Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Faith Once Delivered, Part II

So, what exactly is the "faith once delivered?"

That's probably a bigger question for another post - it gets into questions like, "What, precisely, is the Gospel?" It probably involves questions surrounding development of doctrine and the canon, ecclesiological questions around the Reformation and Protestantism, and so on. But the point is, there is one. There is a "faith once delivered."

And I think the ELCA has lost this. Why do I say this? Well, let's start with the seminaries, since that's where I'm at. In our classes, (possibly with the exception of Lutheran Confessions class, depending on who is teaching it) nobody teaches us "the faith once delivered." We read a little of this and a little of that. A chapter of Luther and a chapter of Barth. A chapter of somebody from the Patristic era and a chapter of Sallie McFague. A chapter of Hauerwas and a chapter of Aristotle. And at the end, nobody says, "This is true, and the others are wrong for the following reasons." Or even, "This one is best, and while the others can be helpful, they ultimately break down at such-and-such a place." And if that's what's going on at my seminary, I'm sure it's not really different at any of the others.

But in the end, I don't really think it's the seminaries.  Since they are basically tools of the denomination to train our pastors, the situation there is really just symptomatic of the situation in Chicago, and across the entire denomination.  We have traded down - we have traded Jesus, and the attendant faith once delivered, for a political agenda (vote Democrat, recycle, protests wars, always support Palestine over Israel, endorse abortion on demand, etc...).  In this post I wrote about how much better Jesus is than all of that, which remains true.  But another part of the problem is that nothing else is worth delivering over the long haul. 

When Deuteronomy talks about teaching your children, about what to ponder when you enter the land, about the questions and answers of future years, it is talking about something specific, namely, what God has done.  Once we've stopped talking about that, we don't really have anything left to talk about, at least from a "faith once delivered" aspect.  And then what? If "our" kids aren't taught "the faith once delivered," but instead "the liberal Protestant agenda once created," it's not going to be worth passing on.  They won't teach it to their kids. 

In a sense, it's the doctrinal equivalent of a declining birth rate.  How else is the church going to grow, to stay alive, to continue to witness to an unbelieving world, if her children don't learn the story?  Of course, we are always to be proclaiming to those outside the church - the pagans and unbelievers, those of other faiths, atheists and agnostics, etc...We should continue to do that.  But no matter how well we do that (and mainline Protestantism is notoriously bad at this) it will never be enough to make up for the slow, inexorable drain of future generations who haven't been given anything to believe in. 

And yet, we've been promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.  Here's to trusting that promise!


Brian said...

While we have been promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, I think one must question what is the Church? Are individual congregations who teach doctrine that is contrary to the truth of Scripture part of the Church when all they're doing is leading people astray? If you tell somebody that "As long as you have belief in something you're ok" as the gospel message, is that a sign of the Church?

I'm not just saying that liberals are out and conservatives are in. On the contrary, I beleive there are as many conservative churches that worship their theology more than they do Jesus, much less a non-specified "God". I think that we have confused what constitutes the Church and what constitutes a church.

While the gates of hell pose no threat to the Church, they do however consume many churches.

Elizabeth of Hungary said...

I think that's the exact right question to ask - we see our "small-c churches" going up in flames or just sort of withering away without a fight, but given that we know that the "big-C Church" will ultimately prevail, where then do we find the "big-C Church", or what constitutes it?

Anonymous said...

"On Earth as in Heaven". In many ways this is the key to understanding the first half of the Lord's Prayer. That God's name is special, that his Kingdom will eventually come and that his will happens is not exactly a wacky idea. As Luther explains these petitions they will happen without our prayers, but we pray this so that it happens to us - that we are brought into it.

God's Word accomplishes its purpose and doesn't return empty. I am ex ELCA and regretfully left because it talked only about how holy it is instead of her Lord in some local conflicts a few years ago. I went to where what Jesus says about me is more important than how "nice" people are. As hurt and angry I am at the ELCA, I still care deeply and know that God will somehow reclaim his disobedient children. I have just had to leave that flock because I needed to hear HIS voice.

Your question "What is the Gospel" is a good one. Somehow "Gospel" has become separated from Jesus in the ELCA, and this is viewed as OK. The hard thing is to keep our response as how Jesus is the REAL Good News.

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