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Thoughts for FiveTwo folks to consider: creating a new Synod?

23 Oct
A new Synod?

A new Synod?

Yes, another post for the FiveTwo crowd.  For more context (I know many of those who read this blog are not Lutheran), just search for FiveTwo in the search box.

You might be interested in listening to the Issues ETC show where Chris Rosebrough, of the Fighting for the Faith podcast (and not in the LC-MS, but the AALC), critiques your movement.  You may not agree with much of what he says, but I think he certainly makes some arguments worthy of consideration.

Most interesting to me is when he contends that FiveTwo is basically creating a new Synod.  Now – I don’t doubt that many of the FiveTwo folks would object to that, but here, I think, is the crucial question: even if you are not trying to create a new Synod – because you really would like to continue in fellowship with your more traditional brethren – do you think that that could indeed be the practical effect of your actions?

And one more thing: what do you think of Eastern Orthodoxy?  I know that might seem a rather random question to ask, but there are a good number of young people who find Eastern Orthodoxy fascinating, intriguing… even compelling.

I was one of these (I’ll admit that I was also attracted to the Evangelical Free Church, Calvinism, and Roman Catholicism for a while to – and dove in rather deep each time – so discontent was I in the Lutheranism I knew). Anyway, I read the blog of probably the biggest Eastern Orthodox evangelist in America, Father Stephen Freeman.  I think he is sometimes very insightful and right, and other times very wrong.  When he’s right he’s really right and when wrong, he is really wrong (here is a recent post where I challenged him about some of the incorrect things he said, by implication, about Lutherans ; I’ve also currently got a tough question I’ve posted here that I hope he will make the time to answer*).

One of the things that he points out well is how everything we do and choose to do says something… communicates something… embodies something… things we have learned and come to know.

For example, in a recent post titled “The Grammar of Faith” he first grabs your attention with this (all the bold are mine):

“Recent studies have documented the fact that we begin to acquire language from our earliest moments. Even the babbling of infants plays a role. Sounds, words, facial expressions – all have a part in perhaps the most complex of all human activities. As we learn to speak, we not only learn words and sounds, but we simultaneously learn the unspoken rules that govern every language – the rules of grammar.

I recall long, tedious lessons in elementary school surrounding the rules of grammar. We diagrammed sentences, made distinctions between direct objects and indirect objects. We learned to name everything and to describe the rules by which we spoke. We labored long to learn something that we already knew. My sense of grammar increased greatly when I studied my first foreign language – Latin. There the rules were magnified with declensions, conjugations and pages of memorized and recited inflections. In all of these academic exercises, I was learning to talk about things that any five-year old knows intuitively. Grammar is how we speak – and if we have to think too much about grammar – then our speech is halting and tortured. Fortunately, human beings are wired for grammar.

This insight has also been applied to theology. For though the faith can be articulated, it has an underlying grammar that allows it to be spoken – and to be spoken correctly. And like the underlying rules of language, the grammar of theology is often unspoken. It is acquired rather than taught” (the non-italicized words here are the italicized words in his original post)

Pretty good huh?  I think he’s right on.  It’s not just the Suzuki violin method that is like this.  : )

He then talks about the early church and how its “grammar” was different than that of the gnostics:

In the Apostolic Teaching,  St. Irenaeus… lays out in great detail and commentary pretty much the content of what today we would call the Apostles’ Creed – the Symbol of Faith used in the Church at Holy Baptism. This is elsewhere described by other writers as the regula fidei (the rule of faith).

This hypothesis is the grammar of the faith. In refuting the Gnostics, for example, the grammar would insist upon the Crucified Christ and the pattern of salvation as taught in the Scriptures. This was often completely discarded by the Gnostics. At the time of Irenaeus, the heresies refuted by the Church’s grammar were large, even easily discerned.

But as time went on, the need repeatedly arose for the grammar of the faith to be stated explicitly rather than simply inculcated within the Church’s life. The statements, affirmations and anathemas of the various Councils represent not new doctrines, but explicit statements of the implicit grammar (hypothesis) of the faith.

Again – very good stuff.  He then makes his move to argue for Orthodoxy as the True Church, the embodiment of the Christian faith:

The Orthodox Church, however, speaks the language of Christ in all its life. The grammar of the faith is by no means confined to Conciliar proclamations. That would be the way of death and forgetfulness. In Orthodoxy, the whole of the Christian life gives expression to this eternal grammar. It is why Orthodoxy is described as a way of life and not a set of ideas.

Nothing embodies this more fully than the liturgical cycles and practices of the faith. For we pray what we believe and believe what we pray. Icons, for example, are not just theoretical portrayals of dogmatic content – believers kiss them, burn incense and bow before them, giving “honor to whom honor is due.” Believers live the 7th Council. This is true for the whole of the Orthodox faith – for nowhere is Orthodoxy an isolated idea or notion – it is always an embodied, integrated whole that is lived by the believer. And this itself is part of the grammar of the faith.

The loss of such a grammar in most forms of Christianity is more than a diminishment of the Church’s teaching life. For human existence always has a grammar.  The loss of a specifically Christian grammar represents the greatest tragedy of Reform in all its guises. The grammar of believing is generally so embedded in the faith that its presence is unnoticed. Reforms uproot and destroy the fundamental grammar of the faith in massive exercises of unintended consequences. It is for this reason that Christians today live in a Two-Storey universe – with the teachings of their faith divorced from the grammar of their lives. They live like secular atheists and wonder why believing is so difficult. Foreign languages are always like that – we struggle to remember the words and constantly say things in a broken and mistaken manner. We imagine that reciting the Creed makes us fluent in Christianity while we have no feeling for what it truly means or why it should matter.

Here is what I think about this: he is right about the importance of embodiment of truth, even if he is wrong that this means that all of the 16th c. Reformation is invalid (as he goes on to assert…)

He goes on to state the following, and here we get into where his critique of all post-Reformation spirituality (again, I strongly disagree – the previous FiveTwo post where I urged listening to Pastor Stuckwisch should put this claim to rest) dovetails perfectly with one of Chris Rosebrough’s main points about the FiveTwo approach: 

Contemporary Christianity speaks the language of its consumerist culture and has reframed the gospel itself into a marketed concept. It does not and cannot sustain the fundamental life of the Christian faith. Its continuation represents the progressive destruction of the grammar of the gospel.

Orthodoxy in the modern world is indeed a foreign language (sometimes quite literally). I watch the faithful struggle week in and out to live and speak a grammar contrary to the majority consumerism of the surrounding world. There are subtle pressures to adapt. Those who have united themselves to holy Orthodoxy often feel like they have made themselves strangers in their own land, unable to speak easily with family and friends. The same experience was probably common in the First Century as well.

The experience of the faith as an embodied whole is almost impossible to describe to those outside. For the experience of non-Orthodox Christianity has become so accustomed to the grammar of secularism that their perceptions are deaf and blind to the Orthodox witness. “We believe the Scriptures!” is doubtlessly true. But you believe them in a manner that is contrary to the faith. Your Christ looks like a fox and not a king. Where are your saints and images? Why do you smell like that? Where is the altar? Why do you not face East when you pray? Why don’t you cross yourself when you pray? Why do you say such terrible things about the Mother of God? What did you do with Holy Week? Where are the holy monks and the nuns? Who will teach you how to pray?

For those who think such things are “adiafora,” I say: “Apparently so.”

Father Freeman assumes that E.O. is the True Church and is not inclined to question the necessity of any of these practices: believing in them and doing them is something necessary for the True Church.  We Lutherans do not insist that things in the church can’t change, but there are core, constituitive things we assert must not change and are traditionally cautious when it comes to even questioning non-constituitive things…  Luther’s reformation, of course, was not a radical one – but an attempt to go back to the truth that the truth would continue to go forward.

I hope all of this gets you thinking – particularly about the importance of embodiment in the Christian life… how doctrine and practice seem to go hand in hand…

FIN 

 *He says

“Orthodoxy is truth-embodied. And though this can be described, no description is the same thing as the truth-embodied. An argument never approaches the true question of authority – it ultimately only distracts the soul and disguises the true and appropriate questions. The dogged resistance of Orthodoxy to various ecumenical overtures are found precisely in this organic instinct for the truth. For there are no propositions that can be accepted that would, in fact, make one Orthodox. And even accepting all so-called Orthodox propositions still fall short. For it is only the self-emptying life of repentance that has any standing. Its proof is found in a deified life.”

And so I say/ask:
I really do think I get the idea of Orthodoxy being truth-embodied and how no description can capture this. I believe I am someone who thinks more or less in the same way about my Confessional Lutheranism (who as you know, also have a reputation for dogged resistance to various ecumenical overtures, stubborn lot we are). The issue that perplexes me is this : are you not an authority making *an argument* about why we, for example, lack true authority? And if I listened to what you said and, by the power of the Holy Spirit turned from my Lutheran errors, how would I not become [Eastern] Orthodox?

I am guessing that I am not the only person thinking about questions like this. Or perhaps this is one of the first keys in helping me and others to understand our own captivity to the Rationalism you speak of? I am guessing that the word “understand” is not part of what you would say the problem is.

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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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