I'm taking a 3 week class at Luther Seminary in St. Paul on Lutheran Confessional Writings. These writings are in the Book of Concord, a 16th century collection of Reformation documents. Basically when all hell broke loose after Martin Luther dared to speak theological truth to ecclesiastical power, a bunch of theologians worked quite hard at justifying why we are justified by faith alone and not by any effort of our own. Which of course begs the question- doesn't that make faith a "work"? Ney say the reformers, faith is a gift given by the Holy Spirit, as the 3rd article of the Creed in Luther's Small Catechism states: I believe that
I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ,
my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me
by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and
kept me in the true faith.
This is my favorite part of the catechism, because as someone who was raised in an almost entirely works based church - a bit like a salvific meritocracy, I'm inclined to find the idea that I don't have to try and muster up faith in Christ by sheer individual effort, a great comfort. If I am unable on my own to believe in Christ, then I wonder if when I feel that I am lacking in faith, that it is perhaps almost entirely absent, should I then trust that I indeed do have the faith that I do not at that moment percieve I have? Perhaps the Holy Spirit gives us faith but not the ability to perceive we have it and we are to just have faith that we have faith and not depend on our thoughts and feelings to determine if we have it. See, this is quite messy isn't it?
Here's been my main issue in this class: lack of humility. Would it have killed the reformers to hedge even a little bit in the absolute certainty with which they made their proclamations? In class the other day we were talking about how we are all simultaneously sinner and saint. A student then asked "How are we seen by God?" The professor then answered - it was convoluted, I could not begin to explicate it here, but the thing that struck me was how certain and immediate his answer was. So we can know the mind of the Almighty? We can definitively say "Well, here's how God sees this..." I'm not so sure. I think there is a limit to rational thought and we best start confessing THAT. Here's why I believe this lack of humility exists, and it's a bit circular, so stay with me. We get that God is bigger than and has more authority than us, so in matters of theology we cannot rely on "human experience" or "ideas of man" to tell us about who God is, so we claim that the confession we make - the official church doctrines - are "scriptural" and not of human origin, therefore we have no reason to hedge in our absolute certainty in these matters, for they are from God and not from us. The problem is that these ARE all human ideas and creations...I'll not get into the issue of authority of scripture, but even giving scripture a high authority - the way in which it is used and explained is entirely human. Even if you believe that "God wrote the Bible", God did not also write a commentary on the Bible, so any interpretation is going to be from human thought and experience. I think perhaps we ought to be honest about this and not hide behind "scriptural authority" by trying to pawn off our ideas as God's. Are we so scared of mystery that in our pride we trust our reason to explain every doctrinal and theological minutiae so that in the end it's all explained to our satisfaction, packaged neatly and tied with a bow?
I love the Creeds and the Augsburg Confession, I even trust them, but I'm just not willing to eliminate the possibility that maybe we got something wrong. These doctrines are our best shot at the truth, not the truth itself. I guess I'm just more comforted by mystery than certainty.
So call me a heretic...again.