Friday, May 31, 2019
Immediacy. . . and Transcendence. . .
The immediacy of the problems we face is met with an urgency and immediacy of solutions. Inevitably, they are conceived of and described apart from the means of grace. It is as if the Word and Sacraments were also rans in the competition for ideas, programs, and tools to make the church grow and prosper. It is as if God had somewhere said that He had done all He was going to do and now it was up to us to do the rest. On the one hand it sounds good because we wall want to do something but on the other hand it should sound the warning bell within us because it presumes that we are not merely guardians of the truth nor its voices in our day but those who will either kill or make alive. Something that God has reserved only for Himself. If I, a conservative, confessional, liturgical Lutheran are tempted by such sales pitches, it is easy to see how so much of Protestantism is consumed by them. Because we live at a time when immanence had replaced transcendence in the preaching, teaching, witness, and life of so many Christian communities -- even Rome.
This lack of a any real sense of transcendence has led to a certain flattening of the message. It shows up in the way the preacher focuses almost exclusively on the present. It is revealed in funerals that have become mere celebrations of the life of the deceased. It shows up in youth work which basically competes with the fun places of the world for an ever decreasing attention span in the pursuit of pleasure. It shows up in morality which leaves it up to the individual to decide what works in the moment and calls it good. It shows up in truth that is one person wide and one moment deep in time. It shows up in sacraments that have been reduced to signs and symbols without any power to bestow what it is they show. It shows up in the Word which is a take off point for a message that ignores the main message of the Scriptures.
It has left the leaders of the church with the idea that that his or her actions are more central and crucial than Christ’s -- not only to the life of the church but also to its growth or decline. It has transformed the liturgical movement so that the horizontal is more important than the vertical, the real presence in the pews more profound than in the water, bread, and wine of the Sacraments, and the Scriptures mere proof texts for a talking point designed to make folks feel better about the very things that the Savior came to defeat. It explains why so many liturgical churches have lost respect for the liturgy, traded in the sturdy hymns of doctrine and piety for momentary appeals to sentiment (but with a beat), and turned the building into a theater with comfortable seats and fellowship into the snack bar that provides refreshments for the show.
In the end, even liturgical churches show for pastors who have a certain style, casual and easy, and whose preaching does not preach and whose teaching does not teach. It has made us forget not only the call to the man of God who is God's prophet and priest in this place but the whole upward call of God that is meant to transcend this moment. The ceremonies of the liturgy have been replaced with special effects (smoke machines), special music (designed to entertain while mirroring the sound of secular music), light shows (designed to keep the focus on the stars of the show and worship leaders), and theater (complete with good acting and directing) replaces our focus on the Christ who instituted the Word and Sacraments as the means by which He is present among, acts upon, and incorporates into Himself a people who will be called His own.me Catholics lose respect for the sacraments because of a lack of sympathy for the officiant. They shop around for a priest whose style is more moving or simpatico, as if the Real Presence were not enough.
Strangely enough, those who lead such churches are often rendered powerless to say anything against such intrusions into the holy place where God dwells and instead have been forced by our need for people's approval and money to tacitly accept even when they know is poison. Whether Rome or St. Louis, it hardly matters. The bad guys have universally become those who stand up and stand against such a betrayal of Christ and His Word, of churches and their historic confessions, and of the very shape of priesthood and episcope. Sadly, where the form remains, it is no longer three dimensional or alive but flat and empty, filled with the sad and weak mirror of the moment that gives people just what they want as it kills them. Transcendence is what the world needs. Immanence is about all Christianity seems to have to offer. We are starving the hungry and feeding them with the very causes of their sickness unto death. All the while God is seeking to renew His Church and refresh His people with a call to repentance and the efficacious Word and life-giving sacraments that gives us Christ.