Well, here we are with what turned out to be a short-lived government shutdown while each political party lays blame for that non-event at the door of the other.
I don’t think I can do much about political blame games and their war of words. But I do all I can to make sure that words of the Bible are understood and used properly in my family and in my congregational world – which just happens to be the world in which R and C Resources is most interested. Some (too many!) students of Scripture drag Biblical words across the centuries into today’s world as if their historical, social and political context and the word’s meaning has not changed.
Specific Biblical terms touching family, gender, race, marriage, government, labor or any of a myriad of other life settings cannot be understood apart from the worlds of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel or Daniel in which they initially used. One of my professors of over a half century ago told us, “Some people pick and use words from the Bible like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support and not for illumination.” Authentic Lutherans should know better.
When faced with words as straightforward as those of the Ten Commandments Martin Luther paused, took a deep breath and then asked, “What does this mean in today’s 15th century world?” Five hundred years removed from Luther’s world Audrey and I ask, “What do Luther’s 15th century answers mean for our 21st century family and our 21st century congregation in our 21st century world?” The Biblical basic truths haven’t changed but how they are applied today certainly has. A past LCMS president was badly misunderstood and mauled when he, referring to our church body today, said, “This isn’t our grandfather’s church.” Yet a lot of leaders today seem determined to make it so even if in the process their views cripple our internal and external Christian witness.
As a deeply concerned father, grandfather and great-grandfather are today’s national and local institutional views and practices ministering to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren? If not could it be because we have made various of God’s words mean sometimes more, sometimes less than what they meant when He initially gave them to us?
What makes this an even more complex matter is that during my lifetime an entirely new generation has been added to our world’s population mix. There are not only more people in our world than at any time since the Savior was born but they are clustering into uniquely different generations that are living longer (they are) but are living longer longer. News flash after news flash tells us that many among us don’t play well together as is evident in the generational, gender, racial and cultural eruptions that keep happening with regularity.
Christian parents and parish leaders today are looking for God’s saving and soothing word for our moment. We also need to ask whether there is valid guidance in the past that like the cargo in Jonah’s sinking ship needs to be pitched overboard for the family’s and congregation’s safety. That would be nothing new. Once we isolated something that was no longer useful, sometimes even useless, in the past we pitched “cargo” aplenty overboard. But it was often a painful process that only happened after we took on that fearful adversary: change.
There is encouragement for us in seeking out and identifying with the will of God for our world in no less a person than Abraham Lincoln. When struggling with the hard decision leading to adopting the Emancipation Proclamation he bit the bullet after concluding, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” A fundamental change was needed.
So what “dogmas” of our family and congregational life from the quiet past are inadequate to our stormy present? Were they defended then as clearly based in the Word of God (applicable for all time) or were they actually derived from fluid and flexible human tradition (appropriate for some moment in time)? In answering that we must be ready to do the same kind of preparatory hard work that our nation’s founders did leading up to the Declaration of Independence. It was only after seeming endless discussion and debate that on July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence with its awesome opening sentence was adopted:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness….”
Study those capitalized and underlined words. What exactly does each mean? Is there any current difficulty in our nation that is untouched by one or more of those innocent looking vocables?
Our families and our congregations need to be as zealous in searching the Scripture and then adopting their own Declaration of Dependence (only this time on God) as were Jefferson and his co-signers in doing their work. They did not invent nine new words. They identified and adopted powerful existing words that were appropriate to their moment. And now it’s our turn. Can we do as much?
In 1992 a song was written that co-opted the Bethlehem angel’s hope and wish for “Peace on earth…” that was embellished with additional words, “…and let it begin with me.” As we slip deeper into 2018 my hope is that all of God’s children, especially the extended family with which the Father has surrounded Audrey and me, while paying attention to our tradition-filled Christian past, be fully committed to encouraging and living the Christ life today to its fullest – “… and let it begin with me.”
How’s that for something to work on as the vernal equinox is drawing near? Faster! Faster!