Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What's so Golden about the Middle?

It has become fashionable for church bureaucrats to instruct pastors with whom they have to do that while whacky, out-of-touch, loony "liberals" with their antichristian agendas are certainly not to be tolerated, there are also those who are too far out on the other side. The implication is that the middle is golden.

This is certainly true of some things. But the fact that it is gives no license for the maxim to be applied to all things.

There are not always two fringes.

Are we to say that someone who is way out on the 'no-integrity' fringe is no worse than someone who is way out on the 'too-much-integrity' fringe? Or what of someone who lies all the time. The other fringe would be someone who is too truthful. The reductio ad absurdem is not too hard to find.

So too, while there is certainly a too-loose fringe in matters of worship, that is, a kind of worship in which anything goes, and in which therefore everything becomes objectionable for those who truly want Christian worship, must there necessarily be a corresponding too-rigid fringe? "Rigid" of course is a nasty term by which bureaucrats like to refer to liturgists who take matters of worship with all gravity and seriousness. But is there a too-tight fringe? Actually if it be a truly opposite fringe to one that is too "loose," we must define "loose." I rather think it means casual, or lacking formality. But what's formality in worship? Is it not synonymous with reverence? Can one be too reverent? Ah, that is the real matter. Too reverent?

As in, have we shown Christ (whom we believe to be present) too much deference? Too much adoration? Too much worship?

I'm not sure the reference to the lukewarm in the Apocalypse is meant to apply to this, but I'd say it sort of fits. Sometimes the middle is not so golden.


Lawrence said...

I do not believe in a "middle".

There is God who is right, and us who are wrong.

Anything "lukewarm" is less the the proper temperature (or less than right). Anthing that is not fully right, is therefore wrong.

One reason I like reading your posts, Pr. Eckardt, is that you hold to a clear definition of theological right and wrong.

Father Eckardt said...

The reference in the Apocalypse to lukewarm is a bit of a puzzle, because the Lord says he'd prefer either hot or cold. Not sure what that means. Maybe a simple reference to not being wishy washy, but I suspect there's something more there that I am missing.

M.L. Anderson (Herr Doktor) said...

It is a head-scratcher, all right.

The reference in Apocalypse, I mean. The one which touches on the taste preferences of the Lord. Sincerity on its own is no sure springboard from hellfire. And sincerity frequently walks hand in hand with fervency. Yet both "hot" and "cold" get the thumbs up, compared to "tepid." This is a different sort of tea, to say the least.

I think the problem with the lukewarm (as in "middle") is that it requires a pretty fair dose of complaisent self-deception. Or lying, in other words. The "middler" will view himself as committed to a cause, all the while taking care not to be that committed so as to be labeled as a kook, or a leper perhaps, or maybe a pariah by the outsider. Awful. That would be all too threatening to the over-weaning ego.

So striking the tent in the (supposed) middle is a safe way, and a comfortable way, while simultaneously fostering the delusion of being "edgy" and a militant battler. The "middler" will convince himself that he is lifting a cross, but on closer inspection it is a piece of lumber which has had the knobby burls and jabbing slivers planed and shaved smooth, for purposes of comfort.

[Nota bene: What is it about this blog site, which calls forth the Carpenter in one?]

The "middler" will find paralysis as good answer to Joshua's general call to "Choose this day." In theory, you either cross the river, or you don't. That's if you're actually hot or cold, though. The "middler" can get wet, sure (and that's good; we know the Baptismal allusions) but the "middler" stays in the water and, unlike Jesus, never emerges to deal fully and gloriously with life and death issues.

The situation is imperfectly like that faced by the notoriously stingy Jack Benny, in the famous radio sketch. He's confronted with a stick-up, and the nervous thief pipes up "Your money or your life." Long moments pass with no response, and the perspiring thief gets increasingly anxious. Jack finally snaps irritably: "I'm thinking, I'm thinking."

In truth, one does not have an entire eternity to think, or act. And the virgin's decision to fill the lamp half-way, is not a safe alternative to filling it completely to the brim.

As Fr. Eckardt notes, the concept of "too reverent" is altogether absurd, on the face of it. But the bureacratic "middlers" and "Benny's" need such an artificial category, in order to establish the psychologically comfortable and secure "center." The slip-ups and omissions there seem less ominous, somehow. You can laugh at the fringes. It's the thinking man's position. You lose neither your Mammon or your life, with the comfortable stall.


According to the Lord, if you don't lose your life, you lose it big time. You may as well be "cold;" at least you wouldn't be wasting your earthly time kidding yourself. I suppose that from the perspective of the middle, this sounds like a kook speaking. In reality, it is Someone once accused of being a Samaritan, a pariah.

Lawrence said...

The worste thing is parading around like a Faithful believer, while people know you really are not.

It is very much a mockery of God.

Father Eckardt said...

How's this: hot is good, because hot is fervent, and faith which has integrity is fervent even unto death; cold is also good, because cold is the Jordan, the river of life lived from the waters of baptismal faith. But tepid is neither; tepid is the way of self-preservation, with no integrity and no faith.

Lawrence said...

I can respect those who commit to a purpose, ideal, or goal. Even when I disagree with them. Even if they are mortal enemies. I know where they stand. I can trust where they stand.

I can not know, nor trust, where a wishy washy person stands. In this context the wishy-washy point of view is often it's own extreme. In this context a wishy-washy perspective can be worst than any committed perspective.


With regard to theology and beliefs, someone who is committed to an ideal is usually basing that commitment on specific facts. (Facts as they understand them.) For people like this, it is easy to modify/change their beliefs by correcting mistakes in their facts.

Kind of like St. Paul? mabye?

For the wishy-washy types, it is all about personal feelings. Integrity and faith are relative concepts as are any otherwise pertinent facts.

M.L. Anderson (Herr Doktor) said...

I think you're on to something, Fr. Eckardt.

Perhaps the significance of "hot" and "cold" has very little, indeed, to do with feelings or one's attitudinal direction. It is difficult to imagine our dear Lord endorsing the rather chilly "I was sad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord." Maybe it's just me, but it just doesn't ring true, somehow.

Fr. Eckardt's mention of (baptismal) water, in conjunction with "cold," provides a possible interpretive key.

What if Jesus in Revelation is making an allusion to ancient understandings of the basic four elements of physical existence? What if the Apocalyptic reference is an abbreviated one, to a fuller set of (say) "hot," "cold," "dry," and "wet?"

There are different variations to these four, of course; one can find alternative and closely related listings such as Hippocrate's "blood," "black bile," "yellow bile," and "phlegm;" or Galen's "sanguinous," "melancholic," "choleric," and "phlegmatic/stolid/anesthetic" temperaments; or a more geologically based "fire," "water," "earth," and "air;" and so on and so forth.

Each of any such four (e.g., "hot," or even "cold") is pure, whole, undefiled and bears complete integrity as to its substance and essence. "Lukewarm," in contrast, is a hybrid, a mix, a mongrel; not pure, as to elemental composition.

My suggestion is this: The Word speaks to all times, and all places. It bursts through and beyond temporal and spatial boundaries, with staggering relevancy.

So, while acknowledging the descriptive correctness of the ancients' "Periodic Table," and to our need to cling to cold Water and hot Blood, the Lord is still speaking directly to us poor beggars in this age, and frankly disowning the shortcomings of the 10:30 am "blended worship" service.

TH said...

Funny that you write this at a time where I am debating a very upset Seminarian who believes that within the church there are liberals, conservative/confessionals and extremist (of which I am being acussed do to my dislike for church-growth programs and Contemporary Worship). I appreciate the post as it backs up what I have been saying in a logical way.

Father Eckardt said...

Now we're getting somewhere. Especially in view of a consideration of Leviticus, wherein it is clear that offerings must be pure. Grain offerings must be free of leaven; sacrifices must be free of kidneys etc. (where impurities reside); lambs must be without blemish, and so forth. So also, "hot and cold" are pure. Lukewarm is blended, mixed, impure, and therefore, unholy. So is blended worship. Of course, that does not mean that worship which is entirely 'contemporary' is better, since in that case one would have, as opposed to a partly infected thing, an entirely impure substance.

Moreover, to be "spued out of the Lord's mouth" is to be vomited out. Now this too brings up an interesting thing to ponder. This is said to the angel at Laodecia, i.e., the preacher there. So therefore to be in the Lord's mouth is to have one's words be the Lord's own words (He who hears you hears me), but to be lukewarm is to be partially infected, in which case the Lord will have none of this identification between Himself and the preacher.

M.L. Anderson (Herr Doktor) said...

From this, I think the fate of Nadab and Abihu would be classed by the discerning pediatrician, as an instance of projectile vomiting.

The message that the resurrected and ascended Lord is concerned about how He is presented, should be a sobering one for our times. If the allusions of "hot and cold" do not deal with the emotions, then we have a Crucified God very much concerned about the purity of the message. He doesn't even speak of the unacceptibility of the "irreverent," to the Laodiceans' angel; that is not even worth wasting a jot or a tittle. He instead rejects attempts at hybridization, the mixing of threads, the toleration of the less than pure, the "lukewarm," the blended. This is serious stuff.

I think Aaron's boys would agree.

Fr. William Gleason said...

I can't help but think that our Lord is simply using everyday human responses to describe distaste for something unpalatable, or undesirable. Without precluding any deeper allegories, I believe He means this: when we lift a cup to drink, we usually expect a cold or hot drink. This is what we have a taste for. But if what we want is unexpectedly not there--the cool drink of water, or hot sip of tea--our reaction is to spit it out. I do not believe that the contrast here is between two opposing ends, with a meddlesome middle, but rather the utmost from the middle-of-the-road, the passionate from the dispassionate.

If I may suggest another popular analogy from a movie called The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crighton. In it, scientists were searching for a culture that would sustain a deadly alien virus so they could find a vaccine. Briefly, they kept looking in cultures that were either very alkaline or acidic, thinking there was an answer in either exteme. However, they discovered that the virus actually thrived in a ph neutral culture.

So it is with faith and worship. Our Lord wants fervency of faith, extreme faith, if you will, with it's corresponding zeal for adoring the Most and Only Adorable Son.

My two cents.

Kristofer Carlson said...

m.l. anderson made an important contribution by suggesting their may be more than one dimension in this discussion. This is not an issue that exists on a single line between liberal and orthodox, between liturgical and informal/creative/contemporary/modern worship. I've had people take this to a remarkable extreme, like the kantor who told me it isn't worship without an organ. Apparently what the church did for the first eight centuries wasn't really worship, because the organ wasn't in widespread use until the 9th century.

This single dimensional thinking is part of what got the Catholic church in trouble. The traditions of men became dogma. The more extreme proponents of the traditional liturgy would like to do the same, to make everyone play church by their rules. This is substituting law for gospel.

The Divine Service is commanded, but the form the Divine Service takes is not. The form of the common service took shape under the African fathers. The Divine Service is not the equivalent of the common service. While the common service contains the Divine Service, we dare not equate/conflate the two. To do so raises the common service, the tradition of the church, to the level of the Divine. Liturgical worship becomes a test of true faith. The more liturgical you are, the more fervent your faith. How is this biblical? How is this supported from the scriptures and the confessions?

The Divine Service is how God serves us through Word and Sacrament. The confessions say that the proper proclamation of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments constitute the marks of the church. Therefore the Divine Service and the marks of the church are roughly equivalent. But the common service? While part of good church order and a treasure of inestimable value, we dare not go beyond scripture and equate true spirituality with the common service.

Faith is a gift. Faith is produced by the Holy Spirit. The sacraments were given for the stengthening of our faith. The common service is a container for the sacraments, but is not itself a sacrament. Furthermore, James says that faith is demonstrated through good works, and that pure religion is to visit widows and orphans in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Fervent faith, extreme faith, is not a matter of fidelity to an order of service, despite how much we want so desperately to make it so. After all, that would be much simpler, and would only take an hour on Sunday morning.

Kristofer Carlson said...

The church "properly speaking" is "mainly an association of faith and of the Holy Spirit in men's hearts" (Ap VII/VIII, 5).

"For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies instituted by men be everywhere alike, as Paul says: one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc." (AC VII, 2-3; Latin translation by the CTCR).

And from the CTCR Study Materials The Lutheran Understanding of Church Fellowship, February 2000: "Unlike Roman Catholics and the Reformed, for church fellowship the Lutherans required agreement in the Gospel and sacraments without ceremonial and organizational unity. The Formula of Concord states: '[C]hurches will not condemn each other because of a difference in ceremonies, when in Christian liberty one uses fewer or more of them, as long as they are otherwise agreed in doctrine and in all its articles and are also agreed concerning the right use of the holy sacraments. . . .'(FC SD X, 31)."