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quod pro nobis traditum est

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Brief respite in the life of the Church

Thursday in Pentecost Week

"When the storm of persecution ceased, the faithful Christians, who, during the time of danger, had hidden themselves in woods and deserts, and secret caves, appearing in public, rebuilt the churches which had been levelled with the ground; founded, erected, and finished the temples of the holy martyrs, and, as it were, displayed their conquering ensigns in all places; they celebrated festivals, and performed their sacred rites with clean hearts and mouths. This peace continued in the churches of Britain until the time of the Arian madness, which, having corrupted the whole world, infected this island also, so far removed from the rest of the globe, with the poison of its arrows; and when the plague was thus conveyed across the sea, all the venom of every heresy immediately rushed into the island, ever fond of something new, and never holding firm to anything."

- St. Bede [Although liturgically speaking, emphasis is on Thursday in Pentecost Week, today is also the commemoration of St. Bede the Venerable, Confessor, Doctor of the Church. The excerpt above is from Chapter VIII of his book "The History of the English Church and People" in which he discusses the time of peace between the persecution and the Arian heresy (A.D. 307 - 337)]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Polity and the Church's center

Polity is necessary for people to live together. Although forms of polity in society vary the form of polity used is bound by what people accept and follow as common law, that which holds society together. Generally speaking, in society polity is divided into practice on the local, state and national levels.

In Christianity the Church also orders her life together using polity. The Catholic Church follows an hierarchical or episcopal order of polity. The names of some protestant denominations are directly related to their understanding of polity, ie, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational. Schisms in church history have often been related to matters of polity as they have been related to matters of doctrine. The two, in fact, are intertwined, just as in secular government questions of polity are derived from the Constitution. However the Church or protestant denomination or sect understands and follows its polity that is how that group orders her life together.

Lutheranism has historically placed doctrine on a higher level than that of polity. Still, there are unanswered questions of polity that continue to fester and which may be traced back to the time of the reformation (historical developments following the reformation, such as the Enlightenment, have only exacerbated these questions). To the chagrin of Lutherans, they are sometimes characterized by those outside as being followers of "Luther," which, in itself is as much an observation of polity as it is an observation of doctrine. Obviously, Lutheranism is more complex than that as is demonstrated in the Confessio Augustana (Augsburg Confession) and the other symbolical documents of the Book of Concord. The structure of Lutheranism, thankfully so, is not bound to the personality of Luther (or it should not be). He was not the most personable fellow.

I have always found unusual the Lutheran critique of the polity of the Catholic Church. The Lutheran argument says that the structure of the Catholic Church, specifically the papacy, is de iure humano, that is, "of human right" as opposed to de iure divino ("of divine right"). This means that the polity of the Catholic Church is not of divine order but of human order. Meanwhile Lutherans gather in conventions or assemblies every few years to elect their leaders which they call their president. The process is very similar to the corresponding secular process as found in America. After this process, which includes no little amount of politicking, the president is chosen and this is understood and accepted as the work of the Holy Spirit. De iure humano or de iure divino? The Lutheran critique of the papacy is, in some ways, found wanting.

The largest and most liberal Lutheran group, the ELCA, has pretty much given up its polity to follow a template based on "the sexual revolution." Hence, like the rest of mainline protestantism, is quite comfortable with modern secular culture, including whatever sexual directions the culture is taking. The polity (and doctrine) of this declining group seem to go no further back in history than the 1960s (ie, "the sexual revolution"). Obviously, not all pastors and members are following this direction.

The largest conservative, or confessional Lutheran group, is the Missouri Synod. They are clearly distinct from the ELCA in doctrine and practice. The Missouri Synod is meeting this summer in convention and will be considering making major changes in polity through "restructuring", mainly in favor of providing more votes to larger congregations at the expense of smaller congregations (current practice is that each congregation has equal voice). There are many other proposals for changes. All in all, if passed, the Missouri Synod would be structured quite differently meaning, in practice, that its clearly stated doctrinal heritage would be permanently marginalized in favor of an amorphous "mission" (ie, evangelicalism).

Questions of polity are always questions of individuals and their relation to larger groups of people. Individuals, for example, are perturbed when larger groups or those who govern try to legislate their sentiment or tell them how they feel. There is room for mis-communication at all levels and in between levels of government. Those who govern, govern not only individuals but also organized groups of people. Mis-communication or misunderstanding does not necessitate change in structure. Polity is grounded in reason and law and not in sentiment. Sentiment, divorced from reason, can be a dangerous thing. Hence polity is needed for people to live together in a reasonable way.

As having served as a delegate at two conventions of the Missouri Synod I find them intriguing and frustrating. They are intriguing in the gathering of people from around the country and around the world and the dialogue over a variety of issues. They are frustrating in that what happens there is not always what one expects or desires. What will be both intriguing and frustrating to those who are at convention this summer is that they will be considering changing the very structure of the polity that has given them the opportunity to be there in the first place. For some, such changes would mean revoking their own future franchise. On a deeper level such changes would mean permanent change in the direction of the Missouri Synod, much of which would cut the synod from its roots.

On the other hand, cutting oneself from ones roots is a problem of the reformation. Ever since the reformation the countless denominations and sects, being rootless in terms of ministry, are continually forced to restructure or reinvent their polity. A denial of all that transpired in the Church between the time of the Apostles and the time of the reformation leaves protestantism always reacting and never learning, bound only to the last 500 or 50 years or 5 minutes of the Christian experience. One becomes bound by running from the past (ie, "your grandfather's church") and bound to novelty in all things. Evolution becomes the norm and protestantism becomes the religious sentiment of the secular culture. The lines are blurred between protestantism and the secular culture out of which develops a new civil religion. A Church without a polity of its own that can protect itself from the influences of secularism and speak clearly even when the culture objects is bound to forever reflect the polity and values of the culture, for better and for worse.

The life of people in the Church is first and foremost a gathering at the altar of the Holy Eucharist, a sort of heavenly polity. This polity reflects the mystery of the relationship that Christ has with His Bride, the Church (baptized believers). At the altar the crucified, risen and ascended Lord governs His people mercifully on earth, bringing peace between man and God, which was once and for all worked out on the cross and is now delivered to Christ's Bride. The incarnate Lord comes to us in His Body and Blood and sinners participate in the divine nature receiving a foretaste of the feast to come. In the desire for novelty many heirs of the reformation are losing what little is left that roots their life in the life of Christ and His Church, primarily the sacramental life, especially that given and received in the Holy Eucharist.

Related to the order of this life together is the Holy Ministry. In contrast to today's "small groups" (an evangelical phenomena) we find an apostolic ministry tied to Word and Sacraments, ordered and blessed by the Lord Himself. In today's rush to cut roots and forget the past and embrace whatever is new, many Lutherans may have forgotten or may have not even heard these words of the Augsburg Confession:

"Inasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the sacrament, one common Mass is observed among us on every holy day, and on other days, if any desire the sacrament, it is also administered to those who ask for it. Nor is the custom new in the church . . . Chrysostom says that the priest stands daily at the altar, inviting some to Communion and keeping others away. And it appears from the ancient canons that some one person or other celebrated Mass and the rest of the presbyters and deacons received the body of the Lord from him, for the words of the Nicene canon read, 'In order, after the presbyters, let the deacons receive Holy Communion from the bishop or from a presbyter.'" (Augsburg Confession, Art. XXIV, Latin)

Polity is necessary for people to live together. The Lord provides a heavenly polity for people in the Church. In this polity, the center of the Church is found in the sacrament of the altar. On the one hand, for Lutherans, polity is "adiaphora." On the other hand, when we are enslaved by novelty we lose from the whole, many times, of that which we are not aware. And this brings disorder to our life together.

G.K. Chesterton said, "Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God." Within the life of the Church, if the convention and all its activity replaces the life of Christ given in the Holy Eucharist then earthly government becomes the God. When the Holy Eucharist is set aside, re-structuring or not re-structuring makes little difference for earthly polity has little to do with heavenly polity and only lasts as long as the nation.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be theologians . . .

Yours truly made it to #3 on the bottom 10 list [really, I am glad I studied theology]:

Worst-Paying College Degrees
We all know money doesn't buy happiness--and that's good news for these new grads.
by Charles Purdy, Yahoo! HotJobs senior editor

There's no denying the value of a college education: According to recent U.S. Census surveys, the median salary for college grads is more than $20,000 higher than that of people with only a high school diploma. And the unemployment rate for people with bachelor's degrees is almost half the rate for people without.

But some degrees are worth more than others, as PayScale.com shows in its 2010 report on the earning power of bachelor's degrees.

No surprise, engineering degrees continue to be top earners--and (also no big shocker) you have to go pretty far down the list before you see the liberal arts well represented.

But there's more to choosing a major than comparing dollar amounts. We salute and congratulate the graduates whose interests (and hard work) have led them to the following degrees--the lowest-earning degrees on PayScale's list.

10. Drama (starting annual salary: $35,600; mid-career annual salary: $56,600) Some mega-millionaire movie stars with drama degrees (Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, for instance) may be skewing these numbers upward--for every Denzel and Meryl, there are thousands of thespians struggling to make ends meet. But you don't study drama because you want to get rich--you study drama because you love the theater. (And an ability to act comes in handy in many professions.)

9. Fine arts (starting annual salary: $35,800; mid-career annual salary: $56,300) Well, it takes an artist to make a thrift-store wardrobe look like a million bucks.

8. Hospitality and tourism (starting annual salary: $37,000; mid-career annual salary: $54,300) Jobs that include tips may be skewing these numbers downward--and this is an industry that looks to be on the rebound as the economy improves. Plus, the perks associated with jobs in hospitality and tourism may compensate for the comparatively low salaries--many jobs in the industry allow extensive travel (or provide considerable travel discounts).

7. Education (starting annual salary: $36,200; mid-career annual salary: $54,100) For the right people, teaching is an immensely rewarding career--and it's truly a noble one. The good news is, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment opportunities for primary, secondary, and special education teachers are expected to grow by 14 percent in the coming decade. And there will be plenty of new opportunities in continuing education for adults, as professional skill requirements change ever more rapidly.

6. Horticulture (starting annual salary: $37,200; mid-career annual salary: $53,400) It seems that a green thumb doesn't necessarily bring in the greenbacks. But when you work among flowers and plants in a nursery or garden, who needs 'em?

5. Spanish (starting annual salary: $35,600; mid-career annual salary: $52,600) As an old proverb puts it, when you learn a new language, you "gain a new soul." Who could put a price on that? And certainly, knowing Spanish--the language with the second-highest number of native speakers (after Mandarin)--in addition to English opens up a world of job opportunities beyond Spanish teacher or translator (as a plus, you can better enjoy a world of fantastic Spanish-language music, movies, and literature).

4. Music (starting annual salary: $34,000; mid-career annual salary: $52,000) Hey, if being a musician were easy, everyone would do it. Some of us are guitar heroes; most of us just play the video game.

3. Theology (starting annual salary: $34,800; mid-career annual salary: $51,500) This is the perfect example of a degree earned by someone who's "not in it for the money": people who choose to study theology often feel they're pursuing a higher calling (and often feel a strong desire to do good in the world, no matter the cost).

2. Elementary education (starting annual salary: $33,000; mid-career annual salary: $42,400) Specializing in elementary education means a lower median salary than an education degree (number 7).

1. Social work (starting annual salary: $33,400; mid-career annual salary: $41,600) They say that crime doesn't pay. As this list seems to point out, neither does helping people. So it's a good thing that many college students seem to believe that helping others is its own reward--social workers are an indispensable safety net for people who've fallen on difficult times. And the BLS reports that the outlook for opportunities in this field are favorable--particularly for social workers who work in rural areas or with senior citizens.

(Source: PayScale salary survey. Methodology: Annual pay is for bachelor's graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting salaries are for graduates with two years of experience; mid-career salaries are for graduates with 15 years of experience. PayScale also provides salary information by college; for more information, check out PayScale's Best Colleges Report.)

Link to article

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Sinful people and holy Church

How do we confess that the Church is holy when there are sinners in the Church? How does holiness and sin reside together in the same place? What does it mean to confess with the Creed, "I believe the holy Catholic Church."? Here is an excerpt from the book "Introduction to Christianity" (be sure to read through this, especially through the last paragraph):

"The holiness of the Church consists in that power of sanctification which God exerts in it in spite of human sinfulness. We come up here against the real mark of the "New Covenant": in Christ God has bound himself to men, has let himself be bound by them. The New Covenant no longer rests on the reciprocal keeping of the agreement; it is granted by God as grace which abides even in the face of man's faithlessness. It is the expression of God's love, which will not let itself be defeated by man's incapacity but always remains well-disposed towards him, welcomes him again and again precisely because he is sinful, turns to him, sanctifies him and loves him.

Because of the Lord's devotion, never more to be revoked, the Church is the institution sanctified by him forever, an institution in which the holiness of the Lord becomes present among men. But it is really and truly the holiness of the Lord that becomes present in it and that chooses again and again as the vessel of its presence – with a paradoxical love – the dirty hands of men. It is holiness that radiates as the holiness of Christ from the midst of the Church's sin. So to the faithful the paradoxical figure of the Church, in which the divine so often presents itself in such unworthy hands, in which the divine is only ever present in the form of a "nevertheless", is the sign of the "nevertheless" of the ever greater love shown by God. The existing interplay of God's loyalty and man's disloyalty which characterizes the structure of the Church is grace in dramatic form. [. . .] One could actually say that precisely in its paradoxical combination of holiness and unholiness the Church is in fact the shape taken by grace in this world.

Let us go a step further. In the human dream of a perfect world, holiness is always visualized as untouchability by sin and evil, as something unmixed with the latter. [. . .] In contemporary criticism of society and in the actions in which it vents itself, this merciless side always present in human ideals is once again only too evident. That is why the aspect of Christ's holiness that upset his contemporaries was the complete absence of this condemnatory note – fire did not fall on the unworthy nor were the zealous allowed to pull up the weeds which they saw growing luxuriantly on all sides. On the contrary, this holiness expressed itself precisely as mingling with the sinners whom Jesus drew into his vicinity; as mingling to the point where he himself was made "to be sin" and bore the curse of the law in execution as a criminal – complete community of fate with the lost (cf. 2 Cor. 5.21; Gal. 3.13). He has drawn sin to himself, made it his lot and so revealed what true "holiness" is: not separation but union, not judgment but redeeming love.

Is the Church not simply the continuation of God's deliberate plunge into human wretchedness; is it not simply the continuation of Jesus' habit of sitting at table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight? Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man's expectation of purity, God's true holiness, which is love, love which does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the dirt of the world, in order thus to overcome it? Can therefore the holiness of the Church be anything else but the mutual support which comes, of course, from the fact that all of us are supported by Christ? [. . .]

At bottom there is always hidden pride at work when criticism of the Church adopts that tone of rancorous bitterness which today is already beginning to become a fashionable habit. Unfortunately it is accompanied only too often by a spiritual emptiness in which the specific nature of the Church as a whole is no longer seen, in which it is only regarded as a political instrument whose organization is felt to be pitiable or brutal, as the case may be, as if the real function of the Church did not lie beyond organization, in the comfort of the Word and of the sacraments which she provides in good and bad days alike. Those who really believe do not attribute too much importance to the struggle for the reform of ecclesiastical ritual. They live on what the Church always is; and if one wants to know what the Church really is one must go to them. For the Church is most present not where organizing, reforming and governing are going on but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them.

This does not mean that everything must be left undisturbed and endured as it is. Endurance can also be a highly active process, a struggle to make the Church herself more and more that which supports and endures. After all, the Church does not live otherwise than in us; she lives from the struggle of the unholy to attain holiness, just as of course this struggle lives from the gift of God, without which it could not exist. But this effort only becomes fruitful and constructive if it is inspired by the spirit of forbearance, by real love.

And here we have arrived at the criterion by which that critical struggle for better holiness must always be judged, a criterion that is not only not in contradiction with forbearance but is demanded by it. This criterion is constructiveness. A bitterness that only destroys stands self-condemned. A slammed door can, it is true, become a sign that shakes up those inside. But the idea that one can do more constructive work in isolation than in fellowship with others is just as much of an illusion as the notion of a Church of "holy people" instead of a "holy Church" that is holy because the Lord bestows holiness on her as a quite unmerited gift."

- Joseph Ratzinger, "Introduction to Christianity" (1968)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Let the liturgy speak for itself . . .

On the one hand I am amazed by advances in internet communications. On the other hand I am a bit baffled. After having some experience with e-mail discussions and blogging, I seem to be slowing down. Besides the blogging accounts, I have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Although both Twitter and Facebook are great ways to communicate I find that I do not make much use of them (more on that later).

One cannot help but notice the progression in communicating using these means. In comparing blogging, Facebook and Twitter, the first usually seems to be used for more thoughtful content, or communications of greater length, while the last one is used for quick and, very short, bits of information. Each option certainly has its benefits.

Facebook, in particular, has me thinking why I think this is a great way to communicate while noticing that I do not make as much of use of it as I probably could. Twitter, on the other hand, is a means of communication I rarely use, probably because I do not think it necessary to tell people what I am doing at any and every moment of time. Such a tool may, in some ways, become more of a hindrance to the day. Back to Facebook. I admit to checking it regularly and I enjoy seeing what is going on with everyone. Every once in a while I click on "like" or add a brief comment. Still I find that I am not active when it comes to sharing this and that. I probably have added enough friends so that I have as many or more friends who I don't know as those I do. Even that I do not do as often anymore. Nor am I able to keep up with all the groups and fan pages that show up daily.

There are two things about Facebook that do not work specifically with me. First - information overload. Information overload mainly in that I would like to respond to many posts but simply cannot will not take the time to do so. Second, generally speaking, communications on Facebook are brief, longer than Twitter and shorter than blogging. Indeed, I commend Facebook to all who enjoy using it. I simply cannot get into processing tons of sound bytes and, hence, it is baffling.

Add to this the recent study about teens and texting, how most teens prefer texting to any other means of communication and how they compare it with other means of communicating online. Texting, as you might guess, is the quickest and shortest way to communicate. It is virtually a new language, and one that is way off my radar screen. In the study which I heard on the news a week or two ago the teens preferred texting to e-mails, for example, because they said e-mails were "too formal." Now we see how fast communication tools have advanced! And how informal communication has become. (Many of these same teens, undoubtedly, will not read this far down in this blogpost if it is even on their radar screen.)

Finally, it is no secret that in many Christian traditions, including my own, some leaders are looking to teenagers to bring guidance in questions of liturgy and worship. In my view, this is clearly putting liturgy on its head. There are many theological and practical reasons why teenagers should not be consultants on the liturgy. Then there is the whole related question of the holy ministry. The historic liturgy was never intended to be relevant and in line with the fads and trends of any given age or generation. The language of the liturgy is clearly meant to be distinct from other means of communication that people share with each other. If communicating by e-mail, as brief as that is, is viewed as too formal, then certainly the language of the historic liturgy, which is at the same time traditional and which leads us to eternal things, will not suffice. In this case, what really is at stake? Should "communications" or communications theories, however they are understood, take precedence over receiving and handing over the deposit of faith? In some cases, they already have. A related question is what then is lost in the process? It appears that a crisis in leadership is not unrelated to a crisis in worship.

Of all the means of communication discussed in this post blogging is certainly the longest or the most "formal." Let the teens continue with their text messaging (with parental limits, of course) but please do not turn them into liturgical consultants. In this blogger's view, formal and reverent worship, divine communication with man, is what the historical liturgy is all about.

(Hopefully, you have made it to this point in this means of communication.)