Monday, October 21, 2019

An unreasonable faith. . .

I have had a number of ongoing discussions with folks who were Lutheran and ended up, either by deliberate choice or accidental detour, not Lutheran.  Among the many protests were the promise that they were still Lutheran in their heart of hearts -- at least until they were baptized again but this time as an adult and by immersion.  And then there were those who dated or married a non-Lutheran who refused to attend a Lutheran Church and so the spouse, desiring to worship together as a family, began attending the non-Lutheran Church and, before long, was no longer Lutheran even in that person's heart of hearts. It has always struck me strange how quickly people can abandon some of the core and center of Lutheran doctrine and practice for non-doctrinal reasons that eventually probably do become doctrinal.  Were they never really Lutheran?  I am not ready to go there.  I suspect that the real issue is faith itself.  They eventually gave up not on doctrine but on faith -- at least the idea of faith that is trust instead of understanding and rational, reasonable, acceptance. 

Lutheranism is not rational or reasonable or systematic.  It is filled with paradoxes left unresolved and it surrenders the hope of understanding or getting God for the trust that believes His Word and is captive to that Word -- captive minds and hearts.  The problem is not so much with Lutheranism as much as it is with the Word of God itself.  People seem to be drawn like magnets to those who can cut and paste the Scriptures together to offer something that is logical and orderly and answers questions and can be understood.  But if God can be understood, does He continue to be God?  Is not a God who is captive to the mind not worth believing?

In a recent conversation a parent in tears lamented a child who had abandoned the faith the child was confirmed in and embraced something more appealing to the mind and more satisfying to the heart.  In the end it was less about doctrine than it was about the need to understand, to have God explain Himself or be explained.  While that is quite often our desire, it mitigates against the very nature of faith (Hebrews says it best -- the substance of things hoped for and confidence in things not seen).  Lutheranism is not all that appealing to those who want a systematic God who can be explained, predicted, and understood.  But Calvinism is attractive for exactly that reason.  Calvin approaches God from the vantage point of reason.  If Calvin is not explaining God, at least he is certain God has explained Himself and transformed faith from trust to consent of the mind and will.

There must be a reason why some are saved and not others and predestination is it.  Jesus would surely not die for the world but only for those who He foresaw would come to faith or whom He chosen to set apart as the recipients of His atoning work.  Infant baptism makes no sense but believer's baptism makes all the sense in the world.  The saved will bear the marks of this salvation and election in their lives of obedience. What cannot be understood with the mind is experienced and God is manifested in feelings (the sublime nature of the Eucharist, for example).  For more than 23 years Calvin kept adding to his Institutes in an effort to unpack more and more of the mystery of God and God's work.  There are not many true Calvinists left but enough -- enough to appeal to those who find it too much to trust the Lord without explanation or reason to back it up.  Instead of jumping headlong into the hidden arms of God at the prompting of the Spirit, the person begins to seek something more to hold onto -- a reasonable faith that appeals to the mind and the movement of God in the realm of feelings and emotion.

In the end I have tired of trying to argue it out.  If I can argue someone into the faith, then somebody else can argue them out.  I do not believe it is fruitful to approach these people with an appeal to the mind.  Their argument is really not against Luther or catholic theological tradition with respect to the Word and Sacraments.  Their argument is with faith itself.  They refuse to believe if believing does not offer something rational to the mind and something warm to the heart.  They will not believe if believing means trusting what their eyes cannot see or their minds cannot understand or their hearts not experience or feel.  If we think we can argue them back into classical and orthodox Christianity,, then we have already conceded the most important theological point -- God is not the end result of the mind's fruitful search for reason and order to life and the future.  God has made Himself accessible in the means of grace -- not to supplement understanding and feelings but to replace them with something eminently more durable.

I was reminded of a small quote from Hermann Sasse:
Not every question can be settled by means of a friendly discussion. It is necessary to remember this in an age which has a superstitious belief in dialog as the infallible means of settling everything. There are questions raised by the devil to destroy the Church of Christ. To achieve this he may use as his mouth piece not only ambitious professors of theology, his favorite tools, but also simple, pious souls.
Consensus is a wonderful thing and compromise sounds positively wonderful but in the end these may just lead us from truth to error in our search for a credible faith and a reasonable God.  I get it.  I feel it as well.  I want a God who will explain Himself to me, clue me into His ways, and fit into the understanding of my limited mind.  Who doesn't?  But as nice as it is, the true faith will always challenge and shock and scandalize us.  After all, Jesus the innocent Son of God willingly suffered for the sake of those who were sinners and enemies of God.  Nobody can find much comfort in a God who willingly dies for the unworthy and undeserving.  Jesus did not suffer for scoundrels.  Or did He???  God can be explained and predicted.  Or can He???  Ultimately all we know is what God has told us and what He has told us points us not to minds that get Him but to the trust of things we cannot see and have only by promise and the witness of the Spirit.  In the end, we must ask ourselves if this is enough?  I pray that the Spirit will enable us to say "Yes, that is more than enough" for me to believe in Him and rejoice in His grace and mercy.


Carl Vehse said...

"It has always struck me strange how quickly people can abandon some of the core and center of Lutheran doctrine and practice for non-doctrinal reasons that eventually probably do become doctrinal."

This raises the question of how such people were catechized, either as youth or as adults. Also, what post-confirmation training was provided, such as instruction in the other Symbols in the Book of Concord of 1580, as well as studies of the heterodoxies and heresies of other than Lutheran denominations (including the Roman Church)? Without such additional knowledge, their confrimation vows tend to lose meaning.

Paul Steitz said...

I think doctrine is undervalued these days. What matters to many believers is that a church provides activities and programs that stir the emotions. I agree with Carl Vehse that catechesis is lacking in our Lutheran instruction.

Paul Steitz said...

I think doctrine is undervalued among many believers. Irrespective of denominational brand loyalties, it is my observation that more importance is placed upon finding a church that meets temporal needs. For example, does the church offer programs and activities that stir the emotions? Are the demographics such that families with young children populate the membership? My personal heartache lies in the fact that my son and his wife, together with their two young children, left a small LCMS congregation and joined a Presbyterian church that exhibits the traits previously mentioned. Both parents and their children are baptized. Father and mother were catechized in the LCMS. Neither father or mother knows, nor cares what Calvinism means. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not important to them. Probably not much thought, if any, is given to double predestination. All that matters is that they and their children are learning about Jesus. For now, that seems to sufficiently meet their needs.

Mark said...

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, “