Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Being a Lutheran

Lutheran catechesis is fundamentally different from most theologies for it does not water down or dilute the words of Christ but receives them passively as unfettered truth. We do not sift through the Apostolic Scriptures picking and choosing which things we find convenient to believe and not believe. The God who says "Drink of it all of you..shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” is the same God who raises the dead and who in the beginning says, “Let there be light.” The essence of being Lutheran is not to interpret the Scriptures but to let the Scriptures interpret and define us. In other words, being Lutheran does not permit us to let God be a liar. We believe God is who he says is and that he indeed does what he says he does. And His business is not to condemn or damn but to forgive. God loves to forgive, that is how he chooses to know and define us, by forgiveness and newness of life. He comes by way of invitation, becoming man, becoming a servant to us, to teach us, to wash the feet of sinful disciples. The invitation is not primarily to become a better person, not to become more virtuous and moral. That is for Dr. Phil and tv evangelists. The invitation is to forgive and reconcile sinners back to God for eternity in paradise.

Lutherans are not ashamed of the Gospel. It is not a hobby or a special academic interest. It is not marked by a nice social network where well dressed people get together with pleated khakis and a full Windsor knot for potlucks. It is a doctrine which brings dying sinners in a dying world to eternal life, salvation, and heavenly riches. Most people are comfortable with Christianity so long as it is a peripheral interest or activity. Talking about the aesthetics of the divine service and cosmic reconciliation with God usually makes Protestants a little nervous – so I find it a dutiful response to make my beloved family and friends feel as uncomfortable as possible insofar as it opens one up to the greater realities of historic catholic Christianity I have nothing to brag of, nothing to delight in, no assurance or comfort in anything apart from it. In it is life and salvation. In the Gospel is all the company of heaven, angels, archangels, infinite majesty and riches. None of this is a “private matter,” and Lutherans are not content keeping the mysteries of our Lord to themselves. Christianity is not private nor is it about a “personal relationship with God.” It is “corporate,” it is “communal,” and it is profoundly “public.” Day to day life, daily relationships, and toil of the day is transformed and arises out of the prism of new life in Christ. The risen Christ promises to be where the Word and Sacraments are properly administered. This is done at church. At shabby baptismal fonts and dusty communion alters across the world. The Lord declares life through simple means, through simple men serving as pastors. Through the oral proclamation of forgiveness from the pulpit, by the waters of Holy Baptism combined with the invocation of the Divine Name. The Lord encounters us through simple wine and bread with the Word of God becomes Body and Blood - a tangible manifestation of the Gospel. The saving work of God comes from outside of ourselves, not by an internal disciplinary movement. This is the offensiveness of the Gospel which the modern mind recoils at with deep fear. The ego says, “how can salvation and forgiveness be a free gift without my own work or acceptance?!” We say, “I must pay, I must barter, I must be the deal maker!” God however, is the “deal maker,” and he has done it through the sacrifice of a son who buried the sins of the world in a bloody sacrifice. It is true because God reveals it. And it is revealed at church where the Lord has his way with us, making us new vessels in our Holy Baptisms, preserving us until our dying day by the means that he has instituted.

The Lord does not choose to deal with us outside of word and sacrament. He does not deal with us through means outside of the church, and by the gracious means which he has ordained and given. For this we ought to be at the place where he promises to be, where he is present in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.It took me years to stumble upon this offensive and unreasonable doctrine. It is antithetical to the modern mind, it destroys our pride and sense of self worth, it can alienate us from family and friends. It can lead to unspeakable suffering or death (Christians are daily slaughtered across the African continent). It does not promise a happier and more successful earthly life. Christ is not appealing or attractive to our flesh which is dying. Christianity is utter foolishness to those who are perishing but is life and salvation to those whom are baptized and whom turn to God for mercy. Life in the church, however, holds holy mysteries and treasures too innumerable to count through the span eternity. The mysteries and treasures are concretely given and received in the church which is the holy bride of Christ whom He loves unto death. This doctrine and faith plucks souls from hell and delivers from death. Its blessings are freely given and received by grace through faith alone.

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