Monday, February 06, 2006

Dear Chris, Don't Try to Outwit Martin Luther

Note: I can hardly believe I took the time to answer Chris (see his comment on my previous post). However, since I did, I guess I'll post it. It's all old hat and BORING.

Chris, are you really so humorless? A parody is a condemnation, of course. But I don’t care a fig if Ole Phyllis Schlafly wears pearls or not—except that I find it both ironic and morally reprehensible that people pick and choose which Biblical injunctions to CLING DESPERATELY to and use as “truth,” and which to ignore completely. If one takes the Bible literally (inerrancy of the Scriptures, and all that), wearing pearls and gold and twisting up her hair is absolutely against God’s command for a woman. My goodness, Phyllis Schlafly looks as if she is posing for a depiction of the whore of Babylon:

“And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication” (Revelation 17.4).”

(Bruce Metzger’s, Breaking the Code, will give you some real understanding of what those wonderful fantastical images in Revelation are all about---just in case you think it's about the "end times.")

But you and Ole Phyllis Schlafly apparently think the Biblical dress code for women is a silly archaism that no one needs to follow; yet you are ready and willing to defend to the death your “proof-texting” from the Bible to object to anything you consider not to be “Conservative Christian Values.” Although you haven’t said so directly, I’d be willing to bet that you quote Romans and tell the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to condemn homosexuals (interpreting the story in a bizarre fashion that even the Bible says is incorrect—see Ezekiel 16.49: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy”). I know Ole Phyllis hates fags.

(“Schlafly, matriarch of the Christian right… wishes that people would stop asking her about her gay son. John Schlafly, 53, the eldest of her six children, acknowledged he is gay in 1992. Since then, Phyllis Schlafly—who believes homosexuality is wrong, because all sex outside marriage is wrong—has had to publicly square her vehement opposition to gay rights with her son's sexuality.” ( September 2, 2004)

Ole Phyllis, whose personal life seems to belie all of the anti-feminist venom she preaches (she is powerful, successful, rich, and a professional “public” woman [a lawyer] whose very living depends on her doing the things she preaches against) maintains values that seem to be neither conservative nor christian. They are the result of picking and choosing which of the laws and proscriptions of the Bible to live by, which to try to force others to live by, and which to ignore completely. So I choose to lampoon her (the empress has, according to the Bible, way too many clothes) because she is, by any objective standard, a hypocrite.

Your judgment of me

(remember, you wrote to me privately that, “I don’t know who you claim to be, but you seem to be interested in God’s Word. I hope one day you will find Christ in your own life and develop a personal relationship with Him”)

is antithetical to both the letter and the spirit of traditional Christian theology. According to ORTHODOX Biblical theology, you have no standing to judge my relationship with The Christ, or any other aspect of my faith, simply on the grounds that my understanding of the faith does not march in lockstep with yours. Even Ole Phyllis Schlafly may have a genuine relationship with The Christ—I don’t have a clue, and it’s not mine to judge. However, I can point out that, if she is going to try to take the speck out of my eye, she better first remove the log from her own (and vice versa).

“Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9) “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). “For brethren ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

These are but a few Biblical passages that tell me that my relationship with The Christ is not to be judged or mediated by anyone—by you, Ole Phyllis, Jerry Falwell, Richard John Neuhaus, Ted Haggard, or EVEN MY OWN BISHOP.

I come by that belief honestly and through a lifetime of study. My first teacher was my Baptist minister father, who studied and understood the writings of the Baptist theologian, E. Y. Mullins:

E. Y. MULLINS’S distinctive work, The Axioms of Religion, stressed the importance of the doctrine of soul competency. Soul competency is not self-sufficiency; it is competency under God. The competency comes from the Spirit of Christ to that person. One’s religion is a very personal relationship---between that soul and God. No one intervenes. One person cannot repent, accept salvation, or obey for another person.

The individual’s direct access to God could not be more clearly stated than in Mullins’s warning: “Whenever a church interposes between the child and the Father, through sacrament, through human priesthood or hierarchy, through centralized government, through authoritative oligarchies of any kind in spiritual affairs, it ceases to conform to the kingdom of God, and becomes a juvenile court or orphanage instead.” Mullins’s words are thought provoking. Orphanages are places for children with no parents. When a person’s access to God is denied, that person becomes an orphan separated from the Father.

One person or group simply cannot claim more spiritual privilege than another. There are no spiritual classes when relating to God. All believers are children of God. Of course, churches will have ministers or officials to perform certain duties, but they are not the masters of the life and faith of other believers.

Mullins insisted that the autonomy of the believer is an intrinsic part of grace. The personal relationship with God is his grace to us. Because each believer has a personal relationship with God, believers work together in the community of church as brothers and sisters, not as masters and servants.
(“Doing Ministry Baptist Style: The Priesthood of Believers,” by Carolyn D. Blevins.)

Old-time Baptist seminary professors aren’t the only believers who understand this. For example,

In recent years the neglected doctrine of the priesthood of all believers has been nibbling at me. The notion of being called is largely limited to the ordained clergy, and the nature of that calling understood as ministering to and meeting the needs of congregations. Perhaps we need a few messengers to wander into our churches and say, as I once heard Garrison Keillor intone, “Give up your good Christian life, and follow Christ!”
Robinson, Anthony B. “Being called. (Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-44).” The Christian Century; 9/8/1993.

My own adopted Lutheran heritage is absolutely clear about the relationship between the individual believer and God. Brother Martin obviously did not think much of the idea that any one Christian had much to say about any other Christian’s relationship to God. I could quote any of a thousand discussions of his understanding, but I happen to like this one I found recently:

Luther’s understanding of faith, however, was not human-centered: God instills faith in human beings; consequently, God is solely responsible for salvation. The word faith has many possible meanings, but Luther scorned all but his:

“Faith is not something dreamed, a human illusion, although this is what many people understand by the term. . . . When they hear the gospel, they miss the point; in their hearts, and out of their own resources, they conjure up an idea which they call ‘belief,’ which they treat as genuine faith. All the same, it is but a human fabrication, an idea without a corresponding experience in the depths of the heart.”

In his “Commentary on Galatians,” he argued that true faith comes from above. He explained it in terms of the righteousness it produces:

“But this most excellent righteousness, of faith I mean (which God through Christ, without works, imputeth into us), is neither political nor ceremonial, nor consisteth in our works, but is clean contrary: that is to say, a mere passive righteousness . . . . For in this we work nothing, we render nothing unto God, but only we receive and suffer another to work for us, that is to say, God.”

For Luther, faith is not voluntary belief, but rather an unmerited gift from God.

(Graham, Tammy. “Free Will from Luther to the Brethren." )

So, Dear Chris, you may comment on my relationship with The Christ if you want. You may even judge my uncharitable humor at Ole Phyllis Schlafly’s expense. But I will let the likes of Brother Luther and Professor Mullins and others guide me. Neither you nor Ole Phyllis has any standing to judge whether or not I have “found Christ in my own life and develop[ed] a relationship with him.” I don’t know whether or not you have. It’s none of my business. But I will try to be consistent: If I am going to “judge” the likes of Ole Phyllis for wearing pearls, I will at least be willing to let her judge me on the basis that I also choose a non-Biblical way of living. But, at the same time, I will listen to Brother Martin’s admonition that both are “…but a human fabrication, an idea without a corresponding experience in the depths of the heart” and that we are on dangerous ground when we declare that one of us has the right to stand in any way between the other and our God. And that even means anyone judging whether or not I am "saved" because I am gay.