Friday, May 30, 2008

Looking East?

There has been a discussion on the Lutherans Looking East list comparing and contrasting Lutheran and Orthodox sermons. First, I wish to state that I have not participated in this discussion because I have concluded that I am not the sort of list member that they desire – that is, I am not a Lutheran looking East. I guess I would have to describe myself as a Lutheran observing the East, watching the East, gleaning from the East when appropriate, but not Looking East with a goal (whether long or short term) of going East. In that regard, I am a Lutheran observing the West as well – West, as in the Western Church, the Roman Catholic Church. I’m sorry Episcopalians, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, etc., I am neither looking nor observing, watching nor gleaning from you, for you are playing an altogether different ballgame. No, though I may be a disgruntled and dissatisfied Lutheran at times, I am a Lutheran, and will remain a Lutheran, for I am drawn to the Truth (and He incarnate!), and I continue to find that Truth in the confessional faith that remains the bedrock of the Lutheran Church. Yes, yes, yes, I know, I know, I know – look at the disparate practice of Lutheran congregations; look at the varying interpretations of the Lutheran Confessions that exist; look at the lack of ecclesial authority to reprove and correct false teaching within the Lutheran Synods; yes, yes, yes, I know, I know, I know. The Truth is not affected, nor can It be changed. There is no visible Church – God continue to keep and protect the invisible Body of Christ.

Now, about sermons. What makes a sermon Lutheran? One might rightly presume a careful division of the Law and the Gospel, with the Gospel predominating. Though you will likely not find this coming from every Lutheran pulpit, I think that this sort of homiletic is emblematic of Lutheran preaching. Where this distinction is not made with intention I observe that Lutheran preachers often fall into the trap of proclaiming only the Gospel or admonishing with only the Law. In the case of the former, the people are at risk of antinomian indulgence. In the latter case the risk is self-righteousness or overbearing guilt, fear, and despair. That being said, one of the reasons that I am a convicted Lutheran is because I have never heard the Gospel proclaimed as sweetly in any other denomination as in even the most moderate of Lutheran churches.

Beyond the Law / Gospel distinction, however, there is little that could be said to be unique to or emblematic of Lutheran sermons. This is due to the myriad problems that I listed above. The greater part of North American Lutheran history would suggest that the sermon was the highpoint of the Divine Service. But no small minority of Lutheran pastors today would say that the Holy Eucharist is the clear pinnacle of the Divine Service with the Introit, Lessons, and even the sermon serving as preparation for the banquet in which Christ comes to us physically and spiritually and dwells with and in us, His flesh united with ours, His blood coursing through our veins. Viewed as preparation for this foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end, preaching will utilize highly sacramental and incarnational imagery and didactic. The goal is that Christ’s people come to His banquet in humble but confident faith, in selfless, sacrificial love for both God and neighbor. For me, and for many of my colleagues, this is emblematic of the typical Lutheran sermon.

The participants in the Looking East discussion also have stated that Orthodox sermons tend to focus on love much more than Lutheran sermons. Perhaps that is true, but again, I know that I preach about the love of God in Christ Jesus and the implications of that love for Christians in the world but not of the world in nearly every sermon I’ve ever preached. Certainly I’ve heard Lutheran sermons that were essentially Bible studies read from a pulpit, but I’ve heard many more that proclaimed the selfless, sacrificial love of God in Christ Jesus that enables us to love others as He has so abundantly loved us. Come on, love is what the Christian faith is all about! God IS love. Greater love is NOT POSSIBLE than one lay down His life for His friends. LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVE YOU. Divine love is known in action; divine love is a creative activity. It is useless to pontificate about love, to philosophize about love, to quote the fathers on love -- love must be experienced and love must be given (shared). Divine love is known in the Eucharistic Feast (which the sermon helps to prepare you to receive).

I often think that the “church” on earth is going through a humbling trial in this present age. Faithful Christians are being forced to return to the Word alone as they watch their institutional structures plagued by division, scandal, financial crisis, ceaselessly dividing. Even as my own institutional house is in disorder, the Truth remains unchanged. The invisible Church cannot be divided or broken, nor defeated. Where should we go? Christ Jesus has the Word of eternal life. There’s no need to look East, West, North, South or any other way the wind might blow.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

No visible Church? how do you arrive at that conclusion?

This post, by the way, would have been wonderful over at "Lutherans Looking East."

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Where is the visible Church? What does it look like? How do you know you're there? The Lutheran Confessions have answered "The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered." (AC V) There, "congregation of saints" should be understood as "communion of saints" as in the Nicene Creed, not the local congregation. Accordingly, the only sense in which the Church can be said to be visible is by Her "marks" -- the right proclamation of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments. Even with these signs, however, I find it a stretch to say that the Church is "visible" -- for there are undoubtedly those in other "communions" (I have to put that in quotes because the true Church is One Communion) who belong to the Church. The Church is most certainly NOT any "institution" apart from these marks of faithfulness, i.e., no institution is the Church simply because they say they are.

As to my post being "wonderful over at Lutherans Looking East", I appreciate your kind words and your thoughtful posts, questions, and critiques. However, I have be politely warned that such "defensive" posts are not appropriate for LLE.

Frankly, I am pissed off at the aggressive proselytizing of the "Orthodox Church" amongst other communions. I have recently had another colleague and friend "swim the Bosphorus" -- I have seen the destruction that such men have left behind in their former parishes. And there is an arrogance amongst the most prolific of Orthodox web posters and bloggers that is laughable, if it were not so damn frustrating and sad.

123 said...

I am sure saul left much the same discord in his Pauline wake. Negative results are only noted regarding our opponents, never those who join 'our side', 'the true faith'. Such is life.

This would be a good post if there was a question in there somewhere regarding something you might wish to learn about Orthodox from Orthodox Christians speaking a confessional language you understood. Musings about Orthodoxy from a Lutheran perspective are not really called for on a list like that, but that is something quite different than expecting a poster to accept Orthodoxy as true and Lutheranism as false. LLE is a passive (completely unaggressive, self-selecting) resource where questions about Orthodoxy from Lutherans, former Lutherans, etc. can be answered - nothing more, nothing less - so non-questions aren't really appropriate.

I started LLE precisely because there was often too much confusion when staunch believers on both sides tried to dissemble and come off as 'respectful' when they really thought the other side's teachings wrong, sometimes even dangerous or evil. LLE is up front about being Orthodox and focused only on more than open "to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope that [we] have" (I Pet 3:15) - and giving answers implies there was a question posed, not a statement declared at or a gauntlet thrown down.

I think there are many questions about Orthodoxy that could be posed stemming from your musings here that would be welcome on LLE. Feel free to run them by the list Moderator should you have any questions regarding their appropriateness - much like asking whether you should take your shoes off when visiting someone's home and other polite gestures.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

A common dodge by the so-called "orthodox" is to establish that their thoughts are not our thoughts. They apparently live in a parallel universe, a different dimension of sight and sound where our Western thinking is simply incapable of comprehending the Eastern thinking.

It's ultimately quite ridiculous.

Father Gregory Hogg has made it very plain that we are not church, we have no ministry, no sacraments, no Eucharist, no baptism. He and others of his ilk, have made it clear that they can not regard us as fellow members of the body of Christ. Our salvation in Christ is unknowable.

And, of course, the denizens from the East regularly lurking about on Lutheran blog sites are on a mission to recruit and steal away members from our congregations and men from our clergy ranks.

Their convert-clergy, who are ordained in a speed that surpasses even some seminary diploma mills, generally spent the last years of their ministry in the Lutheran church recruiting members to join them when they left Orthodoxy.

The nefarious and sinister nature of their underhanded and deceptive behavior is such that I do not permit any of them to participate on my blog.

They have their own blogs and groups and can proselytize to their heart's content. I refuse to facilitate these behaviors.

For what it is worth.