“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” -Flannery O’Connor
Last night, in our Elder’s discussion, article X of the Formula of Concord came up. This article gets brought up mostly around changing music in worship and is used to defend the introduction of new things. But I don’t think that is actually the point of Article X. Flannery O’Connor gets closer to the point of article X with the quote above.
We are free in Christ to establish ceremonies and practices of piety. I might question the aesthetic judgments or even the pragmatic judgments of many “contemporary” ceremonies of the church, but we are free to establish them. The problem is that according to article X you must ask yourself why you are making the change. Are you truly making a change due to your own freedom, or are you changing based on felt pressure? Point 4 of article X reads, “We believe, teach and confess that during a time of persecution, when a plain and steadfast confession is required of us, we should not yield to the enemies in such matters of adiaphora (indifference).”
I’m going to use two examples that are constantly in the news regarding Rome: priestly celibacy and women priests. Rome has stated that the two are different things. John Paul 2 said that the church has no authority to ordain women. That is a matter of doctrine. Priestly celibacy is a long standing practice or ceremony of the church. That could be changed. And if you look at this poll, even when you put it at weekly mass attenders which is a better gauge of Catholic thought, 61% think that priests should be allowed to marry. Of course 57% also say women should be allowed. Now the Catholic church is not and never will be a democracy. In fact THE CHURCH is not and never will be a democracy. We have ONE LORD who actually rules. But this gets to the point of article X and the question a believer must ask. Let’s take Rome’s viewpoint for a second. In Christian Freedom they could decide to allow Priests to marry, but at this moment in time is it possible to really make that decision in freedom, or is such a decision inevitably going to be a caving in to persecution or pressure? Or even tougher, does upholding an ancient rite of celibacy at this very moment push back against the culture as hard as it is pushing? If Rome were to wholesale open the priesthood to marriage, would the request stop there, or would the next request be to that 57% on women’s ordination, swelled further by one victory, but which is something Rome has said is doctrine and unchangeable? And none of that even gets into the ongoing cultural purge and redefinition of marriage. Even matters of indifference that we adopt become paths to the cross.
The devil, the world and our sinful nature are constantly pushing against the church looking for ways to shake free those safe in the ark. And they operate like an old wall street saying, “if you can go down half, you can lose it all”. This is a lie in regards to the church as Christ has said the gates of hell won’t succeed. Even in our own flesh there is no temptation that God does not allow a way out from. But the christian should not fool themselves. If they find themselves arguing for a glorious future in this world if the church just opens the windows to my favorite cause, or that the church should get with the times, or become more relevant, or they find themselves in glowing reports in the NY Times, they don’t understand how the church works in the here and now. Faith isn’t about being comfortably right in the here and now. It is about the cross. It is about putting on the armor of God and standing. It is about pushing back, even on matters of indifference, when the enemy is just trying to start a log-roll.