Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Running from or running to. . .

I read once that history is written by the victors.  While this is obviously true, that does not necessarily mean that such history is necessarily false.  It is true, for example, that the Puritans were certainly running away from persecution.  They were not treated well wherever they went.  But as true as this is, they were also running toward something.  They were seeking their own self-determination.  They were running toward a destiny born of their desire to fashion a new world designed according to their values and defined by their own religious precepts.  They were not alone.

Our own history within the Missouri Synod has a similar story of a people running away from religious persecution.  It was not quite as sudden or as simple as our mythology has put it but it was certainly real.  Yet there was something else real.  They had an idea of not only the new world but a new world, a world of their own creation in which not only were they free from persecution but free to build a society and a culture to reflect their confession and their values.

As with the Puritans, the beginning was not quite picture perfect.  Their esteemed leader became, at least in their own minds, an unbearable dictator.  The morality of the leader was in question and, in the end, their solution was a different kind of morality made possible with a rowboat and some sturdy hands to row it.  The questions that were left in the wake consumed them for a time and in the end they had to fashion their dream anew.  They consoled themselves that they had escaped a difficult past but they were not sure how the future would pan out.  In the end, another strong leader emerged and a new story line was written.

Most religious movements are movements not only away from one thing but toward another.  That is the pattern of history.  But is it God's way?  That is the great temptation.  We want not only to believe that God will be with us in suffering but that if we wait long enough and work hard enough we can build an alternative in which we no longer suffer.  To the victor belong the spoils.  And that is part of what we want.  We want the right and the power to create something new.  That is our temptation.  Left or right, liberal or conservative, progressive or fundamentalist, we want to build.  If we could be in charge, then things would be better.  But this attractive idea is a false one.  God has not placed us to build a kingdom or create a new world or fix what is wrong.  Don't get me wrong -- we are not here to make matters worse.  But the Kingdom of God is not a geographical province carved out for our benefit.  The Kingdom of God is in but not of the world.  We are here but citizens of a heavenly kingdom.  We are united not by philosophical ideas but by baptismal water, by the mystery of a God who comes in flesh, and by the fellowship of a table where the food is flesh and the drink is blood.  How easy it is to forget that and turn our attention to kingdom building.  Whether moral perfection or climate change or sexual freedom, the causes are attractive.  But no matter our good intentions, they may end up being the foundations of a religion of insanity.

Unless we are kingdom building, we fear that the Gospel is irrelevant, its power weak, and we are without purpose.  As long as Satan keeps telling us this, we will work harder at making a difference than we do preserving the faith and doing God's bidding by preaching and teaching the Word and trusting in the Sacraments to deliver what they sign.  And the Church will grow weaker.  And more and more groups will break off in pursuit of their vision of what should be. 

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"Our own history within the Missouri Synod has a similar story of a people running away from religious persecution. It was not quite as sudden or as simple as our mythology has put it but it was certainly real."

This mythology was real only in the sense that the persecution (and prosecution) was against Martin Stephan, who was the impetus for the emigration. This has been well established in C.F.W. Walther’s May 4, 1840, letter to his brother, O.H. Walther (translated by Werner Karl Wadewitz, May 11, 1963, Concordia Historical Institute, St. Louis), and by Ernst Gerhard Wilhelm Keyl in his August, 1841,”Public Confession of a Stephanite“ (trans. Rev. Joel R. Baseley, pp. 13-14); in Carl Eduard Vehse’s Die Stephansche Auswanderung nach Amerika (Dresden, 1840, pp. 28-9); in Carl S. Mundinger’s Government in the Missouri Synod (CPH, 1947, pp. 63-67); in Walter O. Forster’s Zion on the Mississippi (CPH, 1953, pp. 77, 105-112, 513, 515); in Moving Frontiers: Reading in the History of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (Carl S. Meyer, editor, CPH, St. Louis, 1964, pp. 84-85); and in August Suelflow’s Servant of the Word (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 2000, p. 54).