Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Great Quest for Spirituality

Nearly everywhere you go you find folks writing about the seemingly insatiable quest for things spiritual among the population, and, in particular, younger members of our population.  There is a deep spiritual hunger -- no question about that -- but this is not necessarily something easy to capitalize upon for Christians.  The hunger for things spiritual comes at the very same time there is a rejection for doctrine, objective truth, and the Church.  It is as if we want the husk of the ear of corn but not the corn on the cob and the cob is rejected because it provides the corn.  The spirituality that folks are left with is an empty shell, a pursuit without a goal, a means without an end, a process without a conclusion.

We need to be very careful how we proceed.  For us as Lutherans truth is not some floating reality but an embodied reality.  Ours is not a general truth but the specific truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in human flesh and blood.  We must be careful about the great temptation to divorce truth from Jesus Christ or to give the impression that faith is something other than our encounter with the God who came to us by the incarnation of His one and only Son.  Everything we confess about God we know through Jesus Christ.  Apart from Him, we have no God at all, no means of connection with the Creator and His intention of creation, and no answer for the great questions of life -- where did I come from, why am I here, what happens after death...  The spiritual hunger and quest among the American people may be an open door but we need to be careful how we open that door.  For too many, the idea of Christianity, like the idea of God Himself, has become the infatuation, rather than Christianity itself and the one and only God whose face is Jesus Christ.

This quest for things spiritual and this hunger to go deeper is often accompanied by a disdain for Scripture and the Sacraments.  These are the old means of the old face of Christianity and people are searching for that which goes beyond them.  The Word and the Sacraments, however, are not some surface area of Christianity, of which there is stuff deeper to be mined and brought out as the true treasure.  The true treasure is Jesus Christ.  The Word does not speak of Christ but is Christ speaking.  The Sacraments are not sacred rituals and symbols but the very means by which Christ comes to us with the fullness of His grace and gifts.  They are Christ just as Scripture is Christ.

Lutherans are, if anything, very incarnational.  Our understanding of the Sacraments and worship is incarnational.  Our theology is incarnational.  We know only one God and that God is the God who is Jesus Christ and all that is known about God is known through Him and His revelation.  The Sacraments are like Christmas all over again -- the marriage of the heavenly and divine with the ordinary earthly element and the result is the unique mystery of God and His presence, grace and gifts, forgiveness and life, rebirth and new identity.

It seems to me that we have not done such a good job of making this known.  The way we treat Scripture often results in the false impression that it is a guide book to the spiritual quest or a rule book to tell you how to live your life or a rule book to get what you want from life or, at worst, one path of truth for which there are many paths and many truths.  We act as if Bible study were about attaching our meaning to its truisms instead of encountering the Christ who is the Word.  We act as if the Sacraments are merely a sacred ritual of the gathered community instead of the source and foundation of each individual Christian life as well as our life together as the people of God.

Lutherans are vulnerable to the kind of semi-Christian literature that has flooded the marketplace.  Our people read devotional books that have disembodied Christ from His Word and the Sacraments from spiritual life.  Our people have given into the idea that Bible study is about finding hidden meanings in the text instead of meeting Christ there.  Our people live in the great temptation and confusion of a mind shaped by Lutheran catechesis but a heart which years to hear what Joel Osteen and others like him preach (a good news religion, more about here than heaven, about happiness than sin, about pleasure than death, and about getting what you want than meeting the God who answers your need...

We have some books and some authors... we need more.  We need those who can bring to bear the timeless truth of this creedal and catholic faith to bear in the present moment, with winsome and inviting applications of the yesterday, today, and forever faith.  We need Pastors to raise up expectations about and an understanding of what happens on Sunday morning.  We need musicians who can equip our people so that, as one author put it, the soundtrack of our lives is consistent with the confession of our lips.  It is not what Lutheranism lacks that is killing us, but our failure to fully exploit this wonderfully incarnational, Biblical, and catholic faith so that people see Scripture as the living voice of Christ and the Sacraments as the wells that spring forth with the living water of life...

This is what I hope for in a renewed Lutheranism, ready to exploit the opportunity of a people thinking about things spiritual but without a clue as to what that really means...

5 comments:

Pr. D. Bestul said...

Excellent post, brother! You've hit the nail squarely on the head. May it be soundly anchored in all who read it.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to write about “Spirituality” without once mentioning the Holy Spirit? I am stunned to note that apparently it is.

“There is a deep spiritual hunger -- no question about that…” First, this alleged spiritual hunger has been around for centuries; I have been reading about it for most of my life. But more importantly, if it really does exist, does not the proper division of Law and Gospel, and even more, our ability to address that hunger require of us to distinguish between the hunger of the People of God and that of the World? Presumably, those who are not children of God may have some kind of hunger, but being enemies of God, they cannot hunger for Him. But the people of God will continue to hunger “as the hart panteth after the water brooks” until we see Him face to face.

“We must be careful about the great temptation to divorce truth from Jesus Christ or to give the impression that faith is something other than our encounter with the God who came to us by the incarnation of His one and only Son.” Faith is a gift which we receive when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us when we are baptized. The mere “encounter” does not get the job done, as Martin Luther tells us in those wonderful words, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith;…”

“Everything we confess about God we know through Jesus Christ. “ 1 Cor. 12:3 “..,no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

“We know only one God and that God is the God who is Jesus Christ and all that is known about God is known through Him and His revelation.“ John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” That is not to imply that the Holy Spirit deals with us directly, apart from His Word, but without Him, Scripture would not be the fount of blessings that it is, because we could not comprehend it.

Sasse, in his 1960 “Letters to Lutheran Pastors” agrees with one of his colleagues, who writes, “The true doctrine of the Holy Spirit has no place to call its own in the church and congregation.” “…then it cannot be long before the reality of the Holy Spirit is also lost to us,” he continues. We do not seem to have made much progress on this front in the past fifty years.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Rev Dave Poedel, STS said...

For years I have maintained that our theology and, yes, spirituality is the best kept secret in the Christian faith. We have excellent theology, the Word and the life-giving Sacraments skillfully hidden in the LCMS, making it totally invisible to the rest of the Church.

Sometimes I fear that we like it that way....

Pastor Peters said...

George, it was not a post about spirituality but about the spiritual hunger and quest for a, shall we say, religion which seeks spirit/Spirit apart from the One whom the Spirit reveals... If this were a post positing the outline of true spirituality, then I would have spent more time on the Spirit. You seem excessively dismissive of what was a comment on the spiritual hunger of people for a disembodied God and a Lutheranism which proclaims the incarnated Lord...

Anonymous said...

How dismissive should one be? Seriously, the message of the Church has to remain the same regardless of the real or perceived “spiritual hunger” of this or that group: it is the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the exercise of the Sacraments. That is absolute Truth, and that is what our Lord wants us to do.

Is it surprising that there is “rejection of doctrine” when we ascribe activities to our Lord which He clearly did not claim, but ascribed to the Holy Spirit? We often take it for granted that what we proclaim is the absolute Truth, and our “quia” confession makes it undesirable to question anything. Quite often the problem of the mind “shaped by Lutheran catechesis” is that we know the words of the Catechism by heart, including the “what does this mean” passages, but we don’t know what they mean. Then, Pietism, the great enemy of truth and doctrine, lures us into what sound like humble and noble thoughts that ultimately deny the fullness of the gifts our God has provided for His people.

The words of Elijah come to mind, 1 Kings 19:4, “…"It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers."

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart