particular social
class, they will experience pressure to conform to its beliefs and symbols.
Berger points out, for example, how difficult it is for a faculty member in a typical
modern university to admit having conservative values. Friends, colleagues, and
the academic institutions themselves exert pressure upon the faculty member to
exhibit the class values of moral libertarianism and progressive social theories. Such
acculturation is casual and informal, but the small talk in the faculty lounge, the
jokes, and the social atmosphere tend to enforce an ideology. Certain opinions and
attitudes become symbols of right thinking, of solidarity with the world of
intellectuals and scholars. As Berger points out,
The symbols of class culture are important. They allow people to “sniff
out” who belongs and who does not; they provide easily applied
criteria of “soundness.” Thus a young instructor applying for a job in
an elite university is well advised to hide “unsound” views such as
political allegiance to the right wing of the Republican party (perhaps
even to the left wing), opposition to abortion or to other causes of
the feminist movement, or a strong commitment to the virtues of the
Believing in abortion has thus become a shibboleth for the new elite. The young
instructor may never get a job at that elite university if such “unsound” views are
detected. If the instructor does get the job, in a few years of acculturation in the
faculty club, those “conservative” views may very well give way to ones that are
more socially acceptable. The same pattern is no doubt behind the political
phenomenon of conservative officeholders becoming more liberal to the extent
that they become involved in the social life of Washington, D.C.
This class struggle, as Berger describes it, is also manifested in the contemporary
Church. The mainline theological establishment