Sunday, June 21, 2015

Strange Bedfellows. . .

They say that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  I guess that would make the friend of my enemy also my enemy.  We live in a polarized world (look only so far as the legislative and executive branches of our national government).  Though we tend to focus on what divides us, those of a more liberal bent seem less willing to parse the nuances of difference from their liberality while those of a more conservative bent seem intent upon ever narrowing the hoop through which you must pass to wear the name conservative.  Yet there are things that tend to unite us and in strange ways to encourage us to look beyond our differences.

In the pro-life movement we see a strange coalition of Roman Catholics, Lutherans (Missouri, anyway), fundamentalists, and even some evangelical types.  Added into that are some others (Orthodox, conservative Anglican types along with a smattering of others on the conservative end of Protestantism).  It has always seemed odd to have Lutherans marching with Roman Catholics given the fact that the Lutheran Confessions called the papacy and any of its occupants who refused to allow the Gospel to be preached the antichrist.  That has not stopped us from marching arm in arm against those who believe the killing of a baby is a mother's divine right.

The opposition to same sex marriage has strengthened the pro-life coalition and given it new ties to bind the often disparate groups together.  Social issues have proven to be a boon to ecumenism and it does not appear that the causes for traditional marriage, the family, etc... will wind down anytime soon.  It is true that some evangelicals and mainline folks may peel off the parade on the GLBT issues and the SCOTUS decision will surely have great impact but these groups and their common stance seem strong enough to endure.

The liturgical movement also brought together people of common interest and expertise to open an ecumenical door.  Lutherans and Roman Catholics have a natural affinity when it comes to things of worship (notwithstanding their strong disagreement over the focus of the mass as re-presentation of the once for all sacrificial body and blood of Jesus and the transubstantiation definition).  For a time it seemed that the liturgical movement was also going to bring together more liberal Protestants as well as the traditionally liturgical denominations but it seems as Rome has become more circumspect over the radical changes introduced in the wake of Vatican II, the liberal Protestants have become more radical.  I do not think that the liturgical movement will endure the rupture of those who rename God, who use the guise of the liturgy to incorporate pagan spirituality and natural religious elements into Christianity.  The once unstoppable fervor of the liturgical movement as an ecumenical force has waned and new coalitions will be formed around those who want to slow down liturgical innovation and those who are ready to abandon the catholic tradition in favor of every new fad.

For a time it seemed that Biblical scholarship was an ecumenical paradise but only for those who regarded the Biblical text as hardly different from any other mythology to be debunked.  Finally Rome seemed to begin to put brakes on higher criticism as a movement that has grown out of touch with the church and the faith.  I am not exactly sure how vibrant this movement will be over the long haul but B16 long advocated against a Biblical scholarship which failed to address the text as we have it and equip the church to witness and teach the faith on the basis of a text we trust.  For this reason, Missouri Lutherans have (at least since the 1970s) stood apart from the departments of religion and divinity schools and their view of Scripture which was skeptical of every fact, suspicious of every claim, and certain that the Jesus of history and the Jesus of Scripture were two very different people.  Maybe there could be a new ecumenism based on this more conservative view of Scripture and its truthfulness but it is too soon to tell and the Bart Ehrman's of this world are too loud to hear much else.

Strangely, one might expect ecumenism to begin with the creeds but it has been largely silent on the basis of creedal witness.  One might suspect that both the Apostles' and Athanasian Creeds have a distinctly greater role in the West than in the East but even the Nicene Creed has not proven to be a rallying call for those churches and Christians who confess it.  Perhaps too many speak its words without believing what they say to allow the Creed to become more than a symbolic point of unity.  In my own version of Lutheranism, we intend to fulfill the Augustana insistence that we have not departed from catholic doctrine and practice but we have people who remain afraid of the word "catholic".  On the other hand, we have groups who use that word without hesitation but who do not intend to be "catholic" in doctrine or practice.  This is indeed sad.  The creed carefully crafted and confidently confessed was once the powerful voice of unity for orthodox Christianity.

So there it is. . . what has forged a common cause have been threats to life, family, and marriage. . . while the greater causes of Scripture, creed, and liturgy seem not to have had much power in bringing us to the table to talk.  Strange bedfellows, to be sure!


Carl Vehse said...

"we have people who remain afraid of the word 'catholic'."

In the Lutheran Confessions, the word "catholic" is used in referring to eine heilige christliche Kirche (the holy Christian Church), i.e., the invisible Church.

One way that might help some Lutheran people from being allegedly "afraid of the word," is to stop using the word, "Catholic," when referring to the visible Roman church and to its Romanist members.

Carl Vehse said...

"So there it is. . . what has forged a common cause have been threats to life, family, and marriage. . . while the greater causes of Scripture, creed, and liturgy seem not to have had much power in bringing us to the table to talk. Strange bedfellows, to be sure!"

The common cause forged between (Missouri Synod) Lutherans and heterodox Christian church bodies is against the perversion, murder, and treason by demonic leftists in the areas of life, family, and marriage. The Lutheran common cause, especially with the Roman church, has NOT been for the purpose of altar and pulpit fellowship or ecumenical discussions of doctrinal differences.