Wednesday, November 15, 2023

A principle distinct from the texts. . .

The things I hear from time to time out of Rome seem to indicate that for some, perhaps many, Vatican II has become a principle separate and distinct from the actual texts or pronouncements of the Council.  So, for example, though the Council itself was rather conservative liturgically, the principle of Vatican II gave impetus to a host of changes in the liturgical life of Rome that went well beyond what the documents of Vatican II actually said.  Everyone knows that.  There is very little within the actual documents of Vatican II that could be used to predict or justify the radical reshaping of the liturgical life of Roman Catholicism which was given with the authority of Paul VI upon it.  Vatican II became a liturgical principle not simply distinct from its actual texts or documents but even larger than what was actually said -- overpowering the Council itself. 

Now the Synod on Synodality has continued that same process but with respect to the doctrinal tradition of Rome regarding sexual desire, marriage, children, and family.  There is little within the texts or pronouncements of Vatican II that would pass as a starting point for what the liberal and progressive element in Rome desires but Vatican II has become a doctrinal principle as well as a liturgical one.  This is the way that the liberalization of the doctrine and practice of Rome is being justified.  Rome, once the most clerical of churches, saw the Synod include as voting members nonbishops, including women and lay men.  They were not mere observers or guests but full members of the Synod.  No one in Vatican II would have foreseen such a change and yet it is heralded as a sign of the progress flowing out of Vatican II and used by Pope Francis for the renewal of the life of the Church according to his personal design. Again, the Council has become a principle distinct from and larger than its actual documents.

Lest we smugly presume that this happens only in Rome, the liberal and progressive Protestants have done exactly the same thing with the Gospel.  Where the New Testament has a rather specific and defined understanding of this term, it has become a principle separate from and larger than the texts of the New Testament that speak to the incarnation, holy life, life-giving death, and victorious resurrection of our Lord for the forgiveness of our sins, the imparting of life death cannot overcome, and the gifting of salvation by grace through faith.  In fact, when these churches speak of the Gospel they do not have any reference to Christ crucified and risen but use the term as a generic cause and purpose to undo the injustices of this world and redress the wrongs of prejudice, oppression, and white patriarchy that they have deemed to be the causes of these ills.  

Certainly this is what the ELCA admittedly did when it purposefully disregarded the explicit statements of Scripture, the history of Christianity, and the Lutheran confessional documents to embrace the sexual desires, gender identities, and same sex marriage positions embraced in 2009.  The Gospel was no longer about the cross where the sacrifice for sin was made once for all and became the idea of a new social order that eventually blossomed into economic justice, climate change, and diversity along with the positions of sexual liberation.  These Lutherans were not and are not along.  Indeed, even evangelicals have more in common with the progressives than they do the confession and practice of a conservative church body like the Missouri Synod.

What I am saying is this.  The danger to Christianity has always been to separate the Gospel from the words and actions of the New Testament and to turn it into a principle that could be used for political, social, and economic purposes and an agenda not native to the New Testament.  Once the Scriptures were used to countenance prejudice, slavery, and a host of other ills.  Now they are being used to justify a host of so-called reforms.  All of it is tied then to the Gospel itself and becomes larger than the cross and empty tomb.  When this happens, the Gospel itself is silenced and robbed of its saving voice and replaced either by legalism or moralism -- neither of which can save.  Christ becomes an object lesson and is no longer the Savior and Redeemer whose death and resurrection accomplish salvation.  He becomes little more than a political organizer whose name is used to foment the changes we learned not from Him but from the culture around us (and only one part of that culture).

Rome will be undone by the efforts of those to turn a council into a principle.  Christianity will be undone by those who strip the cross and empty tomb away from Christ and turn the Gospel into a principle used to justify and sanctify the longings of culture and society.  Rome will have to figure out a way to get a pope who will not become and agent of this betrayal and Christians will have to awaken to the truth that the only Gospel that has any power to address us with hope is the one planted in death upon the cross and victorious over death on the third day.  The redress of old injustices and prejudices may not always be bad or evil but when this becomes the new definition of the Gospel and its focus, the Church needs to say clearly as once Jesus said to Peter:  Get behind Me, Satan.

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