Saturday, January 29, 2011

Blending versus Unity

Yesterday I had a telephone conversation that left me feeling very downhearted. I had a question regarding one of my Thrivent insurance policies, so I called to obtain an answer. After working through the automated rigamarole a sweet, bubbly voice greeted me. This lady was able to give immediate answer to my question, which was a very pleasant surprise, considering the difficulty that I usually encounter with such inquiries.

Her attitude was extremely friendly and upbeat, extreeeeemely upbeat. I asked her if she worked at this or if it was just her natural manner. She said it was her natural way, which I expected. In the conversation I asked what her faith profession is and she replied that she was Lutheran. I commented that it then is true that there are at least some Lutherans working at Thrivent. “Oh yes, there are many.” She exuberantly replied.

As is my manner in accord with my perpetual desire to learn of people and their understanding in further accord with my eternal desire to find those with whom I am in true communion, I asked what variety of Lutheran she was. She said Catholic.

But I thought that she meant catholic, and I inquired further. After a few questions she said that she did not attend a Lutheran church but she had been raised Catholic and was raising her children in the Catholic church and traditions, but that she counted herself to be a good Lutheran. I was perplexed and told her that I did not understand what that meant. At this point she began to act as though I had offended her and declined to discuss the matter any further, asking whether I had any further questions regarding my insurance policy.

The conversation ended with polite terms and I felt deeply hurt. This very sweet person did not mean to hurt me, but she did, in several ways. First I was hurt by the abrupt change in her manner toward me. She acted as though I had done her some wrong by expressing interest in her understanding and by asking for an explanation regarding this understanding. I had not challenged her in any direct way whatsoever. I only expressed my bewilderment and lack of understanding concerning what she told me. I suppose that this in itself is a challenge, even though it was not presented as such. The very fact that I questioned it with bewilderment says much more than I even intended. I suppose there is no way to avoid this, as such questioning automatically presents the reality that a very obvious and enormous difference exists in our understanding. The irreconcilability of these two understandings cannot be downplayed through pleasantries.

The fact is that by this question I identified myself as this person’s enemy. The fact that I love my enemies and pray for them does not reduce the tension that exists between us. The fact that my concern for my enemies motivates me to ask challenging questions is not received kindly in many cases. In fact, as St. Paul teaches, it actually heaps coals of fire upon the head of the other person so that anger and angry reaction is the result. It also causes feelings of condemnation to be felt, even though I myself have condemned no one.

This rejection is a cause of deep pain for me as I continue to reach out to others with the unadulterated truth of the Gospel. My desire is to be united with others in the one true faith. But this is not the desire of most people. Most people want to be blended rather than united. Most people want to exist in a blending of the various understandings of the Christian faith and traditions, with tolerance of diversity in these matters as the consensus.

This is the second cause of my feeling hurt. For I know that this blending is a lie. Such blending is not of God but of the devil and the sinful fleshly nature. It is the way of the world, where every person selfishly pursues and demands that one’s own opinion must be treated as genuine and valid. Such dealings declare that the Truth does not matter. Such dealings actually deny that the Truth even exists or that it can be known. Such dealings declare that belief in the Truth must be abandoned or at least not pressed. And so I feel deeply hurt, because I have been declared to be unacceptable and unwanted. My belief in the Truth and my insistence upon unity in the Truth and my dependency upon this belief and unity in the Truth, place me beyond any desirability by those who prefer blending to unity.

A third cause for my feeling hurt is that such dealings dishonestly steal from me my identity. Identity theft is a horrible thing to endure. It is a very traumatic violation of oneself. It steals away one’s most precious possession, one’s true identity.

Those who falsely profess to be what I am steal from me my ability to be known by my identity. This steals from me the hope of others knowing me with certainly so as to be united with me. Those who say, “I am a good Lutheran,” while blending other doctrines and practices within this false claim, reduce the identity of Lutheran to nothing. Thus, when people hear the name of Lutheran, they cannot distinguish me from the ELCAite or the WELSian or the LC-MSer. And since each of these practice open communion, claiming to be united while blending with many faiths, not only many versions of the Lutheran confession but also with other religions, my identity as a confessor of the faith declared in the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is reduced to nothing, for people will count me to be one of them instead of who I am in Christ.

This hurts me deeply. Not only does it leave me as rejected by the various other so-called Lutherans, but it steals from me the identity that belongs to those who do not blend with the world but stand apart in accord with the homologia, the Same-Word of united confession.

This hurts me because my deep desire is for true unity with others in the one true faith through the Same-Word or confession of the same understanding and practice. I feel deeply hurt when I realize that I am unable to find others who share this deep desire and therefore I stand nearly alone in the world. While there surely must be others somewhere who share with me in this blessed communion, I have been able to find only a handful. And the false confession of the big groups makes it very hard to find those who are not of the blending mentality.

Few people even grasp the difference between blending and unity. As an example, I regularly use our VitaMix blender to grind and pulverize various grains and fruits into a blended drink and food source. By this action I reduce the particle size beyond what I am able to masticate (chew) so as to aid digestion and absorption of the precious nutrients. It becomes a blended mixture of the ingredients.

It does not, however, become unified. The components become mixed in a suspension, with some of the juices becoming one but with most of the components merely being reduced in size and suspended as particles in the mix. Many of these can still be separated and identified as separate components. They have not been truly united into one. This will not occur until full digestion has been accomplished and the various nutrients are absorbed and incorporated into the cells of the body.

The Church, the body of Christ is something like this, although not made up of ingredients that are digested, the members of Christ’s body are truly brought into complete union through absolute incorporation into the body. They can no longer be identified separately. They have been given a new identity. They no longer function individually. They live as one. Their life has one source. Apart from one another they are no longer functional. They think the same, speak the same, and believe the same. By this union they are now known.

This is not the way with those who are of blended communions. They do not live as one. They do not think the same or speak the same. They gather in diverse manners of worship even within the same congregation. They confess to the world to be in the same church body and in communion with the various congregations of that body, even though they do not think, speak, or worship the same throughout.

So how does this hurt me? It leaves me standing apart from those for whom I care deeply. It leaves me as counted as separatistic and schismatic when the exact opposite is true. It leaves me unable to embrace even blood relatives as true family because I will not yield to their acceptance of blending in place of unity. It leaves me to be judged falsely as unloving and uncaring and obstinate and arrogant and self-serving.

It seems that I have no choice but to accept this as how things are. This hurts. This hurts deeply.

It also motivates me to take upon myself a burden that I ought not to imagine as mine own. It is idolatrous for me to imagine that this is my burden, when Christ has already carried it. Thus I continually long for and flee to the tiny little congregation where we are gathered by the Spirit to receive the unadulterated means of grace. There this self-imposed burden along with all of my other sinful burdens are again taken up by the Lord Jesus, who in their place grants to me and all who are so gathered His peace that surpasses all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Him. In this blessed communion it matters not whether those gathered number in the thousands or are merely two. God’s promise cannot be nullified. He does as He has promised. And so hurt is turned to peace and sorrow is turned to joy. Only the Lord has this magnificent power. Only His means can effect such transformation.

Therefore, to His means I shall continually flee and in His means I shall find rest and comfort for my weary soul. From this wondrously safe haven I shall call out to all who are willing to hear, and even to those who feel the coals burning upon their heads. How else can I respond to such incalculable gifts of grace, mercy, and peace? And so, while others may steal the outward identity, the true identity cannot be taken away or even corrupted. For that identity has been engraved in the palms of His hands and in the book of life. No one can erase what He has written.

I do not know what value my writing of such a post has for others, but for me, the hurt is assuaged through the reciting of what the God of all grace has declared and continues to declare forevermore.

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