Saturday, March 25, 2023

Is the denial of the incarnation the root of all heresy?

Someone smarter than I once said to me that all heresy is rooted in a denial of the incarnation.  While I fear exaggeration often precludes the very clarity it seeks to provide, this is one case in which the statement is truth.  All heresy is rooted in a denial of the incarnation.  So, on this Annunciation of Our Lord day, it is good to read reflect upon the full measure of our incarnational theology.

I was reading in Bo Giertz the other day:  (Christ's Church)

God is in our midst!  Just as Jesus once entered the world as God's outstretched hand, as a visible revelation of God's invisible being, and as an audible message of that which no ear has heard, so God's hand is still stretched out at the baptismal font and the communion rails, and so the Word still sounds, not as a mechanical repetition of what the Master once said but as continually repeated message from the mouth of our Savior... It is the same way with the sacraments.  They are not symbols and metaphors but Christ's way of to deal with us today, just as real and tangible as He once dealt with people on the fields of Galilee and the streets in Capernaum...

The miracle that took place in the incarnation when the Word became flesh continues in the church and the sacraments. He who does not understand the incarnation will not understand the sacraments and he who does not understand the sacraments will not understand what Christ has done for us... Living and genuine Christianity is in its innermost essence faith in the incarnation and the atonement.  It is in its innermost essence sacramental... 
Bo Giertz certainly has hit the nail on the head.  Failure to acknowledge the incarnation is the seedbed to disavowing the sacramental presence of Christ in the means of grace.  You cannot confess the incarnation and reject the Sacraments (means of grace).  They go hand in hand.  One cannot exist without the other and the other defines the first.

It is meaningless to confess God's presence unless you can confess that presence HERE in baptismal water, in absolution's voice, in bread and wine.  To put it as I often do when teaching parents, stop pointing to the sky when you teach your children where God is and point instead to the Word and Sacraments, for these are the places where God has attached Himself, made Himself present and available for us.  We do not need a God out there.  We need a located God -- in the incarnation and in the means of grace (sacraments).  We are not imposing this upon God but He has bound Himself to these external forms out of love for us and to deliver to us the full measure of what Christ accomplished for us and our salvation.  Our God has come to us in flesh and blood, like us in every way except sin, and it began with the visit of an archangel, the consent of a virgin, and a womb filled with the Son of God.  Our God is not subject to our imagination but located in the flesh of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit and in the Word and Sacraments where He makes Himself known to us and delivers to us the fruits of His obedient life, His life-giving death, and His death defying resurrection.

Friday, March 24, 2023

The fallacies of the universal. . .

In what has become a gross and offensive understanding of the universality or catholic nature of the faith, moderns have substituted the go to words of the day -- from inclusivity to diversity.  It is an easy attack on the faith because we have surrendered to the vocabulary of the world for the sake of reducing the technical jargon of the faith.  This means that Christians are even more comfortable with the dictionary of the world than they are of Scripture.  Along with this surrender of the terminology has come the distortion of what words really mean.  Catholicity is one victim of the Church yielding to the rules of culture.

While the substitution of Christian for catholic is not Lutheran in origin but predates the Reformation, we Lutherans have also become sloppy in our use of the term Christian.  Where it once might have presumed all that the word catholic encompassed, today it has become a word we have surrendered to Rome despite our claims to confess the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.  It has even gotten to the point where some Lutherans find the word catholic offensive.  Again, this is the politics of surrender and with that surrender has come many problems.

Well up into the Lutheran Reformation every child knew the adjectives to describe the Church.  Every child and every adult confessed those words week after week in the Creed.  At some point in time, we began to forget what those words meant.  Some were content to be a schismatic sect without any claims to catholicity at all.  Others surrendered to the idea that catholicity no longer was the mark of one confession but every confession had bits and pieces of the pie.  More were content to individualize the faith so that even the Creed was not a churchly confession but an individual one in which the person defines the words confessed.

At the time I grew up, universal was the word used to unpack the word catholic.  It is still used by some though it might better be said to be whole and complete rather than universal.  Hidden in the universality of the faith has come the modern ideas of inclusivity and diversity.  We have gotten to the point where the Church is not united in doctrine or confession but is an umbrella of many doctrines and confessions that live within a broad parameter of what constitutes a Christian faith.  Indeed, some have decided that this is the hallmark of true Christianity.  It is not one Lord, one faith, one baptism but many views and opinions living together without any real claim to orthodoxy.  We seldom hear about orthodoxy anymore but we hear about the need for the Church to be inclusive of all people and points of view and to reflect the broad diversity heralded by the spirit of the age.

The Church is not universal in the sense that it includes a diversity of views on who God is and is inclusive of that diversity without attaching to any one of them.  That Church that does this is no longer catholic at all and not Christian anymore either.  Our catholicity is not reflected in our embrace of many versions of marriage or many genders anymore than it is marked by our acceptance of many truths about God and salvation.  Being against the current and popular expressions of such hot button issues as sexual desire, marriage, family, and gender does not violate our catholicity but preserves it.  Refusing to accommodate every opinion about God and everything else does not contract our inclusivity but preserves the true inclusive nature of the Son of God who died for the sins of the world, who is no respecter of persons, and whose name is the only name under heaven and on earth by which any who will be saved shall be saved.  

The Church is a communion of sinners who confess their sin and their inability to atone for those sins and who also confess that God has chosen to become their Savior in the incarnation of His Son, in the righteous life lived that all might be declared righteous, in the suffering the paid for the sins of every sinner, in the death that killed death, and in the resurrection that brought new life to those who had only death.  The Church is catholic because she has always been, exclusive to no tribe or continent or age, and because her truth is yesterday, today, and forever the same -- just as the Savior.  The Church is universal not because she allows for many views but because her mission is not to the few but to the world world, beginning from Jerusalem and spreading into every corner of the earth.  The Church is inclusive because she gives the gifts of Christ to everyone who comes without respect to merit or worthiness.  The Church is diverse because she draws across time and geography, race and culture, to make all into one people in Christ.  The Church is apostolic because she hears not only or even primarily the voices of the moment but the voices of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, confessors, and saints who went before her and who, like her, give testament not to view or opinion but by the Holy Spirit to the Word of the Lord that endures forever.

Once we start walking down the path of terms that have been confiscated by an ideology, the Church becomes an ideology, a mere ideology, and has surrendered herself to the prison of the present without anchor in eternity.  Salvation is exclusive -- in Christ alone.  The Church is inclusive in the sense that this salvation is proclaimed not to the few but to the many in the hopes that all who hear might believe and be saved.  But the Church is not inclusive in the way our Woke culture speaks nor can she afford to settle for a crude diversity in which no truth is larger or more profound than any other.  Once we do that, we have betrayed Christ and His Gospel.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

What did you do during Covid?

 Notre Dame in Legos....


It reportedly took 500 hours of work, six months, for Lionel Baudot, a resident of Metz, France, to build this model of Notre Dame Cathedral, entirely made of plastic LEGO bricks. Baudot estimated that the model required more than 63,000 LEGO pieces to complete.  He worked during the confinement caused by Covid, with the help of his daughter.  He worked through 2,610 pages of instructions with 5,384 diagrams to build the model cathedral weighing over 120 pounds.


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

What about veils. . .

Danish painting of Luther preaching, 1561.
While at the Sem (you know which one I mean), it was not uncommon to see veiled women in the Divine Service.  It was not common but neither was it rare.  I could say the same about my own parish.  It is not uncommon for women to wear a veil -- not common but not rare either.  Strangely enough, I heard whispers about the practice from some pastors who saw it in the Seminary Chapel.  To be sure, I have had comments and questions from others within my own parish.

On January 15, 1525, Martin Luther preached a message on marriage. In his sermon he said this:

Women, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife” [Eph 5:22-23]. Again to the Colossians in the third chapter [3:18]. Because of this, the wife has not been created out of the head, so that she shall not rule over her husband, but be subject and obedient to him.

For that reason the wife wears a headdress, that is, the veil on her head, as St. Paul writes in 1. Corinthians in the second chapter, that she is not free but under obedience to her husband. 

 And in the Table Talks of Luther: 

Otherwise and aside from that, the wife should put on a veil, just as a pious wife is duty-bound to help bear her husband’s accident, illness, and misfortune on account of the evil flesh.

If you look at the above painting of Luther preaching at a time contemporaneous with the Reformation, you see all the women with head coverings. It does not appear that it was either uncommon or rare then but normative.  Today they seem odd to us.  But in the larger context of Christian history and even early Lutheranism, they were not unusual at all.  Even in the context of global Christianity they are not uncommon and are more normal than most Americans and American Lutherans might recognize.  My guess is you will be seeing more and not less of them.

Though Luther certainly tied the veil to the submission of women, I doubt that this is the universal context today.  In fact, I think the impetus for the restoration of this older practice may have something to do with the times and the culture.  It is, perhaps, more a witness to the faith in a world which has corrupted and distorted that faith to the point where it is hard to recognize it.  It is not a desire to stand out in the sense that so many in our culture flaunt things but to make sure that the external mirrors the internal. The veil seen in our churches might be a simple sign of identity -- the mark of those who take seriously vocations, roles, living holy and pure lives.  Given how many Lutherans reacted and still react, it is clear that this has hit a nerve.   Oddly, we Lutherans seem to be more threatened by those who want to go beyond the norm than we are the erotic, sensual, and gender bending things we see in our media and on our streets.  What is wrong with us?  Get over it.  If you are curious, ask those who wear them.  If you don't like it, keep it to yourself.  If you are interested both in the reason and the practice, there are plenty to help you decide what you want to do.  In the meantime, let us turn our attention to the bigger fish to fry in the world of faith and piety.

Lutherans are loathe to put rules in place and no one has -- to my knowledge anyway.  So if a woman wishes to wear a veil as an expression of her devotion to the Lord, God bless her.  Why are the rest of us threatened by this?  No one has ever said everyone must walk in lock step.  Indeed, why are we Lutherans threatened by any who go beyond the norm, the minimal, (dare I say it, the hymnal!) -- if people want to cross themselves, kneel, genuflect, go to private confession, fast, etc... God bless them.  It is there in our own history (lest we forget) and it may be uncommon but it is not rare.   Likewise, why is it such a big deal when pastors chant, elevate, genuflect, ring bells, wear clerical collars and vestments, etc...?  God bless them.  No one is making a rule.  Sure, we have our own preferences but it would seem to me that the Lutheran preference is not to put that into stone as command or dictate upon the conscience.  Adiaphora must at least mean a willingness to accept those who go further if it means we must also accept those who do not go very far into this realm of ceremony and usage. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Life after Roe. . .

While we do not talk about it much, our life as a nation and as a larger community was forever changed by the decision of Roe v. Wade.   I do not know if any of the SCOTUS justices had an inkling of the fact that they were making a transformative decision for the nature of our life together as a people as well as our political structures and entrenched divisions.  They should have.  Perhaps they were merely naive and insulated -- while that might work for some decisions of our highest court, it cannot work for those that reach into the very fabric of our values and life.  We all know that.

Roe changed American life profoundly.  For one thing, it solidified the sexual revolution as normative for our culture and society.  The availability of abortion became a routine part of life, a given, that would affect not simply the child in the womb but how we saw sex, love, marriage, and family.  Abortion became a fixture around which people could plan their lives.  No more was there a thought that had to be given to their sexual choices since every choice was believed to be without a do over -- the ability to undo what had been done.  Abortion was supposed to be free, safe, and rare but it became aggressively common -- so much so that in some cities in America the numbers of abortions exceeded the numbers of live births.  The vaunted arguments about rape and incest were statistically insignificant as men presumed they had no responsibility and women presumed that they had no accountability for their choice to be sexually active.  

Roe changed our political lives.  It became the hot button issue that polarized people and parties.  It may have seemed to emerge more slowly as a political issue but that is, in part, that the opponents were shocked and numb that our nation could move so quickly to forsake the principle that life was sacred and our common duty was its preservation.  Just as the debate and conflict raged about abortion, we learned that abortion was but the tip of the iceberg of the privacy rights invented in the constitution and sexual changes that would erupt a generation or two later.  We are as divided as ever over abortion.  The change of the court opinion did nothing to resolve the conflict.  We had no debate and enacted no laws for the SCOTUS took this from us and we are still reeling by the opinions the justices have made on our behalf as if we had no say in this matter whatsoever.

Roe changed the landscape of America's cities, neighborhoods, and schools.  Children began to be seen not simply as optional but excess baggage as sexual maturity meant promiscuity and no limit to what desire could invent among consensual partners who share nothing in common but the want of pleasure.  Our birth rate began to plummet until now we are growing only because of immigration.  School buildings were shuttered for lack of children and even now universities are fighting over the fewer and fewer 18 year olds entering college.  People began to see the cost of children in purely financial terms and some began to complain about why they must share the cost of schools since they had no children in them.  We learned that you could designate children free zones in neighborhoods, businesses, and recreational sites.  Roe has had a profound influence upon the fabric of our American society -- if not exclusively causative, then a primary or secondary cause.

Roe changed the way we look at life.  Abortion became not a tragedy to be mourned or an embarrassment to be whispered about but normal, even routine.  The baby in the womb (who would ever call the baby bump a clump of cells???) is killed and life goes on.  Or, as we learned, a pattern of babies killed as abortion became not an emergency procedure but birth control.  Furthermore, abortion became an entitlement -- a right to be cherished as the mark of absolute freedom.  We looked at the life in the womb as expendable for the sake of pleasure and choice and not simply medical necessity.  Soon, we would begin to see all life in that way.  Every life must be held to a standard of one worth living by those who could sit in judgment over that life.  Every person must be given the right to end their lives as easily, freely, painlessly, and at no cost -- just the way the mother ended her motherhood.  If the people were not able to choose, then it became the right and duty of medicine and the state to make the choice for them to end their lives.  Health insurance was given the new mandate of paying for all of this (along with the government).  Abortion changed much more than the legality of ending the life of the unborn child in the womb.  And we can never go back.  What became a right invented by a court has become a demand of close to half the population.

Though Roe cannot be blamed for the gender alphabet soup that has dominated everything for nearly a generation, Roe opened the door to challenging the biological necessity of the body.   Not only women must have the right to determine the course of their own lives -- everyone must be given the same choice to challenge and define what biology and body once determined.  Perhaps this has been Roe's greatest legacy and the poisoned fruit of what the SCOTUS thought was a more narrow decision of law.  Everyone now seems to believe in the right of choice right down to the argument that neither genes nor reproductive organs are allowed a say much less the final say over being a man or a woman.  The triumph of feeling and its inevitable subjectivity have turned what was eccentricity into normality.  After Roe, women, men, and everything in between would decide by their choice what was true of them, their bodies, their lives, and their futures.  There were no inalienable truths to even aid or assist in this determination -- only the subjective and individual choice.  The worst sin of all -- worse than even the murder of the unborn, is now the failure to be true to yourself (or those who fail to support your chosen truth and self).

For these reasons, the decision to undo Roe has not undone anything which Roe began or hastened or normalized.  The conflict is not over.  The debate continues.  No wonder we still march for life.  In fact, the battle is greater now than when the court first handed down this life and culture changing decision fifty years ago.