This is required reading. The first paragraph…
Why is Calvinism so influential among American Evangelicals while Lutheranism is not? We might describe the statistically modal convert to Calvinism—that is, the most frequently observed kind of convert—as a person like this: A young adult, usually male. Raised in a broad though indistinct Evangelical (and sometimes nominally Catholic) home. Bright. A reader. Searching for better intellectual answers to questions about God, Jesus and the Bible. Is open to becoming a pastor. Why does this young man so much more often become a Calvinist instead a Lutheran?
This first paragraph is something I bang my head on a daily when I interact with American Evangelicals or read descriptions of American Christianity. It is like Lutherans and Lutheranism is the invisible man. Evangelicals who know “something is missing” will experiment with Episcopal (even though they think they are heretics) or Rome (even though they don’t get the whole Mary thing) but Luther isn’t even on the radar. And even when they do come in the door the place “feels different”. This article gets it exactly right.
I’d emphasize one thing that came up in Bible Class Sunday. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 Paul talks about the various factions of the church at Corinth. I think these factions are highly identifiable to anyone who has spent time in the church. Paul = those who knew the founder, Apollos = those who are more intelligent and learned, Peter = those who are the simple members and wish Paul and Apollos would get off their high horses and “I follow Christ” = those who just want everyone to get along (while recognizing us as being more spiritual for saying so). If you are having fights in a church, those are the camps to this day. The advanced cases of church fights are when those camps have become identities such that you can’t imagine sharing fellowship with a Paulite or a Peterine.
So what does that have to do with Calvin and Luther? Well…Peter = Rome (here comes everybody), “I follow Christ” = Pentecostals, Paul = Luther and Apollos = Calvin. Paul/Apollos, Luther/Calvin, have a natural antipathy. And that antipathy is grounded in the fact the while Luther was first he didn’t change enough and really reform the church. Luther kept the sacraments in what any “learned modern Apollos” would see as medieval superstition.
So, that is my ecumenism is short. I think our “denominations” might be fine if they were like Augustinians and Franciscans and Dominican and Jesuits and so forth. One of the great tests is Gamaliel’s: leave them alone and if it is not from God it will go away (Acts 5:34ff). By this time 500 years later not even Zwingli has gone away, so in some way God is present in all of these. We would be much better off focusing on what unites and get over claiming an identity. And as much as I think Luther gets it right, and wish that American Evangelicals would give him a listen, our baptisms unite us and we are fellow pilgrims under the power of the cross (1 Cor 1:17).
This short write up is well worth the 3 mins on Pope Benedict’s conception of interfaith or ecumenical interaction. Its starting point in an event that just took place in Assisi. 25 years ago the previous pope was at the same place involved in prayer with “Buddhists chant[ing] to the accompaniment of gongs and drums, Zoroastrians tend[ing] a sacred fire, and an American Indian medicine man in traditional headdress smok[ing] a peace pipe and call[ing] down the blessings of the “Great Spirit.” Benedict has a different view, even if the picture nearby might not say speak that.
The great religious question of our age is inclusivity vs. exclusivity. Were all those people praying to the same God, or was it an example of syncretistic worship on the level of ancient Israel’s “high places”? (1 Kings 12:27-32) Do all roads go up the same mountain, or is Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life? (John 14:6) Let’s make it real clear. We read it in worship a couple of Sundays ago. Isaiah 45:5 – “I am the Lord, there is no other, beside me there is no other.” If the bible counts as your scripture, you can’t hold the “all roads view”. And holding worship services with people chanting, tending and smoking to other dieties hopelessly confuses things. It is no wonder people might just assume that there is no truth in any of them. Then Cardinal Ratzinger said as much:
The cardinal later wrote that “multireligious prayer” of the kind offered there “almost inevitably leads to false interpretations, to indifference as to the content of what is believed or not believed, and thus to the dissolution of real faith.”
Such prayer should occur only rarely, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, and to “make clear that there is no such thing . . . as a common concept of God or belief in God, that difference not merely exists in the realm of changing images and concepts” but in the substance of what different religions claim.
It is the now Pope Benedict’s next step that is almost uniquely Lutheran.
As he told a European ambassador last week, social justice is based on norms accessible to all, derived not from divine revelation but from “reason and nature”—that is, from “universally applicable principles that are as real as the physical elements of the natural environment.”
He is using Catholic natural law language there. A Lutheran would appeal to two concepts: a theology of two kingdoms and the fundamental law and gospel distinction. We are able to work together in social justice areas because social justice is part of the law or part of the kingdom of the law. The law is universally written on all hearts. (Romans 2:14-15) And the law is good and wise. There is a righteousness that comes from the law – a civil righteousness. But the civil righteousness is not the saving truth of the gospel. In worship – we are separate. Because all roads don’t lead to the same place. Because we proclaim Christ crucified, risen and ascended as Lord. He is Lord, there is no other. Confusing law and gospel only leads to loss of faith.
Looking through law/gospel eyes the Good Shepherd and this passage is both severe and sweet. If you are in a position of responsibility here is the model. The two traits of that model are: 1) the model shephed lays down his life for the sheep and 2) the model shepherd knows the sheep. We all fall short of those. In carrying out our responsibilities we more often look like that hired man and occasionally we are the wolf. The good news is that we have a good shepherd. A shepherd that did lay down his life for his sheep, and a shepherd that knows us each by name and calls us. Christians may be scattered in many folds (nations, denominations, churches), but they all know the voice of the Good Shepherd. God, in his sovereignty, choose to be our Good Shepherd. We will lack for nothing.
The Holy Spirit must be at work. A sermon from the Gospel of John that – I think – made sense. I should mention two works that have been great in helping me understand John a little better. The first is William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series. It is hard to find a writer who packs as many insights and spot on information into a devotional format that does not take an expert to read and understand. If you are looking for a devotional book that is deeper than something like the portals of prayer, but not too long or technical, Barclay is a great place to start, and I know that the Henrietta library has several copies on the shelves. The second work is by the Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown. Father Brown would not be a layman or woman’s writer, although he is clear in his writing. He assumes a great deal of knowledge that the typical lay reader just wouldn’t have. There are also nagging questions about Father Brown’s “method” of interpretation. What I mean by method is that Raymond Brown is a critical scholar. To the critical scholar the text of scripture often becomes nothing more than a human writing. The doctrine of inspiration is often tossed out the window, especially when the text contrasts with what modern presuppositions (like there are no miracles) would say. Father Brown uses the methods of critical scholars, but one never gets the sense that he disregards the inspired nature of scripture. Given all those caveats, why am I mentioning this work? Father Brown was a profound and insightful guy. In the modern world, “the poisoned fruit of a poisoned tree” approach is not helpful, if it ever was. To speak to the modern culture that is critical and has torn down everything requires interaction and understanding of that culture. Raymond Brown does not run from that interaction. Much critical scholarship is sterile and fruitless. Raymond Brown’s is neither.