Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Agreement?


Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, presented a paper to the Synod's Council of Presidents today, in which he delineated what he thought were areas in which we were united, and then areas in which some disagreement has been expressed. If you want to see the list, click here.

Without debating the success with which this letter, which seems to be yet another attempt to show how very Lutheran the man really is, accomplishes that goal, I'm going to move to a couple of items in the list of matters of agreement that caught my eye.

To wit, first, this:

"That homosexual behavior is contrary to the will of God and, therefore, intrinsically sinful."

True enough, we agree on that. But what about homosexual orientation? It seems to me that, current tensions between us and the more liberal Lutherans being what they are, there ought to be a statement which unequivocally denounces any orientation--sexual or otherwise--which is not in accordance with His expressed will.

And second, and in my view more importantly, this:

"That in, with, and under the bread and the wine of Holy Communion, we receive Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal salvation."

Yes, we agree on that too; but my, how the elephant in the room is ignored here. For "in the room," that is, in our LCMS house, are many who deny that the Sacramental elements are themselves the very body and blood of Christ, that is, that "the true body and blood of Christ are truly present in the Holy Supper under the form of bread and wine, and are there dispensed and received" (Formula of Concord VII:9).

Why not convince us that you're really serious about rooting out some real error in our midst by saying a word about the egregious heresy of receptionism, hmmm?

We report, you decide . . .

9 comments:

Rt. Rev. Jack Bauer said...

President Kieschnick fails to note how much more we should agree on in doctrine and practice based upon our confessional subscription. His "grocery list" leaves off a lot of critical, necessary, and already obvious articles of faith and corresponding practices. Measurements are of the law.

Just try getting him to think sacramentally in an organic and real way...

Chris Jones said...

Fr Eckardt,

You wrote:

what about homosexual orientation? ... there ought to be a statement which unequivocally denounces any orientation--sexual or otherwise--which is not in accordance with His expressed will.

I don't think this is right. If there is such a thing as "homosexual orientation" (which I do not think is clear), then I don't think we ought to get involved in "denouncing" something that pertains to someone's being rather than his or her behavior.

If we go down that road, we are implicitly accepting the notion that homosexuality is ontological rather than behavioral (”Gay” is what you are, and how you behave flows from that). But that undercuts the whole idea that it is the behavior, not the being, that is sinful.

In terms of theological anthropology, this is a confusion of person and nature, in which “homosexuality” is seen as a component of the nature, but condemned as sinful anyway. When you think about it, seeing human nature as sinful in this manner is tantamount to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity, and it flies in the face of the teaching of article I of the Formula.

Of course, human nature, though it is, and remains, the good creation of God, is profoundly damaged by the Fall. And a particular weakness to the temptation of homosexuality is certainly one instance of that profound damage. As such it stands in need of the healing that comes only through the Cross. But to "denounce" that weakness as if it were itself a sin is to fall into precisely the confusion between original sin and human nature that article I of the Formula cautions us against.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Chris,
I think I would disagree with you on this. I think that perhaps it is you who are confusing an orientation with the essence of a man. To condemn a man's homosexual orientation is in a sence like condemning a man's porn addiction or alcoholism, or in a broader way, it is like condenming a man's sinful nature itself, which is not the same as condemning the very essence of a man, as though a man were sin itself. (Not that I condemn good men in the past who got themselves cornered into admitting such things.)

To get back to the specific issue of homosexuality, I think that homosexuality as either behavior or ontology is a false antithesis, which is what I was getting at above. I suppose, and correct me if I'm mistaken, that what you want to guard against is the notion that homosexuality is genetic. I don't think that is necessarily a big danger when we go down this path; though I would say (and I know this might be controversial) that I would not be surprised one way or the other if we find out scientifically one day that homosexuality is or is not genetic. Likewise alcoholism, and any number of other defects, can be passed on to the next generation, and in none of these cases, nor with the notion of homosexuality as genetic, is the individual man off the hook for his sin, and in none of these cases does it identify the man's nature itself with sin.

Chris Jones said...

Latif,

I am not at all concerned with whether or not homosexuality is genetic. Whether this or any other weakness is transmitted by nature or nurture, it is still a result of the Fall.

To be honest, I do not know what "homosexual orientation" means, or whether or not there is any such thing. And if there is, I certainly do not claim to understand how it comes about. What I do know is that homosexual behavior is sinful, and that there seem to be some people who are more often tempted to this particular sin than most people are.

But temptation is not itself sin, and it does not make sense to "denounce" one sort of temptation as worse than any other sort. It makes even less sense to denounce people based on the particular sins they struggle with.

I think you touch the heart of our disagreement when you defend denouncing "homosexual orientation" by saying that it is like condemning a man's sinful nature itself. The phrase "sinful nature" is itself wrong, and encapsulates the doctrine that is condemned by article I of the Formula. Human nature, as the good creation of God, is not and cannot be sinful. It is damaged and corrupted, but it is not sinful. "Condemning a man's sinful nature" is precisely what I am rejecting.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Chris,

You wrote, "Human nature, as the good creation of God, is not and cannot be sinful." Here I believe that in your care to avoid Scyllis, you may have run aground on Charybdis. The Formula of Concord rejects the doctrine that human nature is sin, not that it is sinful.

To put the matter another way, the good nature that God created in mankind has been so marred by sin that it is inherently corrupt.

Hence it is not merely acts which are sinful but the inclinations which lead to those acts: lust; that is, concupiscence.

Is concupiscence sin? The Pelagians, semi-Pelagians, and indeed since the second millenium the Church of Rome says no. Lutherans, together with St. Augustine (and, for that matter, St. Paul), say yes.

Chris Jones said...

St Augustine was wrong on a lot of things.

Perhaps one might say that both the act and the inclination that leads to the act are sinful. But if so, then they are not sinful in the same way. It is bad enough to have the inclination to evil; it is still worse to follow that inclination and actually do evil. The one is the result of our bondage to Satan; the other is our cooperation with Satan, which deepens our bondage. But even if it were possible to have the inclination but not follow it, one would still be separated from God and subject to death, on account of the corruption of one's nature.

For this reason it is necessary not only to be forgiven for one's personal sins, but to be repaired, to have the damage done to one's nature undone and the corruption rooted out.

Is concupiscence sin? The Pelagians, semi-Pelagians, and indeed since the second millenium the Church of Rome says no.

Unless the denial that concupiscence is sin is of the essence of the Pelagian, Semi-pelagian, and Romanist errors, this is nothing more than guilt by association. One could, for example, be a semi-Pelagian while agreeing with you that concupiscence is indeed sin. They are separate issues.

Lutherans, together with St. Augustine (and, for that matter, St. Paul), say yes.

Where exactly does St Paul say this?

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

I don't know how to say this delicately, so forgive me for being blunt: you don't want to be on the side of Pelagius on this one.

Have you not read Romans?

But let's go straight to the mouth of Jesus: "Out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, etc. . . . All these things proceed from within and defile the man." This of course is why He also says, "If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children . . ."

And since you brought up the Formula of Concord, the Formula is clearly and unambiguously in opposition to your point of view on concupiscence. Check out the article on Original Sin.

Chris Jones said...

I have a pretty thick skin, Father, so "delicacy" is not required. However, you have not answered my question (viz. where exactly does St Paul say this). Romans is the longest of St Paul's epistles, so to bid me to read the whole of Romans is not exactly being very specific.

If you think that I am "on the side of Pelagius" then I fear that you do not understand what I am saying. I have no quarrel with the doctrine of original sin. Nor am I laboring under the delusion that it would be possible for a man to do any good whatever apart from grace. Those two points are, as I understand it, the errors of Pelagius.

Original sin, as I understand it, is the teaching that we are born into this world in a state of separation from God and bondage to Satan, from which state we are powerless to free ourselves. If God in Christ had not acted to save us, we should be forever separated from God, whether or not we ever committed an actual, personal sin. Furthermore, the initiative to save us comes entirely from God, and we can do nothing on our own in our fallen, enslaved state to seek God or to make ourselves "fit" to receive grace. Grace alone illumines us so that we may seek God. So I think I may also be acquitted of Semi-pelagianism.

But none of the above makes the corruption of our nature which leads us to sin the same thing as the actual, personal sin. The corruption of our nature is quite sufficient to keep us in bondage and separate us from God, but it is not the same thing as personal, culpable sin. If I am unwilling to confuse the two it does not mean that I deny original sin, nor that I am Pelagian or Semi-pelagian.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

You wrote: "But none of the above makes the corruption of our nature which leads us to sin the same thing as the actual, personal sin."

We distinguish, as a matter of clarification, between original and actual sin; but we do not make this distinction in terms of culpability. In fact we say the former is worse than the latter. Perhaps that is what you mean to say as well; but you will recall having started this conversation by questioning whether the culpability of a homosexual orientation is as bad as that of a homosexual act, and, by extension, whether the culpability of a sinful orientation is as bad as that of a sinful act.

Hence, to clear the matter up, I quote the Formula of Concord, to wit:

"Christians should regard and recognize as sin not only the actual transgression of God's commandments; but also that the horrible, dreadful hereditary malady by which the entire nature is corrupted should above all things be regarded and recognized as sin indeed, yea, as the chief sin, which is a root and fountain-head of all actual sins."

In addition, since you are insisting upon a quotation from Romans (which I find odd, as surely you must know Romans), I'll offer this one, for starters:

"Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

Note, the Apostle calls the evil present with him "sin." Hence, as the Lutheran fathers have insisted, concupiscence is sin.

Now if you insist on a passage from the Lutheran Confessions on this, you need look no further than the Augustana, article II: "Concupiscence . . . this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin."