Friday, March 22, 2013

Progress vs Restoration. . .

Dr. Dean Wenthe, President Emeritus of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, said in his paper at the 2013 Symposia, "human existence is not progress but restoration. . . "  Profound words, indeed.

We tend to think of the work of man under God as the work of improvement, both of self and of the world around him. Indeed, some churches have formally adopted this idea and have elevated the principle of love above Scripture.  So, for example, social causes that violate verses from the Bible are pushed away in favor of an over arching principle of love and acceptance that is higher than the specific word of Scripture.  There are countless ways in which we smugly sit in judgment over the past, secure in our aura of sophistication and education.  We are not the people we were.  We are better.  Our science is better, our knowledge is better, and our causes higher.  The witness and history in Scripture is cast aside as inadequate or primitive.

There is a part of us that shudders at some of the things in the Old Testament.  The whole idea of circumcision is brutish and abusive to the infant according to our modern day sensibilities.  The nature of the relationship between man and woman is embarrassing to our cultural and moral ideals today.  The miracles and worship practices of the past are often described as simplistic, even superstitious.

This is not limited to the Old Testament.  Talk to Lutherans about the worship practices from the first several centuries of Lutheranism and they are squeamish about the more prevalent use of private confession, the elevation and adoration within the Eucharist, the seriousness of Luther and early Lutherans about the Real Presence and how to deal with spills, etc..  We have progressed beyond that -- even serious and conservative folks often respond to these things in the same way.  We are beyond that.

The idea of progress is to thoroughly imbedded in our thinking and applies to so many different aspects of faith and life that we have fallen victim to our own hubris.  The work of the Kingdom is not progress but restoration, restoring to us what was lost to us in Eden.

That is perhaps the big problem we have.  We do not want restoration.  We want a better place before God and a bigger place within His Kingdom.  We have forgotten that all of creation is shaped for the benefit not of God but of man.  From light to dark, the seasons, food and vegetation -- these all exist for man and for his place within the plan and purpose of God.  Humanity is already at the center of all things and of the work of God.  Far from being diminished, man is elevated by the restoration of the purpose and plan of God.  Our life was born coram deo and was mean to be lived before God.  Our future is not progress past God's intent but the restoration of that intention in creation.  Strangely, we find this restoration limiting -- like a straight jacket.  We do not want back what we surrendered in Eden -- we want much more.  We want to be gods instead of servants of God.  We want to the the stars in the spotlight of His story and not supporting characters.

That is why redemption does not have a universal appeal.  It (I should say God) offers us something we think we have grown out of and something no longer attractive to us.  We do not want a Savior who fulfills the promise of the human creation.  Instead, we want a Savior who will show us how to fulfill the promise of our own individual and self-centered identities.  We are not content with a Christ who is the first born of all creation in whom all things are held together.  We want a Christ who helps us soar to the side of God and a God who rules through us and not over us.

In our pursuit of this progress, the old enemies of sin and death have been re-framed.  Sin is no longer the wickedness of thought, word, and deed that betrays our very humanity.  No, sin has become disorder, a therapeutic program and not an issue for redemption.  In the same way we have dealt with death by accepting it within the natural order of all things, part of the circle of life, so to speak, and something to be celebrated.  The problem is not death or life in its shadow but rather quality of life and how to live it more fully.

Progress has past the old goal of restoration and Christian progress has gone beyond the old language of repentance, redemption, and restoration and, instead, focuses upon the person, his or her desires, and those things that limit him or her from reaching his or her full potential and fulfillment.

2 comments:

fatherd said...

" Talk to Lutherans about the worship practices from the first several centuries of Lutheranism and they are squeamish about the more prevalent use of private confession, the elevation and adoration within the Eucharist, the seriousness of Luther and early Lutherans about the Real Presence and how to deal with spills, etc.. We have progressed beyond that..."

Really, this does not sound like progress at all, but rather yielding to the blandishments of modernity and the loss of depth of faith. To loose auricular confession is definitely not progress, because this has been a great source of comfort and healing to many troubled souls through the ages. It simply represents the injection of pride and distrust into the pastoral-penitent relationship, and is the work of the devil.

The matter of adoration is a bit more difficult, but it hinges on just what we believe about the reality of Christ's physical presence in the Eucharist. If He is truly there in Body, why should we not adore Him? He said, "This is my Body." Do we believe Him, or not? Is Jesus Christ a liar? I think not.

The same thing applies to the matter of spills of the Precious Blood. If this is indeed the Blood of Christ (He said, This is my Blood of the New Testament), then should we not treat spills as matters of serious concern? I think we must.

If you have "progressed" past all of these matters, have you perhaps "progressed" past Jesus Christ also? It seems like a dangerous possibility!

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Pastor Peters said...

When I wrote "We have progressed beyond that" it was meant sarcastically... of course we have not progressed beyond that and what we generally call progress is not at all but a loss of what was.