20 April 2008

(Just Like) Starting Over

One of my guilty pleasures is an enjoyment for some of John Lennon's music. I was reminded of one of those songs, "(Just Like) Starting Over", when I read Fr. Christopher Hall's excellent blog the other day.

In the song, Lennon sings of how complicated and busy his life with Yoko had become. He advocates getting away for a while, to make a fresh start. Of course, he recognizes that relationships are organic, and historical, and no one can really make a fresh start. Hence he adds the (just like) to his plea for starting over.

Fr. Hall surveys the situation in my former confession and says, "We don't even have a church body. The LCMS is a non-profit organization." He also shows the underlying problem in his words, ". . . since we had no oversight, everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

One of Fr. Hall's commentators agrees with his desire for oversight. He calls it "godly" and "biblical." But he concludes by saying, "For this kind of church body, you need to start over."

Like a human relationship, the Church is organic and historical. All that the Lord Jesus began to do and to teach, he continued to do and to teach through his apostles and the parishes begun through their ministry. By giving his Church apostles, he gave them that oversight they would need for guidance in their task. Those apostles, in turn, chose bishops to oversee the Church. As the Church began new parishes, those bishops naturally and necessarily exercised oversight over many parishes, assisted by the presbyters to whom they delegated some of their responsibilities. (For years, as a Lutheran, I wondered how the episcopal office grew out of the presbyteral office; I now see that the historical reality was just the opposite: the presbyteral office grew out of the episcopal office. ) Those bishops worked in symphony with each other, and even when the Bishop of Rome unilaterally broke the concord, the others continued to work together. The right that the Bishop of Rome claimed for himself--to act without the consensus of his brethren--was soon exercised over against him. (It was called the Reformation.) A proliferation of bodies, confessions and traditions resulted. But the original bishops, minus their Roman brother, continued to work together, and still do until this day.

Any "church body" so-called that can "start over" is inherently an impossibility. Any "oversight" that occurs merely de iure humano, by human agreement, is doomed to failure. Christ can as little have a newly-formed body as the Church can have a newly-formed Head. The body draws its life from the Head, and that life is one and the same as the Head's. The body is filled with all the fullness of God. She is perfect, pure, and holy though her members are weak and sinful.

There is one way of starting over. And that is to join oneself to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. As Khomiakov said over a century ago,

Readers and brothers! A ruinous legacy has come down to you from the ignorance and sinfulness of past ages—the embryo of death; and you are suffering punishment for it without being directly responsible, since you have had no definite understanding of the mar involved. You have done much for mankind in science and art, in constitutional law and in the civilization of peoples, in the practical realization of the meaning of truth and in the practical application of love. More than that, you have done all you could for man in his relation to God, preaching Christ to people who had never before heard His Divine Name. All honor and thanks to you for your immeasurable labors, the fruits of which mankind is gathering now and will continue to gather in the future. But as long as it still inspires you, this ruinous legacy will kill your spiritual life.

The cure is within your power. Of course, as long as the disease is alive in popular prejudices and in the ignorance of the means to stop its spread (and this will last a long time), it is impossible to expect the healing of the masses; but the cure is accessible now to private individuals. If any one of my readers is convinced of the truth of my words, of the validity of my definition of the origins of the schism and its rationalistic character, then I beg him to consider. If he will make but one acknowledgment of the truth, then he must accept all the practical consequences flowing from it; if he will make but one confession of error, he must then repair it, to the extent that this is possible.

I beg him to undertake a moral exploit—to tear himself away from rationalism, to condemn the excommunication which was once pronounced upon his Eastern brothers, to reject all the later decrees flowing from this falsehood, to accept us once more in his communion with the rights of brotherly equality, and to restore in his soul the unity of the Church, so that by this fact he might have the right to repeat with her: "Let us love one another, and with one mind confess the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

The disease carries death within itself, but the cure is not difficult; it only requires an act of justice. Will people want to undertake this exploit, or will they prefer to perpetuate the reign of falsehood, deluding their own consciences and the minds of their brothers?

My readers, judge for yourselves!"


Christopher D. Hall said...

My favorite Lennon (solo) song is "Watching the Wheels." Man, it gives me chills.

Funny story: one day my wife saw my two girls, age 6 and 4, set up little lawn chairs right at the end of the driveway and sit down. My wife wandered out and asked them what they were doing there, sitting at the end of the driveway. "We're just watching the world go by," said Olivia, age 5. She wanted off the merry-go-round too.

All of which to say: you mean people who give oversight are bishops? ;)

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Go figure, eh?