Thursday, November 11, 2010
Pharisaical Pride. . .
The Pharisee was completely religious down to the smallest details (the tithe even of the seeds harvested from the garden plants). It was a consuming passion -- to be religious and to be seen as religious. The only problem with this is that the very thing that consumed the Pharisee's life was itself grave and gross sin -- the sin of pride. In the end, the Pharisee's attempt to avoid the worst of the sins made him the bed partner of perhaps the worst of them all (if there was a hierarchy of sin). Pride is, after all, the anti-God sin since the pride insists that being holy is achievable with effort and it is worth the sacrifice to be better than your neighbor.
No less than C. S. Lewis suggests that all the other vices are but "flea bites" in comparison to the gaping wound of pride and conceit. Such pride is far more than delighting in the approval or commendations given by others. It is at its root competition with God to earn what Christianity insists can only be given. Humility is not the shrugging off of compliment and honor given by others but the honest belief that God is all (recall the faithful words of St. John the Baptist who said, "He must increase, I must decrease." False humility and pride are two leaves on the same plant.
It seems that pride is often the offense registered against those who would strain and cleanse the Church from error in proclamation, structure, practice, and mission. Not a few have felt Missouri rather prideful in comparison to other Lutherans. I will not deny that there has been more than enough breast beating in Missouri that delights that we are not like the Publican (ELCA, or fill in the blank of the evil being described). Todd Wilken calls it the Missouri particularism that glories in our history and sees no wrong even in the face of grave errors -- because we are Missouri. In this, those who insist that Missouri has no doctrinal divisions are about the same as those who insist that Missouri has no doctrinal unity. We insist in our writings that Missouri is not without sin but we sometimes act like it. We do not like litmus tests and yet we administer them all the time. Take a look at the letters Herman Otten writes to those whom he has accused of sin or error.
If there is anything to the words that began Pres. Harrison's time as LCMS President, they will serve as a needed corrective to an orthodoxy strong on right belief but weak on love. When he first addressed the convention after his election, Pres. Harrison said that Missouri had kept its perfect record of electing sinners as its President. In his words before that election, he had spoken often and eloquently of the need for repentance (not the perfunctory repentance that regrets the wrong but fails to work for the right but an honest contrition and effort at the amendment of our sinful ways).
I am hopeful that Missouri will lose the triumphal streak that so often makes it hard for anyone to love us and learn honest humility. I certainly do not want it to come at the expense of a concern for right believing, but as an accompaniment to that orthodoxy and not a replacement for it. I once heard Richard John Neuhaus say that he believed there was a hell but hoped and prayed that no one was in it. This was not universalism but the genuine hope and desire to see all people saved and come to the knowledge of the truth who is Jesus Christ. It is not often that we hear a passion for the lost and for the work of mercy that walks hand in hand with orthodox believing and worship. Now may be the time to see us renounce our sinful pride and to learn some compassion and humility while at the same time contending for the faith and faithfulness to the faith once delivered to the saints.
Pride is love of self. This is why the Pharisee went home without God's regard and the Publican went home clothed in mercy. If we are to find room in our hearts for God's favor, we must empty our hearts too full of ourselves. This is the Spirit's work. God, help us. We need the reform and renewal of the Spirit as LCMS Lutherans so that we may maintain the rightful focus on orthodox belief while at the same time adding to it a compassion and love that marks both our witness to those outside our gates and the way we interact with those from among our midst.