Sunday, November 25, 2007

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) - The Second Coming

On this Last Sunday of the Church Year (Sunday of the Fulfillment) I am reminded of a favorite and perplexing poem by Yeats, The Second Coming. This poem means many things to many people -- that's what I love most about poetry --, but it seems to describe this age very well. Today I am especially moved by the relevancy of these words: The ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Friday, November 23, 2007

I, Sectarian

Reflecting over the past six or seven years, I have made the unsettling observation that in my striving to remain faithful I find myself potentially associating with an increasingly smaller and smaller number of colleagues and laity. Indeed the Lord has said that He will divide households, and so He has. Potentially dividing doctrines abound including the relationship between doctrine and practice, the role and work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's children, the nature of the Office of the Holy Ministry, etc. Even amongst those I consider my brothers, friends, and colleagues, a distressingly small group, I see more than the seeds of division already planted and growing. Does faithfulness necessarily lead to sectarianism?

Lurking on discussion lists of supposed like-minded brethren I am often reminded of the coliseum scene in Monty Python's - The Life of Brian: (click on the wanker above to see video)
  • REG: Judean People's Front. We're the People's Front of Judea! Judean People's Front. Cawk.
  • FRANCIS:Wankers.
  • BRIAN: Can I... join your group?
  • REG:No. Piss off.
  • REG: Listen. If you really wanted to join the P.F.J., you'd have to really hate the Romans.
  • BRIAN:I do!
  • REG:Oh, yeah? How much?
  • BRIAN: A lot!
  • REG:Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f*#%#g Judean People's Front.
  • P.F.J.: Yeah...
  • JUDITH: Splitters.
  • P.F.J.: Splitters...
  • FRANCIS:And the Judean Popular People's Front.
  • P.F.J.:Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
  • LORETTA: And the People's Front of Judea.
  • P.F.J.: Yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
  • REG: What?
  • LORETTA: The People's Front of Judea. Splitters.
  • REG: We're the People's Front of Judea!
  • LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
  • REG: People's Front! C-huh.
  • FRANCIS: Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
  • REG: He's over there.
  • P.F.J.: Splitter!
  • The saddening thing about this is that I love the Church catholic! I don't want to see Her shattered, split, and splintered. I believe whole-heartedly in the one body of Christ, His Bride, consisting of all believers of all times and all places. And I certainly do not wish to contribute in any way to Her fracture. So, on the one hand, the Lord has told His Bride this would happen, and would continue to happen until the parousia, but on the other, we are to live together in the bond of peace as one body, breaking one bread and drinking one cup.

    Lately some earnest Lutherans have taken to interpreting the Ignatian model for the Church (Bishop - Eucharist - Congregation) in terms of the Orthodox and, perhaps, Roman communion's ecclessiology: where the Bishop is not the parish pastor / priest, but an ecclessial higher rank. This is foreign to Lutheran ecclessiology and the doctrine of the OHM which states that there is but one Holy Office ordained for the purpose of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. These earstwhile proponents of episcopacy share with me a love for the Bride of Christ, His Blessed Sacraments, the Divine Liturgy, an understanding of the value of tradition, and a high view of the OHM, understanding ordaination as a Sacrament (or, at the very least, sacramental). In comparisson to the rest of the c(C)hurch we would be seen as being in near complete agreement. Yet, this issue of ecclessiology is a seed of division planted deep in fertile soil.

    The problem lies in the interpretation of Ignatius' use of the title "bishop". The Lutheran church has traditionally understood bishop to mean the called and ordained pastor of the church. The Orthodox and Roman communions understand the bishop to be the pastor of pastors, or, a higher ranking ecclessial supervisor, himself serving as pastor. According to the latter interpretation, only the bishop is rightly said to serve "in the stead of" Christ. The parish pastor, then, stands in the stead of the bishop. According to the Lutheran interpretation, each called and ordained pastor - common parish or otherwise - stands in the stead of Christ to adminster His Sacraments and proclaim the Gospel to the congregation of His call. Common Lutheran pastors I know have, tongue firmly planted in cheek, called themselves bishop of (insert name of town or village), recognizing that there is but one ordained OHM.

    It is distressing that by simply, faithfully, remaining steadfast in the confession and faith I vowed to uphold, preach, teach, and confess in my ordaination vows, I am potentially being pushed further into seeming sectarianism. Perhaps those who view things differently will abandon the Lutheran confession of the faith; perhaps they will change the church body who holds to that confession. Either way, I, sectarian.

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    Wrestling with God

    The Hebrew name Israel means struggles with God. The Germans have a word for that too, anfechtung. The children of God will always struggle to remain faithful and steadfast against the temptations of the flesh, the world, the devil. The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. That which I would do I do not; that which I would not do I find myself doing. Lord, I believe; help me in my unbelief. This struggle is the Christian faith this side of heaven; in the world but not of the world; as we make our pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death to the House of the Lord, coming out of the Great Tribulation.

    Naively, one may not expect to face such struggle within the Church, though, in reality, it is often the most dangerous and destructive there. Within the Church prey many wolves in sheep's clothing and the devil conceals himself in light speaking peace where there is no peace. The Word of God, and He incarnate, always causes division. He is a two-edged sword, cutting both ways, so that no man encounters the Lord and remains unscathed. He is received in faith unto great blessing or He is rejected in unbelief unto judgment. Thus, there will be, must be, division, struggle, anfechtung, especially within the Church. I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.

    In the Lutheran church we have named this struggle, in the many and various ways it is manifested, crux theologica (theology of the cross). It is a habitus, a way of being, living one's life, and working out one's salvation, under the cross. It is nothing less than living in Christ and Christ living in His child - the very image of the Suffering Servant. What are the qualities of the Suffering Servant in relation to flesh, world, and devil?: humility, poverty of spirit, hunger and thirst for righteousness, meekness, sacrifice, charity, love, mercy, selflessness, etc.

    The child of God need not strive to bring the cross upon himself, for it will come quite naturally, assuredly, and without one's choosing. The cross will come and must not be shrugged off, but borne in faith, hope, and love in accordance with the Father's holy will. For, aligned with the Father's will is where we need to be. It is an unfathomable blessing that brings peace that the world cannot give. The temptation is to evade, deny, or appease the struggle, but such is to shrug off one's appointed cross, to fall out of alignment with the Father's will, and to lose the blessing of divine peace. I will not let you go unless You bless me.

    Wednesday, November 7, 2007

    In the Place of Christ?

    I heard a speaker on Ancient Faith Radio say that the difference between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy is their central article of faith: For Lutherans, it is justification. For the Orthodox, it is the Trinity. To this, I say "Baloney!".

    The central article of the Christian faith has to be justification; and justification necessarily includes the doctrine of the Trinity -- Justification is the work of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Justification is not simply the Son substituting Himself for sinful man, but it is the Father sending His Son for this purpose, the Son willingly submitting, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the glory of the Holy Trinity is revealed in justification; only through justification can man approach the Triune God

    Lutherans are indeed guilty of too narrowly defining justification, focusing almost exclusively on its forensic and imputative nature. Justification, more fully and richly understood, includes, indeed, depends upon, the essence and nature of the Holy Trinity: -- [warning: the record is about to skip again] -- love, selflessness, sacrifice, mercy, charity, etc.

    I don't mean to sound alarmist, nor fundamentalist, but I am growing increasingly concerned about the aggressive proselytizing that the Orthodox communion is engaged in. They seem to be systematically going after protestants, and particularly, protestant clergy (not that "I" consider Lutherans to be protestants, but the Orthodox certainly do). They seem to have their sights set particularly on Lutherans and Anglicans, those who have a deep appreciation of and theology concerning the Liturgy. These are being wooed with silver tongue and circumlocutory arguments. Lutherans, who need little ammunition supplied by others to turn their guns on their own church, are being told that the center of their faith is wrong. Lutherans must supplant Christ "and Him crucified" with the Holy Trinity. An alternate doctrine sits in the place of Christ.

    Hmmm.... someone recognized that in another communion about five hundred years ago.