Saturday, March 4, 2023

Is it still true. . .

“The faith preached by the Apostles, attested by the Martyrs, embodied in the Creeds, expounded by the Fathers.”   This is what C. S. Lewis called the “solid center” of Christianity.  There was a time in which I heartily agreed with Lewis and saw it with my own eyes.  

The differences between the Augustana Lutheran congregation in my home town and the Missouri Lutheran congregation in the country were small though esteemed to be great.  The laugh of my parents was when one of those Swedish boys asked the German pastor if his daughter might accompany him to a youth event in the basement of his Lutheran church.  The German pastor said he would rather allow his daughter to visit hell.  Doctrinally there was not the huge gulf then (1940s) as there is today but the differences were thought to be substantial.  The solid center was present though not judged not sufficient for even a polite relationship.

Today the differences between those same congregations is substantial though the relationship is much more polite, even friendly.  In fact, there are those who find it hard to think that the differences in faith and practice are not great enough to continue to divide the churches.  Strange, isn't it, that the solid center of the past was then unrecognized has been replaced by a great gulf that is now no impediment to unity.

In the past the great ecumenical vision was hastened on by the vision of a real unity, or at least enough unity to allow more than a mere cooperation of externals.  They were heady days in which the boundaries of the past were being moved, sure that enough conversation and cooperation could remove the bitter condemnations of the past and open the doors to new future.  When that did not occur, it was decided that the divisions need not be reconciled but could be allowed to exist and were no real barrier to the unity which was sought.  Reconciled diversity became the accepted substitute for honest unity.

Now we find Lutherans more divided than ever, the numbers of Lutheran jurisdictions increasing as they also decline, and others mirroring the same pattern.  The disunited Methodists and the splintered Presbyterians multiply denominations without increasing members.  The Southern Baptists found their own cracks in the foundation.  Rome finds it easier to close churches than to fill them.  We have trouble finding a solid center within the very fabric of our own traditions much less the broader fabric of Christianity.  We are as Christians less confident in a supreme being, in His stewardship of creation, in the historicity of Biblical people and events, in the accuracy of the words or deeds of Jesus, or in their meaning or import.  It is precisely the faith preached by the Apostles, attested by the Martyrs, embodied in the Creeds, expounded by the Fathers we no longer share. Our solid center has become fluid and uncertain even as our desire to repair the divisions of the past grows.  It is the sad state of real ecumenism that has given way to one without substance.

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