12 September 2011

On Manifesting the Church's Unity

I'm not even sure how to get into this.  It will probably sound a bit corny.  Folks have noted for a long time the divide that runs straight through the various jurisdictions between the modernist (post-modernist, post-post-modernist - whatever) and the traditionalist.  It's generally true that traditionalists of various jurisdictions end up being actually closer to one another theologically than they are to any modernist (etc.) within their own "tradition" (well, using the same name as they).  Dr. Tighe is a traditionalist Roman Catholic history prof (who kindly sends me books from time to time) and I'm more at home with him or Fr. David (an Orthodox priest whose father is a member of St. Paul's) or Fr. Steven Tibbetts (an ELCA pastor), than with some of my own fellow LCMS clergy who are on the post-modernist side.  Traditionalists operate, if you will, in the same thought world even when we disagree with one another.  Is there hope for unity among us?

Actually, I find precious little if that's all there is.  For JUST being in the same thought world - sharing the same or quite similar perceptions and understandings of the Church - leaves one in the sphere that St. Paul characterized like this:  "Knowledge puffs up."  We can be rather ratty in our treatment of those with whom we disagree, whom we regard as heretics of the first rank, even while we respect fellow traditionalists...to a degree.  That's not the way toward unity.

But I've noticed something else.  I see it in some of my humblest parishioners.  I don't know what else to call it but love.  Love that doesn't ignore theological differences.  Love that realizes, after all, I'm a Lutheran and that other person doesn't share the same confession - we don't commune together.  And yet.  And yet these folks seek after holiness, they desire to grow in conformity to the image of the Savior's self-giving love, to do to death the impulses of the old man, and to live in the freedom that becomes the children of God.  I see these folks - and they don't judge others, they don't put them down, they don't delight in winning arguments just to show that they're in the right.  Instead, they know some disagreements won't be settled short of judgment day, but are confident that the Lord will sort it all out then.  Meanwhile, even those we believe to be wrong about this or that, we are called to love and forgive.  And so they do.

My hope for manifesting the true unity of the Church rests more in the second group than the first.  For the unity that we are given in Jesus is finally a shared love:  a love that can believe all things, hope all things, endure all things, a love that finally does not fail.  That's because it's our Savior's love living within us.  I wonder if we can grow in being the sort of traditionalists (of whatever our conviction) who truly manifest the Church's unity as a unity not in "rightness" but in love?  For truth, not spoken in love, isn't true at all; it's a lie.

"If I have not love, I am nothing."  And being nothing, will be of precious little use to God or to my fellow men.  Lord, make us men and women of love - whatever our confession - and bring your Church at last to the fullness of concord and manifested unity here upon earth!


Rev. David M. Juhl said...

Concerning those "traditionalist" brethren with whom we cannot welcome to our altar and vice versa, there is this thought: We wait for eternity.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus

Scotty said...


Well, for not being sure as to how to get into it, you certainly found a way! Being an "Ordinary Average Caveman Lay Person" (Phil Hartman Saturday Night Live) words like "Traditionalists" "Post Modernist" frighten me and I could not provide acurate definitions for them on demand. However, after I thought about your comments it reminded me of the many conversations we all have had in Bible study regarding "Law and Gospel". If we get hung up on on believing that we are "more right" than others regarding divisions within the Church... we deny that "only" In Christ are any of us made RIGHT! And if Christ is LOVE... then Loving before judging is the only Right choice...anyhow I agree with your points...unless of course I've misunderstood them...am I on the right track?

Ordinary Average Caveman Lay Person

Past Elder said...

Sounds like how to pretend there's unity when there isn't. Love does not love error. There neither is nor will be unity where error is held.

Certainly I sympathise with the "traditionalists" in the Episcopal parish trying to maintain traditional Episcopalianism in the face of their own church body, or the Presbyterian congregation trying to maintain traditional Presbyterianism in the face of their own church body, or for that matter those of my former church body the RCC trying to maintain traditional Catholicism in the face of it.

But it is the understanding of a soldier for a soldier who wears another uniform for another country, not mine. Doesn't mean we have to engage on the field of battle. It does mean the understanding is that of those who wear a uniform, not the understanding of those who wear the same uniform.

The other side understands this exactly. All eyes at die Abtei were on St Louis when I was there, waiting for LCMS to pull its head out of its late mediaeval butt. And who welcomed them in "exile" when that did not happen -- a liberal RC institution which itself had dismissed staff for conservative views.

The divide is real. There are two divides, those who uphold a traditional faith against modern changes in it though with differences as to what that traditional faith is, and those uphold modern redefinitions against traditionalists though with differences as to against what.

The latter will have true unity, different but nor divided by what they seek to redefine.

Lily said...

Thank you for sharing your insights. They are greatly appreciated.

Drew said...

I agonize over this issue too, Pastor. I am Orthodox, my brother-in-law and sister are Missouri Lutherans, and my parents are Reformed Evangelicals. I love my family dearly — DEARLY! — and I suffer much because of our disunity, especially as it is manifested at the altar.

I often wish that 'mere' Christianity was all that really mattered, that one could stay in the hallway forever.

And while I sympathize (and most likely ultimately affirm at the end of the day) Terry's 'love does not love error', oftentimes, especially in my own heart, zeal for correct doctrine masks an uncharitable, cold heart.

Lord, save me from this.

mqll said...

I sorta kinda question this Wil. That is to say, I'm sure that there are many a thing that you would feel much more in common with hanging with the traditionalist.

But then, I can imagine that they would say something—specifically an interpretation of God's Word—and then you would find that you and I would be quite comfortable talking in the same language. Because we both hold to a (mostly) similar hermeneutical view.

Most of the time, the form of worship can be a nice comfort—but when you start talking with people about what they believe, confess, and hold to—well, then that is where traditionalist and uh, what was I called? Post-modern? Missional? A-traditional?

Whatever. You'll quickly see that there is a reason that the traditionalist are Catholic, ELCA, LMA, etc.

David Garner said...

I think it's really just two sides of the same coin. Love without right belief is just another man-made emotion. Right belief without love, as you correctly state, is a lie.

The challenge for me is speaking the truth in love. I find that easier with other "traditionalists," because we speak the same language, we tend to appreciate a closed table, exclusivity in doctrine, and we tend to eschew relativism. So I can speak plainly and it is taken in a spirit of love. All I really have to do is be fair and kind. With evangelicals -- even "conservative" ones -- I find it harder, because there tends to be an attitude that as long as you believe, everything else is immaterial. I cannot speak or think on that level, so people tend to get mad at me even where I mean no offense. Speaking the truth in love avails me nothing because the person to whom I speak does not hear my words as love, but judgment.