Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren posted Pope Benedict’s remarks at The Augustinian Cloister where Martin Luther became and served as an Augustinian monk. The Pope has a keen eye for Lutheran Theology, and, as some of the comments to McCain’s post suggests, BXVI knows our theology better than a lot of Lutherans out there. Benedict observes that Christianity as we know it is changing dramatically. Despite the fallenness of this world, the sin and depravity, even among Christians the primary question is no longer “How do I receive the grace of God?” And yet, as it was for Luther, this question needs to be the question of our time:
The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.
Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.
Christocentric means Christ centered. Martin Luther, and orthodox Lutherans that follow his example, preach the cross — Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification and the redemption of the world. It is clinging to the cross and, as Paul teaches, seeking to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It is living your life in the shadow of death under the cross with the present reality of serving in the kingdom of God and His Christ as a son or daughter, bought with that life giving blood. Being Christ centered means not abandoning the cross so as not to offend so-called seekers or visitors. It means not hiding who you are so as not to turn people away. For if we do, we abandon the very source of the Grace of God and the life giving power of the blood of our Savior. And yet every ounce of our being as Christians should be dedicated to knowing Christ and Him crucified so that He can live and accomplish His saving work through us as His hands and feet in this fallen world. Jesus will accomplish His work with or without me, and in spite of me and any obstacle I throw in the way.
Pope Benedict observes that Christ and His cause is the source of what we have in common as Christians. He is the beginning and end of our faith and heritage. This common witness to Christ is what has enabled Christians across denominational lines to make ecumenical progress toward unity. Sadly, however, the impetus to water down Christianity, to remove the moorings of Christian denominations from the Body of Christ as grounded in time and space of this reality in which we live, the willingness to compromise doctrine in order to achieve so-called unity risks any ecumenical progress accomplished to date:
The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.
The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.
The task for Christians in any age of this world, as Benedict points out, is always to bring the person and work of Christ into our present reality. Christ is a reality who is present and active in this world. He is not merely an idea from a book. Nor is He simply a historical fact or a mythical figure. No person, idea, or thing has made such an enduring impression on this world and its inhabitants — ever! God in the flesh made manifest for us to restore this fallen world and fallen humanity to a right relationship with Him — the Triune God. Christ entered this world to bring truth and certainty to man, to bring light to the darkness brought on by our doubt and sin. And yet we deny Christ when we say that to be a Christian is to know nothing, that all each of us has are questions, questions that lead us each, individually, to seek and find our own way. Claiming to be wise, we become fools. Even in the church. Benedict’s point here seems to be that the roots of faith must be laid deep, nourished and fed so that we live it out to its fullest. Put another way, we are so deeply rooted and steeped in the faith handed down through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles, that it makes us who we are called to be — carriers of Christ in this world. Lights shining in the darkness, pointing to the cross.
So what is the Question of our time? Are we concerned with what God’s position is toward us individually? Or are we more concerned with standing before Him on our own two feet to experience something? Is the question of our time here and now how can we make Christianity be “authentic” or “relevant” in the culture of today? Or is the question, “What does Christ mean to take up your cross and follow me?” What does it mean to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified? Who is Jesus? My buddy? My friend? My coach? In our zeal for being relevant, do we sacrifice the reality of who Christ is and what He did in the past and accomplishes now in the present through His disciples? I think it is a call to be “authentically Christian” or really be a Christian — be who Christ called you and me to be.