Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Quick Clarification

Having reread my post of yesterday I realize that I did not clearly indicate that the pastors are preaching that faith in Jesus Christ is our sole hope for salvation. Further, this faith is not anything we can acquire by our own effort. Salvation is our by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. So, they preach that, apart from God, we are hopelessly lost sinners unable to earn God's favor by our own effort or understanding. All of these things I wholeheartedly agree with. However, I believe that we're saved for a reason. God does expect us to be active and effective. Encouragement...even urging from the pulpit for people to examine their lives to see if the faith they proclaim is showing itself in their daily lives isn't a bad thing. It's okay to celebrate all that Christians gathered in community can accomplish with the gifts God gives them.

My experience is that these New Pharisees present themselves as the protectors of truth and, out of concern to not mislead people into believing they must work for salvation, communicate that the people in the pews have no responsibility to exercise their faith in real, tangible ways that can be measured or seen by others. That leads to churches full of people who have a strong grasp of right doctrine, believe their pastors are beyond reproach, think that getting baptized and taking communion from an ordained clergyman is all that's necessary to strengthen faith and ensure salvation and pretty much keep their faith from ever intruding on how they actually live their lives day to day.

I know this isn't the intention of the pastors. But it would be nice if they could see this "hidden curriculum" lurking behind their good intentions and consider there might be other approaches. However, the Pharisees never were much good at taking constructive criticism and considering where they may have misunderstood what God actually wanted from them. The New Pharisees may struggle with the same myopia.

Monday, September 08, 2008

New Pharisees

It's been a long and very busy summer. Enjoyable but quite hectic. Late in the summer I stumbled on this website. It's a place where a relatively small group of Lutheran pastors share their opinions on what's wrong with the Lutheran Church. Particularly the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. They seem to be relatively intelligent fellows. Some of them even hold doctorates.

They hold to a system of belief that, as far as I can tell, dictates that there are certain functions within the church that can only ever be performed by the ordained clergy. They contend that the primary...and perhaps...only role of the church is to preach the Word of God and administer the Sacraments (in protestant understanding those would be baptism and Holy Communion). If these two things are properly done, they insist, the people in the seats will become virtuous doers of good deeds, keepers of the truth, beacons of light in their communities, etc. All without ever being encouraged from the pulpit to actually do anything. Why not encourage, you might ask?

Good question. As far as I can tell they're extremely concerned that someone knowingly doing a good deed or being invited to do good deeds by the pastor might somehow stumble into thinking this is necessary for salvation. If you start thinking your work somehow saves you then you diminish the work of Christ. If you add to the work of Christ you demean it making it worthless. If you start thinking you're responsible for your own salvation you are, by extension, rejecting the salvation of Christ thereby condemning yourself to hell.

To avoid such dire consequences these good hearted men are happy to preach strong, deep theologically accurate sermons in the midst of services full of organ music and choir anthems (sung from behind you in the balcony lest any person should be seeking glory), and follow ancient liturgies pulled directly from Scripture. This is done in ways that are, as much as they're able, kept culturally irrelevant and completely disconnected from the reality of people's day to day lives. Wouldn't want anything secular polluting the sacred. The result of all this is the sanctification of people who, based on my experience, never quite make the connection between what happens on Sunday morning and the lives they live the other six days of the week. They are, however, encouraged that their salvation is secure without any effort or expectation on their part.

All of this is built on the notion that the men in the pulpit's have it all exactly right. They argue that they are the keepers of the Keys to the Kingdom and as such they must rightly preach a balance of Law and Gospel. They must exercise spiritual discipline over their flock. This assumes their knowledge of scripture is infallible. Now, I agree that the Word of God is infallible. I believe the Lutheran Confessions are quite an excellent human exposition of scriptural truth. But I don't agree that the men who have been ordained by a human institution built on the 500 year old teachings of another sinful human and explained by countless other human beings are infallible. I think there's room for discussion.

I see very little invitation for spirited discussion among these men. Instead there is an awful lot of finger pointing, belittling, accusation and hostility toward anyone who fails to agree 100% with their point of view. And a lot of demands that you seriously read scripture to deal with your ignorance of the truth. So, it occurs to me that these men insisting that the truth as they espouse it is the only truth, the sacraments as they bless and distribute them are the only legitimate sacraments and salvation on the narrow path they designate is the only true way to heaven are really nothing more than modern day Pharisees.

While decrying legalism and pietism (the idea that you have to follow a strict code of behavior to please God and assure salvation) these men passionately embrace a system that puts them completely in charge and condemns anyone who doesn't buy their approach lock, stock and barrel. How is that a demonstration of grace and where is the admission that they might, now and again, be dead wrong about something...or lots of things? Maybe someone can help me understand.