24 March 2009

Lenten Journal: Faith Seeking Understanding

"For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength."
First Corinthians 1.25

Discipleship and Bible Study were the name of the game tonight at University Lutheran Center.  First, our Reaching In/Reaching Out group met and discussed "Called to Life," a chapter in the book The Centered Life by Jack Fortin.  Fortin writes that as Christians, "we are not called to a different life; we are called to live life differently."  Vocation is a calling from God within the lives we lead, not away from the lives we lead.  And in our discussions tonight, I realized how very fortunate we are to live in this particular church.  

Each week one of our students gives a "Faith Story" as part of our RI/RO group, and the student who spoke tonight mentioned that one of the things which led him to be an agnostic for a while was the insistence in all the churches he intended that all faith questions have simple, inviolable, untouchable answers that must not ever, ever be questioned.  The Bible is completely inerrant, infallible, and descended like manna from heaven, for example.  And heaven forbid you ever get out of line or question authority in such a church, right?  

We have the great fortune of living in a church, the ELCA, which genuinely believes, endorses and lives the work of "Faith Seeking Understanding."  That's not to say that others don't as well, but as a pastor I'm encouraged to help the students I serve learn to feel confident enough to ask questions, tough questions, heretical questions, rather than live in ignorance and fear.  From the days when our church was building great cathedrals on the backs of the superstitious who bought indulgences (notice I use the word "our church" - that was all of us back then) we have come to a day when we are encouraged to struggle, to engage, to wrestle like Jacob on the banks of the Jabbok with those questions that will not let us rest.  

Do I believe that there are core doctrines which are true beyond all our questioning?  Of course I do.  Like the confessing princes and theologians at Augsburg, I feel called to retain the essentials of the faith - but they remain a foundation upon which the faithful stand, not a shield with which an aggressor bludgeons heathens into theological submission.  

The pictures accompanying this post show the opposing sides at the start of the Reformation.  The first is Johann Tetzel selling indulgences, the second is Luther refusing to recant at the Diet of Worms.  Sadly, there are still churches in the present where tradition and the office of ministry are sacrosanct, beyond questioning, and the emotion under which the entire church moves is fear.  How glad I am, right now, to be a member of a church where the driving emotion is faith seeking understanding; it's a great gift to be here.


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