Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy about Reformation?

Yes - I'm still happy about Reformation.  That's because Reformation is very much an adjustment that needs to be made in a world spoiled by human sin. An analogy could be made between the Reformation and the drinking water purification process that we are all quite happy about!   

It used to be that you could dip your hands in a local stream and drink fresh water – but people ruined it.   This doesn’t mean we can no longer enjoy drinking water.  Thanks to the purification process, you can hold a clear glass of water in your hand that is pure to a microscopic level.  We do this all the time - every time we enjoy a glass of pure water.

It is a fact of life, since the Fall of man and the loss of the garden of Eden, that people ruin nice things.  But that does not mean they can’t be restored in some cases. 

But what about the person who argues that the reformation was not necessary back then and is certainly redundant today?   They are like people trying to argue that drinking water doesn’t need to be purified, but that the things we try to filter out should instead be welcomed as the “natural development” of drinking water (!).

As with so many things in modern Christianity the Reformation also is defined differently between conservatives and liberals.  For the “rebellious children” in the dysfunctional Christian family, the Progressive, the Innovator, the Reformation is the continuation of the evolution of the Christian religion.  Their twist on the concept of Semper Reformanda (perpetual reformation) is that religion is a part of human evolution, invented by humans and continually being updated by the same humans, contradicting, discarding and leaving behind past dogmas once believed. 

This is not to be confused with the Roman and Eastern idea that the hierarchy is bound to develop “doctrines of the faith” as the centuries go by, without contradicting the past, of course.  Dogmas unknown to the believers of New Testament times are simply being added by the same Spirit (so they say), working through Popes and Councils.  They then claim to be the parents, addressing the “compliant children” in the dysfunctional Christian family to submit to their judgment.

Nevertheless, whether it is reckless liberal evolutionary change or patronizing heavy-handed hierarchical change – it is still corrupting change and we should be happy for the re-pristinating, purifying spirit of the Lutheran Reformation – even today.  Human tampering is human tampering whether in the 16th century or the 21st century.

Conservatives Lutherans would argue that they are compliant children, too, but submit to drinking the water that has been purified.  For them, the Reformation is precisely the opposite of what the evolutionist pictures it to be.   Far from being explained as part of the “development of religion”, the Reformation is anti evolutionary – anti-development.  

In contrast to the humanists and more radical reformers of their time, the Lutheran Reformers were not jumping on the bandwagon of all change.  They were actually staking their lives on the condemnation of some of the changes they identified.   Luther, Melanchthon and the others were appreciative of improvements in technology (the printing press) and scholarship (renaissance learning) BUT they condemned the Papacy for the changes they called corruptions – pollution of the pure water that Christians deserved to drink.

They were not like today’s Muslim Fundamentalists – living in the past and trying to re-impose the dark ages.  Lutheran Reformers live in the present, but still recognize pollution in the water when they see it.

C’est la vie, really.    It used to be that humanity could live in the Garden of Eden, but people ruined it.

It used to be that you could dip your hands in a local stream and drink fresh water – but people ruined it.

It used to be you could hop on a plane, ticket in hand, without waiting in a long security line  - but people ruined it.

It used to be that you could telephone a home or business and a human being would answer back – but people ruined it.

It used to be you could have a chat with a child on the street -  but people ruined it.

It used to be that you could give money to needy people who stop by the church – but people ruined it.

It used to be that you could pick up any publicly available book, magazine or watch any TV show or film without any risk of being corrupted or scarred for life by what you see or read – but people ruined it.

It used to be that human beings knew the will of God and knew where they could find His word – but people ruined it.

As Jesus tells us – one of the things that people have been ruining for centuries is religion! Quoting from Isaiah, Christ condemned “teaching mere human rules as though they were the doctrines of God”  (Matthew 15.9).

So why am I happy for the Reformation?   For the same reason I am happy to be able to pour myself a pure glass of water:   People have ruined and continue to ruin religion through arrogant, rebellious, selfish, and stupid human tampering.  Thank God for the purification process as long as it is still needed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"High Church", a poem based on "High Flight"

"High Flight" is one of my favourite poems.  You may have read it.  You may have seen the YouTube!

Now - read my version, written after a visit to the Washington National Cathedral for choral evensong.  I call it "High Church".

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,

I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew -

And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high untresspassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee

No 412 squadron, RCAF

Killed 11 December 1941  (aged 19)

High Church

Oh! I have left the vacuous hassled world behind.

And settled silently into Gothic-carved woodwork; 

Stunned I’ve knelt, and joined the transfixed multitude

Of ordinary people – caught up in a place

Unlike any other – echoing with soaring sounds

Bathed in a thousand stained glass beams of light

I’ve lost myself under lofty vaults of stone

Suspended between earth and heaven,

Up, up the high, lofty portals of beauty itself, 

I’ve felt the cosmic condescension of grace

Looked upon the faces of angels and with sacred, solemn elation beheld,

The exalted realm of divine worship;

With opened heart, I’ve bent my ears,

Listened to the choir and heard the voice of God.

Pastor Jonathan Naumann

Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

Addicted to Cathedral services (aged 51)