Monday, October 29, 2007

The Church at the Cross

-isms are dangerous; no less Lutheranism. Lutherans become -ismatics when they take good, sound, biblical & apostolic doctrine and so narrowly define it's parameters that it becomes rigid, lifeless law. Lutheranism has done this to justification: justification has been stripped down to the skeletal, lifeless doctrine of a declarative judgment. What about sanctification, the life that is given in that "judgment"? Why would God act and judge in such a selfless, sacrificial way? What does that mean for our newly restored lives? These things are more difficult to define; they belong in the realm of mystery. -isms, perhaps unwittingly, destroy mystery.

Lutherans have not entirely killed the mystery in justification; some still speak in the language of a "happy exchange". Some still believe we commune with saints and angels. Some still recognize the selfless, sacrificial love of the Bridegroom for His Bride and for His Father, that He laid down His life and became obedient unto death on a cross.

But the -ism is encroaching. Lutheranism is becoming, perhaps became long ago, protestantism. Holiness has largely died in our churches. Little is sacred: space, time, words, reverence, behavior ... . Most is profane, mundane, common, ordinary; if it's not, then that's a problem we need to fix. We need to be more like them.

Ironically, Lutheran -ismatics might agree that we need to reclaim the mystery: the mystery of God's majesty, triumph, and glory! The Roman and Orthodox communions embrace this as well. This is the theology of glory. The true mystery, however, is the theology of the cross. It is marked by humility, love, self-sacrifice, selflessness. It is not the glory and majesty of God that is contemplated and praised, but it is the selflessness and sacrifice, the love of God - "boundless love" in the words of Paul Gerhardt.

God is love, and it is of His very essence and nature that He justifies and restores the "object" of His love - fallen man. "Object" is in quotes because it is not a sufficient word to describe the mystery of this love and relationship. In a mysterious way, Adam & Eve are as much "bone of God's bone and flesh of God's flesh" as they are of each other. God doesn't simply want to shower blessings upon the Church, He wants to marry the Church and impregnate the Church with His love - He gives Himself to and for the Bride to make Her holy and without blemish; to make Her like Himself.

Granted, the Orthodox have a greater grasp of this than the Romans or any of the protestants, but, as much as they talk about mystery and theosis, they still lack the complete humility and selflessness of God's love and the Bride's selfless and humble receiving and responding in love. The Orthodox, too, have a theology of glory.

Lutheranism is in trouble; it needs to die. There is no certainty that anything of value will survive it's demise. So be it. What there need be is the true Church that gathers at the foot of the cross: "Woman, behold, your son!" "Behold, your mother!" The true Church kneels in humble submission at the altar where the precious body and the holy blood of the Bridegroom are given for Her sustenance and strength. Always at the cross; always kneeling, submitting, receiving. Then, in the world, but not of the world, owning the mystery.


Pastor J. Sollberger said...

2nd Jon: Most interesting; I have recently (past 3-4 months) been teaching on the dangers of "isms". Your insights are both welcome and insightful. I'm sure I will enjoy your new blog. I've been contemplating starting my own, yet the fear remains that I will be "outed" as a closet sacramental anglo-catholic - very un-Missouri. 1st Jon

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

1st Jon: Thanks for your comment. It's good to see that someone's out there! For me, the blog is really self-serving: I think about all this stuff that's probably meaningless nonsense to most people, but it's stuff that I'm working through mentally. The blog works for me because it helps me organize my thoughts on some of the more abstract points. I'm hoping to get more comments so that I can separate the wheat from the chaff. I don't know that you could be "outed" as a "sacramental-catholic" (except, maybe, in your own congregation!); you've been out of that closet for a while! I'm a bit worried about that "anglo" part, however ;-).

Pastor J. Sollberger said...

2nd Jon: The congregation knows all too well, and what's done is done in that realm. I'm all too concerned for some silly reason that so-called "confessional Lutheran" pastors may react negatively to this aspect of my personal/pastoral piety/practice. In this regard, I look foward much to reading more of your posts,and get going on creating some of my own. Since my last post, I have started up a new (as yet, empty) blog. I'll soon be posting some "self-serving" tomes of a likely great insignificance...

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

1st Jon wrote: "I'm all too concerned for some silly reason that so-called "confessional Lutheran" pastors may react negatively to this aspect of my personal/pastoral piety/practice."

2nd Jon replies: "Come East young man!"