Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Free to be?

The whole concept of freedom is troublesome for Christians.  For freedom Christ has set you free, says the Scriptures.  But what does St. Paul mean?  Today it has come to mean personal autonomy.  Even Christians have bought into the idea that freedom means submission to none, even God's Word is merely a suggestion.  We are the arbiters of truth whose reason says that Scripture says or means.  We are the judges over all things using experience and feelings to define fact.  We are the autonomous people whose desires are the face of our identity, public and private.  We are the rulers of our bodies and the controllers of our lives -- lived in the pursuit of a happiness which is most of all absolute freedom.  But what has this to do with the freedom St. Paul speaks about and Jesus bestows (John 8)?  The answer is not much.

Even in somewhat orthodox churches, the elephant in the room that dare not be acknowledged is that we defer to the autonomy of self over just about everything else in life.  Our children are being schooled in this philosophy in nearly every aspect of public education, the media has painted this as the most important cause for us and for our society, and our culture parades it as the ultimate goal of our lives and the shape of our pursuit of happiness.  It would be foolish to suggest that even in orthodox Christian congregations the folks in the pews are somehow immune from the influence or temptation of this pernicious lie.  Survey after survey suggests that the world is doing a better job of peddling the illusion of the autonomous self than the church is doing of speaking of submission to Christ, family, and neighbor.

What modern man has come to define as freedom is a life without restrictions, duties, or obligation except to the self.  So the university's job is to provide an atmosphere in which the student is free from encountering anything that might offend their autonomous self or challenge this idea of freedom.  The ultimate goal of the sexual revolution is sex without procreation, without commitment, without judgment, without obligation, even without definition (the gender of the moment), and without the surrender of any of the autonomous self in the process.  Abortion is where this is confronted but it is not the big issue.  Women to men to children to youth to feminist to GLBTQ, personal autonomy must rule over all things.  The end result of this is not community but isolation, not connection but individuality, and the personal space of the screen in your hand has become the domain in which this freedom is lived out most of all.

Christianity is not fighting against abortion but against a false and misleading dream of freedom which is, in reality, our greatest prison.  It was this idea that hid behind Eve's hand reaching for the fruit and Adam's willingness to join in the first sin and it was this that showed itself when they saw each other for the people they had become.  Perhaps it was near enough to God so that they still cared about their conscience enough to run and hide and deflect the blame when God came calling.  Today, it seems, we live under no such illusions that personal autonomy needs to be hidden or that we might be embarrassed about the idea of personal freedom which presumes we are gods.

What Christianity has become is the tepid water of a baptism which has only the power to affirm what comes to that water, absolution which declares the sinner just because there is no such thing as sin, a Eucharist in which we eat what we think it is and drink what we want it to be, and a Bible which has only the vaguest direction for our lives except to tell us God wants us to be happy, to enjoy and indulge our desires, and to be free to deal with the consequences however we feel is right at the moment.  This is the shadow that threatens to engulf Christian preaching and teaching and against which we must stand resolute.  God has spoken.  We repeat back to Him what He has said.  The Spirit is at work in the speaking.  In baptism the walking dead are killed once for all so that they may be made completely new in Christ.  In confession we speak of the daily battle with the old Adam still in us and the Christ who is also in us so that guilt and sin may not imprison us still.  In the Sacrament of the Altar we come not only to eat and drink but to discern and appreciate the foretaste of the heavenly and eternal feast.  For this battle, worship and catechesis are not less important but centrally so, for without them we are too easily surrendered to the idea that what God wants is what we want, that is, for the full enjoyment of our personal freedom so that we think, say, and do as we please.


William Weedon said...

"The freedom with which we are concerned in the Christian feast - the feast of the Eucharist - is not the freedom to devise new texts but the liberation of the world and ourselves from death. Only this can make us free, enabling us to accept truth and to love one another in truth." Benedict XVI (Feast of Faith, p. 65)

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters, just what I needed to hear today. Great post.

Daniel G.

Anonymous said...

I would hope the Chancellor of Lutheran worship would quote Luther as much as Benedict. Benedict's statement promotes the freedom of subservience to church tradition and the text of the mass, which liberates us from death through infused grace ex opere operato. It's like building credit with God. Lutherans, on the other hand, recognize justification as outside of us, a pronouncement of righteousness for Christ's sake received through the activity of the Holy Spirit through the preached Word by faith alone. What a glorious evangelical message we should never tire of hearing! As to the freedom obtained in the sacrament, it relies not on the traditions of men or grace as an Augustinian or even Osianderian fiction which we acquire internally to justify ourselves, but on the power of the Word to proclaim the forgiveness of sins for you, received by faith alone. Luther:

"That the Mass in the Papacy must be the greatest and most horrible abomination, as it directly and powerfully conflicts with this chief article, and yet above and before all other popish idolatries it has been the chief and most specious. For it has been held that this sacrifice or work of the Mass, even though it be rendered by a wicked [and abandoned] scoundrel, frees men from sins, both in this life and also in purgatory, while only the Lamb of God shall and must do this, as has been said above. Of this article nothing is to be surrendered or conceded, because the first article does not allow it.

"If, perchance, there were reasonable Papists we might speak moderately and in a friendly way, thus: first, why they so rigidly uphold the Mass. For it is but a pure invention of men, and has not been commanded by God; and every invention of man we may [safely] discard, as Christ declares, Matt. 15:9: In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

"Secondly. It is an unnecessary thing, which can be omitted without sin and danger.

"Thirdly. The Sacrament can be received in a better and more blessed way [more acceptable to God], (yea, the only blessed way), according to the institution of Christ. Why, then, do they drive the world to woe and [extreme] misery on account of a fictitious, unnecessary matter, which can be well obtained in another and more blessed way?

"Let [care be taken that] it be publicly preached to the people that the Mass as men's twaddle [commentitious affair or human figment] can be omitted without sin, and that no one will be condemned who does not observe it, but that he can be saved in a better way without the Mass. I wager [Thus it will come to pass] that the Mass will then collapse of itself, not only among the insane [rude] common people, but also among all pious, Christian, reasonable, God-fearing hearts; and that the more, when they would hear that the Mass is a [very] dangerous thing, fabricated and invented without the will and Word of God."

William Tighe said...

Cf.: the last two paragraphs (p. 752) of The Shape of the Liturgy by Dom Gregory Dix (1945).

Anonymous said...

Benedict XVI: correct.
Luther: Always and everywhere incorrect regarding the liturgy, sacraments, bible, church history, etc.

Catholic Church: founded on Pentecost and built on Peter as head and the Apostles.
Lutheran Ecclesial Community: founded in 1517 by an heretical priest Martin Luther. Who also caused the fracture of Western Christendom.

For the love of God, pastor Peters makes a good point. Just leave it at that.

Carl Vehse said...

Reading the comments on The Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Parish Pastor blog is like walking down a city sidewalk. Sometimes you have to step over/around recent droppings from the supporters of the Antichrist.

Anonymous said...

That was funny Mr. Vehse! You'll not always crabby.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Carl Vehse is ignorant the what Christ said about "Satan casting out Satan." But then again, when your steeped in error what else can one expect.