09 February 2013

A quite thoughtful piece

by Pr. Mark Surburg on the natural of civic religion's grief ritual.  I commend reading this, whether you agree or not with participation in such events. It provides a very cogent explanation of why those who object to participation do so. Click here.

5 comments:

Unknown said...

Here are the last few sentences of the final paragraph of Pr. Mark Surburg’s post:

“The ritual and its cultural presuppositions will not allow the Gospel to be heard as anything other than one of several different versions of “good news” which ultimately point to the same hope. In the setting of the grief ritual of American civic religion it is not possible to confess our Lord’s Words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And therefore, Christians who confess the Apostles’ Creed should not take part. Those of the world will not understand this. But they also do not understand these words from our Lord.”

The first sentence, “The ritual and its cultural presuppositions will not allow the Gospel to be heard as anything other than one of several different versions of “good news” which ultimately point to the same hope,” troubles me because I cannot find a passage in Scripture that suggests that the “ritual and its cultural presuppositions” can keep God’s Word from being effective. On the contrary, we read in Isaiah 55: 10,” For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Can we be certain that God does not intend for His Word spoken at that occasion to have an effect on someone? We cannot and may not do so any more than we may judge who will live forever in Paradise and who will not.

“In the setting of the grief ritual of American civic religion it is not possible to confess our Lord’s Words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And therefore, Christians who confess the Apostles’ Creed should not take part.” This is a non-sequitur of the worst kind. Are our Lord’s words quoted here the only words that must be uttered on this occasion for God’s Word to have effect? Do you suppose that there may have been other Christians there who confess the Apostles’ Creed and not only had no qualms about being there but felt compelled to be there?

Even though this may be “civic religion’s grief ritual”, at such an occasion our concern should be with individuals and their suffering and need for consolation, not the condemnation of society. Is it impossible for God to accomplish with His Word what He intends just because the Koran and other un-Christian writings may be read?

We think the whole thing is about human perception, while God may or may not have another agenda. We cannot be sure, but we dare not condemn anyone for speaking the Word of God at any time or place, because, citing from the same 55th chapter of Isaiah, “8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” But particularly as Lutherans, we believe that He works through His Word.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

Dear George,

Did you post on Pr. Surburg's blog? If not, I'd encourage you to do so. Give him the chance to answer your concerns.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Will. Done.
George

Mark Surburg said...

George,

Thank you for your comments. You are correct that I have described the use of God's word from the perspective of the context in which it is employed. You are correct that I have not addressed the issue from the perspective of the efficacy of God's Word. Indeed, as you comments illustrate, the discussion that has occurred by those who are open to interfaith services in some settings is usually based on the efficacy of God's Word as a comforting and faith creating instrument. There are some very interesting observations to be made about the manner in which this misconstrues efficacy and the character of the Word. It is a Gospel reductionist position, which assumes that efficacy of the Word in the setting of crisis is only about Gospel and comfort. We are told that nothing can limit the ability of God to bring comfort and work faith through the Word - not even being set next to readings from the Koran.

However, God's Word is not only a word of Gospel. It is, of course, also a word of Law. It kills and it makes alive. And as a word that kills it can't be domesticated. Flowing from the Old Testament into the New is a common theme in which Scripture allows no room for paganism. The polemic against paganism is constant because Scripture will allow no false god/s to be compared to the true God.

Scripture never presents God's Word as one that speaks along with other pagan voices. Instead, whenever the Word comes into contact with paganism it kills it - it declares that it is false. In every setting where the proclamation of God's Word comes into contact with paganism, it attacks it such as Act 14:15; 15:29-31.

For this reason, it is not possible to construe God's Word and its efficacy only as Gospel when read in the setting of other pagan texts (or at any time for that matter). It is the very nature of God's Word to attack all false gods. It runs counter to the very nature of God's Word to presume that one can set it side by side with the Koran, etc in the trust that God will still "do his Gospel thing." Where the proclamation of God's Word comes into contact with this kind of paganism, it declares the the paganism is false and calls people to repentance.

This subject is something that needs to be addressed. Obviously, in light of President Harrison's most recent letter and video, now is not the time to post something about this and so I am not. But this is a subject that we as a synod will need to address.

In Christ,

Mark Surburg

Unknown said...

Dear Rev. Surburg: thank you for your response.

Gospel reductionism. If you check my post, the only time you will see the word, “Gospel”, mentioned is when I am quoting you. I kept referring to “the Word of God”. But somehow it is all about Gospel reductionism. Now, I will agree with you that since the Reformation the question of dividing the Word into Law and Gospel has become of much greater importance than it used to be. Consequently thousands of pages have been written about how to properly divide the two. Are these laws we have established universally true? Let us take our Lord’s teaching on Baptism, as an example. In Mark 16:16, our Lord says, “the one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” Is it then possible for someone who is not baptized to be saved? Our Church, and most mainline churches, teach that it is possible. But we assume that the circumstances for such a salvation must be very special, and therefore we continue to baptize as our Lord instructed.

Now I submit that the circumstances at Newtown were very special. 28 people were shot that day (including the shooter and the shooter’s mother), in a town with a population of under 30,000. 20 children were among the dead. I think that qualifies as being special. That does no mean that whatever the Word of God says becomes void – by no means. But surely you do not suggest that Rev. Morris should have told the community gathered in grief that it is likely that many of their children had gone to hell, and that they may do so as well when they die if they do not listen to what God has to say. We preach the Law and Gospel according to all of the rules under normal circumstances. But under special circumstances our preaching must become appropriate to the moment.

Finally, how many of the people at the prayer meeting which Rev. Morris addressed were entered in God’s Book of Life? We don’t know, do we? Only God knows. Surely the members of the LCMS who were there are among that number. But could there have been others who also confess the Apostles’ Creed? We cannot be sure, and I know many Missouri Synod Lutherans have difficulty believing this, but it is likely that there were others. Not all Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans and even Baptists are going to hell. Our own Church confesses that. So whatever words of comfort Rev. Morris said during the prayer meeting, and may have said before and after, were spoken as comfort to God’s Elect. Yes, God can even use a Missouri Synod pastor to comfort a Methodist. Are they entitled to hear just the Gospel on such an occasion, or must we preach the Law to them as well? Remember now, when we preach to God’s elect it is only the Third Use. It is wrong to frighten them with the First and inappropriate to use the Second. God provided for them all. And maybe when things return to normal for those good people, at least to those whose families did not experience losses, they will hear the Law and the Gospel proclaimed as it should be under normal circumstances.

So under some very special circumstances, what you call Gospel-reductionism may be what is necessary, just as it is possible for some to be saved who are not baptized.

Peace and Joy!