Monday, January 13, 2014

Identity Crisis

I believe the culture we live in likes ambiguity.

I believe the culture we live in does not like certainty on one level--even though it craves it on another.

In some ways, I think the culture we live in swings back and forth between the extremes.

It wants something certain to hold onto, but when it finds someone or something that believes it is certain, it will try to rip it to shreds (See Robinson, Phil.)

I understand why there is motivation to keep ambiguity.  History is replete with examples of people and groups who believe they have the absolute truth, and they use that certainty to do great harm to others.  Without certainty, at least as the hypothesis goes, folks won't harm others.  Of course, one must then ask the question: should one be absolutely certain that having ambiguity is a good thing?  (See the trap?)

Setting this aside for just a moment, let's talk about identity.  How does one "know thyself?"  How does one know one's own identity?  Can anyone be certain about one's identity?

Personally, I hope one can.  Individually, we must have some certainty about who we are and what we believe.  I am Kevin Haug.  I was born in Texas.  I am a pastor.  I am a Christian.  I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all.   I believe it is through Jesus we have salvation.  I believe Jesus is the only way to salvation.

A few of these things are innocuous in and of themselves.  A few of them could get me in trouble depending upon which circles I travel in.  I am certain about all of them.  Do you see me going around bashing people who don't believe in Jesus?

No.

Why?

Because of another certainty: Jesus says, "Pray for your enemies.  Bless those who persecute you."  Jesus also asks His followers to imitate Him.  While I'm not quite as far along as Jesus is, Jesus died for His enemies saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

At the heart of my faith is someone who died for others who really didn't like Him, and if I am certain I am called to do likewise, then I can't, in good conscience, bash someone who doesn't believe as I do.  I am called to love and forgive them.  Certainty is not a bad thing.  The things you are certain about can be.

Why all this talk about certainty?

I believe people are attracted to people/institutions who have a very defined identity.  This means, they are certain about who they are, what they believe, and what they are supposed to do.  Of course, these identities differ from person to person and institution to institution.  There's really nothing wrong with that until people and/or institutions start damaging others over those differences.

People/Institutions begin having serious problems when identity is lacking.  Institutions are particularly vulnerable when they seek to accommodate all people and all beliefs.

I think this is part of the larger issue in the ELCA, the denomination of which I am a part.  If you read through our social statements; if you read through many of our decisions as a church; if you peruse the dialogue held by people; you will NOT get a sense of a shared identity.  You will NOT get a sense of this denomination knowing with any kind of certainty what we believe and profess.  Oh, you might get one or two things that we agree upon--I don't know of any ELCA pastor who doesn't adhere to the statement "Jesus is Lord."  I don't know of any pastor who minimizes the importance of the Sacraments.  I don't know of anyone who minimizes the concept of grace.   But the devil is often in the details.  Try to deduce what it means that Jesus is Lord.  Does that mean universal salvation for all--even those who reject God?  There will not be uniform answers.  As per the Sacraments--commune the unbaptized as Christian tradition?  Again, no uniformity.  The relationship between grace and works--do we have free will?  Again, lots of play here.

Even in some of the basics--we adhere to the three ecumenical creeds and to the Lutheran Confessions, but practically, we don't.  There are more than a few articles in the Confessions we don't follow.  Our practice does not meet our stated belief.  That's problematic.

Need any sort of proof that we in the ELCA don't have any sort of common understanding of at least one particular belief:

Heaven and Hell

I don’t know that the ELCA has an “official” theological position on heaven or hell other than the Lutheran church affirms the power of the resurrection for eternal life. - See more at: http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2014/01/140113-Is-there-a-heaven-and-hell#sthash.3IR1XznK.dpuf
I don’t know that the ELCA has an “official” theological position on heaven or hell other than the Lutheran church affirms the power of the resurrection for eternal life. - See more at: http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2014/01/140113-Is-there-a-heaven-and-hell#sthash.3IR1XznK.dpuf
I don’t know that the ELCA has an “official” theological position on heaven or hell other than the Lutheran church affirms the power of the resurrection for eternal life. - See more at: http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2014/01/140113-Is-there-a-heaven-and-hell#sthash.3IR1XznK.dpuf
I don’t know that the ELCA has an “official” theological position on heaven or hell other than the Lutheran church affirms the power of the resurrection for eternal life. - See more at: http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2014/01/140113-Is-there-a-heaven-and-hell#sthash.3IR1XznK.dpuf
I don't know that the ELCA has an "official" theological position on heaven and hell...

I think it's fair to say that the ELCA's "official" position is that heaven and hell exist.

So, what is the person who actually asked the question about whether heaven and hell exist to think? 

I know what I would think.  I would think, this denomination doesn't know what is believes and what it doesn't believe.  It doesn't know where it stands.

A far, far cry from the Reformer of whom the church takes its name.

It's a problem.  A big problem.

No common understanding translates into no common identity.  No common identity leaves those who are looking for answers as to what we believe quite confused and unsure about where we stand on anything.

And we wonder why the denomination is fading fast?

2 comments:

Didaskalos said...

Kevin, I think the culture likes -- more than ambiguity -- an "I'll do whatever I feel like doing" solipsistic self-indulgence. The problem in the ELCA is that the denomination has capitulated to culture. In its most problematic manifestation, the ELCA now blesses as sin an activity the Bible says will cause the unrepentant sinner to forfeit the kingdom of heaven. In other ways, the ELCA is acquiescent to (but still a participant in) government-sanctioned sin, e.g., the ELCA's paying for abortions (with parishioners' offering dollars) up to 20 weeks for any reason whatsoever in its self-funded employee health care plan. Add to that the teaching of universalism and denial of foundational Bible tenets (the Virgin Birth among them) that pervade at least to some extent the seminaries and leadership of the ELCA and you've got a spiritual basket case.

Kevin Haug said...

I agree the culture has an "I'll do whatever I feel like doing" self-indulgence to it, and that is why it likes the ambiguity. If I can avoid absolute Truth and any sense of absolute morality, then I can do whatever I want.

But I am not certain the ELCA has capitulated entirely to the culture. The ELCA rails against monetary self-indulgence which is completely in accord with Scripture. However, because if it's inherent starting point regarding scripture (what I call a hermeneutic of suspicion), it is free to play with scripture as it sees fit.

Case in point: find too many ELCA pastors who question the Bible's integrity when it comes to teaching about the role of government helping the poor--even though using the historical critical methodologies, one could easily debunk such thought? Yet how many of those same folks would debunk what scripture says about homosexuality? There is an inconsistency in the application of their understanding of scripture. Which, of course, leads to many of the things you point out.