Monday, May 8, 2017

How far from the tree. . .

As radical as Vatican II was, and it was radical both in concept and in the things the proceeded from it, the Council was not as radical as those who have come in its wake.  In its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, the Council fathers of Vatican II wrote that Scripture, and the continuous Tradition which lives from it, “are like a mirror, in which the Church, during its pilgrim journey here on earth, contemplates God, from whom she receives everything.” That is a very traditional and conventional statement and one we Lutherans warm up to.  If you read on a few paragraphs later, you find again where the Council fathers affirm that the authors of Scripture were “consigned to writing whatever [God] wanted written, and no more.”  Again, very good and very consistent with the Lutheran affirmation of the Word of God.  But these words have become forgotten among those who seem intent to move past Scripture and make a place for reason and culture to shape what is believed, taught, and confessed.  This is true not only in Rome, it has become the byword of mainline Protestantism and the sacred soil of modernism.

Modernism began with an attack on the integrity of the Word of God -- both the Word made flesh and the written Word.  It began with the presumption that we can no little of the Jesus who lived in history and certainly not much from the written record that claims to reveal Him and make Him known.  It continued with an attack on the historicity and factual character of the Divine Word to suggest that myth and legend have equal weight with truth.  So it would not matter if the bones of Jesus were found or Adam and Eve were not real people or the great stories of Scripture were symbolic and not historical, truth is deposited not in event but in meaning and the reality of faith is spiritual and not physical.

Christianity was crippled by this attack -- even among those who did not embrace its casual attitude toward the Bible and its factual history or Jesus and what we could ever known of Him.  Even the most faithful soon learned that the new conventional wisdom of Christianity was whatever it means to you and whatever helps you.  The idea of Jesus became more important than Jesus.  The principle of love replaced the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Gospel.  The new things of the Spirit were allowed to contradict and replace the old things of Scripture's clear Word.  People, even good and faithful Christian people who resisted this neo-paganism, learned that faith was private and the footing of our faith was fragile enough so that it could not withstand the onslaught of academia and the press of culture ready to move on.  We began quiet and private and faith became something internalized and individualized.  We became ripe for the stealing of Biblical Christianity with the false gospel of an evangelicalism intent on fixing today more than supplying eternity.

In my own Synod it became fashionable to suggest that we were intent upon NOT being your grandfather's church.  Worship was freed from the adiaphoristic restraints of liturgy and order and we borrowed freely from those who seemed to know what they were doing to pack them in.  We abandoned real catechesis, replacing doctrine and Bible story with the idea that Jesus is lovable and church is fun.  We turned Bible study into the realm of opinion and feeling which allowed anyone and everyone to say what they thought the Bible said or meant.  We turned the Ministry into ministry and made everyone a minister (and Sunday morning became the place where everyone got their moment in the sun to show off their talents).  We did not counter the culture and its growing disdain for marriage and family in favor of love unbounded and self-interest and so our people had as few children as culture suggested and married later and less often as did everyone else.  And when we the statistics showed we were bleeding off members, we presumed the answer was we were still too traditional, still too old fashioned, and still too much your grandpa's church.

Rome saw the same decline.  They blamed some of the same things we did (or, perhaps, we followed them in blaming the lack of local culture, lay involvement, modern values, and freedom).  In any case, the fruits of failing to mirror Scripture, all the churches have become shells of their former vibrant selves.  America became a mission field instead of a mission dynamo sending forth the Word where it had never been -- the most we exported was our money and our modern values (through generous educational grants to indigenous mission clergy).  Even now, Africa, once the focus of our mission efforts, has become the thorn in the flesh of their liberal counterparts in Methodism and Anglicanism.  They still take seriously what the West has forgotten or deliberately ignored.

And it began with an attack on the Word made flesh (do we really know who Jesus was or what He said or what He intended to leave behind) and the written Word (is the Bible accurate, reliable, historical, trustworthy, or true).  It is still about Jesus but even more so about where or what you can know of Him. 

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