Monday, November 28, 2011
Where do we know God?
It would seem that over certain points in history we forgot this. Academic theology saw God as a puzzle to be solved or a hidden mystery to be revealed. In the end the pursuit of the goal became as important as the goal. Methodology became as important as the truth being sought.
Today we seldom find theology as the goal outside the university and spirituality has taken its place. Spirituality is less about God than about us, about finding that part of us that is not material. So religion, church, and faith are less important than feeling. We have become a nation of spiritual people for whom God is an option, the church is an extra, and doctrine an impediment to the pursuit of our wholeness of self and identity. Even our behavior is unrelated to this spirituality. We can sin like crazy and still define ourselves as spiritual people and we can live at odds with the theoretical values of our morality and still say we are spiritual.
While Judaism had the first radical understanding of the God who is met on the holy ground of worship, it is the fulfillment of the prophetic promise in Christ that sets Christianity apart. We are not a spirituality cult nor an intellectual pursuit of God. We are a people to whom the call of God has come. By this Word, His Spirit has awakened in us faith to see what our eyes cannot and trust that defies the ordinary skeptical and cynical way we approach the world and life in general. It is in worship that we know Him because it is in worship that He comes to know us in the Word and Sacraments. Our individual lives of faith flow from the community gathered by the name of Christ in the means of grace. It is this community of faith that calls our scattered individualism into the collective Body of Christ so that faith never decays into a me and Jesus identity.
The religious world of the day seems divided into camps of which Lutheran is not comfortable. Lutherans may move toward one of these identities but it is a conflicted identity in which confession and practice are at odds. Some Lutherans have rejected the liberalism of truth that is subjective for a fundamentalistic version of Lutheran identity. Truth propositions, proof texting, and a radical Biblicism have made this a faith defined by assent to propositional truths. Some Lutherans have rejected the cold intellect for the warmth of the heart and pursue a face of Lutheranism which is about a feeling God who teaches us to feel. They are perfectly at home in the evangelicalism of America and conversant with all the books and authors currently in fashion. Some have decided that the best approach to success is to remake Lutheranism into a mirror of the culture. These are further divided by those who have embraced the suburban model of a smiling face and happy optimism for finding a better life now -- the Osteens. The others have the harder edge of a youth culture that borrows from the city its musical heart and styling cues. For them church is belonging and faith is love that accepts me for whom I am -- a radical "I'm okay and so are you" for those who love technology, who have rather edgy tastes in clothes and appearance, and who do not resonate with the traditional American dream of a home, yard, spouse, kids, etc. Some have exchanged the word gospel for social justice and their version of Lutheranism is a welcoming center in which formerly oppressed minorities find home, place, voice, and acceptance to express who they are. For them love replaces all boundaries of doctrine, morality, and law.
In response, the "conservatives" are divided into repristination camps of folks trying to re-create a bygone era of life, church, and faith (the bronzies of the LCMS) or into the liturgical folks who are intent upon letting our confessional identity create the authentic community of faith gathered in worship around the means of grace. The only problem with the former is that their numbers are shrinking as fewer and fewer can recall the Missouri of the 1940s or 1950s and sometimes they sound like mean parents for whom love and mercy are just words. The only problem with the latter is that some have tried to make rules where there is freedom and others have attempted to make freedom where there should be some rules. It is from this liturgical group that disillusion and disappointment often come, a certain loneliness and fear that as romantic as the identity is, it may not be real enough to survive much less conquer entrenched church bodies entrenched in their diverse identities and in pursuit of their own paths and goals. It is from this latter group that most of the defections to Rome or Constantinople have come. They have given up on a Lutheranism that is intent upon being Lutheran in confession, piety, and worship.
I continue to hold out hope.... for now. We have a President of Synod who gets it - confession, identity, worship, and mercy. We have one seminary solidly leaning toward this identity (Ft. Wayne) and another that tacitly endorses it (St. Louis). We have a growing number of books and authors and translators who will provide our church body with the resources to fuel this push to recover a lost or distracted Lutheran vitality rooted in our confidence that God's Word does what it says and the Sacraments are the vital and dynamic parameters of our spiritual lives and Christian identity. We have the technology (cheap and available) to disseminate this to the world around us. It remains to be seen if this is but a minor course correction for Missouri or a definite new direction. Time will tell.
Heschel is right, however. We have treated God as a subject of study, an academic pursuit of knowledge, an idea less than real, a spirituality to fill our emptiness, a means to improve our daily lives... now is about time we remember that God is living among us and that He has made it possible for us to know Him through His Word and Sacraments, the means of grace. We need not what we think we need or should have but what God in His love and wisdom have provided for us. The new creation of our old lost lives, through the death and resurrection of baptism...
And the catholic faith is this... that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity...