On the Importance of Being an Informed Reformer

The ecclesial situation is dire. We live in a world where an ordained priest in the Swedish Church can hold and even annunciate the belief that the Eucharist has no sacramental value, without causing a commotion. This would be fine if the stance was the product of an informed dialogue with the official Church doctrine, rather than the result of being unaware of said doctrine and its historical importance. The fact that the servants of our Mother Church no longer know the difference between official Church doctrine and the whims of their own pseudo-secularized minds is perhaps the greatest travesty of our time (after the popularization of crocs), not necessarily because they end up deviating from doctrine, but because they do not know that from which they are deviating, or why their opinions constitute a deviation. I once heard someone say that if the Church survived the corrupt Popes of the medieval period, than the Swedish Church can surely makes it through the crisis of the twenty-first century. At first, this clever little anecdote inspired me with hope. However, upon further consideration, a terrible realization hit me, like a de-railed train heading straight for an unknowing pedestrian. When the Medieval popes impregnated their illicit mistresses, they did not change canonical law in order to make them sleep well at night (pun intended). They lived in their hypocrisy. When the modern leadership of the Church, however, realize that they do not agree with, for example, the traditional Church doctrine concerning sexuality, abstinence and marriage, they are not simply content to waddle around in the hypothetical mud of their self-contradiction – no, they actually have the nerve to change traditions and doctrines which have been upheld for thousands of years by eager servants of Christ, just so they can tell their children that it’s ok for them to ‘experiment’ in high school.

On a more serious note, this tendency to historical and doctrinal ignorance has consequences far more terrifying than the creation of sexually confused teenagers. The inability to differentiate between the Self and the Church is not a new ecclesial challenge: it has been one of Christ’s bride’s most consistent battlegrounds (take, for example, the traditional Vaticanesque difficulty of separating the individual economy from that of the Church, highlighted by Pope Francis’ lovely, rage-inebriated Christmas speech of anno domini 2015). The real issue here is the painfully obvious and rapidly escalating ignorance of actual Church doctrines, history, and beliefs. The vast majority of priests in the Swedish Church today live in a disturbing state of un-knowledge, especially concerning the rich and elaborate doctrinal inheritance of our Mother Church. I use the word un-knowledge in order to emphasize that the fault does not lie with the priests themselves (at least, not with most of them). If our ecclesial educational institutions put just a little bit of effort into their God-given responsibility of tradition-transmission, we would be turning out rows and rows of doctrinally-aware priests. Instead, our eager servants of Christ are let down by an educational system that encourages skills such as being able to ‘draw the incarnation’ (crayons were provided – I have never wished so intensely that I was joking.) over the ability to be aware of one’s place and function in the historical and salvific history of one of the oldest religious institutions in the world. Our congregational pillars are not ignorant by nature or by lack of ability; rather they have been educated by a system which encourages them to live in a state of un-knowledge concerning the beliefs of their own Church, a state of notable disinterest. In this Year of Reformation, is it not our divinely inaugurated duty to awaken in the earthly representatives of our Ecclesial Mother an active, lasting, and dynamic interest in these, the ancient roots of our faith?

I do not want to be misunderstood: I am in no way a strong advocate for a church of doctrinally-lobotomized priests who follow traditions without problematizing, reflecting, or creating anew. What I am strongly against is a church of priests who are not aware of the doctrines or traditions upon which their institution is built. You cannot argue against that which you never learned. In order to reform, you must be informed. Amidst all this talk of changing the church, making it more accessible, creating a more modern theology, it strikes me again and again that every reformatory project which is not put into dialogue with the traditions and doctrines which it wishes to challenge is a failed project from conception to fruition, no matter the outcome. If we do not take our ecclesial inheritance seriously, we are not worthy of challenging it, nor will we be successful. Let us return to the clever (if I may say so myself) anecdote of the Medieval popes and their mistresses. The papacy was able to recover from this period of neglect and corruption because those wishing to reform had something to go back to. The doctrines and traditions of the Catholic Church, meant to regulate the Papal life, had not been changed or altered by those ignoring them. Because of this, reformers were able to re-create the traditional Papacy. But what about us? Are we giving our children and grandchildren a fair chance of recovering their Church if we keep burying the evidence of what it was originally built upon? As Lutherans, we should know the value of ad fontes – are we giving future generations a fair chance at semper reformandum if we keep erasing all the traces of our past? There will soon be no sources to which they might return.

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