Saturday, January 10, 2009


Perfectionism is an idea and a doctrine at once noble and fraught with danger. Taken to various extremes theological and personal, it can be nearly debilitating. I, myself, have struggled with a very high view of church work wedded to a deep sense of my unworthiness and inability to live up to that work. One of the reasons that the "Boston Unitarians" are my "teachers" is their view of doctrines such as "perfectionism." Beginning with respect for human nature, they emphasized our capacity (and our duty) to do that which before was placed entirely in the hands of God. And what's more, they spoke of the joy of living such a life. It is a view of the religious life that is at once practical and "divine." As a colleague said of James Walker (see all posts Walker) 'He had the rare faculty of making his hearers feel as if these eternal verities were a fresh revelation. " Some excerpts from Walker on "Perfection the Christian's Aim:"

" Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection." — Hebrews vi. 1.

"HOWEVER unlikely or impossible it is that we shall ever meet with a perfect man on this earth, still, if we were to meet with one, we should see, that, instead of being a monster, he would be of all men the most entirely natural, the most truly human...
We set aside... all expectation of actually meeting with perfection among men; we confidently believe that under Christianity, as under Judaism, " there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not."- Still there is nothing to hinder us from maintaining, as the Scriptures seem to do, the doctrine of human perfectibility. Perfectibility, as here used, differs from perfection in this, — that a man may be pronounced perfectible though he never attains to perfection in fact, provided only that there is nothing in his nature itself to exclude the possibility of his perfection, and nothing in his circumstances to exclude the possibility of his continually going on towards perfection.
While, therefore, we give up human perfection, we stand fast for human perfectibility...This is all which I understand the Scriptures to mean in the text, and in other passages where they enjoin it upon us to be perfect, to go on unto perfection, and to become perfect men in Christ Jesus. They do not hold up this perfection as something of which any Christian can as yet be personally conscious, or on which he can look back as already attained; but as the goal in the distance after which all can and should continually aspire...Let me add, that I express the doctrine too tamely when I say that a man is capable of unlimited progress. There burns within him an instinctive desire of growth, of ceaseless progress.
The idea of perfection is held up before us, not to be the object of vain longings and sighings, but to cheer and sustain us in the many weary steps we must take in its pursuit. We are still to reflect that we must actually traverse, with our own feet, the almost measureless distance that separates us from the far-off goal; and also, that, if a man is to go round the globe, he cannot take any longer strides than if he were going to the next village. Besides, perfection after all is our ultimate object; not our next and immediate object. Our next and immediate object, both as men and as Christians, is always the faithful discharge of the common and obvious and present duties which press upon us in that particular sphere of activity, be it high or low, in which Divine Providence has placed us."

May you be cheered and sustained. Blessings

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