Monday, October 31, 2011

Reformation Day 2011

On October 31, 1517 (old calendar) a young priest by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the cathedral door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg in the duchy of Saxony. All over the world, Lutheran churches are paying homage to their founder and many other reformed churches which owe their own existence to this act of defiance.

I was raised Lutheran and I admit that I was not spiritually happy in the Lutheran tradition or what has become Lutheran tradition. So I left and I have no regrets about doing so. The only thing that I do regret is that in my own zealousness and desire for self-justification and self-vindication I have been less than charitable many times towards continued adherents and even converts to the various reformed churches. This does not mean that I cannot engage in debates of substantive concern with regards to Christianity.

Reading some articles today about the Reformation and how churches are celebrating, I came upon an article by Paul McCain, who is a Lutheran pastor and has his own blog, Cyberbrethren. I will admit that I have had several confrontations with him and I will further admit that I do not much care for him personally. His destructive rants against anyone who has left the Lutheran church have damaged the reputations of many good people. I also have some qualms with him on academic integrity, but those are not the issues. On his blog, today, McCain writes what it means to be Lutheran. He writes, "To be Lutheran is to be a person who says, 'This [i.e. Lutheranism] is what God’s Word, the Bible, teaches. This and nothing else is true and correct.'"

His description highlights one of the main reasons why I left Lutheranism. As a Lutheran in catechism class I was taught the three solas: sola fide, sola gratia, sola scriptura. As I studied and read more I found that the last, sola scriptura, was not only historically untenable, it is theologically untenable. Sola Scriptura is also the wrong answer to the wrong question. Lutherans ask "what is the Word of God?" They should ask, instead, "Who is the Word of God?"

The Word of God is NOT the Scriptures. The Word of God is Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity who became man. The Scriptures, or Bible, if you prefer, are the witness to Christ. The Scriptures are an icon, an image, of God, but no one would say that they are God. Such a position would be rightly denounced as ridiculous. But the reformed tradition's insistence on sola scriptura replaces Christ as the head of the Church with a book. Catholics go in the other direction and replace Christ as head with their pope. The Lutherans, and other Protestants, did a 180 but are still in error.

This issue was not the driving force behind my leaving, but it is important. I wanted to engage in a practice that fed my soul. I read my histories carefully about the importance of asceticism, fasting, starving the passions, vigilant prayer, worshiping with the Liturgy and offices in the early church, all things which were considered unnecessary by my Lutheran teachers, even condemned because they were not "prescribed in the Bible." Sola Scriptura threw out such good practices and disciplines which I only found and have applied (though poorly) since I became Greek Orthodox. I think that if Lutherans would examine their own history, they would find that the practices I mentioned above were still retained by the Lutheran churches until Pietism in the eighteenth century reared its ugly head.

Luther made some very necessary demands on the church of the west at the time. They were largely ignored and schism ensued, but I think Luther would even have a hard time identifying the Lutheran Church of today (in its thousands of manifestations)as the heir to what he taught. But I know that I could only have become Orthodox if I was Lutheran first. For that, I am very thankful.

Quote of the day

There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous.--Blaise Pascal, French mathematician and Catholic philosopher

I think this adequately sums up Christ's parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What does it mean to be religious?

I've never cared for the word "religious." Frankly, I think that as the term is applied specifically to Christians, it really does a disservice. The root of the word religion, lig comes from the Latin ligare which means to bind or fasten to a set of rules or conditions. (As a side note some etymologists have suggested that the root word lig is a corruption of the Latin word lex, legis which means the law). Whatever its proper derivation, the term means almost nothing today. The term is applied to the person who attends services and prays unceasingly and tries to live a holy life as well as to the boastful sinner who still goes to church on occasion, does charitable works, but does almost nothing to live a Christlike life.

Take, for example, Ms. Sara Leal. For whatever reason, Ms. Leal felt it necessary to give a very explicit narrative to the New York Post regarding her night of passion with not-yet-divorced actor Ashton Kutcher (i.e. Kelso from "That 70s Show"). If you do link to the article, you've been warned! In between sex sessions, the conversation with Kelso, I mean, Kutcher, the subject turned to politics and religion. According to Leal, she told Kelso that she was a religious Lutheran from Texas. Following that, they returned to their entertainment. So, to Leal, what does religious mean?

We are all sinners in this fallen world and have fallen waaaaaaaaaay short of the glory and mercy of our Lord, but should any of us be trumpeting ourselves as religious especially in the midst of any kind of debauchery? I'm in the middle of reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and I see the same type of characters who view themselves as good religious men while at the same time perpetuating the cruel and demeaning institution of slavery. For those of you who have seen the Godfather, you remember the scene that as Michael Corleone is sponsoring his nephew's baptism and renouncing the ways of Satan, his men are carrying out his orders to murder his competition. It's hypocrisy at its finest.

Only God can judge but we should still know what sin is when it's readily visible before our very eyes. And yet, despite that, even when we are in the midst of our own sin, we take comfort that we are still "religious." Perhaps the late Fr. Romanides was right when he once remarked that religion is a neurological disease. Religion seems to be the expression of our cognitive dissonance from what we know is right and God-pleasing to our actions otherwise.

Maybe we should just jettison the term "religious" for something else. Or, better yet, we should reclaim it and make sure it has one certain definition: Living as Christ would want us to, getting up once we have fallen, repenting and hating our sins rather than indulging in them. Easier said than done? Of course, but that's why there is always the grace of God.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mitt Romney's Christianity

Courtesy of a friend of mine. Thanks, Bill.

Concerning the issue of Mitt Romney's Christianity: there was a time in my life, when I followed Christ in an unorthodox manner, that I would have quickly explained how he couldn't possibly be "a Christian". However, since I have been following Christ in an orthodox fashion, I have had to realize that every moment I spend considering someone else's "Christianity" is a moment I should have spent attending to my own faults!

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner......

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Patristic Quote of the Day

We can know what God is not, but we cannot know what God is.--St. Augustine

I challenge any Orthodox person, lay or clergy, to substantiate that Augustine is not an ardent defender of the apophatic theology of the Eastern Churches. Granted, one quote is not enough to prove anything, but I believe that those among the Orthodox who have labeled him as an extreme Western cataphatic theologian (like Fr. Romanides) have never really read Augustine.