IS SPONTANEITY AND FREEDOM FROM THE LAW A LEGITIMATE OPTION IN THE CHURCH CATHOLIC?
I really appreciated the dialogue with all my partners (the new friends I’m making), and my personal responses to each which you can read will indicate in more depth my appreciation and thoughts about your insightful reflections. I am struck by how two elements of the Lutheran heritage seem to be met with appreciation – either the Sacramental heritage or the Lutheran Confessional stress on freedom, spontaneity, along with joy. Of course none of my denominational partners can fully sign on to the freedom from the Law theme, and the reservations raised are not surprises. Their hesitation about such themes is nothing new to a Lutheran like me who travels in ecumenical circles. But in the traditions of Lutheran (maybe Norwegian) stubbornness, I want to raise the question of my original contribution in a more pointed way, as I am still not sure I got a direct answer from all of my partners: If I were invited to preach in your churches (assuming it was an official and legitimate invitation), could I preach on freedom from the Law (in the Lutheran Confessional sense), on the spontaneity of good works, even suggest to the congregation that they might sin bravely for our Lord and sometimes need to break the Law for the sake of love? To be sure, those themes are not characteristic of any denomination except mine. But are these characteristically Lutheran themes still deemed legitimately Christian enough to be espoused and validly taught in your communities. Lutheranism’s catholicity, I’ve tried to point out to date, is able to embrace all the themes precious to my partners (in some cases through its Pietisitc and in other cases through its Confessional strands, allowing for this sort of reconciled diversity). Lutheranism is big enough for most things your tradition might teach (I’ll point out to you in the months ahead how Lutherans can even get along with those who don’t teach the Sacraments like us). How big (how catholic) is your tradition’s tent?
If we are all big tents, how do we reconcile the diversity, and make sense of it? I was moved by the responses of most everyone, suggesting that the reason your tradition could not unequivocally embrace Lutheran spontaneity and freedom was related either to differences in personal traits of our founders or to a sense that more realism or skepticism about the complexities of life, its seriousness, needs to be taken into account. These are exciting insights for me. If we conceded that all our various ways of following Jesus have some Biblical authorization, could it be that our denominational differences in following Jesus relate to the fact that some of us are or want to become more serious, more organized, more methodical, more activist, and gravitate to those Biblical themes which provide concrete guidance, while others (like Lutherans) love the Biblical themes stressing freedom and spontaneity because such themes are a little more comforting to those who are guilt-ridden or who want to be more care-free, fun-loving, and go with the flow? Extended families and communities (maybe even the Church) need both types of people and should be sensitive in ministering to both groups.
We so beautifully balance out each other. For all their pessimism about human nature (its sinfulness), Lutherans have this naïve confidence that God’s grace changes lives without any help. And while the rest of the Christian world (Reformed and some Baptist friends possibly excluded) cannot fully buy the Augustinian pessimism about human nature like Lutherans do, the majority of us Christians are more realistic about what grace can accomplish on its own without the aid of the Law. Our pessimism/realism and optimism/naiveté balance out each other in different ways. Realists and optimists need each other in order to thrive.
Have you heard of the old adage of how you can tell the difference between a Lutheran pastor and other clergy in town? Most clergy (in the days before the 60s) had to purchase their alcohol anonymously or with great care. While the Lutheran Pastor could buy all the alcohol he/she wanted and even tell people in town about it. Could our denominational differences be as simple as different ways of appropriating Biblical themes for different personality types (or at least for different people with different visions of what kind of people the world needs followers of Jesus to be)? I am reminded here of Luther’s comments about the two kinds of Word of God – what applies to me and my situation and what does not (Luther’s Works, Vol.35, p.170). The key to our dialogue might be as simple as understanding our dialogue partner to be applying a Biblical theme (a Word of God) which does not apply to some of the rest of us, but recognizing that that theme is still legitimate Word of God. Can you buy that, colleagues, when it comes to freedom from the Law, sinning bravely, a situational ethic?
How can this appreciation of Biblical diversity all fit together? Maybe we can solve it together. I’m taken by the potential that Quantum Physics offers. In order to explain the paradox of how an electron can be both wave and particle (a logical contradiction) Werner Heisenberg developed the concept of Complementarity, which he thought applicable to religious matters as well (Physics and Philosophy, pp.135, P.S.23). Like waves and particles, could there be such Complementrity between the favorite Lutheran themes and those most precious to your tradition? We might have fun exploring those questions together. Already I’ve got a couple of partners who tell me they are ready to explore having fun with me and my Lutheran heritage. To them I suggest, we start making plans regarding how to try to concretize these prospects at the denominational level. And all of your collective comments indicate areas in which there is convergence between each of our heritages. Maybe with more of the individual dialogue I hope to have with each o f you we can have fun identifying other possible topics for more conversations, other candidates for Complementarity.