Friday, July 9, 2010
We Don't Know What We Have
In the last post I pointed how we as Lutherans have taken up with those who talk about faith without realizing or making clear that we are speaking about a very different understanding of faith. We use the same word but do not mean the same thing -- at least not in our Confessions, although it might be said that the more we use this term among those who mean something different, the less sure we are about our meaning.
When we speak of faith, we are speaking of trust. This is not how most Christians define faith. They would say faith is knowledge, understanding, and assent. So in infant baptism the issue is less with baptism than it is with faith. They basically say that infants and small children are incapable of faith. We Lutherans have tended to apologize or backtrack on our understanding of faith to the point where we, in effect, deny that infants and small children are capable of it. Clearly Jesus is more confident about the faith of these little ones who believe in Me than we are. But there are some among us who continue to speak of decisions for Jesus or to treat faith as if it were a moment of clarity and understanding instead of the trust that Scripture speaks of. When we enter the ecumenical conversation without defining our terms we tend to blend in and lose our identity among those who think otherwise and leave our people confused -- as if Lutherans were merely evangelicals who worship a little differently.
When we speak of grace, Lutherans speak from the vantage point of the places where this grace is made accessible to us. We do not so much speak of grace in general as we speak of the means of grace where Christ comes to us with His Spirit to bestow upon us all His gifts. Grace and the means of grace are like both sides of the same coin. Yet the sad truth is that more and more we speak of grace without including in this conversation the means of grace (the Word and the Sacraments). When we do this, we sound like generic Protestants talking about a God who inhabits our feelings and our reason more than the water that gives new birth, the voice that releases us from sin and its guilt, the Word that addresses us with salvation, and the bread and wine that are Christ's body and blood. For Lutherans, grace is not a concept but the reality of baptism, absolution, Eucharist and the living Word. We tend to act as if these things were incidental to our identity instead of integral to our confession and life as Lutheran Christians. In consequence, other Christians see us as generic Protestants who hang on to an outdated liturgical practice that can (and should) be ditched as irrelevant and out of step with our modern world (and so many Lutherans have come to the same conclusion).
When we speak of Scripture, we seem to have a natural affinity with those who affirm that Scripture is without error. Yet by adopting the inerrancy terminology of the fundamentalists and by identifying with their arguments we mask the fact that we do not see God's Word as they do. We do not believe that God's Word is a book of rules or information that must be guarded against assault but the living voice of God which does what it promises and accomplishes what it purposes. We believe that God's Word is truthful not because of some mechanical process of inspiration or some sacred protection down through the ages but because God speaks only truth and does not lie. His Word is the means by which He works and this truth of God and from God is the powerful truth that does not speak about forgiveness but forgives, that does not speak about salvation but saves, and that does not speak about new life but bestows that new life. I find it shameful that somehow we have been lumped together with fundamentalism when the Scripture we are speaking of and the what it does are in conflict with the way fundamentalists see the Word. In effect we confuse our people and those around us by sounding as if we were fundamentalists locked into a liturgical tradition that is like excess baggage which might and should be jettisoned.
I could go on and on. My point is this. We are not like Protestants or evangelicals or fundamentalists. We are Lutheran. At one point in our history we believed that this was the faithful and catholic identity once hidden in Rome's inventions and now restored by a movement born of God's reforming power. Now we act as if the Reformation did not go far enough and the Radical Reformers were right after all. Now we act as if our liturgical practice did not flow from our Confessional identity but was foreign to it or extraneous to this identity (and, therefore, optional). Now we shop in the religious marketplace for ideas because we have lost touch with our own identity or lost confidence in the means of grace to accomplish God's purpose among us. We leave our people with a piety shaped by TV preachers, radio Christian contemporary music, and Bible studies that draw us away from instead of back to the liturgy and then we wonder why they are drifting away.
We do not know what we have.... and when we realize it, we treat it as an embarrassment instead of our strength... for Lutheranism to be reborn, we must re-discover who we are, what treasure we have, and how that is lived out in the wonderful dynamic of the Word and Sacrament setting of Sunday morning...