Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Popular Christianity emphasizes faith in connection with health, wealth, success and prosperity. Although now another extreme in the opposite direction seems to have captured the imagination and occupied the hearts of some. Jumping beyond these materialistic answers to faith, this text relates faith to worship and a right worship involves faith in Christ. Faith and worship go together. As the Introit says, "Adore God, all you His Angels."
Since worship is tied to religion and religious practice this all gets tossed about with the popular notion of being "spiritual" without being "religious." In other words, we can be "spiritual" without the trappings of "religion" and, lately, Jesus is "spiritual" but not "religious". There is a lot packed into why people may feel obligated to make this distinction. Certainly, faith is every day and not just attendance at worship. Yet there is also the consideration that if faith is every day then coming to God in worship is included in that daily faith. That is, faith does not pit worship against life or vice versa. Neither, it may be argued, would faith pit being spiritual and being religious against each other, or Jesus against religion.
No religious person denies that Jesus is spiritual. While Jesus abhorred religious abuse and corruption he did not abolish religion or religious practice. This idea about Jesus is more a contemporary sentiment. Jesus, on the contrary, comes to "fulfill" the law. This fulfillment has a lot to do with our salvation, especially since we are sinners. How then is it that Jesus, who is "spiritual" is also "religious?" Take another look at the Gospel from last Sunday. The Evangelist records that after healing the leper of his leprosy, Jesus says to him, "...go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." Jesus leads the leper, a man of faith, to fulfill the religious requirements.
To those who study and hear the Scripture this is nothing new. Yet to the "spiritual" minded who may have drifted away from religion and religious practice this upholding of religious practice by Jesus may be something to consider, and consider seriously. For Jesus is certainly not interested in undermining the healed leper's faith. This would not be spiritually wise. Rather, faith sees the place where the material and immaterial, the invisible and visible, or the human and divine, come together. It is not as simple as rationalizing a distinction between what is spiritual from what is religious and creating a faith that I am comfortable with. Jesus is a religious man and by faith we meet him spiritually and religiously in worship.
"Adore God, all you His Angels."
Saturday, January 14, 2012
It is easy for Lutherans to criticize the traditional Roman liturgy and/or the Orthodox liturgy. The main reason for this being, of course, that they are not Lutheran. Yet neither the traditional Roman liturgy nor the Orthodox liturgy even attempt to follow whatever the Lutheran liturgy is. Should they? I think not. If anything, we can learn some things from the historic liturgy even when it means going against the trends. Unfortunately, there are many factors involved in this learning that makes such learning difficult and it is certainly not for everyone. However, two factors in the liturgy may be recognized and upheld: continuity and organic form. We can do better to uphold any continuity with the historic liturgy than boast in experiments. Also, there is an organic form in the liturgy that even Lutherans recognize in the liturgies in the hymnal. There is liturgy and the parts of the liturgy work together and support each other in forming a greater whole. This is why, among Lutherans, the hymnal is preferred to ongoing miscellaneous and diverse changes. When there is a grasp of continuity and organic form, one can recognize and appreciate, also in the Lutheran hymnal, parts of the liturgy that are both catholic and orthodox.
Recently, I drove down a street where two church signs displayed their worship schedule. One church, evangelical protestant, calls its services, "Blended" and "Modern." The other church, Lutheran, calls its services, "Contemporary" and "Traditional." Something is lost here with descriptive labels of worship such as these. Likely, most people do not pay close attention to such things. This is a plea to take time and give it some thought. If worship is meant to bring people in contact and communion with God these labels seem to say more about appealing to people's tastes. They describe forms of worship but the emphasis on worship itself is lost. The historic liturgy is helpful in providing a different view. Even though it may be bucking the trends, give me a church that uses the time-worn and more universal understanding of what worship is. Take, for example, "Liturgy," "Divine Liturgy," "Divine Worship," "Divine Service," "Holy Communion," "Eucharist" or "Mass." While such terminology is not a certain guarantee that what goes on inside the church has not been altered greatly, the terminology offers at least a promise in substance, some continuity, organic form, universality or catholicity, and a hint that the church is consciously serious about worship.
Friday, January 13, 2012
In recent years we have passed through the evangelistic efforts of New Atheism. I understand generally the main arguments posed and although I do not agree with them my interests are elsewhere so I am not versed here. Probably the biggest concern I have is not differences of opinion and thought but the underlying theme of doing away with all religions, churches and faith. Not that this could ever really happen. My mentioning this here now is somewhat immaterial for the trend, like many religious trends also do, has pretty much come and gone except maybe on the university campuses. I can also learn more sometimes by reading about topics of interest to me in a quiet corner far away from the he said / he said debates which are necessary and also of benefit.
My perceptions of trends sometimes have a lot to do with the titles of books I see in bookstores and those things people talk about while in bookstores. One trend which is not new but which seems to be making a comeback on the Christian side of things is the idea of Jesus without "the Church" or Jesus without "religion." Two points to make here. First, Jesus is distinguished from both "the Church" and "religion" in the sense that He is good (which He is) and they are bad, for whatever the reason or reasons. Second, Jesus, apart from the Church and religion here is really saying something like I know my Jesus and He is mine and the Church, religion and anything else for that matter is not going to change this. This type of dissection of Jesus from the Church and religion is especially common in the American protestant, fundamentalist and/or evangelical thinking. This is not a new teaching and may be traced to before the reformation. Even the primary reformation churches would have difficulty with this thinking and some still do. In brief, Christianity has gone through many changes and this thinking is very individualistic, which is not surprising in America today.
Dissecting Jesus from the Church and/or religion may be an idealistic effort to teach a "pure" gospel to the unchurched or the atheist. But it fails, because we fail. Also, and more dangerously, it reflects, at the least, an embarrassment with the Church and/or religion. Because the Church and religion are not what they are without people in them they too are not perfect. There is only one Man who is holy and truly perfect. Is it more about me knowing Jesus better than anyone else or is it my inability to accept that others may share the same faith? There is no need to recite a plethora of Scripture passages to counter this thinking for, I believe, that the "me and my Jesus" thinking is as far removed from Scripture as the "me and my Bible" thinking.
If we want to hold up a separate Jesus we need to first take him at his words. He does not separate Himself from the Church or the religious life of His followers. Rather He creates and sustains the one holy Church. He begins His ministry by being baptized. He builds His Church in connection with Peter and Peter's confession of Who he is. Before He leaves His disciples He gives them an apostolic mandate to make disciples of all nations through baptism and teaching. Finally, before His death on the cross, He gives His Church the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood, a Holy Communion.
Religion is defined as the belief in and worship of something greater than what is human, especially a personal God or gods or a particular system of faith and worship. In Christianity, the Church plays this role as the very creation of the Lord who Himself is worshiped. In Christianity, that is, the Church, people are drawn together into the one true faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost/Spirit through the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Sacraments people receive the same Gifts and are made part of the same spiritual reality. This is a religious thing. This reality is not derived from or dependent on the sameness or differences among the people. In the end, within Christianity, a separation of Jesus from one's concept of what the Church and/or religion is (or should be), is at the least, unrealistic and, at the most, false. That is, Jesus does not want to be yours alone. Did He really leave His Church?
This is why we confess the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. This is why, even when there are atheists, there is religion in the world.
Friday, January 06, 2012
It is still the time of Christmas and this ends today with the "Twelfth Day," or, the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord. This feast originated early in the East and today is a celebration of both Jesus' birth and baptism. In the West the Gospel is the account of the visit of the Magi. The Baptism of Our Lord comes on the octave of this feast. Traditionally, the Western Church hears the Gospel of the boy Jesus in the Temple on the Sunday in the octave, though now it is common to find the Epiphany celebrated on the closest Sunday. These days of Epiphany are among the richest of the year, a celebration of divine "revelation" or "manifestation" combining the blessed Incarnation with the visit of the Magi, Jesus' boyhood visit to the Temple and later baptism. Epiphany leaves off where the Christ-Mass began.
In terms of origin Epiphany is one of the oldest feasts and, like Christmas, Epiphany replaced a pagan solstice festival. Here Christians come to know Mary's son as the Light in this world.
Thursday, January 05, 2012
While we are on the pro-family topic, there is a stereo-type that following the historic liturgy of the Church is anti-family. This belies more a suspicion of the liturgy than any basis in fact. Historically, the family worshipped together. The text of the historic liturgy speaks to people of all ages and conditions.
Today, attempts at creating specialized services to appeal to different age groups and basing these services on musical tastes seems to result instead in dividing the family into separate worship units. The focus of worship is lost in the process. The primary focus of worship, being divine in nature, shifts to the musical tastes themselves, that is, reflecting man's nature.
Fortunately, this is not true everywhere. The historic liturgy of the Church, when and where it is found, continues to unite saints of all ages in the one true faith, while upholding the future of the family, a divine creation.
Wednesday, January 04, 2012
This year the traditions synched - New Years' Day on a Sunday, or the "Lord's Day," an ancient Christian tradition originating in the Lord's Resurrection. This year Sunday was also the Octave Day of the Nativity, a continuation of the celebration. Traditionally too, Sunday was the Feast of the Circumcision. Monday was the Holy Name of Jesus. All combined, New Year's Day this year became a happy coincidence, with the continuation of Christmas being recognized in a fulfillment of the Law (this means that the Law, coming from God, is a good thing) in Jesus' circumcision and his being given the Holy Name, the Savior's name. It is not hard to get from the blessed Incarnation to Mary, being the Mother of God, when God is with us.
Back to traditions. Nothing wrong with Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, gift-giving and having one's drink (in moderation) during the festive season. These are good traditions of family and friends. So too, the children of God recognize holiness for what it is and receive their gifts on the Lord's Day as part of the sacred Tradition. God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. This year the Tradition re-vitalized as it synched itself with the new year.
When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son . . . In Him, the son of Mary, we are sons and heirs. Jesus was given His name by the angel before He was even conceived in the womb. At His circumcision he was so named. At our Baptism we received the Holy Spirit and the Name given us before we were born. There is something here about us too participating in the coming of the fullness of time.
We tend to lean against traditions as if they will bring us down, when really it is about picking and choosing. As sinners, we shy away from holy things. In a secular age we do not know what to think about holiness. Not so for the sons of God who from baptism have the Spirit of God's Son in our hearts. On this year's New Year's day, a Sunday, traditions synched for those who live in both the world and the Church. Holy tradition is a re-vitalizing thing. With the new year we recognize the holiness of God, as we are so given in hearing His Holy Word and in Christ's true Body and Blood in the blessed Eucharist. Holiness and forgiveness are connected.
There is something about the coming together of time and its holiness, the fullness of time, when eight days were completed. Let us enjoy the New Year and let us bask in the glory of this year's New Year's Day. As the psalmist says, "A sanctified day has shone upon us: come ye Gentiles and adore the Lord: for this day a great light hath descended upon the earth."