Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pericope of the Week: Senator Mark Hatfield

Former United States Senator from Oregon, Mark Hatfield, died on August 7 at the age of 89. Senator Hatfield has been one of my "heroes," ever since I met him when I was a seventh-grader at Leslie Junior High School in Salem, Oregon. The senator, who had also attended Leslie and had later graduated from my high school, South Salem, had been invited to speak to my fellow students and me about his vocation as a public servant. I don't remember what he said that day, but I do remember meeting him afterwards. In the course of our brief conversation he asked me my name and, when I told him, he then asked if my grandfather was a Lutheran minister. I told that indeed he was. He then said, "Your Grandfather and I go back a long time. When I was in the Oregon legislature I invited him to open a few of our sessions with prayer. He and I had some good discussions about God and the Bible and Christian discipleship. Please give him my greetings." I thought it was pretty cool at the time that my Grandfather was a friend of a U. S. senator.

I didn't know until later how difficult the senator's public service had been, how he had opposed the war in Vietnam, how he had been critical of President Nixon's policies (despite the fact that they both were members of the same Republican Party), how he had been attacked by some of his constituents for "mixing his personal faith and politics" and thereby undermining each (in their view), how he found himself caught between the "rock" of Christian conscience and "the hard place" that is the U. S. Senate.

When I returned to Oregon to teach at Concordia University, Portland, I was given the task of occasionally teaching a course entitled, "Religion and Public Life." My teacher and friend, Dr. John Scheck, had developed the course, which he handed on to me, and then I changed it to suit my own interests in "public theology." One change that I introduced was adding a segment to the course that allowed guest speakers to visit the class and to share with the students their understandings of the relation of their religious faith (or lack thereof) to their work/calling in public life. So I invited a newspaper editor to talk with the students. The head of a public university addressed them on one day. On another, the head of a large corporation spoke about the challenges of relating Christian faith to the dynamics of capitalism. There were others from business, social service agencies, and the media.

Senator Hatfield in 2004
And then there was Senator Hatfield, who was by then retired. He had also graciously accepted my invitation to speak with the students. On that great day he and I met first in my office for an hour or so and reminisced about individuals common to both of our lives (e.g., my uncle had been one of the senator's law students at Willamette University). After a private lunch with a few other faculty members, he spoke to the class of 30. Unlike the talk I had heard twenty years earlier, this one I remembered. I still have the notes I took that day, also the written summary I made of our post-class conversation as we strolled around Concordia's campus. He essentially hit many of the same themes that he developed in his post-Watergate book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Waco: Word, 1976). So much of that book and his earlier reflections in Conflict and Conscience (Word, 1971) seem apropos to our current divisiveness in American political life. I doubt that the senator could get elected today, if he were alive and running, given the rightward tilt of the Republican Party, a tilt that is even more pronounced today than when I last spoke with him more than a decade ago.

This week's pericope comes from the epilogue to his 1976 book:

 [In a time of frustration] it helped [to focus] my attention once again on the basic vision and values to which I have committed my life. I knew I had to persevere.

The central issue is whether I believe that the shape of God in Jesus Christ, taking human form in history, is politically axiomatic for me today. Am I truly to stake my life on the conviction that the character of life and quality of love I see in Christ is to be reproduced in me, fundamentally shaping the style of my political activity?

Christ emptied himself. He took the form of a servant. Though rich, Paul tells us, for our sake he became poor. He was counted among the outcast. He forsook the temptations of earthly power out of fidelity to the Kingdom he came to establish. He gave of himself to deliver the poor and the oppressed out of their bondage. He prayed that not his will, but God's be done. He delivered himself into the hands of sinful men, rather than retaliate to their evil.

He loved without conditions. He spoke God's prophetic truth without fear. And he was crucified as a common criminal, dying so that we might have Life.

He proclaimed the emergence of God's kingdom--the rule of true justice and righteousness. He called those who followed him to build that Kingdom by living as a new community of God's people. To those who followed him, he said that the first shall be last, and the last first; that we must lose our lives in order to find them; and that greatness consists of the most humble acts of servanthood.

If we are called to Christ, then our lives are to take on his own shape. Whether teachers, doctors, businessmen, politicians, lawyers, laborers, or ministers, our first task is to embody the quality of Christ's life. Faithfulness to this call totally transcends any requirements of 'success' posed by our vocations or the conformist opinions of society.

Identified truly with Christ, we will find ourselves serving the oppressed of the world--the victims of injustice and sin. We will begin to look at the structures of society from the vantage point of the poor... Our call is to faithfulness, not to efficacy; it is to servanthood rather than power. We know that the most decisive action that we can take to shape history is to follow the way of Christ, to give ourselves to the building of the Body, and to pour out ourselves as he did in love.

 [Additional Pericope: A few months ago, Visko Hatfield, the senator's son, sat down with his father, whose health had become even more fragile. At the time, Visko had asked what he could do for his father. "You need to save a life." "Whose life should I save?" Visko asked. Hatfield's answer: "The first one you can."]

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Sad Case of Pr. Robert Stuenkel Revisited

My colleague in the pastoral ministry, Pr. Robert Stuenkel, is facing expulsion from the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod because he has communed with his wife at her parish, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. For the details of Bob's situation, see Pr. Arnie Voigt's article, "Restoring the Brother," which was originally published in the July issue of Forum Letter and was reprinted by permission of the publisher on my blog (July 18, 2011).

One of the issues in Bob's case involves the interpretation of section 2 of Article VI ("Conditions of Membership") in the LCMS Constitution. That section states that one of the conditions for membership is "renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church;" and "taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession."

What does this mean? "Unionism" is a term unique to the Missouri Synod and is intimately connected with its pre-history and early history. It has never been carefully defined. Originally the term described the forced "union" of Lutheran and Reformed congregations by royal decree in nineteenth-century Prussia and by voluntary decision of German Protestants in the United States. In practice, the term has also been applied to situations where a member of the synod has expressed "church fellowship" with church groups that have not accepted the panoply of LCMS doctrinal resolutions. Only those who share completely every doctrinal resolution of the Missouri Synod meet the condition of church fellowship with her, that is, altar and pulpit fellowship. Not surprisingly, the charge of "unionism" has been frequently leveled against military and hospital chaplains, foreign missionaries, and campus pastors, but the synod has historically (at least until the last couple of decades) granted exceptions to the general rule in these situations. (Pr. Stuenkel is a retired campus pastor.)

At its best the synod has balanced the desire to have a common confession of faith and uniform practice that reflects that faith with the more important need to remain an evangelical, non-coercive fellowship whose true focus and heartbeat is the gospel of faith alone in Christ alone. At its worst, the synod has broadened the definition of unionism so much that some used to say that a Missouri Lutheran must not have a common table prayer with anyone else but another Missouri Lutheran. In the early twentieth century, a synodical missionary who prayed with some other Protestant missionaries on the way to India was disciplined and recalled. (Later the synod publicly apologized for such loveless legalism against this missionary.)  Too often synodical leaders have applied the narrowest letter of LCMS canon law in the harshest way. More recently, the synod has been unwilling to embrace a totally legalistic definition of "unionism" and has acknowledged that praying with other Christians, or even worshiping with them, is not necessarily "unionism." After all, there are many examples of LCMS forebears and others attending divine services in "heterodox" congregations who did not come under the accusation of "unionism." (Even that strict German-Lutheran confessionalist, Claus Harms, regularly snuck into the Dreifaltigkeitkirche to listen to the great Schleiermacher preach!)

Article VI's description of "unionism" is ambiguous but it seems to be oriented toward LCMS clergy who serve as a liturgist or celebrant in a congregation that does not confess the regula fidei, the rule of faith. It can't possibly refer to members who confess their sins, sing psalms and hymns, hear the Holy Scriptures, confess the ancient ecumenical creeds, hear the gospel in the sermon, and pray with other Christians in a divine service.

A little book that has had a negative impact on the understanding of "church fellowship" in the LCMS is Abendmahl und Kirchengemeinschaft in der alten Kirche hauptsaechlich des Ostens by Werner Elert. The book was translated by my teacher, Norman Nagel, as Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries (St. Louis: CPH, 1966). I have great respect for Elert and his scholarship and this book is very informative, but how it has been used in both Germany and the United States has led Lutheran congregations away from true Koinonia (communion) and to a sectarian practice of church fellowship.

Elert's little book on patristic Eucharistic fellowship in the eastern churches needs to be understood for what it was, an initial descriptive study in his Dogmengeschichte (a multi-vol. history of dogma), a project he never finished. (A portion of his study of eastern Christology in the 4th-6th centuries was published posthumously.) So the volume is a historical study and not a normative, dogmatic treatise for the contemporary evan-Luth. church.

Even though eastern churches tied confessional orthodoxy (maximally understood) and even church polity to Eucharistic fellowship, Elert himself limited Eucharistic fellowship solely to the confession of the mandatory and essential content of the church's kerygma, i.e., to what is truly essential for the church's unity ("all the factors that sustain the church"), which, of course is summarized in the creeds and evangelical confessions--although these need to be re-examined again and again to [re]-discover what this "essential kerygmatic content" is for the present church. Elert never tired of stressing a minimalist interpretation of Article VII of the Augsburg Confession: the one, holy Christian church "is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel."

Significantly, Elert placed his discussion of the Lord's Supper after "the person of the reconciler" and "the work of the reconciler" in the fifth part of his Glaubenslehre (his dogmatics), the part entitled "reconciliation." His reasons for doing so centered on the catholic-orthodox-evangelical claim that what one confesses of Christ has implications for what confesses of Christ's Supper and vice versa. (In other words, Luther's debate with Zwingli was a Christological debate, not merely or even centrally a debate about the Lord's Supper.)

(Baptism is addressed in part two of his sixth section, "the changed existence" [Der Existenzwandel], after his analysis of "the church" and before his analysis of "Encouragement [paraclesis] and justification." Elert held that "baptismal fellowship" is already a reality among most western and eastern Christians, since they acknowledge each other's Baptisms as valid. But interestingly, he does not treat the Lord's Supper under "the church.")

The final paragraphs in Elert's discussion of the Lord's Supper (trans. by Martin Bertram as The Lord's Supper Today [CPH, 1973], 46-47) are most helpful for correcting the notion that there must be complete theological agreement in all matters of scriptural doctrine before there can be church fellowship: "It is precisely in the situation of the local congregation that the Lord's Supper fulfills its function as synaxis [participation in Christ and Christ's body, the church] most meaningfully," a synaxis that also has "an eschatological character." This "synaxis" "depends on the Lord's own call--and since it achieves its reality through the food received in this meal--this synaxis is practiced to the extent that Christ's call is obeyed and this food is received... Here, as in the Eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving, God is being asked to grant the synaxis of His church. What this says, first of all, is that the synaxis in the Lord's Supper is not achieved by the mere assembling of Christians. Rather it is the work of Him who calls them together and makes of the many one body."

Pr. Stuenkel and his wife have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. They publicly confess their sins and their need for Christ's forgiveness in the divine liturgy of their local congregations (LCMS and ELCA). They publicly confess the faith that is defined in the Apostles' and Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan creeds. They have been taught and they regularly confess the regula fidei that is summarized in Dr. Luther's Small Catechism. This regula fidei is identical in Pr. Stuenkel's LCMS congregation and in Mrs. Stuenkel's ELCA congregation, and this despite the theological differences that do in fact exist between these two church bodies. Pr. Stuenkel and his wife regularly hear the promise of Christ who calls them to HIS table to receive all that he has to give them, his body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins. In that promise they discern the body of Christ in their local congregations. In that promise, they hear that the Lord is calling to them and speaking to them: "Take and eat, this is given for you… Take and drink, this is shed for you…" In the synaxis of their local congregations, both LCMS and ELCA, Bob and his wife, Julie, join the faithful in proclaiming that "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." They are in fact "confessing the Lord's death until he comes." 

The same regula fidei exists in both congregations. The same confession exists in both congregations. To somehow think that there is "an LCMS confession" and a different "ELCA confession" is to go against the divine word of faith that is confessed publicly in both congregations. When a member of the LCMS confesses the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, he or she is not confessing Missouri Synod doctrinal resolutions or statements; he or she is confessing the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, the regula fidei, that is, the doctrine of faith in Christ alone.

Is it not time that the LCMS stop putting itself in the position of rightly discerning for others the body of Christ? While the Synod has occasionally moved in this direction with other all-too-human convention resolutions, it has not proscribed reception of the Lord's Supper in ELCA congregations. The synod has called other church bodies names ("heterodox") and propped itself up as the true visible church of Christ on earth, but it cannot rightly put itself, human organization that it is, between the Lord's Supper and individual conscience.

Who among us LCMSers can state with absolute confidence that one has NOT rightly discerned the body of Christ when one eats and drinks the Lord's Supper in a congregation of the ELCA? How could the LCMS as a political institution ever make that kind of judgment for an individual without at the same time lording over
the individual consciences of others, frustrating the invitation and promise of Christ, and doing violence against his body?

For someone to rule/demand that another Christian (who is not under the restrictions of excommunication) must refrain from communing in such and such a congregation does violence against the body of Christ, does not preserve the communion of all who belong to Jesus Christ, and is an offense against the responsibility of communion that has its basis in the very nature of the Lord's Supper.

The invitation of Jesus that a pastor issues when he/she says the words of institution in Jesus' stead is for all of Jesus's disciples, and no bishop or district president or church body on its own may insert itself between this invitation and those who respond to it in responsible faith.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Christology and Soteriology 101

My August 1st post on the person of Christ and the being of pastors has created quite a stir online. That particular post has had almost 1,000 separate hits in the past three days, a lot more than is typical. A quick glance on the internet indicates several people seem to be confused about how it is that Jesus saves both men and women.

To be sure, the Messiah was and is a man [Greek: aner; Latin: vir], Jesus of Nazareth, prophesied from of old and born of the virgin Mary, but his being a male human being is not essential for his work as the Redeemer. What is essential is that Jesus is a human being [Greek: anthropos; Latin: homo], the Second Adam, the One who has reconciled God and humankind in and through himself. What is theologically crucial is that the divine Logos [Word] of God became a mortal human being, who suffered death on the cross, who was raised from the dead on the third day, who has reconciled all human beings in his human body.

Perhaps some of the people who think that Jesus' maleness is essential to his being the savior of all slept through Dogmatics II, wherein Christology and Soteriology are normally discussed. One of the questions that undoubtedly gets a little attention is something like the following: "If the eternal, unoriginated Logos [Word] of God, of the same being [homoousios] with God, became a man [aner], and if "whatever the Logos has not assumed he has not healed" (Gregory of Naziansus, Letter to Cledonius against Apollinarius, Letter 101 [MPG 37, 181C], but see also Origen, Dialogue with Heracleides), then how could the man Jesus be the savior of women, since he did not assume female bodily organs or a female body?"

This question is not as ridiculous as it seems, since apparently there are quite a few individuals out there today who think that Jesus had to be a male to save humankind. While the prophets foretold that the Messiah would in fact be a Jewish male, the maleness of Jesus is not crucial to our salvation. That Jesus was a male [aner] is without question, but what counts for our salvation is that he is an anthropos, a human being, of human flesh and blood. The Apostle John proclaims that the Logos "became flesh" [sarx]--since Scripture "is in the habit of calling the human being" [anthropos = here "human being"; not aner = "a man"] "flesh" ( Athanasius, Orations against the Arians, 3:30). The Apostle Paul proclaims that the Son of God (a Messianic title that needs to be understood analogically and apophatically and not literalistically, that is, not biologically or anthropomorphically) was "born of a woman, born under the law." In other words, the Logos took on human flesh and became a human being and suffered on our account in the flesh (First Peter 4:1). The body of Jesus the Christ, sharing the same human nature as all people--male and female--a human nature and mortal body that he received from his mother, died for the salvation of humankind. By virtue of the hypostatic union of the Logos with the human body of Jesus, the death of all--male and female human mortals--was accomplished in the Lord's body, and that death and corruption, and the divine judgment against human sins, were wholly overcome and undone. The divine Logos not only took on human flesh [sarx], but became a complete human being [anthropos; homo; Mensch] with body, soul, and mind. Moreover, the resurrection of the body of Jesus is God's decisive act of renewing Adamic humanity--inclusive of male and female--in the image and likeness of the Logos. For we all, male and female, are made alive in Christ because we are reborn from above by water and the Spirit. Our human nature has been "logified," to use Athanasius' wonderful word, by the work of the Logos, who on our account became flesh, that is, became a human being, whose human nature is inclusive of both male and female.

There is no better classic presentation of this teaching about the human nature of the incarnate Logos than what one finds in Martin Chemnitz's De Duabus naturis in Christo [The Two Natures of Christ, 1578], chapter three. The two natures are, of course, the divine and the human. The latter is "the flesh of our body in Christ Jesus," a flesh that is common to both men and women. "For in the flesh of Christ God condemned sin (Rom. 8:3), and in the body of his flesh we are reconciled (Col. 1:20). We are justified in his blood (Rom. 5:9). He has laid down his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28)... The true teaching of the Scriptures is that the Son of God has assumed a true, complete, and total human nature which is of the same substance with us and possesses all the conditions, powers, and desires of our nature as its own normal properties, yet is not wicked, but is without sin, uncorrupted, and holy, but in which are the infirmities that have entered into our nature as the penalties of sin. He has willingly and without blemish assumed this for us in order that he might be made the victim for us" (Preus translation, 49).

The crucial issue of our salvation is that the Logos has assumed our human nature, not that the Logos happened to do this by being born a male.

One could give a good many quotations in support of this position from theologians in every century of the Christian church, but I'll end by merely referring to Dr. Luther's smaller catechism. When he there summarized the meaning of the second article of the Creed, he wrote that Jesus is "true God" and "true human being" [German: wahrhaftiger Mensch; Latin: verus homo]. Dr. Luther did not write "true man" [German: wahrhaftiger Mann; Latin: verus vir].

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Being of Adam, the New Adam, and the Ontology of Pastors

A younger colleague in the LCMS ministerium sent me a note about an article in the latest issue (July 2011) of For the Life of the World, the magazine of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. The article was written by the Associate Director of Deaconess Studies there.

Much of the article is a fine exposition of the nature of Christian care and compassion; however, the article's third paragraph contains assertions that are contrary to evangelical-Lutheran doctrine:

"At creation, God gave headship and authority to the man Adam (Genesis 1:26) in light of the fact that Christ, the head (bridegroom) of His Church, would be incarnate as a male human. God's only Son took on human flesh in order to care for us, both body and soul--through Jesus' ministry 'the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them' (Luke 7:22). Jesus 'continues His own ministry in and through those He commissions,' [William Weinrich, "Called & Ordained. Reflections on the New Testament View of the Office of the Ministry," Logia 2/1 (January 1993), 24-25], as affirmed in John 20:22ff. Through the Holy Office established by Christ, we receive His mercy in the gifts of hearing Christ himself speak (Luke 10:16), receiving absolution from Christ Himself (Matthew 16:19-20; John 20:21-23), being taught and baptized by Christ Himself (Matthew 28:16-20; cf. Mark 16:15-16) and receiving the Lord's Supper from Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 11:23-25) [Thomas M. Winger, "The Office of the Holy Ministry According to the New Testament Mandate of Christ," Logia 7/2 (1998), 40]. The very maleness of pastors is essential to the Holy Office in which they serve, distributing Christ's mercy through the ministry of Word and Sacrament" (Dr. Cynthia Lumley, "What Is Mercy?" For the Life of the World 15/2 (July 2011),10).

The very maleness of pastors is essential to the Holy Office in which they serve?

My colleague wrote:
"I'm struck by  what appears to be a very Roman Catholic argument about gender and the pastoral office."

Indeed. The theological position asserted here by Dr. Lumley is based on Roman Catholic tradition, not on Scripture. (The article does not indicate an awareness of the problems attendant to critical-historical investigation into what the Scriptures in fact teach about the different concepts of "apostolos" and church "orders" within the NT itself.) The late Pope John Paul II described this Roman view of the Holy Ministry in his Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (March 1992):


"The relation of the priest to Jesus Christ, and in him to his Church, is found in the very being of the priest by virtue of his sacramental consecration/anointing and in his activity, that is, in his mission or ministry."

The Pope's exhortation continues:

"The Spirit, by consecrating the priest and configuring him to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd, creates a bond which, located in the priest's very being, demands to be assimilated and lived out in a personal, free and conscious way through an ever richer communion of life and love and an ever broader and more radical sharing in the feelings and attitudes of Jesus Christ. In this bond between the Lord Jesus and the priest, an ontological and psychological bond, a sacramental and moral bond, is the foundation and likewise the power for that 'life according to the Spirit' and that 'radicalism of the Gospel' to which every priest is called today and which is fostered by ongoing formation in its spiritual aspect. The nuptial dimension of ecclesiastical celibacy, proper to this relationship between Christ and the Church which the priest is called to interpret and to live, must enlarge his mind, illumine his life and warm his heart. Celibacy must be a happy sacrifice, a need to live with Christ so that he will pour out into the priest the effusions of his goodness and love that are ineffably full and perfect."

Does Dr. Lumley not realize the implications of her assertion about the maleness of the pastor as being essential to the office? Why stop at the maleness of Jesus and not take the next logical step, his celibacy? If one goes down the road that unites the ontology of Jesus with the ontology of the pastor, this is where one could end, the forced celibacy of male priests. Of course the bigger problem with Lumley's third paragraph is the theological method on which it is based, a method that is based on Roman Catholic tradition and not on the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. (Who approved that third paragraph for inclusion in this LCMS seminary's magazine?)

Contrary to Lumley's Roman ontological-sacerdotalist view about the ontology of the pastor, the symbolical books of the Ev. Luth. church present the holy ministry chiefly (but not exclusively) in functional, dynamic terms, for the sake of obtaining and strengthening trust in the promise that God forgives people by grace for Christ's sake through faith. Moreover, the symbolical books stress that ALL baptized Christians, both male and female, have the power and authority of preaching the gospel and administering the means of grace, although not all are well-suited or qualified for this ministry; for example, they might not be able to teach very well. Especially important is the confessional position that a called and ordained minister of Christ, whether male or female, acts in the place of God and in the stead of Christ (vice Christi; see Apol. 7.28; Apol. 7:47), not in his or her own person or being. God preaches and acts through the called minister, but the being of the pastor, the ontology of the priest, is accidental to the office holder and not an essential, sine qua non of Christian preaching and sacramental administration. What is essential is faithfulness to the apostolic proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the means of grace in accordance with the gospel. Pastors should not confuse their being for the being of Christ, whose being is available to us only through His Word and the other means of grace.

One should also point out to Dr. Lumley that "Adam" (Hebrew: "human being") is inclusive of both male and female in Genesis 1:26-27. There is no "headship" or "subordination" within this verse. Rather, Adam, that is, "male and female," is created in the same instant by God's Logos. There is a common humanity, "Adam," that is prior to the distinction between "male" and "female." This common humanity is created in the image and likeness of God the Logos.

Finally, and most disturbingly, if Jesus' maleness is what is significant about his being the second Adam, then he cannot serve as the new Adam that is inclusive of male and female. If the fact that Jesus was about 30 years old is significant for his being the new Adam, then he cannot be the savior of senior citizens. If Jesus was only about four feet tall, as is quite probable, he can't be the savior of those who are taller. If the maleness of Jesus constitutes an essential condition of his being the new Adam, then women are excluded from participating in the new Adam. Thankfully, the physical particularities of Jesus, including his gender, age, race, etc., are accidental, non-essential to his salvific work of reconciling Adam ("human beings") to God. The same principle is true for those who serve "in the stead and by the command" of Christ today. Accidental attributes of the pastor's being are inconsequential for the fulfillment of the holy office.