I'm glad Dr. P. stipulated that we're content where we are. I have trouble picturing myself leaving the Lutheran church. I love the emphasis on God's grace -- Christ -- in word and sacrament. I love the liturgy and the lectionary. Non-sacramental churches give me the willies and strike me as deist or secularized in worldview (more on that some other post). And Lutherans understand culture, not conceiving of the faith as some merely private closeted exercise. Great musicians and great theologians have come from the Lutherans. Probably the most famous modern Lutheran contribution to culture has been through one of our favorite modern sons, Dr. Seuss -- with that approach to life that is fun-loving, not ashamed of joy, not ashamed to be despised as foolish. And there is a longstanding affinity between Lutherans and Eastern Orthodox. The great Lutheran writer Jaroslav Pelikan, feeling that the Lutheran Church was no longer Lutheran but was succumbing to other pressures, was only one in a long line of Lutherans who have exited to the east.
Still, with my feet firmly planted where they are, I definitely admire the Eastern Orthodox. Now is neither the time nor the place to mention why I won't be crossing the Bosphorus, but the time to mention why I admire them:
- The combination of intellectual rigor and appreciation for mystery. Too often these traits have gone their separate ways in the western churches.
- The embodied sense of beauty and holiness that pervades both their art and their liturgy. Whatever you might say about the Orthodox, they are not closet Gnostics. (Gnostics were the "physicality doesn't matter and is at best beneath our notice" heresy.)
- Theology of art and beauty. Part and parcel of the Eastern Orthodox tradition is the willingness to focus the powers of mind and reason anyplace where God's presence makes itself known in the world -- not just in the analytical pursuits of dissecting and classifying God's attributes. This makes Eastern Orthodox theology far less dry than the western strain of scholastic theology. There are entire areas of theology hardly touched in the western churches that are well-developed in the Eastern Orthodox church.
- The focus on Christ. They do a good job of appreciating God's grace as opposed to man's merits.
- The church triumphant. To participate in the Divine Liturgy is to sense the company of the faithful who have gone before, to live in memory of the faithful all the way back to the primitive church.
- Old Testament saints. There are icons of St. Isaiah and St. Jeremiah to go along with St. John the Baptist and St. Nicholas of Myra. The roots of Christianity are remembered to go back far beyond the incarnation and back to God's earliest revelations to humanity that the incarnation was coming, God's earliest revelations that his true identity is God With Us.
- "Memory Eternal!" They are not ashamed to be different than the culture around them. Isn't that a prerequisite for holiness in an age like this?