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Drawing Pietistic, Exclusive Lines May Be the Church’s Biggest Threat–And Heresy

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This should be a no-brainer for all us Lutherans who zero in on the theology of grace.  You know, the theology that says it’s not about what we do; it’s about opening ourselves to what God has already done (and continues to do!) for us.   It’s why we tend to follow ol’ Martin’s lead when it comes to reading the Bible, with the notion that there is, within the 66-book biblical canon, a little canon that most powerfully reveals God’s limitless grace as revealed in Jesus.  John 3:16 is more than a placard held up by an annoying Rainbow-Hair Guy; ol’ Martin called this verse “the good news in a nutshell.”

It doesn’t say, “God so judged the world, that God sent God’s only Son, that whosoever decided to toe the heavenly line and behave, would get pie in the sky, by and by.”

We Lutherans also love to zero in on Ephesians 2:8-9, the verses that serves as a powerful reminder that it’s not about what we do, it’s about what God has already done for us through Christ.  It’s not about when or how you’re baptized, and it’s not about being “prepared and worthy” to receive communion–I’ve been communing for about 40 years and I still can’t say I’m “prepared and worthy” to receive the generous gifts of Christ mysteriously given me in with and under the piece of bread and sip of wine.  I admit, though, that it’s most often in our communion practices we Lutheran folk most often mis-step our way into the thorny field of proper pietistic practice.   We tend to wander into a pietism that restricts access to the very means of grace we in the church say that God so freely offers.  This pietism says the church must insure that people–especially youth–are smart enough, reverent enough, worthy enough, to receive Holy Communion–if we don’t do this prep (and police) work, we will unwittingly condone an abomination.  Never mind that the passages some of us use to justify this piety come from 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul’s overall message is directed against practices of church people that deny other people the chance to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

And then there are those other pietistic mis-steps our churches tend to blunder into: keeping younger people off of governance boards, the seemingly inclusive (but really exclusive) “Youth Sundays,”  insisting on any one instrument (organ) as THE musical instrument; insisting on one music genre as THE music genre–whether it’s Gospel, or Praise, or Rock, or Bach.

Speaking of music, there’s a good read I’ve just sampled, The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything (h/t Pastor JasonK).  Pastor John Van Sloten recounts the experience of being drawn into the heavy metal music of the band Metallica in ways that opened a dramatic new awareness of God’s message and activity.  He’d been used to preaching in ways that tapped into film, literature, music and television.  But when a young metal head confided that he liked Metallica’s music, Van Sloten was drawn into their music, despite his previous opinion that their music better served “the other team.”  He began to see the connective threads between their lyrics and the passionate, often angry social critique expressed by the Old Testament prophets.

Van Sloten opens his book by recounting the day Metallica came to hear the sermon he was set to preach on their music.  It’s a great read and I’m interested to read more.  Here’s a key quote from his opening chapter, one that sets the tone for his book and the one that inspired this post:

People of faith often draw these lines between the creator God and the world he made, as though the God of the Bible were not also the God of all good science and medicine. This split thinking is also applied to the spheres of secular psychology, business, and entertainment. It leads to the conclusion that there can’t be anything good about anyone or anything that’s not Christian: Because Metallica isn’t a Christian band. . . Because he’s not a faith-based counselor . . . Because she’s not a Bible-believing businessperson . . . there can’t be anything good about them.  What gives us the right to engage God’s world this way?  How can we treat the elements of God’s good creation so callously? God made it all. It’s all his. What makes us think we can judge it as harshly as we do?  Who says we get to draw the lines?  No wonder many outside the faith view Christians as naïve and judgmental.

It’s a good reminder that our first priority isn’t pietism.  It’s faith, which doesn’t flow from pietism, but from our openness to the gifts of the Spirit, which moves in ways that often disregard walls, boundaries and blindness.

Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”  John 9:39-41, “The Message”

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One response »

  1. Many Lutherans are adverse to mysticism; mystics are never adverse to grace. From my e-book on comparative mysticism:

    Grace. Divine grace is spiritual assistance not specifically earned by its recipient. Most mystics believe that divine grace is offered at all times, in all places and to all beings, but the sentiments, thoughts and actions of the ego self, and individual isolation, block its entry. Everyone has received divine grace during selfless periods of their life. Mystics who gave up their ego and individuality were in a state of grace and may share it. Most mystics say that grace is essential to realize oneness; some seem to equate divine grace, love and spirit.

    True mystics made sacrifices and efforts with the dedication of others who have succeeded in life despite overwhelming odds. The “gift of grace” must be accepted; it is not automatic. You have to prepare yourself to realize it, then allow it to transform your being to live in the divine. It is not a professional certificate or a university degree, it must be actuated daily. It is a quite unique mode of living beyond most normal perceptions, expanding everyday experiencing, unlimited in scope and substance. It is seeing what is here and now.

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