Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Curious religion. . .

Over at Religion Unplugged you find a story about the Democratic Candidates and their religions.  It is a curious story about curious religion.  I am not singling out these candidates and fear that many (most?) religious people would characterize their religion in similar words.  But I do raise the issue of whether this is really all or even mainly what these faiths are about.

You can go there and click on the photo of your favorite candidate or least favorite, for that matter, and find out what religion that candidate is and how they characterize their faith.  Remarkably, you find in nearly all of them a common identity that expresses itself not in terms of doctrine or belief but in practice and, in particular, social policy.  Behavior is the focus of most of these candidates and what their church actually teaches is conspicuously absent.

Again, I am not picking on them.  They probably reflect a goodly number of folks from these religions.  Polls tell us that our people tend to hear things framed in terms of behavior more than in terms of theology.  Just a few months ago Rome was unsettled by the statistic that most of their congregants do not believe in the Real Presence -- hardly a fringe idea to Roman Catholic worship and doctrine!  Yet that is where it is.  We live in a time when our people are more and more ignorant of what their church teaches because they hear less and less doctrinal teaching and preaching.  The two are connected.

Catechesis is not the same as the Divine Service but the two are not separated by some high wall.  Catechesis begins in the Divine Service and the Divine Service unpacked is the starting point of catechesis.  We used to know this.  The problem is that preaching so often has so little to do with the Divine Service or even the lectionary or even doctrine.  Across Christianity preaching has focused more and more on people, on their goals and dreams, hurts and pain, wants and needs.  Yet this preaching is missing something essential if it fails to preach who Jesus is, what He has done, why we needed it, and what the fruits of His life in us look like.  That is doctrinal preaching practically applied to the person in the pew (and not in the least to the preacher himself).

Lutherans have a fall back sermon of "you were bad, God was good to save you, and isn't that wonderful."  I am not sure that even approaches faithful preaching of justification but it could be worse.  Sin could be omitted and Christ's sacrificial death could be skipped over.  Yet the sermon should not simply repeat justification over and over again without ALSO preaching the doctrine of what we believe, confess, and teach AND how then we should live as God's holy and redeemed people.  Lent is not the only time of the year to preach sermons on the catechism, for example.  St. Paul spends at least as much time encouraging people to walk worthy of their calling as Christian people as he does justification by grace and he spends a good deal of his time talking about what we believe (like 1 Corinthians 15, for example).

The challenge here is not to paint the candidates or our people as shallow or deaf but to example how it is that we proclaim the faith to them and for the preacher to ask himself if he has done a faithful job of preaching the text if he does not also preach the faith.


Madonaldo said...
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John Joseph Flanagan said...
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