Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Theology of What?!

An interesting e-mail came across the Lutheran Looking East list the other day. One of the members was speaking with some Lutherans about Orthodoxy and ecclesiology. One of the Lutherans apparently made a comment I've heard before, a criticism of Orthodoxy: a unified Church is a theology of glory; it's a delusion. Pretty strong words, but also a fairly common point of view from Lutherans I've met. I offered the following comments:
I have heard the same answer from Lutherans about Orthodox theology: it's a theology of glory. First, this statement comes from unbelief, specifically in the area of what God gives and what God can do. Such people simply do not believe that such a Church that is entirely a sacrament of the kingdom can exist. They have determined among themselves that the decomposed ecclesiology they see around them is the best that anyone can do, and this is because they think an ecclesiology with any visible aspects outside one's own particular congregation is man's work. They don't believe, and they wrongly attribute to their own efforts what God Himself has promised to build. And in attributing it to their own efforts they have accounted it only possible of being flawed, imperfect, disturbed, and not to be dwelled upon if one can help it. Because if you dwell on it from the Lutheran point of view you get depressed. If you dwell on it from the Orthodox point of view you are likely to grow in faith in God. If anything in Orthodox theology is glorious, that is.

Christopher Orr had a much better comment than mine, but since this isn't Christopher's blog I'll let interested parties look up the thread on LLE.

There seems to be a misunderstanding about Orthodox ecclesiology that leads one to suggest that we hold to a theology of glory. The accusation suggests that rather than find God revealed under the weight of suffering and the cross, the Orthodox foolishly claim to have found God in what they can do and provide. In terms of ecclesiology this might mean that the Orthodox theology of a single united Church - a single communion fellowship people on earth can find that is The Church - is a notion that comes from worldly expectations, and is accomplished by what man finds in himself, rather than from the revelation of Jesus Christ and the self-revelation of God through the cross.

Poppycock. Ridiculous. A theologian of glory should expect our aim for unity around doctrinal purity and Holy Tradition to fall flat on its face, unless we compromise ourselves into utter meaninglessness, because that's how the world works. A theologian of the cross should expect that God will do what seems repugnant to the world, like maintain unity around beliefs that seem archaic and un-evolved and insulting to modern thought, like provide growth without huge mission efforts and despite tons of persecution with more martyrs in the past 100+ years than the Early Church. However, more should be said.

Orthodox theology of the Church is very deep and often mystical, but a few pertinent items can be highlighted. The Church is itself the Body of Christ, the same Body that was crucified on Golgotha for our sins, the same Body that was raised to Life, the same Body that is offered in the Eucharist. The Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1). The Church is the continuation of the Incarnation of Christ on earth, for those gathered into the Church through the Holy Spirit become united in the human nature of Christ, which He took from the womb of Mary Ever-Virgin without sin and freed from corruption and mortality through death on the cross. From top to bottom the Church lives by the cross: in the Liturgy, in theology, in spirituality, in monastic life, in our vocations, in everything. Calling Orthodox ecclesiology a "theology of glory" is like saying the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a theology of glory.

I would like to say a lot more about this topic, but I am out of time. However, if anyone wishes to comment, please do. As a help there is a lowdown of Luther's Theology of the Cross at Wikipedia. Perhaps I'll get to come back to this.

I will say that there are some aspects about Luther's Theology of the Cross that will make Orthodoxy seem like a theology of glory to the untrained eye. Some of it has to do with differing beliefs about free will, and some has to do with completely different understanding of terms. The presupposition of "merit" in Luther's theology also is a hidden stumbling block for discussion. Luther's theology is not beyond the need for serious critique.

With that I must say adieu, but maybe more can be said by others or later.


Byzantine, TX said...

Excellent. Reposting.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your wisdom! Thank you for your further commentary on this misunderstood topic.