Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Luthearn Pietism as Catholic longing bound to a particular identity

I was introduced to the workds of Georges Florovsky by Philip Anderson, professor of Church history at North Park Theological Seminary. It was in reading Florovsky that I began to see a connection between affirmations of Lutheran Pietism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Though I also saw ways in which Eastern Orhtodox theology completed or placed Lutheran Pietism in a larger context, which both affirmed it and challenged its perspective. One example of this is the concluding paragraphs in Florovsky's essay "The Catholicity of the Church" (Bible, Church, Traditions: An Easter Orthodox View Volume1 Collected Works, pp 54-56). The section is entitled "Freedom and Authority" a topic much discussed and close to the Covenant's heart. He begins this concluding section speaking something that the Covenant would like to believe. "In the catholicity of the Church the painful duality and tension between freedom and authority is solved." The Covenant would like to believe itself to be a place where this painful duality and tension is solved, though even a cursory review of our history would show this to be false. Though then the Lutheran Pietist mind might also ask " Does the history of Eastern Orthodoxy or of Christianity really bear this out?" We of course need to recognize that Florovsky is saying that it is this thing called catholicity that resolves this tension. I as a Covenanter then begin to attend to this thing called catholicity that I confess in the Apostles Creed (or at least did when I was taught the creed in confirmation though now a version sometiems used in the Covenant uses "Christian" in the place of "catholic", something if find unfortunate for being able to make connections beyond 21st century Christianity) Florovsky continues,"In the Church there is not and cannot be any outward authority. Authority cannot be a source of spiritual life." Lutheran Pietists could embrace this; our objections to Lutheran orthodoxy that had become rigid and authoritarian were phrased similarly. We also have said things like what follows: "So also Christian authority appeals to freedom; this authority must convince not constrain." Yes, yes we can affirm that as well. "official subjection would in no wise further true unity of mind and of heart." With this the Covenant would agree as well as would most if not all of our Lutheran Pietist forbearers. Some of us might begin to be wary as he speaks of the limits of freedom but for the most part we agree that "...everyone [has not] received unlimited freedom of personal opinion." But I think we become very nervous and would begin to object as he says " it is precisely in the Church that "personal opinions...should not and cannot exist." I think we Covenanters like our personal opinions. While we agree that our freedom is limited we see this freedom as one of having varied personal opinions. This is however, what also has and continues to threaten the fabric of our unity and keeps us from ever speaking but in the most vague ways about the Mind of Christ. We know it to be our goal but it at best becomes some minimal affirmation or more often evaporates in the coexistence of varied multiple and (at times) contradictory personal opinions. Florovsky's insistence on Catholicity confounds us it draws him away from the personal "I". Or Rather the "I", or our mere individual subjectivity. Florovsky assertion is bound to the larger reality of the Church, that which is neither merely the collection of believers in Christ nor some homogenous mass of undifferentiated humanity, but of persons with, or seeking to attain, a catholic consciousness. That is "living in spiritual sympathy with,and understand, the historical completeness of the Church's experience." Yet if we look at the preamble to Covenant national and local constitutions we find an articulation of our desire for this catholic consciousness as we speak of historic Christianity and affirm the Creeds.
We are in fact caught in the tragedy of which Florovsky speaks of in the concluding paragraph we know we are to be catholic, the relationship of freedom and authority we seek and yet fail to attain is the relationship of catholicity. And we continue to be bound to are particularity and subjectivism. Whether it is the particularity of Swedish Lutheran Pietism, or the particularity of African-American Christianity, or the particularity of Latin American Evangelicalism. Now all these particularities may have very good reason for existing, but they on their own are only personal opinions they will never be the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ we seek, Florovsky names for us, it is catholicity, the catholicitywe affirm in speaking the Apostles Creed and affirm in our preamble to the Covenant Constitution. The longing of Lutheran Pietism and the Covenant in its logic of Freedom in Christ will never be affirmed through affirming a singular particularity nor in seeking to affirm multiple particularities, but only when each of us seek to turn aside from our personal opinions and seek after the catholicity of the Church we claim to be members of.
Florovsky affirms and challenges us in the Covenant and in Lutheran Pietism. In this I believe Eastern Orthodoxy can affirm and name the way in which the Spirit has been at work in us and the ways in which our obsession with particular identity(ies) distracts us from the true calling of Lutheran Pietism as an expression ofcatholicity.