Friday, February 14, 2014

The Health of the Church has more than just religious significance

State of the ChurchIn 1945, Easter fell on April 1. Walking backwards through the Lenten calendar – Holy Week, Judica, Week, Laetare Week, Oculi Week, Reminiscere Week, and Invocavit Week – we see that Ash Wednesday of 1945 fell on February 14 – Valentine's Day.

At the end of World War II, in a series of raids on an essentially undefended city, targeting primarily civilians and cultural artifacts, British and American bombers dropped over 3,900 tonnes of explosives on Dresden, Germany, including many thousand incendiary and phosphorous bombs, with such precision and timing as to create swirling drafts of superheated air that would engulf the city in a literal firestorm, leaving it in a heap of ashes. The double symbolism of February 14, 1945, being both Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday is significant, and it is probably more than just a coincidence that the days surrounding this date were chosen for this attack.

American and British government figures, continuing to defend the Dresden firebombing and to minimize the casualties, place the number of dead at around 25,000 to 35,000. Critics of the raid, however, including survivors of the Dresden bombing, have maintained a number nearly ten times higher. The 1945 firebombing of Dresden remains controversial to this day. The following video tells the story from the perspective of those sympathetic to the cause of the civilian victims:

The Dresdner Altmarkt, the central city square of Dresden and focal point of cultural life, was also the center of the Allied attack. After the the War, being under Soviet occupation, most of the Altmarkt continued to lay in various states of disrepair, the most iconic pile of rubble being that of the Frauenkirche, which lay in a heap for half a century until after the fall of the Berlin Wall (pictured at the top-left of this page). Under funding from a private effort which collected donations from all over the world, rebuilding of the Frauenkirche finally began in 1993. We briefly blogged about the Frauenkirche in April of 2011.

Dresdner Requiem
I thought about this last night as I was listening to Rudolph Mauersberger's Dresdner Requiem. We haven't blogged about Mauersberger on Intrepid Lutherans before, though many recordings under his direction have been recommended on our pages. In 1930, the Kreutzkirche1, which is located just a few blocks from the Altmarkt, appointed Rudolf Mauersberger as “Kreutzkantor” of the Dresdner Kreutzchor – a boys choir initially “founded as a Latin school at the 'capella sanctae crucis'”2 over 700 years ago, which continues “the medieval tradition of liturgical singing by a boy's choir”3 even to this day, specializing in choral works of the sacred genre (and especially, it seems, of Lutheran composers).

Rudolph Mauersberger was in Dresden during the 1945 Ash Wednesday firebombing. “The destruction... gave rise to a strong creative impulse,”4 within him. Not really known as a composer, most of his creations follow from the destruction of Dresden, beginning with the piece he is probably most well-known for as a composer, Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst (the first piece of the four-part choral cycle, Dresden), which was performed with the surviving members of the Kreutzchor in the ruins of the Kreutzkirche that following August. His Dresdner Requiem was composed a couple years later, and revised through 1961.
    Apart from the Latin introit, Requiem aeternum, the entire work consists of German texts taken from passages of the Old and New Testaments in Luther's translation, and from versus in the German Evangelical Hymn Book... The work is divided into the following sections:

      Transitoriness/Death/Dies irae and Comfort through the Gospel
      Agnus Dei

    In its liturgical character it is, in the words of Mauersberger, an “Evangelical Mass for the dead, such as the Protestant Church does not yet possess.5
Mauersberger's statement remains true. His compositions remain largely ignored and unknown. Yet, in my opinion, they make the distinct sound of the Church. They are a prime example of fine “Contemporary Worship.” Edifying artistic creations, in form and composition they properly display a prima facie catholicity, and call for wholesome and reverent execution. They are proper vessels for carrying the weighty and eternal truths of Holy Scripture. Here is an excerpt from Mauersberger's Dresden Requiem – the Agnus Dei:

Becoming One's Enemy
But as I listened to Mauersberger's Dresdner Requiem last night, I thought about more than just the firebombing of Dresden, the loss of innocent life and important cultural artifacts, and the music that such circumstances inspired. The Ash Wednesday firebombing of Dresden became a living representation of what happens when important distinctions between one and his enemy disappear – when he, by all appearances, becomes his enemy. By all accounts, the people of Dresden put their faith in the good-nature of America and Great Britain, “Christian nations” with a shared Western heritage that valued the cultural significance of Dresden, a relatively unimportant military target that by that late stage of World War II, no longer had any significant defense system. The Germans wouldn't trust Russia, of course, and the rest of the world wouldn't trust Germany, but America and Great Britain were recognized by the Germans as different from them – as distinct, separate from them. By all accounts, under the rules of the Geneva Convention, which both America and Great Britain were known to fastidiously observe and hold in high esteem, Dresden was a very unlikely target. Yet, by all accounts, Winston Churchill and military leaders working with him, betrayed what those characteristics called for. By all accounts, he repeatedly sought advice on how he could “roast and baste German civilians,” and operational orders for the Dresden raids laid out a plan that carefully explained how they would deliberately inflict maximum civilian casualties. In this way, in taking on the methods of his enemy, Churchill, became indistinguishable from his enemy, dragging the reputations of America and Great Britain into shame along with him. Adolph Hitler was known to be active implementing his “Final Solution”, a wanton extermination of Jewish people – a “megalomaniacal anti-semite.” Churchill, showing himself in this incident to be a “megalomaniacal germano-phobe,” made himself indistinguishable from his hated enemy. And with him, Great Britain and America.

So who is the enemy of the Christian? Of the Church on Earth? I have been taught that the Christian's Great Enemies are three: the Sinful Flesh, the Devil, and the World. The Christian, along with the Church, is called to separate himself and remain distinct from all three. But what happens when a Christian unites himself with Worldliness? What happens when the Church “becomes the culture?” We, at Intrepid Lutherans, addressed this question over three years ago, in a blog post entitled, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (When the Church "Becomes the Culture"), from which the following lengthy quotes are excerpted:
    It was stated above, that the Church “has struggled mightily and in various ways against the withering onslaught of man's great enemy – the World – yet has been forced into retreat.” Following this, a litany of false teaching, in which some truth and great struggle is evident, was produced to show how the Church has conducted its struggle: from within the context of having “become the culture.” In point of fact, the recent history of the Christian Church is littered with the theological ruins of Christian movements which have, in a flailing desperation for the “survival of the church,” become the culture, either not realizing, forgetting or rejecting the fact that the World is one of the Christian's Great Enemies. In the modern West, doing so has meant adopting one of two perspectives: that of rationalistic Empiricism or of mystical Existentialism. In reality, neither perspective is acceptable; both place mankind at the center of truth, and argue their way to God and for man's relationship with Him from (a) the intellectual (objective), or (b) experiential (subjective) attributes of man's existence – the historical record of God's Special Revelation of Himself to mankind no longer being relevant for this purpose, by the World's standards.

    In response, one option has been the route taken by American Christian Fundamentalism. Recognizing that the church was “becoming the culture” by absorbing or importing its false ideas and anthropocentric priorities, and concerned that the Bible's teaching would be lost as a result, Fundamentalism began developing among Presbyterian theologians at Princeton in the late 19th Century; and into the early 20th Century its influence spread to include Baptists and other Christians. In an attempt to articulate and draw attention to the doctrines of Christianity which were under attack by liberal theology, and to secure continued adherence to Biblical teaching among Christians, a public confession to the “fundamentals of the faith” was secured by those desiring to stand on these teachings and be identified with the fundamentalist movement. Those fundamentals were:

    1. Biblical Inerrancy,
    2. the Virgin Birth
    3. the Vicarious Atonement and bodily Resurrection of Christ, and
    4. the authenticity of the miracles recorded in Scripture.

    Because of the stark contrast between these “fundamentals” and the liberal consensus in greater Christianity, Christian Fundamentalists in America also began to take on a “separatist” platform over time, which called for not only theological, but, increasingly, social separation from those outside the fundamentalist movement, including separation from non-Christians in society...

    As a result of sequestering themselves from society in this way, Fundamentalists almost entirely lost their influence among liberal theologians – their separatism being cause for suspicion among liberals on the one hand, while causing a growing ignorance among Fundamentalists regarding relevant categories of thought and modes of expression on the other. Yet, their Christian piety was still a highly potent witness in society. Nevertheless, by the late 1930's, discontent with separatism had grown sufficiently among Fundamentalists that a counter-movement began to develop from within it: Evangelicalism. This movement initially stressed a healthy involvement in the World – in the context of evangelism and ecumenical dialog. By the close of the 1950's, however, it was clear that Evangelicals had begun to absorb Worldly perspectives from the liberal Christians they had, in evangelical zeal, endeavored to associate with, Dan Fuller and other leading elements of the Evangelical Movement at Fuller Theological Seminary having introduced neo-orthodox controversies over the inerrancy of the Scriptures (the institution eventually rejected inerrancy in the early 1970’s), while that institution had begun to develop philosophies and techniques for evangelism that were engineered to bring about mass conversion – which was the basis of today's “Church Growth Movement” (see our blog post dedicated to this topic, as well, The Church Growth Movement: A brief synopsis of its history and influences in American Christianity. See also various articles on Intrepid Lutherans dedicated to the topic of The Church Growth Movement). Once again, the Church in America set itself on the road of “becoming the Culture,” eventually insisting that, for the survival of Christianity, the church must become the culture.

    That the Church must “become the culture” is a lie. That it has increasingly “become the culture” is the manifest reason Western Christianity has slowly disintegrated over the past three centuries. Taking on the culture of the World has produced a vacillating imbalance between emphasis on intellect and emotion in the Church, between reason and experience, objectivity and subjectivity – and not just an imbalance, but a thrashing between these emphases that has drawn the attention of the Church away from the saving events and message of the Gospel, away from the centrality of Christ, and instead upon man and the dual fundamental characteristics of his existence. No, Christianity must not “become the culture” any more than it should it cut itself off from society. No, the Church must not abdicate in the face of its great enemy, the World, either by joining it or by running from it. Rather, as an historical institution, with an historical and saving message, it must stand and face the World on the basis of its confession, it must earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), by (a) holding on to the specific and historic truths of Scripture in its doctrine, and (b) defending and proclaiming this truth in its practice.
It has been said that a good summary of Christianity and its influence in Western Civilization can be stated simply:
    “In the 18th Century, the Bible died, in the 19th Century, God died; and in the 20th Century, man died.”
This is really just the recent history of secular Natural Law, from the Enlightenment to our current, post-Modern era. We detailed this progress a little more fully on Intrepid Lutherans, as well, in a blog post entitled, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 2, The Teaching of the Law, as follows:
    Though acknowledging natural law, Enlightenment philosophers and scientists did so primarily as an enemy of the Church, in an attempt to sweep away any need for, or recognition of, Special Revelation and the divine law it contains. Enlightenment “Natural Theology” represented the notion that all there is to be known of God can be determined from a study of nature. A recognition of God and His law in the created order, while rejecting specific knowledge of Him or of His will from Special Revelation, is the foundation of modernistic deism. Following from this foundation, very sophisticated and intellectually honest attempts to systematize nature produced clear evidence of design and of a nameless “Intelligent Designer” that was admitted with little question.

    Yet, the discoveries of science did not yield a tranquility and peaceful harmony as, perhaps, some may have thought that neutering revealed religion, by depriving it of Special Revelation and of a voice in society on that basis, would achieve. Instead, the same observations of the primitives manifested themselves: natural systems are inherently corrupt, they deteriorate and decay; cells, like animals, attack and devour one another; there is struggle, exploitation, and miserable death at every level of nature; over time, entropy is the dominant reality of the universe. Escaping the moral consequences of such observations, it seems, by the end of the 19th Century, even the deity was eliminated from natural law (some of the final blows being struck by the philosophical contributions of Immanuel Kant), making “natural law” entirely anthropocentric.
The philosophy of Materialistic Rationalism, with which Western man was equipped as he entered the 20th Century, was a very optimistic philosophy – the pinnacle of Modernistic thought. Declaring the future equivalent to progress, and limiting reality to the scientifically observable, it confidently identified man's capacity for scientific achievement as the source of that progress, and with this as foundation for the ordering of society, held high-expectations for cultural advancement. Yet, the 20th Century is on record as the bloodiest in history. Indeed, it took less than two decades for serious doubt to develop, as the destruction and human suffering of World War I simply galvanized the sensibilities of modern Westerners. Man was indeed powerful, yet demonstrated that he was not powerful enough to restrain his own inbred evil. The horrors of World War II sealed the fate of Modernism, and the West has increasingly advanced beyond it, into post-Modernism – an essentially experiential philosophy questioning the adequacy of formal language as a vessel sufficient to carry the message of Truth, which is thus utterly dismissive of objective truth-claims and ambivalent toward the future.

The caption under the image at the head of this post reads, “The state of the Church on Earth, today.” And in my opinion, this is an accurate picture. It is nearly everywhere in utter ruin. Though the message of the Gospel continues to stand on its own, it by definition stands as a remedy for man's sinfulness and the certainty of his eternal separation from God apart from the promises offered through it. Post-Modernism rejects certainty. It is ambivalent toward the future. And most of the Church has united itself with the thought patterns and priorities of post-Modernism. Neither certainty nor the future can be experienced in the present. The only message that can be known with any certainty by a post-Modernist is one that can be verified by experience. And the one experience with any genuine religious significance that seems to endure is fundamental to the message of the Law, a message which is increasingly rare in Lutheran circles and misused nearly everywhere else: a realization that the world is full of evil, that people act selfishly and often with evil intentions toward others – they are not “basically good,” they are “basically bad,” and the smart person today acts in ways that will preserve himself from the thoughtlessness of others, and will place him in a position of advantage should he need to defend himself. This is a world set against itself, individual by individual. It is a world absent the wholesome cultural impact of Christian teaching, which, for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, impels the Christian to daily put down the old man, to restrain the evil that inheres and to put the welfare of others before his own, and which, by Christian example, inspires others to do the same. If the image of Luther, still pointing to the Word, but standing alone in a pile of rubble that used to be one of the most awe inspiring churches on the planet, is representative of the state of the Church today, then the ashen landscape of Dresden is a suitable representation of the World without the influence of a healthy, robust Christianity. The evidence is all around us.

State of Society, apart from the Church

  1. It is worth noting that the Kreutzkirche has not been an insignificant church in Saxony. Through the end of the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, the rise and fall of Lutheran Pietism, to the birth of the Enlightenment in Germany, the Kreutzkirche served as the seat of the Saxon Bishop, which (as we read in our post, Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 3: Johann Sebastian Bach), was held by the “last of the Lutheran theologians from the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy, and vigorous opponent of Pietism, Valentin Ernst Löscher (1673 – 1749).” Among many other things, from his post at the Kreutzkirche, he oversaw the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche as one of the wonders of church architecture for which it is recognized today. “A large Gothic structure since the Middle Ages” (as we read in our post, Music for Holy Week, Part 2 – excerpts from Markus Passion), by 1722 the Frauenkirche “had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it needed to be demolished and rebuilt. The rebuilding began in 1726...” Even as society was sinking into Enlightenment thinking, and the church was dying all around him, Löscher, a champion of Lutheran orthodoxy to the last, spared no expense overseeing the construction of a Masterpiece of Christian Architecture, that has remained a symbol of the Gospel beloved by all who see it.
  2. Direct quote taken from the liner notes of the following album: Dresdner Requiem, by Rudolph Mauersberger
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.


Unknown said...

Thank you for this article. It articulates well some of the problems the church – and the saints – face in this darkening time. Are there any churches in the NYC area who are kindred spirits with you?

In Christ,

Steve Rafalsky

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Mr. Rafalsky,

Thank you for visiting and commenting. I'm glad you found this article helpful. As for congregations in the NYC area, I have no personal experience in the area, nor any contacts, to draw from. However, when I travel, the first place I look is the registry of Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgical Congregations (ELLC). Lutheran congregations of various church bodies, committed to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, and also committed to liturgical practice that is historically consistent with their Confession, voluntarily register with this service as a place for like-minded Lutherans to go in order to find a congregation with these specific characteristics. You will find mostly Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregations registered with this services, but also some Wisconsin Synod (WELS), Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA), and others listed there. Although I think that all of the ELDoNA congregations are registered with ELLC, not all LCMS, WELS or ELS congregations are listed.

Anyway, ELLC is always the first place I look. Sometimes I also look at the WELS church locator (which lists both WELS and ELS congregations) -- there are a number of suitable congregations from W/ELS that won't register with ELLC for fear of appearing that they might not be W/ELS.

So I looked. ELLC lists a couple of LCMS congregations that seem to be square in the NYC area: Trinity Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, and Redeemer Lutheran Church in Queens. Being WELS, I checked the WELS locator, and there seems to be another Long Island congregation worth checking out: Grace of God Lutheran Church in Dix Hills. For my part, just based on the website content, I think I would try the LCMS congregation in Queens, first.

Hope this helps.

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

With reference to the contents of the article above, and speaking of visiting WELS congregations, I can confess that I am deeply disenfranchised with the WELS, which has very evidently committed itself to post-Modern linguistics ideologies, given the controlling influence of Dynamic Equivalence (DE) on the Synod's choice of Bible translations this past Summer, along with a clear preference for "Gender Neutrality" and a preoccupation with "Positive Experience" in relation to reading the Bible. One can read all about it in the series of posts listed at the top of the right-hand column. One of those posts (the one just linked in the previous sentence), contains the following:

"[Post-Modern] philosophies, active and operating very vigorously in society today, aggressively militate against the chief Means via which the Church's work is accomplished – the objective Message of the Gospel which is delivered in human language. By embracing DE ideologies we are following Society into a use of language – verily, into an ideology of language itself! – that reinforces the social and experiential subjectivity of truth, when instead, the Message itself endeavors to point people outside of themselves and their own experience to the objective reality of Christ and the objective promises of the Gospel. Indeed, by embracing DE we are joining the world in it's assault against the Gospel in the same way that Schliermacher joined the World by embracing the thinking of Enlightenment philosophy..."

Yet, seemingly without a care for the corrosive impact of post-Modernism on the Church and society, or for its militant posture toward Truth and objectivity, the NIV 2011 stands as the clear choice of many WELS pastors and congregations. Not all pastors and congregations have embraced these philosophies and the patterns of language that descend from them, but as more and more congregations officially adopt NIV 2011 as their translation of choice, it is becoming clear how deeply rooted post-Modern proclivities truly are in WELS. If it were me, visiting a WELS (or any other Lutheran) congregation for the first time, one of the first questions I would ask is, "What translation of the Bible do you endorse or recommend for lay study?" If the answer identifies "NIV 2011" in any affirming way, I'd turn around and walk out the door. But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lindee - Great Article as usual. As a note on your final comment regarding the Bible Translation used, it got me thinking about what I believe was a footnote to a Kretzmann sermon posted awhile back which dealt with the NIV 2011 recommendations from the TEC and how that will affect thought processes for years to come. Perhaps that could be drawn out as a separate post as I thought it was quite good and worthy of further thought and discussion.

Lee Liermann

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Thank you Mr Liermann -- and thanks for reminding me about that footnote. I was just re-reading the final paragraphs of our July 2013 post, post-Modern Christianity + post-Modern Culture = Christian Capitulation. Those paragraphs, plus the footnote you recall, may make for a good segue into a renewed discussion of the translation issue, which, IMHO, needs to remain among the more important issues for layman. What we'll find out in coming weeks is that, ideologically speaking, as of the most recent edition(s) of the Nestle-Aland, the Greek critical-text used by the NIV2011 (and by most contemporary translations) no longer claims to represent the "original text," either. None of it, nor what it produces, nor those who subscribe to these ideologies, can be trusted anymore by a conscientious Christian layman.

Anonymous said...

Your mention of the text issues takes me back to a story I have from my youth, related to me at the time by my father, which I think ties into your comment above. It goes back to the adoption of the NIV 84. My father was on our Church's committee studying the NIV 84 and whether our Church should adopt same. As the committee was reviewing questionable passages our Pastor would point to his Greek text and translate it with the end result being something to the effect of - "See it agrees with the NIV translation." At some point the question was asked regarding what Greek text he was using. At which time it became painfully clear why his Greek text was not synching up with the KJV translation but was working quite well with the NIV 84.

Lee A Liermann

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