Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Understanding Lutheranism - Luther's Vision & The Evils Of State-Church

Here is an interesting article about the three phases of Lutheranism. The Three Lutheranisms.

It seems to me that all three types of Lutheranism need each other. I am afraid, though, that Bob Benne, the friend mentioned at the end of the article, may be right (to a certain degree). It does seem to me as well that Lutheranism (the church Luther started) is dying, but I would have to disagree that it is "an exhausted tradition." Luther's theology has influenced and continues to influence almost all Christians in the modern world, even the Catholic Church. From a questioning of the immaculacy of scholasticism to a re-emphasis on Christology, the Bible, unmerited Grace, and the suffering God of the cross, the Church (particularly the post-conciliar Church) has adopted much of Luther's earliest reforms. This is because, in the midst of corruption, the Church had forgotten what she had always believed to be true. I tend to think of Luther as a man who tried to reform the Church from the inside. It is the early Luther whom I like because he is what I call a "noble heretic". He spoke out against corruption in the church because he "[could] do no other". Luther urged everyday lay Catholics to make the faith their own.

However, Luther did not see the real evil in the Church. The real evil was the fact that the pope had political power, land, and was basically a monarch. It is because the Church was tied to the state (the Holy Roman Empire) that there was so much corruption. As seen in the Joint Agreement on Justification signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church in 1999, both churches agree that Grace is unmerited. There are of course theological differences as I pointed out in a previous post (Concupiscence as Defined by Catholics and Protestants), but Luther was excommunicated  mainly because he was seen as a political threat to Pope Leo X (who was quite a pathetic Catholic anyway).

But Luther did not understand the evils of state-church. He fell into the same trap. Luther's Lutheran Church was the German state church, established in solidarity with the HRE princes. It is this state-church that saw its own demise during World War II when the Nazis took over the church. German Lutherans reasoned that to be German meant that you were Lutheran (in the same way that many English reason that to be English means that you are Anglican). It was natural that a German would be a Lutheran, without even a personal appropriation of faith. Hitler exploited the Lutherans' weak faith. Hitler questioned the Germans understanding of being German. Who is the true German? For, only the true German could be a true Lutheran. And didn't Luther himself condemn Jews in his last years? (A very physically sick and depressed Luther believing the world was soon coming to an end unfortunately promoted violent antisemitism towards the end of his life). Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth spoke out against this claim, but their pleas often fell on deaf ears. The story of the German Lutheran Church is not just a Lutheran phenomenon as mentioned earlier. The Catholic Church also fell into this trap, but the Catholic Church was not established as a state-church and was able to escape, not unscathed. There are still Catholic nations especially in Latin and South America that tend to see Catholicism as an ethnicity as opposed to faith in Jesus Christ.   History bears witness to the fact that state-church promotes "couch-potato" Christianity at best and a "demonic" church at worst. Lutheranism, if it will survive, will have to reject Luther's idea of a state-church. Maybe, the Lutheranism experienced in America is the best alternative. But what is a Lutheranism that is not affiliated to the state?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Get Your Teddy Bear Jesus Today!!!

I am quite annoyed by the kind of homilies and sermons we hear in our churches today. It is true that in the past pastors only spoke of Hell and ignored the mercies and love of our Lord Jesus. This of course was because people weren’t very Christocentric. The Christ of the Gospels is both love and justice, and this was often overlooked in the past.

It seems that today’s churches are becoming more and more centered on Jesus. However, while people are become more Jesus-centric they are not really Christocentric. Allow me to explain.I often have to wonder, “What sort of Jesus do we follow today?” Are we really worshipping the Jesus of the Gospels or are we worshipping what I call a “teddy bear Jesus”? The teddy bear Jesus is more like a comfort toy whom people turn to when they “need” him, but otherwise he is only a Sunday thing. It is on Sunday that we decide to think about Jesus, and even then we do not think about or pray to the correct Jesus. We pray to the social justice Jesus who preached love and forgiveness, but deliberately overlook or water down his harder teachings because well, “we just can’t believe in a God like that.” But then, why read from the Gospel at all? Church is seen only as a social event, and sermons must reflect the atmosphere or else the pastor is a “fundamentalist.”

I fear that my post today is too angry, but the homily I heard today just got me thinking. Who is God? Do we really believe that Jesus is God or is he only a good man?  If Jesus’ parables were only speaking of love and peace (which everyone incidentally supports but hardly anyone understands from a truly Christian perspective) then why did people try to stone him to death every time he gave a parable? Maybe the Jesus of the Gospels challenges us to, yes! , be actively engaged with the world but also to know that apart from God we can do nothing, and that someday we will have to render an account of our lives to God. People are so devoted to the historical Jesus that they have forgotten that he was God, something that history can never prove. Almost every Christian wants to follow Jesus, but our churches don't know who Jesus is. The Jesus that pastors preach is the tolerant, socially acceptable Jesus who never existed. 

“To be sure, most people do have religiousness; they have it in the form of an idea, but they have not made up their minds about when it actually is to be used. Is it to be used on the day of need? No, then it is natural to become impatient and to despair halfway. Is it to be used on the day of joy? No, then it is not needed. Is it then for everyday use? No, then there is no proper occasion for it. Then when is it to be used!”   - Søren Kierkegaard (Book On Adler)

Of course, it might just be better to go beyond mere religion to faith...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Am Starting A New Blog On The Works Of Søren Kierkegaard addition to this blog. I am starting a new blog on Søren Kierkegaard. Because I feel so strongly about his message and it's relevance for modern day Christians, I am starting this blog to introduce his works to those who may not have the time to read his writings. I will offer personal reflections as well. Kierkegaard does not offer any new theology or philosophy; rather, he argues that the true Christian is the one who makes him/herself contemporanious with Christ. This my personal journey, but maybe you too could come along.

Check it out at

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mary of Nazareth or the Holy Spirit?

Below is an excerpt from the book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God by Sr. Elizabeth A. Johnson, PhD.  Reflections to follow in the future.... For anyone who like me  has been confused by the Hispanic devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the passage below may be quite enlightening (at least it has been for me).

One group of theologians questing for understanding goes further and queries the knot tied so tightly between Hispanic images of the Virgin and the actual first-century Jewish woman Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus. Orlando Espín, for one, argues for a different interpretation. “When I am confronted by the depth of trust and affection that Latinos have for the Virgen, and when I see the beautiful, reverential relationship they nurture with her, and also how deeply touched and empowered they are by her, then as a theologian I have to wonder.” His wonder leads him to suggest that instead of an encounter with Mary, what is taking place is a superbly inculturated experience of the Holy Spirit.

Espín is not implying that Mary is the Holy Spirit, or that in some way she mediates the feminine face of God. He is arguing that the historical Mary has nothing much to do with this phenomenon at all. It is not the Jewish woman Miriam of Nazareth whom Latino and Latinas venerate in their devotion to La Virgen de Guadalupe. It is rather the Holy Spirit of God, expressed not in the categories of Greek myth or European culture and philosophy but now in categories fused from conquering Spanish and conquered Mesoamerican peoples. Ecclesiastical authorities in colonial times insisted on a Marian interpretation in an understandably defensive move to protect doctrinal purity, since the only female imagery for the divine that they knew was associated with the religion they were trying to stamp out. Besides, too much talk of the Holy Spirit could bring on the unwanted attention of the Inquisition. But in the experience of the people then and now, references to the Mary of the gospels are notably absent in connection with devotion to Guadalupe. What is mediated instead is a profoundly engaging experience of sacred love and compassion that gives heart, wisdom, and fortitude to adherents. Therefore, might it not be the case, reflects Espín, that “what we have here is not Mariology but pneumatology [study of the Holy Spirit] in an unexpected and brilliantly achieved cultural mediation?” The Marian practices of Hispanic Catholicism may thus come to signify an orthodox pneumatology, superbly inculturated (p.142).