Monday, June 30, 2003

Losing the Holy Ghost

This article (CA XII) raises a serious question. The Reformers have made it almost into a mantra: you are justified by your faith in Christ, not in your works. Here the Augsburg Confession rejects the idea, held then by the anabaptists, that one would remain in the Spirit no matter what. This is an important question to always bring forward when the certainity the Reformers claim erodes to enforce docility and mere security. The Spirit can be lost. How, we do not specify, just as blaspheming the Spirit remains a mysterious unforgiveable sin.

It is important to note that this is balanced immediatly by the other ecclesial extreme, those early churches who would not readmit those who had fallen. Somewhere between the ancient church laid its stakes and here the Reformers stay with them.

So, we are left wondering, are there limits, and if so how many times does one forgive? This is a dangerous question, as is the graciousness by which our Lord answered this a much earlier time it was asked (Mt 18). That there are limits, we should know for sure. But is it agnosticism or self-defeating such a discovery to refuse to delinate such limits? Not necessarily.

The answers to these questions are even less obvious to those who live without either public repentance and forgiveness and private confession and absolution. Without either functions, reliance on baptism in seeking forgiveness and carrying out our Lord's command to repent (Luther's 1st thesis of the 95 Theses), remains purely a wish and dream.

Here we run up against a problem of Christianity in the United States. The early Puritan communities lived by contract and covenant. Only a few generations passed and the half-way covenant created "mixed bodies" complicating repentance, membership in the Reign of God, and all that. Other communities have aimed to maintain purity of thought in common-thinking, never mind the heart or institution. Attempts to "purify" or maintain communities without public scandal stir up the images of Puritan failure and the shortcomings of other communities and renewal-projects in the American mind. And anyway, attempts to so purify often are attempts to wrest the law from God and fill out its tenants and dictates with one's one hardened heart..

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