Two Competing Ideals

I appreciated Paul’s writeup of the contra overtures.

I can very much understand the angst and even panic among many who reasonably anticipate the complete passage of the HSR as hurtful and a slamming of the door on many who are right now sort of in the shadows of the church. For many passage of the report and especially an explicit statement of opposing SSM to be “confessional” and in CRC terminology therefore “essential” for office bearing to be the final straw in relationship with the CRC. I can see the faces and I could name the names at least of this I know who would feel this way.

I also understand the conservatives who quite reasonably say “can we possibly simply ‘agree to disagree’ on this and honestly call such a thing ‘unity’?”

I have, for a long time, felt that what we are seeing are two quite separate mental conceptualizations of Christianity and ideals that answer the question “what the gospel is for”.

One side I think imagines a counter-cultural cruciform witness of mortification and sacrifice in gratitude for that strange substitutionary sacrifice outside of Jerusalem some 2000 years ago.

The other I think imagines something like an ongoing successive liberation from a litany of sinful oppressive practices perpetrated against the weak, the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized of history by the strong. Christians in their churches are supposed to bear witness to that liberation in their churches and be some sort of a vanguard for that movement through time expressing this liberation in word and deed.

Now most would agree that pew sitters fall short of these ideals but the institution is supposed to invite them to participate in these journeys.

In the first case the ideal is to be set forward and the church should remind the faithful of the disciplined cruciform journey they wish to pursue.

In the second case the church announces this liberation and provides a platform from which to speak to a world still mired in oppression and subjugation.

Both visions would yield different applications when it comes to something like human sexuality. While there might be some overlapping elements for the most part the first group would emphasize self-denial for the Christian life. The ideal would surely be the family as “little church” of Protestantism as the alternative to the monastic movement.

In the second case application would be affirming sexual fulfilment in as broad a field as possible for those who find themselves excluded from the pleasure the body is surely capable of and that a loving God would wish for us. I don’t mean to imply a simplistic hedonism here. Most of us know that hedonisms usually don’t pan out, but the goal of fulfilment really rests at the center of the vision.

Now in most cases people would not live ideal lives, but ideals matter because they orient people and institutions in terms of the norms they see as productive towards reaching those ideals.

I’m not trying to set up a straw man for either group and there are myriads of nuances among people in terms of their conceptualizations. Part of the way I created these conceptualizations is with an eye towards the predominant split in American Christianity for the last 175 years, roughly since the end of the American Civil War. In many ways we are watching the ongoing war between a pre-millennial vision and a post-millennial vision. The CRC’s Amillennial posture really doesn’t matter in this dispute besides sort of making us mushy in the middle.

It is very difficult to imagine a productive and robust ecclesiastical body being able to continue to transcend a difference of ideals as dramatic as these. I would love to see us continue to work on articulating and embodying an ideal that would be sufficiently clear and compelling as to afford us a more productive navigating of these issues and more.

In any case it seems clear to many in the CRC that the mushy middle is no longer where they can be. I find it discouraging that we fight over an issue like this without really being able to ask the far deeper questions that might give meaningful guidance. Unfortunately we’re likely going to be left with one side yelling “you don’t submit to the authority of Scripture” towards one side and on the other “you don’t have love in your hearts towards those who have suffered thousands of years of oppression and marginalization!”

Such sloganeering produces nothing. I want to produce something so I’ll continue to try. pvk

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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2 Responses to Two Competing Ideals

  1. Jeff Brower says:

    If you’re offered a choice between two choices on opposite ends of the continuum, the answer is usually off the continuum altogether.

  2. Glen Reuschling says:

    As a former ELCA Lutheran, I have already experienced first-hand how this ends. It is not about questions of scripture, it is about whether or not, you still want to have a church left standing in another generation. An acorn doesn’t look anything like an oak tree; but that’s where oak trees come from. Be careful of what kind of seed you plant. It just might grow into something, that as its roots spread, tears your church apart at its foundations.

    If you think I’m being too alarmist, just check out formerly Ebenezer Lutheran, Sierra Pacific Synod, ELCA. Creating and encouraging a women centered church seemed like such a good idea at the time. Even thought such efforts at outreach went well beyond the bounds of traditional Lutheran understanding. But fast forward 25 years (give or take) and it’s debatable now whether the ELCA is even still Christian in its theology, let alone Lutheran!

    The warning signals that you’re heading down a dead-end path, is when you start to see the reappearance of the old classic heresies; but of course, repackaged in new improved Gospel-of-Social-Justice formats. As each of the Lutheran churches my family attended over the years lost their older traditional pastor and called a new one, the Synod made sure that all of the new pastor candidates conformed to the “new” way of thinking. The Synod made no secret that they intended to purge the Church of its older traditional pastors. As I sat in the pew and listened to sermons from these new pastors, I heard a new theological message that was containing echoes of Antinomianism, Marcionism, Pelagianism, and even for goodness sakes Modalism and Arianism. It became clear that the Synod was picking candidates based on their politics, not their traditional training and understanding of scripture and Church history. I even experience a new Lutheran pastor taking sermon messages from the ideas of Bishop John Shelby Spong!!!

    My warning to my CRC brethren, if you have to take a scissors to your Bible to make your new theology fit, then you’re headed in the wrong direction.

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