Sunday, August 29, 2004
So this raises a question of methodology, one I have been puzzling over as we read our materials for CTI, and also as I think through how to consistently and regularly write on the topic of soteriology. How does one delimit the doctrine of salvation from the other doctrines of the Christian faith. Clearly those who write dogmatics and systematics do so, but soteriology seems to be one of those areas where reflection on said bleeds immediately into other doctrines. Talk about God, you're talking salvation.
Let's try and survey the way at least a few theologians have set off soteriology as a distinct area of comment within their total dogmatics or reflection. I'll start with D.B. Hart. I'll look for contributions from others in the next couple of weeks.
Also, as a warning, I'm off to Austria and Slovakia for vacation September 1-15, so probably will not post, or if I do post, it will be about our travels from the road.
Friday, August 27, 2004
Communion in the Supper is Possible.
Theses for Eucharistic Hospitality
Thesis 1: The acceptance of baptized Christians to the same table is not in need of a basis, but rather their being turned away.
Thesis 2: The lived ecumenical community in a place and the failed community in the Supper contradicts themselves. That weakens the church’s witness and in view of the challenges of civil society appears unworthy of faith.
Thesis 3: In many exceptional cases individuals are already admitted to the community of the Supper.
Thesis 4: Baptism is the door to the community of the church, the body of Christ, that is newly constituted in the Lord’s Supper.
Thesis 5: Jesus invites to the Supper. He is the giver and the gift. Only in his name and commission does the church speak the invitation. This [invitation] cannot happen indiscriminately but must correspond to the will of Jesus Christ.
Thesis 6: Community in the Lord’s Supper extends further than community in the church.
Thesis 7: The church lives as a community in proclamation, in worship, and in service in the world. Church communion presumes the perfection of these and a common basic understanding but not a historically determined form.
Thesis 7.1: Together in faith: distinguished representations of the churchly presentations and the binding exposition of the common faith in Jesus Christ as the salvation of the world must not be church dividing.
Thesis 7.2: Together in the understanding of the Supper: Ecumenical dialogue has lead to a wide-reaching agreement in the traditional controversial themes in the understanding of the supper. Further remaining distinctions do not hinder a common celebration of the Supper.
Thesis 7.3: Together in the understanding of the Office of Ministry: In spite of wide opposition in the question of the office an approach in basic truths has enabled Eucharistic hospitality.
Thesis 7.4: Together in service of the world: diakonie, community, and the Supper enable each other reciprocally.
Our presentation amounts to, among other things, the following consequences and steps to act on in practice:
1. Granting Eucharistic hospitality finds an extensive theological basis in the previous results of ecumenical dialogue commissions. We call the church to finally receive their results and put them into practice.
2. Eucharistic hospitality is possible without the erection of complete agreement in Eucharistic theology, an understanding of the office of ministry, and of the church.
3. Ecumenical dialogue about the Lord’s Supper is a plea to deepen the theology and spirituality of the Supper in the churches and thereby to discover and practice a greater commonality. That has consequences for the form of the Supper (Texts, Hymns, Symbols) just as for the practical engagement with the Eucharist (reservation of the Eucharistic gifts, cup for the laity).
4. The message of the Supper should be so given in proclamation and praxis that the people of today can understand it and experience the Supper as relevant for their lives.
5. Where community is possible, community should be practiced. Distinctions should not separate; they can much more enrich all the more because no church can bring catholicity of itself to its fullness.
6. In order to receive the Supper as a guest in a church no other condition should be posed than that the guest is a member of his or her own church.
7. Whereas for many people, who have gone on the ecumenical path, cross through the churches to participate in the supper respectively in the Eucharist of another church is a great spiritual need, others have yet trouble with ecumenical worship, just as when they are not in their own church. This situation appears to require a differentiated solution:
a. There are situations in which those who do not take part in the Supper of another confession is the greater spiritual affront than if they were to participate.
b. It should be the rule: where Christians as individuals or as a congregation live matter of factually in an ecumenical community, the churchly minister should not refuse Eucharistic hospitality to those Christians.
c. Leaders of congregations, Pastors, Priests, who invite adherents of other confessions to the table should have the required pastoral competence and responsibility.
d. In a pastoral way, we therefore submit, that under the possibility of lived ecumenical community of the church the open invitation—and not only admission or toleration—expresses the Supper of the Lord. Exceptional or certain cases of admission, as it is practiced in some dioceses, is a first step towards Eucharistic hospitality.
The ecumenical command of the hour is a common repentance and consciousness, as it is possible for human beings, to experience the Eucharist as a sign of community and source of one’s personal spiritual life. We hold it to be now theological possible and pastorally imperative to practice Eucharistic hospitality and through that to humbly advance on the way to full church fellowship.
God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat.
Sign our petition and send a message to America that God is not a Republican, or a Democrat and that the Religious Right does not speak for you. Remind America that Jesus taught us to be peacemakers, advocates for the poor, and defenders of justice.
With your help, Sojourners will place this petition in as many media outlets as possible. After signing the petition, you will have an opportunity to give a gift to help communicate this important message.
Full Petition Text:
"It is the responsibility of every political conservative, every evangelical Christian, every pro-life Catholic, every traditional Jew...to get serious about re-electing President Bush."
- Jerry Falwell, The New York Times, July 16, 2004
"I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. The Lord has just blessed him.... It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad."
- Pat Robertson, AP/Fox News, January 2, 2004
These leaders of the Religious Right mistakenly claim that God has taken a side in this election, and that Christians should only vote for George W. Bush.
We believe that claims of divine appointment for the President, uncritical affirmation of his policies, and assertions that all Christians must vote for his re-election constitute bad theology and dangerous religion.
We believe that sincere Christians and other people of faith can choose to vote for President Bush or Senator Kerry - for reasons deeply rooted in their faith.
We believe all candidates should be examined by measuring their policies against the complete range of Christian ethics and values.
We will measure the candidates by whether they enhance human life, human dignity, and human rights; whether they strengthen family life and protect children; whether they promote racial reconciliation and support gender equality; whether they serve peace and social justice; and whether they advance the common good rather than only individual, national, and special interests.
We are not single-issue voters.
We believe that poverty - caring for the poor and vulnerable - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries? (Matthew 25:35-40, Isaiah 10:1-2)
We believe that the environment - caring for God's earth - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it? (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 24:1)
We believe that war - and our call to be peacemakers - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies pursue "wars of choice" or respect international law and cooperation in responding to real global threats? (Matthew 5:9)
We believe that truth-telling is a religious issue. Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war and in other foreign and domestic policies? (John 8:32)
We believe that human rights - respecting the image of God in every person - is a religious issue. How do the candidates propose to change the attitudes and policies that led to the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners? (Genesis 1:27)
We believe that our response to terrorism is a religious issue. Do the candidates adopt the dangerous language of righteous empire in the war on terrorism and confuse the roles of God, church, and nation? Do the candidates see evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies? (Matthew 6:33, Proverbs 8:12-13 )
We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a religious issue. Do the candidates' positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS-and other pandemics-and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life? (Deuteronomy 30:19)
We also admonish both parties and candidates to avoid the exploitation of religion or our congregations for partisan political purposes.
By signing this statement, we call Christians and other people of faith to a more thoughtful involvement in this election, rather than claiming God's endorsement of any candidate.
This is the meaning of responsible Christian citizenship.
Pastor Clint Schnekloth
Thursday, August 26, 2004
These institutes (the Strasbourg one is the Lutheran World Federation's official ecumenical research arm) have caused a stir before. In the 1970s they issued a plea that argued that nothing stood in the way of a swift mutual recognition of ministries between Lutheran and Roman Catholics. This caused great ruckus on both sides!
N.B. The published form of these theses contains much additional exposition and support. The link has only the basic text.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
My friend Greg has recently posted this piece on Justification and Ecclesiology over at my blog. It's a good example of the kind of stuff we talk about, and an excellent sample of his writing.
I imagine more writing like this will find its way to the site. As you know, I'm an ELCA pastor. I may be unique (we all like to think we are) in being open to conversation with, and even valuing the commitments of, my LCMS and WELS brothers and sisters. As much as the ELCA may get accused of unionism from some quarters, there are some unions that would be anathema to many ELCAers. So, I sometimes catch hell for at least trying to lift up and explain the reasons behind behind certain confessional positions of the LCMS community (hope I don't totally distort them in the process).
Nevertheless, here I am posting on what is mostly an LCMS blog. I guess it is not a huge surprise, because I am a member of an inter-Lutheran organization, The Society of the Holy Trinity, that includes member pastors from many of our Lutheran denoms, and so am in frequent conversation with pastors from outside the ELCA. Nevertheless...
On the other other hand, my own blog began as midrash on the Lutheran Confessions (it actually began as reflections on my travels in Germany and then continued here stateside with Lutheran reflections on the confessions, culture, etc. It soon became a group blog, including myself, Greg, and another friend, Matt, who is a former ELCA layperson now confirmed in the RC and studying at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C. (distance learning, cause he lives in Bratislava, Slovakia).
So the blog Lutheran Confessions became, in spite of or maybe because of its name, an inter-confessional blog. We spent some time at that, all of us got tired and buried in other writing projects, from which some of us have emerged earlier than others, and here I am now in a third incarnation of the blog trying to establish a conversation with Pastor-Theologians in the Center for Theological Inquiry's Pastor-Theologian program on the topic of soteriology. This will be an ecumenical conversation par excellance (in the way Princeton does ecumenism, eg. The Princeton Proposal), with pastors from most of the mainline denoms, and some from evangelical and catholic quarters (no orthodox yet).
Much has been made of the fact that I'm ELCA, at least here at this blog as you were deciding whether to invite me into the conversation. I'm ok with that. But remember that our confessions are also part of our history. Some of us were born into churches that we remain in and even love, in spite of their foibles and sins and veerings from the truth of Christ. I'm thankfully receptive of your criticisms of the ELCA and of my own reflections, so that we might together come to greater clarity on our Christian confession. Be as hardcore as you like.
I will do the same, because there are some things in my church that I will not let go of because I believe them to be the very gifts of God for the people of God. Nobody fights like brothers, right? Well, for better or for worse, the LCMS and the ELCA are brother/sister denominations, and our common life together will probably look like that.
So thanks for the meta-invite.
Finding a ravine between Paul and Luther does not drain the power from justification’s judicial talents. Two aspects of the doctrine, common to most Lutherans if not Protestants generally, have determined ecclesiology. Both contain considerable ambiguity. The first is the description of the act of justification itself. Whether it is God alone who justifies or God because of Jesus’ death or some other combination, justification excludes human acts. True enough as it is when considering the one justified, the problem emerges when it extends to include all human beings. When we ourselves are justified are our fellow human’s acts excluded? The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) refers to the justified as the baptized and in so doing raised the ire of many Lutheran critics. It raised eyebrows not because the justified are baptized who have faith but because the consensus included reference to baptism at all. The thorn here grows from an invocation of the straightforwardly human act of baptism. Some theological proposals describe baptism as a two-floor event in which the human action occurs on the ground level and God’s act of baptism, the one that counts, occurs on the second level on a floor on which human beings cannot tread or act. This idea itself, strengthened in modern theology, of course denies much of Luther’s own theology of baptism. Other examples beside baptism would serve just as well; other human acts such as preaching, absolution, witnessing, singing, serving, and countless more all serve the ministerial act of the church in announcing the gospel. But this confusion that results from this aspect really points to a greater trouble looming in the application of justification to ecclesiology.
The second aspect of the doctrine really is the reverse of the first. Since no human act may justify, then God alone justifies. But when God’s acts are separated in such a way from human ones, then the deeper difficulty of God’s being-in-time comes straight to the fore. If God is timeless and does not change, then God’s actions cannot be timely. They cannot extend over a period of time as human acts do, or even as historical beings or things do. I, presumably, have extension in this world. I take up a certain amount of vertical space and less horizontally. Therefore, I may be bumped into, addressed, or stopped on the freeway. I also have an historical extension. There are things I have done and places I have been that sort of are “there.” If God is immune to time than neither of these sorts of extensions, and many more, do not apply to God.
When this thinking comes to rest in the act of justification, enormous problems surface. All of them represent paths taken by theology to compensate. All of them somehow demand that the human and malleable world make up for the distance between God and the world. The first of these problems develops in the picture. Since God cannot be in a place or cannot address you in any way, only the moment will suffice. Hence, existentialism. Or secondly, a special class of human acts will provide the way to mimic God’s unchanging eternity. Here lies the older Roman Catholic reliance on a special ministry as well as all the lauds given to faith by Protestants. The latter human act of faith as a miracle obliterates the difference. Or, thirdly, the death of Jesus is identified as that “moment” where God and the world intersect. There, the world must be “called back to” the death of Jesus. We accomplish this through the means identified in the second set of problems, the miracle of ministry or the sheer act of faith. Finally, this means that nothing of the things of God really ever come to us. Even in Jesus’ death “back there” we are still separated by time and space from that death. Thus, the final problem really is the problem of human despair.
The solution involves much more than to argue that God’s presence is what justifies. And here lies the proper connection between justification and ecclesiology. The way in which that presence comes is the coming of God in the very human acts of speaking and gesturing. Here is no superhuman act of faith or ministry but rather the coming of God who is not alien to our life or our time or our space. All of these things are part of God’s life and God comes to address in the living here and now.
Many Lutherans do speak in this way. However, they are quick to fail in the second part, to note that such theologomena do not oppose such notions as the constitutive role of the ordained ministry for the church, the invigoration of the episcopacy, the ‘sacrifice of the mass,’ and still other areas that cause difficulties. All of these are ways in which the cross of Christ comes to and God himself pitches a tent among us. All of these are ways that require us to overcome the problems posed by “excluding human act” and “God alone.” Each of these requires a human act. Each of these requires a God who can act in time.
This does not of course address all the ways in which justification does or may function to “judge doctrine.” But this proposal does give an account that coheres with JDDJ and presumably therefore provides an opening for a Lutheran-Roman Catholic ecclesiology that, hopefully, “agrees in the basic truths” and whose remaining differences are permitted, enjoyed, and explored in ecumenical peace and koinonia.
Monday, August 23, 2004
Q: What does the church think of God the Father?
A: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfillment; he is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favoritism. He likes to be truckled to and is always ready to pounce on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the law or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary.
Q: What does the church think of God the Son?
A: He is in some way to be identified with Jesus of Nazareth. It was not his fault that the world was made like this, and, unlike God the Father, he is friendly to man and did his best to reconcile man to God (see atonement). He has a good deal of influence with God, and if you want anything done, it is best to apply to him.
Q: What does the church think of God the Holy Ghost?
A: I don't know exactly. He was never seen or heard of till Whitsunday. There is a sin against him that damns you forever, but nobody knows what it is.
Q: What is the doctrine of the Trinity?
A: The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult- nothing to do with daily life or ethics.
Q: What was Jesus Christ like in real life?
A: He was a good man- so good as to be called the Son of God. He is to be identified in some way with God the Son (q.v.). He was meek and mild and preached a simple religion of love and pacifism. He had no sense of humor. Anything in the Bible that suggests another side to his character must be an interpolation, or a paradox invented by G.K. Chesterton. If we try to live like him, God the Father will let us off being damned hereafter and only have us tortured in this life instead.
Q: What is meant by the atonement?
A: God wanted to damn everybody, but his vindictive sadism was sated by the crucifixion of his own Son, who was quite innocent, and therefore, a particularly attractive victim. He now only damns people who don't follow Christ or who never heard of him.
Q: What does the church think of sex?
A: God made it necessary to the machinery of the world, and tolerates it, provided the parties a) are married, and b) get no pleasure out of it.
Q: What does the church call sin?
A: Sex (otherwise than as excepted above); getting drunk; saying "damn"; murder; and cruelty to dumb animals; not going to church; most kinds of amusement. Original sin means that anything we enjoy doing is wrong.
Q: What is faith?
A: Resolutely shutting your eyes to scientific fact.
Q: What is the human intellect?
A: A barrier to faith.
Q: What are teh seven Christian virtues?
A: Respectability, childishness; mental timidity; dullness; sentimentality; censoriousness; and depression of spirits.
Q: Wilt thou be baptized in this faith?
A: No fear!
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Well, this sounds a lot like the very thing Dean was emphasizing in response to my last point. Salvation not so much as salvation from, but salvation for. What we've got going on here, among other things, is a debate on to what extent and in what way the doctrine of creation is related to the doctrine of salvation. For Hart, salvation seems to be a salvaging (although he chooses the words recapitulation and recovery, and may believe the term salvage too strong or wrong-headed).
Let's say a painting exists that has, over time, become so covered with soot and dust that it is darkened and covered up beyond recognition. Underneath, the painting is as beautiful as ever before, but the conditions under which it has been stored have brought it to this unrecognizable state. Another artist comes along, seems underneath the soot and dirt, cleans the painting, and restores it to its original beauty.
But there is another painting, and soon after its having been painted and dried, it gets near a candle and is burned beyond recognition. The artist is saddened by this loss, and so decides to become the painting itself. In the process, the artist enters into the burnt work of art, and bursts forth from the burnt painting and all its burnt-ness, establishing a new work of art that is certainly part and parcel of the previous painting, but is also something more- the new piece of art contains marks of the burning, but in such a way that the artistry is enhanced, the painting is the old made new, but in a way that makes the old even more than it was before, and the new something more beautiful than could have possibly been imagined even when the beholder was looking at the old painting and had called it very good.
Do these two stories help us distinguish issues around the relationship between creation/redemption/salvation and the language of recapitulation vs. new creation?
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
God saves, Jesus saves, but saves from what, exactly, and if saved, then why not also rejoicing? This is my question. Why are we so blithe, so insouciant, when it comes to salvation?
Maybe for c) see above, we should insert a reciprocated insouciance on God's part. Maybe God is as unconcerned about the whole situation as we are, in which case the relationship between God and humanity is one of casual indifference. That would truly be to make the God-human relationship a mirror of American's relationships to each other. By and large, we live in a world of casual indifference, live and let live, only concerning ourselves with others when they get in our way, tread on our territory.
First answer to the question, how shall we preach salvation and teach it in the church... if we are going to talk about salvation, we better start being more clear about what we are being saved from, and saved for. "Jesus saves" is now as vacuous a claim as "Just do it!" Just do what, we ask, and should we really? Jesus who, and do I need saving? These are our questions on the way to right proclamation in the way of Jesus, in the way of Scripture, in the way of the church.
Maybe more pastors need to be yelling, "The house is on fire... God, we pray we are wet in the waters of baptism, cause we can't find the exit from this damned building."
Monday, August 16, 2004
He compared the situation of parents enraged because he would not baptize their infants because he was not sure of their being converted Christians to a parent who, after their child had been bitten by an adder, and who's limb was swollen and and blackening towards death, were only upset because the child's clothing was dirty.
In our congregation, we baptize infants, even of families who are marginally connected to the church. Often in conversation, I learn they were turned away from other congregations because they weren't members. They are often relieved to have found a pastor who will do the baptism (something they are cognitively and emotionally committed to), and offended that they were turned away other places.
I, of course, am conflicted while in the midst of these conversations and preparation for baptism, because I believe and teach the vows made at baptism (parents standing in loco parentis make promises about bringing the child to the Lord's house, teaching them Scripture, etc., things I can guess some families might actually do, but things others are clearly not going to do even though they are willing to make the promises during the liturgy), but I also believe in the sociological phenomenon of entry points, and baptism is a key one for many families. I've lost count of the number of times committed and knowledgable and faithful folks I know say they came back to the church in the process of having their child baptized. The means of grace for their baby became and entry point and opportunity for re-commitment for them.
I talk in the baptismal preparation about baptism as being drowned, dying to an old self and rising to a new baptized life in Christ. I try to confess the profundity, the absolute salvation accomplished proleptically in baptism and completed at the eschaton. I usually use the metaphor of the emancipation proclamation, of God declaring those who are baptized "free", and yet they live in this world, declared free but still bound in sin.
Yet I struggle, because although the proclamation around the baptism is itself dramatic and even strict, my actions (baptizing all who come) does not give the gravitas that other practices might (ala Edwards). How do we talk about the salvation accomplished in baptism, and the drama of that, if we are not dramatic in the boundaries we hedge around it? In doing the baptism, am I cleaning the clothes without healing the wound and drawing out the poison? Or at the very least, even if baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has power and effect because it is the promised salvific action of God, are the actions we use teaching that?
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
My intention over the course of the next year with this blog is to use it as a journal for reflection on this topic. The goal is the production of essays and other works for publication, including but not limited to theological pieces for journals, essayistic work that might find its way into more secular or popular journals, interviews, miscellanies, etc. I am still inviting other writers to journey with me in posting here, but I will not use the blog as a clearing house for random references to web discoveries, etc., nor will I spend any time on topics other than those that find themselves within that (already rather large) constellation we call soteriology.
Furthermore, since I'm the moderator, though I certainly will invite the participation of conversation partners from other denoms, I'm keeping the name Lutheran Confessions.
To readers of the blog: If you'd like to join the discussion and write for the blog, drop me a line in the comments. If you discover readings and resources on the soteriology topic, please also drop notes, comments, etc. into a comment box.
To other Pastor-Theologians: It may be the case that we will have other venues for joint theological work, but if you are interested, please let me know if you'd like to write for the blog, and I'll send you an invite.