Feb 25, 2009

new Lent > old Lent ?

UPDATE: I think some of my confusion stems from a difference iMonk already pointed out: "An important balance has to be pursued if post-evangelicalism is to be pursued in the Protestant context." I guess it was just easier for me to drop the Protestant context (pretext maybe?). :)

This post about Lent from internetmonk.com is too good not to share.

But read over this section:

So my own vision of evangelicalism is a mixture of Christian traditions and uncompromising, Gospel-centered, new covenant Gospel preaching, teaching and application.

Evangelicalism needs the connections and depth that come from the broader, deeper, more ancient Christian tradition; but even more, evangelicalism needs a strong new covenant Gospel emphasis in everything. Evangelicalism needs traditions that can give meaning and shape spirituality, but evangelicalism needs to avoid any form of legalism, asceticism or new versions of old covenant rituals.

Am I presupposing bias on his part in that I feel like he's positing "new covenant Gospel traditions" (of Evangelicalism) as a superior alternative to "more ancient Christian tradition" (of orthodox traditions), and saying that these new traditions "give meaning and shape spirituality" while the old traditions are a "form of legalism, ascetism, or new version of old covenant rituals?"

Seriously, I'm asking. Because it's possible that I'm just projecting my own bias into his words. Am I being too reactive and/or defensive of the orthodox traditions. Remember I want to stop doing that.

In any case, even if I'm maybe blowing his satement out of proportion and context, I remember feeling that way when I was Protestant. I thought that attention to rituals like fasting and Lent or sacraments like Baptism and Eucharist in the orthodox traditions were just a throwback to the legalism of the Old Testament/Covenant. Surely, in my opinion, real "New Testament spirituality" didn't need all these complicated institutions and formulas - all you need is your Bible and a few quiet minutes in prayer with God. Right?


In my practice (of more orthodox Christian traditions) in the Catholic faith, I'm finding exactly what iMonk says I should: "a full awareness of the new covenant and all the Gospel-centric implications of the new covenant." He talks about fasting. When I fasted yesterday on Ash Wednesday for the first time; I'll admit it was hard to focus on God and not on myself or my newly adopted, more ritualistic journey.

But C.S. Lewis makes a great metaphor (has he ever made a bad one?) I think I can use.

Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is a man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on. They have a certain tone or quality which is there even when he is not playing, just as a mathematician's mind has a certain habit and outlook which is there even when he is not doing mathematics. ... Now it is that quality rather than the particular actions [that are important.]
This distinction is important for the following reason. If we thought only of the particular actions we might encourage [some] wrong ideas. We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it ... We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.

This is one of the reasons we commit long-term to rituals and why they become time-honored traditions. We make them habits, like training, so that, after their newness wears off, we don't think about the traditions alone; the traditions form those certain qualities in us that make us live in God's grace when we are not in ritual.

When I first started my Catholic journey I had a couple of what I would now call "lucky shots" - where I felt a deep and intimate connection to God thru a ritual or ritualistic worship. Now I feel like I'm more in a "training" mode. There are some sporadic dramatic encounters, but I'm still "focusing on my own game" as it were - still memorizing some of the prayers, still following the congregation's lead during Eucharistic liturgy, etc.

I'm trying to make some of the "innumerable good shots" now. This Lenten Season is one of them, and many more to come. In these actions, I must remember to pursue the qualities God desires for me, and not just pursue the actions. But I now know from personal experience that, just as iMonk desires, the orthodox rituals and traditions "bring us deeper into the experience of the savior who is our salvation."


Kristi said...

I think of it all as where your heart is. When I took communion all my life, it was just sour juice and a stale cracker. Now, it's more of a holy experience. My mind better grasps the symbolism. Though many times I do still do it with a certain amount of disinterest, it is what I make. If that makes sense.

Jeff said...
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Jeff said...

Grace is one of the most scandalous words that has ever existed. By his own admission, Luther was almost driven insane by his understanding of it. We protestants have staked our lives and our eternities upon it. However, Luther, and others who have followed him, have wanted to throw out the book of James. Because James seems to indicate that faith is shown by deeds. And how does that "square" with "justification by faith?" The protestant movement has never had a sufficient answer to that question.

Thus, while the work of a disciple is unquestionably wrapped in discipline, the question that all "Christians" must answer with regard to the practice of our faith in light of grace--what separates the legalist from the simply disciplined--is the question of which helping verb we will choose to precede our good deeds: "must" or "should."

I will quickly acknowledge that this is an oversimplification. However, what has brought shame to the kingdom in the history of the church has been our method of "enforcing" a "must."

No doubt the true disciple "will" because he "should." But when anyone but God insists that we "must," the only two responses to a failure are legal enforcement or ecclesiastical excommunication.

Help me find the "both/and" response here. How do we embrace grace to do what we should do without insisting that we must?

luke said...

Interestingly, the Vatican and the Lurtheran World Federation created a "Join Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" that dealt with the issue.


So a whole lot of people who are a whole lot smarter than we are have been at this for hundreds of years and are still at it.

But to your must vs. should point, Jeff, I agree the oversimplification makes things hard. Maybe we can add just a couple more helping verbs to get out of the small dichotomy - I think "need" AND "can" are useful.

Personally, I *need* actions to develop my faith - I *need* a book of daily, ritualistic prayer, I *need* to fast from worldly things, I *need* to give to the poor. But then, what *can* I do?

I am a man with mere human nature. I am selfish and sinful. (Especially in giving to the poor, I find I have very little power to do it myself.) So I *need* God before I even start to do good - only then *can* I do so.

So maybe one pivot in the Catholic/Protestant "debate" of deeds is just this - we dwell too much on whether we "must" or "should" do something? I.e., we draw too hard a line between our "justification" and our "sanctification" at the expense of participating holistically in the process of Atonement.

As much as I've encountered, this is actually the way the Catholic Church sees the "conflict" as well. After all, it's the "Sola Fide" argument which bears the onus of proving exclusivity.