Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Days Grown Cold and Humility

From Benedicta Ward’s collection of sayings of the Desert Fathers:

The holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, ‘What have we ourselves done?’ One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion replied, ‘We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.’ The others replied, ‘And for those who come after us, what will they do?’ He said, ‘They will struggle to achieve half our works.’ They said, ‘And to those who come after them, what will happen?’ He said, ‘The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them; and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our fathers.’

(The Desert Christian: Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Translated and with forward by Benedicta Ward, S.L.G. New York:Macmillan Publishing Co. First American Edition 1980)

We see in this saying two things at work. First, that these days and our love is growing cold. Or as a seminary professor once said, “People are just getting worse all the time!” Second we can see humility at work. Given that these desert monks enjoyed more sanctification than we–and it is hard to deny it–they still did not praise themselves for keeping so many commandments, but those who struggle to do less.

Lutherans express these thoughts slightly differently, usually in terms of vocation. Who does the greater work, the Pastor visiting the sick, studying the Word, calling sinners to repentance, or the mother who stuggles to be patient with her children? Neither on the face of it. God does not measure results or weigh merits or give points. He has created us all differently, at different times, with different strengths and suffering from different weaknesses. He grants and looks for faith–faithful work in our vocations. The mother who prays hourly for her children may be more faithful than the pastor who relies on his training and intelligence.

God have mercy on us and give us faith!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Are We Saved Right Now?

Your Evangelical friends like to ask the question: “Are you saved?” Notice the passive perfect tense, indicating that an agent took action for you in the past which continues today. The question assumes that salvation is accomplished already for you, presumably through Jesus Christ.

Would Lutherans ask the same question? Is salvation something that has already been accomplished and given to us through faith? Is there any future aspect to salvation? In other words, when we talk about our salvation by grace, through faith should we use past tenses? Is it right to speak of our salvation in future tenses? Is it right to speak of salvation as a conditional–as something which might happen?

I think most LCMS-trained pastors would answer the last question with a resounding “no!” That’s what I was taught at Concordia Seminary. So why do we pray something else?

Stir up, we implore you, your power, O Lord, and come that by your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and be saved by your might deliverance… (Advent 1, LW p. 10)

Grant, almighty God, that the birth of your only-begotten Son in human flesh may set us free, who through sin are held in bondage… (Nativity 3, LW p. 17)

O God, in the glorious transfiguration of your only-begotten Son you once confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the ancient fathers, and in the voice that came from the bright cloud you wondrously foreshadowed our adoption by grace. Therefore mercifully make us coheirs with our King of his glory, and bring us to the fullness of our inheritance in heaven… (Transfiguration, LW p. 31)

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ chose to suffer pain before going up to joy, and crucifixion before entering into glory, mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find this path to be the way of life and peace…(Monday in Holy Week, LW, p. 41)

There are many more collects which pray this way: that God would do such-and-such, so that we may be saved, cleansed, forgiven. It raises the question: hasn’t such already happened? Have we not already been saved, found the truth, forgiven and so forth?

I raise this issue to point out that there is a discrepancy between our lex orandi and lex credendi–our faith prayed and faith believed. If we truly believe that Jesus accomplished our salvation on the cross and that the promise of heaven is ours today, if we have been completely and totally justified by grace through faith, then why do we pray for salvation, enlightenment and so forth in the present or future subjunctive? Should these collects not be changed to thanksgivings for salvation, “the way of life and peace,” being made “coheirs with our King” because they have already been granted us? I think that would be more consistent with our LCMS theology.

What do you think? Should these have been changed?
Do you think it is right to change the historic collects (beyond updating archaic language) in order to fit our theology?