Archive for January, 2014

We’re currently in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place January 18–25. It’s unsurprising, therefore, to see Pope Francis, like his forbears, calling on Christians to pray for the restoration of unity in Christendom. “In the face of those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal,” he said to a delegation of Finnish Lutherans visiting Rome this past Friday, “we are invited not to give up our ecumenical efforts, faithful to that which the Lord Jesus asked of the Father, ‘that they may be one.’”

Note the implication in the first clause there: There are “those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal.” However encouraging the pope’s words are, they include an acknowledgement that not all is well when it comes to the ecumenical project. In the above linked article, Cardinal Kurt Koch (head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) explains that part of the problem is a fundamental disagreement over what the purpose of ecumenism even is. The Catholic News Agency quotes him as follows: “‘The main problem that we have today in the ecumenical dialogue with all the Protestant’ communities . . . is the lack of ‘a common vision of the goal of the ecumenical movement. We have two different views. The Catholic view, (which) is also the Orthodox view, (is) that we will re-find the unity in faith in the sacraments and in ministries.’” Conversely, Cardinal Koch says, “the vision that I find today in the Protestant churches and ecclesial communities (is that) of the mutual recognition of all ecclesial communities as churches.”

It’s hard to argue with the cardinal’s assessment…

More on this in my post “The purpose of Ecumenism” over at First Things.

———————

Tonight is St. Agnes’ eve—the evening before St. Agnes’ day. “St. Agnes’ Eve” is also the name of a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson that I particularly enjoy, and which I set to music a few years back. Check out the song below:

St. Agnes’ Eve

Deep on the convent-roof the snows
Are sparkling to the moon:
My breath to heaven like vapour goes:
May my soul follow soon!
The shadows of the convent-towers
Slant down the snowy sward,
Still creeping with the creeping hours
That lead me to my Lord:
Make Thou my spirit pure and clear
As are the frosty skies,
Or this first snowdrop of the year
That in my bosom lies.

As these white robes are soil’d and dark,
To yonder shining ground;
As this pale taper’s earthly spark,
To yonder argent round;
So shows my soul before the Lamb,
My spirit before Thee;
So in mine earthly house I am,
To that I hope to be.
Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far,
Thro’ all yon starlight keen,
Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,
In raiment white and clean.

He lifts me to the golden doors;
The flashes come and go;
All heaven bursts her starry floors,
And strows her lights below,
And deepens on and up! the gates
Roll back, and far within
For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits,
To make me pure of sin.
The sabbaths of Eternity,
One sabbath deep and wide–
A light upon the shining sea–
The bridegroom with his bride!

———————-

why-not-lutheranismThe American Conservative has an interesting article entitled “Why Millenials Long for Liturgy.” You can probably guess what it’s about. A very brief selection:

America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. One in four young adults choose “unaffiliated” when asked about their religion, according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger. Yet amidst this exodus, some church leaders have identified another movement as cause for hope: rather than abandoning Christianity, some young people are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations—notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox branches of the faith. This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.

My question for readers is this: why don’t more of these young Christians looking for liturgy end up in Lutheran churches? As the article notes, most seem to go Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican.

Now it’s understandable why so many might end up Catholic. Assuming these Evangelicals are looking for a church that takes seriously the history of the Church, then Roman Catholicism is a fairly natural fit: with 67 million Catholics in the USA (about 23.9% of all Americans), they are certainly the most visible church. But why are Anglican and Orthodox churches such a drawing point where Lutherans aren’t? Anglicans and Orthodox Christians make up only 1.5% and 0.4% of all Americans respectively (2.32 million Anglican, and less than 1 million Orthodox). Lutherans, by contrast, more than double Anglicans and Orthodox put together (5.1% of all Americans, or 7.86 million people). Heck, there’s as many confessional Lutherans in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod alone as there are all Anglicans in the United States. So why don’t more Evangelicals-going-liturgical become Lutheran? Could it be that, despite having smaller numbers, Anglicans and the Orthodox have nevertheless presented more coherent denominational identities to the wider public? Have Lutherans been so insular that wider Christendom in North America isn’t clear who we are and what we believe?

If you’re a young Christian who went liturgical, why did you end up where you did? Had you even heard of Lutheranism? Did you (or do you even now) know what Lutherans think?

 

UPDATE (December 22): This post has roused interest elsewhere on the web. Gene Veith picked it up over at his blog Cranach, where more than 300 comments have accumulated in just over a day. And Anthony Sacramone provides his own go at an answer over at Strange Herring. To sum up his answer: “Lutherans are boring.” You’ll just to check out his (very good) post to see what he means by that.

——————–

Over at First Things, I explore the origin of the “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” quote so often attributed to C.S. Lewis online. Spoilers: It’s much older and much less Christian than many people seem to realize. A selection follows. See it all in“The Spiritualist Origins of “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul.'”

About a year and a half ago, Mere Orthodoxy published a piece by Hannah Peckham on the oft-quoted expression: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” It’s frequently attributed online (and in print) to C.S. Lewis, but he never actually said it. In fact, as Mere Orthodoxy makes clear, the expression comes much earlier than Lewis. Their post traces it back to an 1892 Quaker periodical, in which it is attributed (second-hand and unsourced) to George MacDonald. [UPDATE: Thanks to Jeremy Rios who in the comments identifies MacDonald’s Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood as the source of this reference.] The author at Mere Orthodoxy suggests this reference to MacDonald might be the reason Lewis has been associated with the phrase, given the latter’s open admiration for the former. But as the post also makes clear, Lewis himself never wrote anything even close to these words.

This 1892 reference is not, of course, the expression’s first occurrence; we find similar phrases throughout the late 19th century. But perhaps one of the most significant early instances of its use—at least for understanding what the phrase originally meant—comes just over a decade earlier. In early October 1881, Rev. Dr. R. Thornton presented a paper at the Church of England’s Church Congress in New Castle, during which he said: “We should have taught more carefully than we have done, not that men are bodies and have souls, but that they are souls and have bodies.” His lecture was apparently printed in The Guardian shortly thereafter, from which it was reproduced in other publications over the next few weeks: in Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter, in The Medium and Daybreak, and (partially) in Morning Light.

While Thornton is not the first to use language of this sort, his paper nevertheless helps explain why Christians today should be wary of it: namely, because the terminology arises out of a Spiritualist, not Christian, framework.

Read the rest at First Things.

two-hands-see-all-the-peopleThe Fall 2013 issue of Concordia Journal (CJ) focuses on renewed interest and effort among confessional Lutherans in taking part in wider ecumenical discussions. To that end, it begins with a reference to an article I wrote for First Things some months back:

This past summer, a blog by Mathew Block at First Things noted that the LCMS under President Matthew Harrison’s administration has actively pursued conversations and developed good relationships with the leaders of other Christian traditions both here in North America as well as round the world. This is a very good thing!

From there, Charles Arand (executive editor for CJ) goes on to note that “our Lutheran Confessions have bequeathed to us an ‘ecumenical obligation’ (Robert Kolb) to engage in conversations with other Christians in order to remove stereotypes of each other, clarify our confession, cooperate where we can, and work toward resolving long-standing disagreements for the sake of the church’s witness in the world.”

After discussing a number of recent issues affecting the Church—and especially Lutheranism—both in North America and around the world, Dr. Arand reflects that “we live in an exciting and uncertain time as the Christian landscape shifts before our very eyes.” For that reason, he writes, “it is fitting in this issue of Concordia Journal that we reflect on what has taken place up to this point and where things are going as seen through the eyes of those outside the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In a sense, this issue provides some context for what is happening in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church and for how the LCMS is finding a wider place at its table.”

We may, of course, expand on Dr. Arand’s words here to confessional Lutheranism on a global scale. Indeed, his introduction to the issue itself highlights Lutheran Church–Canada’s contributions to ongoing dialogue with the North American Lutheran Church and the Anglican Church in North America, as well as the International Lutheran Council’s emerging discussions with the Roman Catholic Church on the world-level. Important things are happening in Christendom worldwide; “we are witnessing a seismic shift in the Christian landscape resulting in realignments of churches around the world,” Dr. Arand writes. Confessional Lutherans, it seems, are committed to taking part in the resulting discussions.

There is much in this issue worth pondering. If you’ve got a print-edition, why not take a look now? For everyone else, it doesn’t seem to be online just yet, but you should be able to find it here eventually. Dr. Arand’s introduction to the issue is already online here. For those of you with immediate access, Jeffrey Kloha’s article “The Lordship of Christ and the Unity of the Church” makes for excellent reading.

———————

Why do we need to be commanded to love our neighbours as ourselves? Because it doesn’t come naturally. That, and more in my reflections at First Things entitled “Love my neighbour as myself? I don’t think so.”

Of course, this selfless love for neighbor does not come naturally to us. Rather the opposite is true, as we see in Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan. There help does not come from those from whom we would have every right to expect it; it is not the Priest or the Levite who care for the wounded man. Either could do something for him, and yet no one does—no one, that is, except a foreigner, and a social pariah at that. The others “pass by on the other side.” The thought-process at work seems clear: If I don’t get too close—if I leave enough space between us—then his problem can’t be said to be my responsibility.

It is not without reason that Christ tells us to emulate the Samaritan here. By that, I don’t just mean that the Samaritan had the right response to the situation and that we should imitate him, though of course that is true also. Instead, I mean to say that we need the command to act like the Samaritan precisely because it is so unnatural to us. We do not, of our own accord, set our neighbor’s needs on the same level as our own. We do not love our neighbors as ourselves. We need to be commanded to do so.

How different is God’s response to us! He looks down and sees us beaten down by sin, dying on the side of the road. There is no health in us. And though we have disobeyed him, mocked him, even hated him, he sends his Son to be our Good Samaritan. In humility, this Great High Priest does not pass by on the other side of the road. No, he stoops down to lift us up. And what is more, he does not simply care for our sufferings; he transfers them to himself, and by his wounds we are healed.

Read the rest at First Things.