Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Reflections: Déjà Vu, All Over Again

I have started reading yet another of the books on the list that I posted last time, Luther’s Theology of the Cross, by Alister E. McGrath. It is a scholarly text, some of it soaring well above my pay grade, with its untranslated Latin terms, but it is instructive in placing the career of Luther within its historical, academic, and ecclesiastical context.

These sentences particularly struck me as I was reading this morning:

“How can a sinner enter into fellowship with a holy and righteous God? How can the troubled conscience find peace by discovering a gracious God? Luther was not the only one to ask such questions, and was not the only one to find himself confused by the variety of answers given. In practice, it may be noted that the questions which were to torment the young Luther and others so appear to have been asked but rarely in the later medieval period, the predominance of external (and, it seems, largely superficial) forms of the religious life tending to rob such questions of their force.

“Possessed of a tired spirituality, morally bankrupt, doctrinally confused, each succeeding study of the later medieval period confirms this depressing evaluation of the then prevailing state of the Christian church in Europe.”

I find myself similarly confused by the variety of answers being given to this perennial question today. Although there is supposedly great ferment taking place in the Protestant world, it seems that a large part of the excitement is over the involvement of evangelical, and other fundamentalist congregations, in right-wing politics. This often leaves their members supporting leaders such as George W. Bush, and following such men, like so many bleating merinos, into clearly un-Christ-like acts. How can it be that American Christians are even debating, for instance, the morality of torture?

Charity and brother-love among Christians in general, particularly with reference to the Other, be that Other of a different religion, different race and/or nationality, different religious denomination, non-heterosexual gender orientation, etc., seems to be at a premium today. Love of money, not for use in helping the afflicted, but for personal use in the pursuit of frivolous distractions from the quest of a troubled conscience to find peace, seems to be the cultural norm. For the most part, Catholics seem indistinguishable from Protestants in their, perhaps largely unconscious, idolization of this fundamentally nihilistic Zeitgeist; Catholics the victims of “cheap sacraments,” where Protestants are the victims of “cheap grace.”

Jesus said: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me."

I wonder: What did He mean by “my”? And what did He mean by “least”?