Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I found Jesus. . .

On another forum a Lutheran Pastor said that he found the presence of Christ and the Body of Christ at a Maundy Thursday communion service at First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, a citadel of the Southern Baptist fundamentalist crowd. Grape juice, cubes of white bread, consumed in the pews amidst friendly people who welcomed me there. He went on to throw down a challenge:  So tell me that this was not the sacrament.

I will admit that I have had parishioners who made the same affirmation.  I feel Jesus more there (whatever generic Protestant or evangelical church they were at) than I feel when I am in a Lutheran Church.  Those are the times when you treat the comment with compassion and catechize the person.  Feelings do not validate truth.  Feelings do not trump doctrine.  Feelings do not confirm what is real or false.  Feelings are not an adequate or faithful barometer for what is good, right, salutary, and of the faith.

We use feelings in all the wrong ways and they lead us to all the wrong destinations and then we wonder how we got there!  Feelings are not bad.  I am not saying that.  No one is saying that.  But feelings used to discern the body of Christ (think First Corinthians) are placing feelings over the Word of God.  Feelings that are used to validate our experience of Christ (did you feel any different after church or receiving Holy Communion or after having been baptized) displace our faith and confidence in what does not change and what is not subject to the whims and changing fancy of what we feel.

A number of years ago a commercial on TV sang "I feel like chicken tonight."  It was a play on the whims of taste and desire.  What do YOU feel like eating today?  They change.  Just like when we order one thing that seems to perfectly fulfill our fancy until we see what somebody at the next table got out of the same restaurant kitchen.  Feelings are not bad but they were never meant to be the lens through which we discern God's presence or approach His truth.  The mystery of Christ's presence is apprehended not on the level of feelings but on the level of faith.  Baptismal water feels like every other kind of water and the bread and wine of the Holy Communion taste like any other bread (minus yeast, seasoning, and everything else that "tastes") and wine (and I have had people ask me what kind of wine we use in the Sacrament because they like its taste).  We apprehend Christ not on the plane of feelings but in faith in the objective voice of His Word preached and taught, the spoken absolution, the Triune Name in water, and the Words of Christ's Institution that set apart this bread to be His body and this cup to be His blood.  Feelings, by the power of the Spirit, flow from the objective Word and we learn to love as encounter the love we did not know, request, or deserve but is ours nonetheless.

The same poster to the forum said:  I was reared under the Galesburg Rule and amidst Lutheran "superiority" and triumphalism. Had I stayed under those strictures, I would have missed much grace, inspiration, and opportunities to experience the Body of Christ.  Again, something is very wrong here.  The Galesburg Rule (Lutheran altars for Lutheran communicants and Lutheran pulpits for Lutheran preachers) was not born of superiority nor was it a sign of triumphalism.  It was born of the desire to protect those who come to the altar and those unable (to discern the Body of Christ) from harm to their faith (unless we no longer take St. Paul at his word).  It was not a wall built to protect the better from the worse but to guard the sacred deposit of truth and make sure that at the rail and from the pulpit doctrinal integrity and authentic unity was preserved and even fostered.

Finally something must be said about the missed "experience of the Body of Christ."  Again, experience is not bad but experience is no more apt or able to discern the presence of God or define the unity of the faith than feelings.  It is the Word of God by which doctrine and practice is formed and accomplished.  God is not where I feel Him to be or where I have experienced Him but where He has promised to be -- in His Word and Sacraments.  To be faithful to the means of grace is not to build a fence around us but to meet God at the bridge through which He has made Himself accessible and wherein He delivers to us His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Feelings and experiences are grand and wonderful -- gifts of God.  But they are the curse and doom of those who attempt to make them the judges of what God has said, what God has promised to do, and where God has promised to be.  What is a moment of catechesis from a parishioner who struggles rightly with Lutherans who have forgotten how to host God's house and to extend God's welcome to those who come is a great scandal and offense from one who is charged in ordination to preach and teach God's Word faithfully, according to the Lutheran Confessions.  What might be an opportunity to teach the faith to someone who has latched onto the disheartening fact that our experiences are not reliable guides to where God is and what God does, is a grave error from one charged with the teaching of those people truth from error and falsehood, by the Word of God alone.

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Feelings, feelings. Feelings of love. Feelings of hope. Feelings of despair. Feelings of compassion. Feelings of anger, jealousy, resentment, and so forth. I know over my 72 years on this earth my feelings have been up and down, often compelling me to dismiss reason, and at other times attached to reason and wisdom. I have had reasonable feelings, unreasonable feelings, emotional feelings, I do not think I am directed totally by feelings, but indeed, it is part and parcel of our created temperaments that feelings affect our judgment, sometimes in a negative way, and sometimes in a very positive way. Jesus often expressed His feelings in Biblical accounts. We read about His compassion and His love, and we see instances of His anger. Since we were made in God's image, we have feelings as well. I understand the point made in this article. We should love God in our hearts and minds, but we must guard against feelings directing us to rationalize ourselves and bring us into trouble or sin. Also, a wrong notion of what God has commanded may come about when it is contrary to our feelings,