Saturday, January 19, 2019

More Roman Goofiness . . .

Just to show that the GLBTQ agenda is embraced by more than liberal Lutherans and others and to show that goofiness in Mass happens as frequently as goofiness parading as the Divine Service among Lutherans. . . and that Lutherans are not the only ones to flaunt the teachings of their church. . . watch and pray. . .

Can the church become a sect. . .

Watching another blog, a questioner was quite concerned with the state of affairs within the Roman Catholic Church and wondered it if was the same Church or had betrayed its identity.  The responder wrote:  . . .the Church cannot become something that she isn’t.  An acorn cannot become a giraffe and the Catholic Church cannot become some sect. . .  As it is written, the statement is true.  The Catholic Church cannot become a sect because God has p[laced His promise upon her.  But if Catholic has become a mere synonym for the Roman Catholic Church, then the statement is not a fact but a supposition of those who hold it.  The Roman Catholic Church can become a sect and, in fact, that is the very present danger given the theological and moral climate within Rome now (just as was the contention of Luther in the 16th century).  When any orthodox Christian community turns its back upon the Word of God or trades the True Gospel for a false gospel, that community has forsaken its claims of truth, fidelity, and authenticity.  Even the Orthodox Church admits that fidelity is the source of authenticity and not a particular office or the claims of those office holders.

To be sure, Luther was no radical reformer who insisted that the Church had died in the darkness and could not be reformed and had to be reconstituted.  Luther insisted that where the Word was proclaimed faithfully and the Sacraments administered faithfully, there was Christ and there was His Church.  Luther saw the Church as reformable.  Luther said the Roman Catholic Church had lived in darkness when the Gospel did not predominate and where the Scriptures were not the authority but it was not complete darkness.  The Church never ceased to exist but Rome has ceased to be that Church and had, indeed, become sectarian because of its condemnation of justification by grace through faith alone and by its substitution of man-made doctrines for the doctrine of the Scriptures -- not to mention the placing of pope, council, and teaching magisterium above the Word of God as source and norm of all that is believed and confessed.

According to the responder, the Catholic Church has been abused by her custodians.  They have dressed her up in false colors and made her to dance to dreadful tunes, on display for the world.You get no argument from me on this point.  Yet it is not simply that Rome's leaders have abused their role as custodians of the sacred deposit, they have also forsaken their right to exclusive claim of that deposit.  For the faith is not entrusted to an institution but to a community of believers, to the baptized born anew by water and the Spirit, hearing and believing and following the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking through His Word, and gathered at His bidding to receive the gift of Himself in the blessed Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood.  When that community forsakes the Word, they lose its promise and their identity as the people of that promise and their leaders as custodians of it.

Lutherans believe in apostolic succession but not in a continuous mechanical succession of hands.  Rather Lutherans insist that there must be a succession of ministers AND a succession of faithful.  We joyfully affirm that the office of the Holy Ministry is one of the marks of that true Church but not the sole mark.  It exists with a community of hearers and believers, of people washed and cleansed, attentive to the voice of the Word, and gathered at His bidding to receive what His own Word promises in the blessed Supper of the Lamb (first here and then in eternity).  An episcopal office alone cannot guarantee this fidelity and authenticity nor can the so-called Petrine office alone be this guarantor of the Church.  It is an all or nothing sort of approach that Lutherans insist upon -- the faithful pastors and the faithful hearers together in complementary relationship. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Toxic thoughts on toxic masculinity. . .

We live in a time when, if it is not a sin to be male, it is at least suspect.  From the #METOO movement to radical feminism that has transformed male and female to the gender identity movement that has become the avant garde social cause of the day, the least and the most lost among all people is the man.  Even the folks who sell us razors to shave our beards and scents to cover up our manly odor have jumped on the bandwagon to warn of men being manly as if it were a disease.  Masculinity itself is under siege and has been marked as toxic to men, women, and children.

In reality, of course, there is no such things as toxic masculinity -- only males who behave as children and are not masculine at all.  If anything, masculinity is not something pervading boys in their journey to maturity or our society as a whole.  It is in short supply.  We live in a woman's world in which women do not need men to support them, defend them, give them children, or even be friends.  The only good man today is one who does not think like, speak like, or act like a man.  Boys in school are treated with drugs and discipline for their failure to be like girls.  Universities have become places where ideas too strong to face are relegated to a prison of thoughts and both men and women given safe places where they can find a refuge from things they find offensive.  The media seems to suggest that most straight men are either homophobic or closeted gay and the only good men are those who are fully in touch with their feminine side.

Maybe it was a man's world and there were certainly many men behaving badly but masculinity is not the some toxic force that must be hidden away or treated as something dangerous.  It is the gift, the gift of complementarity created by God, a gift not only needed because we see the wisdom of it all but the very design that under girds all of creation.  The most dangerous things to our culture is not masculinity but a lack of it, in which men have no role or purpose or dignity to aspire to and to live out in concert with women.

If there is a problem with masculinity, could it be that too many homes have an absent father or never had one at all?  Could it be that painting all of men as toxic, sexist, abusive, and threatening has consigned them to the fringes of our society where it is more likely for them to become toxic, sexist, abusive, or threatening?  Could it be that some arenas of the church have actually adopted this idea and created a false Christianity in which the first sin men must confess is being a man?

As the father of two young men and a young woman and the grandfather of one young girl, I live in fear for a world in which gender is divorced from anatomy, questions replace statements in the values and the roles in which we work together for the common good, and one gender is presumed to be suspect at best or toxic at worst.  The family is already under too much pressure to survive the generic condemnation of one its constituent parts.  The church is a community already threatened by a loss of the divine reality with skepticism toward the Word of God now to blame God for the sins of some and to confuse His order with the infusion of prevailing politically correct ideas that contradict that Word. 

So thank you but no, I refuse to confess that being masculine is toxic.  I refuse not because of my self-esteem but purely out of my respect for God and His order, no matter how badly we have abused His gift or distorted His creative intent.  I refuse to believe that to tell a boy to be a man is a bad thing. 

The shape of a counciliar church. . .

On October 11, 1962, when Pope John XXIII convened Vatican II into session, something like 2,200 bishops walked in the procession (out of a total of perhaps 3,000) and perhaps 2,600 attended the some of the sessions.  This was huge comparison to Vatican I when some 744 were at some point in attendance but votes on various issues number in the 500s.  Attendance was about 25-30% less than the total due to illness, circumstance, death, and a host of other reasons.  Still and all, Vatican II was a behemoth of a gathering.

There are those who wonder if there can ever be another universal council in the future?  To put things into perspective, a future Vatican III would be gigantic -- on a scale almost impossible to imagine.  If such a council were to be convened today, the number of bishops who could have a place and a voice would dwarf even Vatican II and could be as high as 5300!!  Compare this to 250-300 or so participated at Nicea in 318.  Even the USCCB held in November, one national conference, numbered about the same attendees as Nicea.

By now you are wondering why a Lutheran is spitting out attendance numbers at Roman Catholic councils.  First of all the point is to suggest that a deliberative council on such a scale is hardly possible and, if technologically possible, hardly workable.  The time in which a gathering of any church group on such a scale can actually debate and deliberate has come and gone.  Such large gatherings become the domain of the few who actually prepare for the meeting, control its agenda, and direct its outcome.  Rome or St. Louis, the address does not matter.  How does a room of 1,000 or more prayerfully consider and deliberate anything anywhere?

Some have suggested that such a form of synodality ought to be the shape of the new Rome.  I am not so sure that is even possible much less desirable.  Some have suggested the same thing for Lutheran gatherings even on a smaller scale.  Again, I am not at all sure that such a thing would be desirable even if it were possible.  The reality of the deal is that such large groups rarely are capable of doing the kind of theological reflection and discernment to make even routine decisions, much less the difficult choices in time of conflict.  Our own LCMS finds itself stymied by the clock or the short attention span of the delegates or the constant call of the question just when discussion begins to get good.  We have made far reaching decisions at such gatherings and then found ourselves struggling to put the pieces together after the delegates have gone home (think here of the LCMS restructuring that took place at the same convention in which the Rev. Matthew Harrison was elected Synod President).  One need only hearken back to a convention in which at the same time the Synod moved to adopt fellowship with a church body that was on the verge of ordaining women while unelecting the Synod President who had led them toward that end and electing one far more conservative (LCMS 1969).  Who can make sense of it all?

Is there something better?  I am not sure.  Perhaps we could conceive of a structure in which solid deliberation could take place and wise decisions carefully determined by majority vote.  I am not at all saying it could not happen.  But in place of it all, perhaps the Synod Convention ought to begin our conversation rather than end it and do this by providing solid Biblical and doctrinal essays to delegates summoned to hear the Word of the Lord.  Perhaps this could proceed from the Synod Convention into the Districts and winkels and forums of our church body and only then return to the level of the Synod Convention to resolve.  It often seems like these gatherings spend more time in PR moves and in voting on the obvious than they should.  How bad could it be if these celebratory moments took a backseat to honest, deliberate, and confessional studies on the subjects and doctrines in the news or being challenged (even outside the Church)?

Though I know it is a dangerous thing, I was just thinking. . .

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Is Evolution the end of Christianity. . .

What I couldn't really resolve was this evolution issue. When I arrived on campus at Princeton, I was still a young-earth creationist. I believed that if one ceased to be a young-earth creationist, one would cease to be a Christian. It had always been presented to me that way: Believe this or cease to believe at all. Slowly I began to let go of that.  So records the doubts, fears, and movement of one evangelical into Rome.  Rome solved the problem of Scripture and of evolution.  Scripture was true because Rome said it was (except where Rome determined it never intended to present fact) and evolution could be compatible with Christian faith (perhaps to be seen in relation to the previous parenthesis).

The problem with hitching the reliability of Scripture to a church, council, or pope, is that it elevates whoever guarantees Scripture above Scripture.  This is the inherent issue underlying the whole of the Reformation -- the problem of authority.  I struggle to see how the reliability (infallibility) of Scripture, one of the most ancient orthodox Christian truths and dogmas, can be hinged upon such recognition either by a church structure or by individual reason or any other thing.  Scripture is true and reliable and without error because it is the Word of God and it claims for itself that which cannot be claimed for any other -- not even the Pope (at least in the early Church and from Scripture itself).

The problem with evolution is tied to the reliability of Scripture.  While some make it out to be a simple exegetical problem dealing with the meaning of day, it is not quite that neat and clean.  The problem also lies with Jesus and St. Paul who refer to Adam not in some symbolic way but as a real man, in time, in history.  It is not a Genesis problem but a Scripture problem.  If creation is a symbolic account in Scripture and not a historical one, then how is it that Jesus references Adam as an historic person -- and St. Paul as well?  It is also a problem because one has to wait until more modern times before it is possible to find much justification for anything but a historical understanding of the Genesis account of creation.  No one in their right mind is saying that there are not symbolic overtones to what took place OR that the Genesis account is full and complete (and therefore satisfactory for the curious mind).  That does not translate into the fact that Genesis, indeed, the whole of the Old Testament, and the words of Jesus and St. Paul are merely mythological.  There is plenty of symbolism to factual things -- from the Temple and its sacrificial center to Calvary and Christ's once for all suffering and death.

While I am not at all ready to say that evolution is a disqualifier for heaven -- only God will decide who enters and who does not and it will be solely because of the merits and mercies of Christ alone -- the idea that evolution can exist quite comfortably within the framework of a reliable Scripture is a step too far.  The Church cannot speak where she has no authority and yet she must speak and contend for that which has been revealed.  That God created, that the creation account of Genesis is history (if not complete in every detail), that Jesus witnessed to the existence of Adam as historical man, and that St. Paul did as well, cannot be ignored or set aside in favor of some scientific view of history (one which remains a theory since nothing in evolutionary thought has been seen or replicated or witnessed except the changes within species themselves).  We have a mess of archeological evidence and though science may have put its best guess as to how to read it all, even this is not unequivocal and does not end the conflict between our estimation of what we see and what God has said.

But that is the issue.  If council, teaching magisterium, and pope sit above Scripture, then there is no need to hold on to Scripture's reliability.  It is nice enough but not essential if God has placed others above the Word.  In a sense, this goes back to Erasmus and Luther.  Luther held that the doctrine of Scripture was plain enough to be known and believed (that is not to say there is no need of theologian) but Erasmus believed the Scripture (at least the doctrinal part of it) was too confused and dark to be known easily or clearly and that was why the moral level was the realm at which most people encountered the Word of God.  That is perhaps simplistic but not far from the truth.  Luther had some admiration for Erasmus that man but could not be reconciled to his thought.  While some thought that Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched, it is perhaps the other way around.  Erasmus was the one who pushed past Scripture as revealer of doctrinal truth and it was Luther who was more akin to medieval theologians who saw Scripture as a Word to be preached and that Word preached was about nothing less than doctrine and truth.  That is where we end.  Scripture is reliable not simply as ethical lamp to light the feet but as the beacon Light of God who speaks truth, revelation, doctrine, and moral guidance to the Church and the world.  Those who find it easy to pass up creation and Adam as less than historical tend to emphasize morality above all.  As a Lutheran, true to form, that is not a place where we can go -- our DNA and the DNA of our Symbols is doctrine and truth or nothing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Some thoughts on a few phrases. . .

The Roman Canon begins:

Te ígitur, clementíssime Pater, per Iesum Christum, Fílium tuum, Dóminum nostrum, súpplices rogámus ac pétimus: uti accépta hábeas, et benedícas hæc + dona, hæc + múnera, hæc sancta + sacrifícia illibáta: in primis quæ tibi offérimus pro Ecclésia tua sancta cathólica; quam pacificáre, custodíre, adunáre, et régere dignéris toto orbe terrárum… 
We humbly pray and beseech Thee, most merciful Father, through Jesus Christ Thy Son, Our Lord, to receive and to bless these gifts, these presents, these holy unspotted sacrifices, which we offer up to Thee, in the first place, for Thy holy Catholic Church, that it may please Thee to grant her peace, to guard, unite, and guide her, throughout the world…
While Lutherans rightly bristle at these words that announce what is happening at the hand of the priest, there is another dimension in which the offering is true -- the mistake lies in the one doing the offering.  It is not we who offer to the Father the sacrifice, unspotted and holy, but Christ who offers Himself on our behalf -- the once for all sacrifice now made present for us as the holy food of the baptized.  Any Lutheran knows this.  But there is something here we often miss.  The sacrifice of Christ once offered continues to plead for us and Christ continues to point to what He has accomplished to the Father, on behalf of His Church.  The Church remembers this and rejoices at the Word and the Meal in which the offering becomes the voice in our ear bestowing that which is spoken of and the food upon our lips bestowing the flesh and blood of the sacrifice with all its fruits.

Lutherans are rightfully wary of the idea that we are the offerers and Lutherans are rightfully wary of that the force of this offering is heavenward to the Father instead of directed to us but we should not fear and ought to rejoice that the bread we eat is His sacrificial flesh and the cup we drink is His sacrificial blood and that by this blessed communion we are swept up by Christ to the Father to be received by God as His own baptized, believing, restored, forgiven, and declared righteous children.  We are being offered; we are not doing the offering.  Christ is presenting us as those who for the joy set before Him He endured the cross and scorned its shame and in whom the Father, because of Christ, is well pleased.

Later is another truth so sorely missed in our own day and time.  That is, how this canon defines the Church.
…una cum fámulo tuo Papa nostro N., et Antístite nostro N., et ómnibus orthodóxis, atque cathólicæ et apostólicæ fídei cultóribus.
…in union with Thy servant N., our Pope, and N., our Bishop, and with all orthodox men: indeed, with those who cultivate the Catholic and apostolic faith.
Orthodox doctrine is not incidental to the church nor to the faith itself.  Indeed, this emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy is central to the church.  Our social media world is filled with pious platitudes that disdain the church and worship and emphasize moral behavior.  Now far be it from me to suggest that moral behavior is not a good thing.  But the central focus of the faith lies in confessing and worshiping rightly who God is and what God has done (the Athanasian Creed gets it just right in its first words).  The central focus here is does the person confess to the true faith -- not is that person nice, does he pay his taxes, care for his neighbor, and is he a credit to himself, his family, and his community.  None of those things are bad nor should we distance ourselves from them but communion with the church is communion in the faith -- doctrine confessed and lived out in the worship life of the baptized gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord.  What we need to be concerned about is whether the person professes the catholic {universal} and apostolic faith, born of the Scriptures and faithfully bestowed as the sacred deposit from the Apostles?  True charity does not exist apart from this orthodoxy nor in opposition to it -- not even in competition with it.

This faithful and orthodox confession lies not simply in checking off doctrinal boxes (okay, yeah, I believe in God, that He made all things, in original sin, in Christ my Savior, etc...).  Doctrine and practice are not different things joined together but different sides of one thing.  Rome seems to have forgotten this (perhaps because the Roman Canon is largely forgotten in favor of other options) and Lutherans, among others, are also tempted to disconnect them.   No one can love what he or she does not know.  To love God is to love the only God as He has made Himself known—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — if you do not believe in the Most Holy Trinity.  Again, the Athanasian Creed puts it right -- whoever desires to be saved must confess the Trinity and worship the Trinity aright.  In a small but profound phrase the Roman Canon emphasizes orthodoxy as the basic condition of Church membership.  This is not only something we can and should affirm but this is the cause which must be recovered not only in Rome but among us Lutherans as well. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The triumph of the subjective. . .

There is no doubt that we live in a time in which the subjective as ascended and the objective has descended in priority and importance.  All around us is a world filled with the definition of preference -- from the way we set up our smart phones to the way we shop to the way we see ourselves and even define gender.  Marriages tend to fail not because of great moral failure as much as people who simply tire of being married (it is not fun anymore).  The married choose not to have children because they fear children will be more work than fun (got that right) and they don't want to impede their happiness -- even with children.  We go to work where work is fun and we look for another job when work is no longer fun (God forbid we might have to work simply for the paycheck).  We wait our whole lives for the moment when we can retire and live only for ourselves (as if we have lived solely for others before we retire).  Yet, for all the so-called happiness we live for and for the heavy focus on what we want and like, we seem to be less happy than those who had big families, worked far harder and longer than we, and lived lives more defined by others than themselves.  We are depressed and find it hard to want to do anything.

I was reading the story of one person's battle with depression and he insisted that one of the paths to his healing was to distrust his subjective experience -- to dethrone the god of pleasure, want, and desire. After all, in the life he was living, nothing ever “sounded like fun” (that’s the nature of depression) and so he began to look beyond what things sounded like and past his immediate wants or desires and force himself to do things he did not want to do.  In the end, he discovered that looking beyond the realm of his subjective experience and desire was the release to the prison of depression that had even cause his hospitalization.

In another article, the author said that depression tended to be shown in an abundance of sentences that began with I think, I feel, or I want (or do not want).  This author, a therapeutic counselor to those depressed, also noticed an abundance of expressions that included words like never or always.  These absolutes tended to inflate and exaggerate the negative feelings and only compound their impact in stealing ever semblance of joy or contentment.

The life turned inward is not a full or free life but one in which bondage to feelings and the search for happiness empties the soul and does not fill it.  Yet this is the epidemic we face as a world abandons an external and objective truth in favor of feelings and desires and a flexible value systems that does not filter or judge either except to excuse, justify, and elevate them as the supreme focus of life.

This is not without application to the faith.  Christian faith which turns from the objective of Christ incarnate, crucified, and risen and to the realm of feelings and experience is a faith emptied of its power and promise to the hurting and to those living in the shadow of death.  If faith is to offer our world any real hope, it must begin with the confrontation of the subjective and the affirmation of the objective, with the surrender of our lives and our stories to the one life and one story that has the power to redeem our lost lives and restore the right relationship with our blessed Creator through the merits and mercies of His Son, our Savior.  This work is the work of the Spirit, to make Christ known and to teach our fearful hearts to turn away from the dead end of introspection and to the path of trust in Christ alone.

Christianity does not begin nor does it end with the preoccupation with of the inner life. The Christian faith begins with the objective truth of the death and resurrection of Christ. That transcendent reality is both a point in history and time attested to by the testimony of witnesses and the point of faith born of the witness of the Spirit to things we have not seen and yet believe. Regardless of our subjective questions, feelings, and experience, the concrete reality of Christ’s death and resurrection remains.  This is where hope and healing begin.