Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Faith and Life of the Body vs. Missional "Lutheran" Gnosticism

Sound doctrine is fundamental and foundational to the Christian faith and life, and the right distinction of the Law and the Gospel is the particularly bright light by which the Holy Scriptures are correctly understood.

To have the mind of Christ, however, is not merely a matter of the intellect, but of humility in body and soul, of obedience unto death, and of living self-sacrifice to the glory of God and for the good of the neighbor.  To live by the Spirit of Christ is to live by faith in His Word, and so also to live in the body on earth, in love for God and man.  For the Spirit descends in bodily form, and rests and remains upon the Body of Christ.

Real Wisdom belongs, not to the raw intellectual mastery of data, facts and information, but to the fear of the Lord.  It is not academic, nor clinical, but is possessed by the solemn awe of the great Mystery of godliness.  This true Wisdom is known in her children, who bend their hearts and knees, along with their minds, before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and at the great and holy Name above all others, which has been given to Him, who alone was crucified for our transgressions and is raised for our justification.

When faith and life are reduced to the formulations and clich├ęs of dogmatic propositions and jingled slogans — asserted and assented to, repeated ad nauseam, and given lip-service while "anything else goes," in the great free-for-all, the banner over which is "adiaphora" — it is no longer Christianity that we are dealing with, but the latest non-incarnation of gnosticism.  Whether the list of facts is long or short, intricate or simplistic, if that is all there is to it, then that is not the faith which is reckoned as righteousness for the sake of Christ; it is a farce and a fiction, which relies upon itself and on the self-righteousness of its own mental mastery.

Twenty years ago, when I was a seminary student, the powers that be and their clever speech-writers suggested that several of my favorite professors were guilty of a "confessional Lutheran gnosticism," because, it was claimed, those men insisted on right doctrine, supposedly to the detriment of missions and evangelism.  The politicos who made such claims knew not the good people they accused, nor the things concerning which they made such confident assertions, but I find it particularly ironic in retrospect.

In the decades that have followed, I have frequently heard the arguments that the actual practice of worship is utterly neutral and of no real significance to the heart and soul of what we are about.  The Lutheran Confessions are thumped as loudly as ever they were in defense of right doctrine, in promotion of the popular theory, that rites and ceremonies are adiaphora, and are therefore up for grabs.

Over and over, I hear tell that, so long as we all agree on the same "doctrine," the differences in practice don't matter.  And, on the surface of such words, what can I possibly do but agree?  I recognize and affirm, as boldly and confidently as anyone, that the unity of the Church does not depend on uniformity in man-made rites and ceremonies; and that differences in adiaphorous traditions are not divisive to the Body of Christ.

The premise I cannot accept, but which I fear will bring great harm upon the fellowship of the Church on earth, is that her doctrine can be hermetically self-contained, inviolate and vital, in well-worn sound bites and in the hallowed pages of CPH publications.  Such a great treasure the Small Catechism is, Christ be praised for His mercy in preserving it among us these many years, and for granting us a renaissance in its actual use!  But the Catechism, and all doctrine, is to be prayed and practiced, not simply memorized and repeated.  The practice won't look quite the same in every place, but the practice actually matters, and it can be externally measured and evaluated because it is practiced in and with the body.

It is the body, first of all, that receives Holy Baptism for the cleansing of the conscience by faith.  It is the body that eats and drinks the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the body that kneels at the Altar, where the penitent asks, "Dear pastor, please hear my confession, and grant me forgiveness in order to fulfill God's will."  It is the body also that rests in the Sabbath of Christ, in order to hear and receive the Word and work of the Lord in the external preaching and administration of the Gospel.  So, too, it is the body that gives voice to the Name of the Lord in prayer, praise, thanksgiving, and intercession.  And it is the body that loves the neighbor in his body and life with genuinely good works.

What I long for is not a lock-step uniformity in every jot and tittle of practice.  I don't believe that such a thing is either possible or desirable.  But it is a dangerous gnostic cancer to suppose that our Christian faith and life and fellowship can be summed up in slogans and dogmatic affirmations, while practice is meanwhile treated as a matter of strategy and style, of personal taste and creativity, of no account or consequence to our present confession or posterity.

When everything is left to depend on a word that hasn't become flesh, no matter whether it is a long or short word, demanding or lax, then we have let go of Christ and lost Him.

What I long for is reverence and awe in the presence of the Word who has become flesh, and a confession of His Gospel with both mind and spirit, with hearts and souls and voices, and with bodies of flesh and blood.  So that the God-given freedom of adiaphora will be understood and exercised as a freedom to worship the Father in the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the one true faith of His Body, crucified and risen, given and received.  Then, whether we bend the knee, or stand, or sit, and whatever it is our neighbor does with his or her body, we will not condemn or cast aspersions, but neither will we naively suppose that it doesn't matter.

Let each of us possess his own vessel in purity and honor, and worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness, and the whole earth tremble before Him, who alone does wondrous things and saves us by the great glory of His grace.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Once Again, the Anglicans Do it Better


By Larry Beane

English speaking Lutheranism, including the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, has an interesting relationship with Anglicanism.

Much of our English liturgy is rooted in the translations from the Book of Common Prayer.  The publishing house affiliated with the LCMS, CPH, owns the copyright to many of Healy Willan's musical arrangements.  The familiar Common Service (LSB DS3) tune for the Gloria in Excelsis is a Scottish chant shared with historical Anglicanism.  Along with historic Anglicanism, traditional Lutheranism shares a Western Catholic liturgical tradition while being heirs of the Reformation - thus having a tradition of Evangelical theology seated comfortably alongside a Catholic view of liturgy and church history.  Historically speaking, Lutherans and Anglicans are "one step from Rome."

Traditional Anglicans generally conduct the Mass with reverence and dignity, even if perhaps an aristocratic British stiff-upper-lip fussiness that might be a little over the top for many democratically-minded Americans.  And perhaps in a nod to 007 (who, after all, is in the service of the head of the Anglican Communion that includes most Anglicans), we may well give homage to our Anglican cousins with a round of Nobody Does it Better.  And I would be shocked (shocked!) if no LCMS congregations have used this theme as some kind of "worship song."

But even in matters of heresy, it seems like the Anglicans do it better.

They do the whole Montanist thing with an elan and showmanship that puts our own pathetic-by-comparison tiny remnant of elderly RIM tongue-speakers to shame.  Our Anglican cousins also go whole hog in the Wiccan-goddess thing with priestesses in full fig, by far exceeding the almost staid-by-comparison LCMS's forays into women in ministry with albs and stoles.  And when it comes to turning the Divine Service into farcical and frivolous entertainment, why, the above Big Dance Show beats the LCMS's amateurish twiddling around with flutes and snare drums and and acoustic guitars and "Shine, Jesus Shine" - hands down.

Or should I say, "hands up"?

You have to say this for the Anglicans: they swing for the fence - whether they are highly traditionalist bodies like the ACC that believe in liturgical dignity and catholic tradition; or worshipers of the false gods of feminism, homosexuality, and postmodernism like the ECUSA; or enthusiasts of the charismatic River Dance style, like this group above: the ACNA - with whom the LCMS has been in dialogue.

In fact, "The ACNA is the first non-Lutheran denomination to enter into any sort of dialogue with LCMS."

Why would the LCMS be in dialogue with this body?  Well, they oppose gay "marriage."  Coming out against "teh ghey" covers a multitude of sins, it seems, and this issue appears to have become the gold standard of ecumenical cooperation and dialogue, and for many denominations, the single issue by which the church stands or falls, shares or breaks communion.  All else is treated as adiaphora.

Whether good, bad, or ugly, the Anglicans don't seem to go for halfway measures.  They seem even capable of extremism in their moderation - as evidenced by the militantly middling "neither high church, nor low church" wing!  But then again, so as not to be perceived as throwing stones, you can see some genuinely outrageous things masquerading as Lutheranism as well.  The LCMS is not exempt.  You can find rock music, dancing girls, cup holders, clown eucharists, and pastors running around in street clothes with little microphones stuck to their heads within driving distance from just about everyone wishing to attend such things in LCMS congregations.

I guess the one saving grace is that we in the LCMS are typically pretty lame in our attempts to be hipsters.  Hopefully this dialogue with the ACNA isn't going to help us do their things better!

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!