Jellyfish are Icky

Reflecting on my last post and thinking on the need for holiness, I instinctively reached for Faithfulness and Holiness – the witness of J.C. Ryle by J.I. Packer. Ryle was a wonderful Christian and a loyal statesman for the evangelical movement. His book on holiness continues to inspire and convict me and I thought I would share some of his wisdom with you. But as I browsed through Packer’s tribute to the good bishop, I came across this quote by Ryle and it demanded my attention and I decided you might benefit from it too. Ryle wrote this piece in his book, Principles for Churchmen in which he complained about the growing theological ambivalence in many, saying:

(It) is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and specially among young people.… It produces what I must venture to call … a “jellyfish” Christianity in the land: that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. A jellyfish … is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jellyfish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation. Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, “No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.”

We have hundreds of “jellyfish” clergymen, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have no definite opinions; they belong to no school or party; they are so afraid of “extreme views” that they have no views at all. We have thousands of “jellyfish” sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge, or a point, or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint.

 We have Legions of “jellyfish” young men annually turned out from our Universities, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions abut anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth. They live apparently in a state of suspense, like Mahomet’s fabled coffin, hanging between heaven and earth ….

And last, and worst of all, we have myriads of “jellyfish” worshippers—respectable Church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than color-blind people can distinguish colors. They think everybody is right and nobody wrong, everything is true and nothing is false, all sermons are good and none are bad, every clergyman is sound and no clergyman unsound. They are “tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine”; often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement; ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old; and utterly unable to “render a reason of the hope that is in them.”

 … Never was it so important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to “enunciate dogma” very clearly and distinctly in their teaching.

Ryle published this encouragement in 1884—I believe it deserves our attention in 2012. Let us honor and worship our God with our minds. I am not suggesting we all become able scholars, I simply ask that you grant God’s truth your attention.

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2 thoughts on “Jellyfish are Icky

  1. I am rarely motivated to read non fiction theological books, the exception being historical and scientific Christian apologetics. I will read this book. Great excerpt! Very relevant article for 2012/2013. Good job. Thanx.

  2. This post begs the question: why are there jellyfish in the church? I don’t think it is a simple answer, but I will give a limited opinion.
    In areas of the world where religious tolerance is a myth and where the Gospel is not only unwelcome it is actively opposed we have seen a flourishing of Christianity and the church. The believers in these countries are on fire for Christ, reading their Bible often and with conviction. In many of the reports I hear or read these Christians are also firm in their beliefs and have a strong understanding of theology. They cannot afford to be jellyfish. If they were, they would be crushed. In keeping with the metaphor, these places are the dry, sandy beaches of this earth.
    America is the ocean. We live in an area, specifically the South, where Christians are not ostracized or demeaned. It is typical conversation to ask a stranger where they go to church. Why? Because it is socially unacceptable not to go to church. I grew up in the Northern Plains and it is a different story there. Religion is a personal matter that doesn’t get discussed. Either way, we are not challenged on our beliefs. In the rare events when something noteworthy does occur where our beliefs are threatened, we all go out and buy a chicken sandwich to show our solidarity.
    Americans are jellyfish because we have created a culture that promotes jellyfish behavior. We react to legislation that doesn’t agree with our ideals because that would actually force us to confront opposing ideologies. We stay with our church fellows because we have a comparable “code of ethics” that allow us to comfortably float through life.
    It has been encouraging for me to attend Fellowship and be exposed to a group of believers who live out the Great Commission. I have been to far too many churches like the one described above. Let my closing remarks be positive: to those who refuse to be jellyfish and struggle with the meatier issues, I commend you. You are truly enduring the struggle of the race that is the Christian life. Keep up the hard work! Look to God for strength and know it is only through his grace that any good can be done. Always have as your goal that day when you will hear “well done, good and faithful servant.”

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