Thursday, March 3, 2022

That is just symbolic. . .

When you don't like incense, it is easy to say that incense is just a symbol and nobody needs to actually use it.  When you don't like singing, it is easy to say that the call to sing or chant is merely symbolic and singing is optional.  When you don't like a weekly Eucharist, it is easy that often is symbolic language and we are free to decide how often we want or need it.  When you don't like something in Scripture, it is always easy to dismiss it by labeling it symbolic and therefore neither literal or real.

The same could be said of the Confessions.  If you don't want to call ordination a sacrament, then you dismiss what the Confessions say as merely symbolic language.  If you don't want to go to private confession, you simply reject what the Confessions say as symbolic language or words rooted in a particular moment in time.  If you don't want to have the Sacrament of the Altar weekly, you simply call the Confessions descriptive instead of prescriptive and then you can do what you want.  I could go on and on. . . Maybe some think I already have!

Fill in the blank.  You get the idea.  If you don't want to, you don't have to.  You can write off what you object to as symbolic or descriptive or theoretical or ideal (as opposed to real).  And then you are free to go ahead and do what seems good and right to you.  Besides there is certainly some example of a theological figure who had the same idea you have and you can appeal to that example for support.  And you can surely find some era in church history in which what you don't like, they did not like either and so you have precedent.  Prooftexting for preference.  What a game.

That is the danger of letting preference rule.  Sure, incense does not matter greatly.  We Lutherans have lived so long without it that it is a foreigner to our shores.  Why bother -- especially when so many do not like it or want it and will fight against it?  But you could say that about so many things.  Fill in the blank.  When preference rules you can write off anything and everything -- even Jesus.  The truth is that we need things we find unpleasant and even offensive to us.  It is not about us.  It is about the Lord.  As I wrote a while ago, if it is not offensive, it is hardly worth believing.  How much danger has been done to the faith by trying to soften its hard edges, make it palatable, make it comprehensible, make it, make it easy...  We are so worried that somebody might ask us to do or accept something we do not like or welcome when the real danger to the faith has always been and will always be to slow casting aside of the things we do not like or welcome or prefer or want...  Eventually, Jesus will have to go as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Confessions are cumulative, that is to say, the later Confessions clarify and explain the earlier. So Melanchthon in typical Melanchthon style declares that there are three sacraments in the Apology before rambling on about why is prayer not a sacrament, and what about ordination, but only if ordination is interpreted in a certain way, etc. Luther in the Smalcald Articles clarifies this by stating flatly that there are “our two sacraments” instituted by Christ. So do we as Lutherans pick and choose between the two? They’re both Confessions. But Luther’s definition of two sacraments for the Lutheran Church clarifies Melanchthon’s muddiness because it is a later definitive statement. And the Lutheran Church of the time understood this, and followed Luther in speaking of two sacraments for five hundred years.

Now we seem to be caught up in two current trends: reimagining and reinventing the self, and approaching the texts as if they can be deconstructed and reinterpreted to mean what we want. I pick ordination as a sacrament, in opposition to the textual understanding throughout the history of the Lutheran Church. So there. That’s my preference. I want incense, despite its having no history in the Lutheran Church. That is the very definition of personal preference contra the traditions of the Lutheran Church.