Wednesday, March 30, 2016

We believe. . . We condemn. . .

The Augsburg Confession is remarkably positive in its statement of what the Reformers believed, taught, and confessed -- and what those who heed this Confession still do!  It took 20 articles or so before the Reformers got around to an area of major disagreement.  In fact, the first three quarters are directed to affirming catholic doctrine and practice and to condemning those who do not heed catholic doctrine and practice.  Therein lies the rub for some today --  the condemnations!

There are those who would insist that one must only speak positively and not speak negatively -- even of those with whom you would disagree.  Such may be the fantasy of a dream church but in the real world of history and witness, the churches have not only affirmed what they believe but condemned those who believe otherwise.  What you affirm is what you believe, to be sure, but what you condemn is also what you believe.  In other words, what we do not believe is also what we believe.  I am indebted to Russell Saltzman for that phrase -- and it is a good one!

It is impossible to faithfully affirm the truth without also condemning falsehood.  Now it is surely wrong to believe only with the word "no."  But it is equally as wrong to believe only with the word "yes."  The Church, in order to be faithful, must speak both positively of what is believed, confessed, and taught and negatively, condemning error.

We live in a time when this is considered not nice, not polite, and we live among Millenials (spiritual but not religious) who chafe at this aspect of truth but there is not unauthentic to Scripture, to Christ, and to Christian apologetics to state clearly and concisely what we do NOT believe even as we state clearly and concisely what we DO believe.

It is this which has, in part, clouded the discussion of whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  Christian politeness would suggest that to say "no" would be to practice a pride, aloofness, and arrogance that is unwelcome in the co-existence of competing truths.  The Muslims themselves weigh in pretty much against the polite answer -- no, we do not worship the same God.  But that is often not enough for those who wished we could believe and play nice about it all as if our differences were neither substantive or serious.  We believe but we don't say anything about that which contradicts what it is we believe.

As I have said here before, the true ecumenical endeavor will consider not only what we believe in a positive sense but also what we condemn.  There is no hope of unity from a truth too fragile to be engaged by the full measure of belief -- both what we affirm and what we deny.  In the same way also, it does nothing for a church body or for the members of that body to treat truth subjectively, to affirm without denying falsehood, and to remain silent before error.

Our Lord was insistent upon the inclusivity of the Gospel of the Kingdom but also insisted that it was exclusive (no one comes to the Father but by Me...).  Over and over again He contrasted false paths with the true path, false readings of the Word with the truth of that Word, and in every case placed Himself as the center of that truth.  We live at a time when this is not only considered impolite but politically incorrect -- something not to be tolerated in the public square.  But the test of the faithful confession will not only be what we affirm but also what we deny.  Now more than ever!

No comments: