Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Gnostic Sea

If you want to know why people have themselves cremated after they die, it's because of Gnosticism.
If you want to know why people fry their brains on mind altering drugs, it's because of Gnosticism.

If you want to know why kids in middle school become sexually active, why the push for gay marriage keeps getting stronger and why a woman who legally changed her name to Chaz Bono is being called a man on Dancing With the Stars, it's because of Gnosticism.

If you're not familiar with the term, Gnosticism is a philosophy/theology that can be easily summarized in four words: flesh bad; spirit good.  All things that are material, in the eyes of the Gnostic, are bad.  They are broken, fallen.  And all things having to do with the spirit are good, as God is, according to the Gnostic, only spirit.  Therefore, anything with physical dimensions, especially our flesh, clouds us from accessing the pure spirit-thing that is God.  And so, if one desires to attain communion with this transcendent being, one must first liberate his pure soul from the prison that is his fallen body.  Flesh bad; spirit good.

Of course, Gnosticism is  not a new problem.  Five seconds after the Apostles first began taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, the Gnostics began trying to overtake the Christian faith by denying that God would ever lower himself to take on human flesh and by rejecting the teaching that the physical blood of a man could somehow bring mankind into communion with God.  The influence of the Gnostics was already wide-spread enough at the time that John wrote his Gospel for him to address their teachings rather directly.  The Apostle's words "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," aren't simply meant to be pretty poetry describing the Incarnation.  Those words are an aggressive assault against those who deny that a man is fully God and that God is fully man in Jesus Christ.  They are meant to shove Divine Flesh in the Gnostic's face and force him to smell the armpits of God.  John is sort of awesome that way.

But despite the Scripture's clear condemnation of Gnosticism, like Sugar Ray being played on pop radio stations, it just won't go away.  Although, unlike Sugar Ray being played on pop radio stations, there's a rather good reason for it.

You see, when Gnosticism tells you that flesh is bad and spirit is good, it therefore tells you that your body doesn't matter and that you can do whatever you want with it without harming your soul, just as you can throw away a Ding Dong wrapper without harming the essence of that which is Ding Dong.  As long as your spirit is pure, as long as your heart is golden, that's all that matters.

So, when it comes to burial, Christianity says that your flesh is a gift from God, a wonderful part of His creation that was made in perfection, that was redeemed through the blood of His Son, and that will be lifted up out of the grave in glory by the power of the Holy Spirit on the Last Day, therefore you should treat your body with care and reverence.  Gnosticism says that your flesh is a piece of trash that has no part in your eternal communion with God, so go ahead and burn it.  So when people have grown up in Christian churches, when they've been surrounded by the Incarnate Word that knits their bodies and souls into one redeemed and restored package, and when they nonetheless decide to have their bodies burned into a pile of rubble after they die, to whom are they listening?  To Christ or to the Gnostic?

Likewise, when it comes the truth of God, Christianity says that God's Word is a tangible, touchable thing found in physical letters and earthly words.  It says that God can be known and accessed through the writings of men.  Gnosticism says that God can only be found outside the confines of our fleshly limitations.  So when people have seen God revealed to them in the words of the Bible, and yet they fill their brains with all sort of drugs and chemicals in the hope of releasing themselves from this fleshly prison and discovering the hidden knowledge of the Divine, to whom are they listening?  To Christ or to the Gnostic?

And once again, when it comes to sexuality and the body, Christianity says that God made male and female, that He made woman for man, and that He made sex for the purpose of procreation and for loving the one whom He has given to be your one flesh and that sex is only blessed in His eyes when it remains within the realm that He made for it.  Gnosticism says that there is no such thing as male or female, that the only part of sex that really matters is the spiritual connection between two (or more) people and that a person's purity of soul cannot be challenged by what he or she does with her or her genitals.

So, when 14 year old kids who aren't married to each other and don't want babies engage in the act that God made in order for married people to make babies, and when they say that this is fine because they share a common love of each other and Glee, to whom are they listening?

When two men say that their sexual union, which creates not life, but death through the spread of disease, is identical to the union between a man and a woman, to whom are they listening?

And when a lady says she is really a man because that's how she feels in her spirit, despite her flesh sporting two ovaries, some more lady parts and a pair of X chromosomes, is she listening to Christ or is she listening to the Gnostic?

Gnosticism is an overwhelming, pervasive thing.  It's everywhere, affecting people of every age, class, race, education level, you name it.  Gnosticism is seeping into the funeral plans of old Christian women, spreading into the laws of our nation, and boiling over in the line-ups of our reality TV programs.  It's everywhere, both a flesh-eating virus and a flesh-denying cancer that shows no sign of slowing down, no trace of remorse.

And yet, just as Gnosticism thrives in every generation, so the words of St. John kill it in every generation.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Jesus is God in a human body.  And when that human body was broken for us, the God/Man forgave our sins and gave us the right to enjoy full and eternal communion with His Father.

So to my fellow Christians who are as prone to despair as I am, don't lose hope.  Don't lose faith.  Keep going back to those words of St. John.  Keep shoving that Divine Flesh in the face of the Gnostics.  Keep making them smell the armpits of God.  And as a parting gift for today's post, here's a poem I wrote on this subject:

The Gnostic Sea
By Hans W. Fiene

I woke this morning early.
The sound of splashing foam,
Had crashed into my head and led
Me from my resting home.

I rose in weary wonder
To see what this might be.
And from my stage, I saw the raging
Of the Gnostic Sea.

The Gnostic spanned horizons
From north to south, it stormed
And gnashed its jaw, and yet I saw
The Gnostic had no form

The Gnostic had no water.
The Gnostic had no blue.
That shapeless host was like a ghost.
It had no mass to strew

The Gnostic had no currents.
The Gnostic had no waves.
But from my shore, I saw its floor
Was tiled with countless graves.

It wore those tombs like trophies
Like busts upon a wall.
And from the deep, it vowed no sleep
Until it claimed us all.

Claimed all the sons of Water,
Of Water and the Word,
By hooking snares that pull us where
No Savior’s voice is heard.

And so the winds that weren’t
Began to howl sweet
To lure in with sav’ry sin
The ones with restless feet.

"Come here," the Gnostic beckoned.
"Come wade within my sea.
And in a flash, my formless splash
Will make you just like me.

"Dive in," it chanted sweetly.
"Dive deep, I'll make you fresh.
I'll fill your cup by splitting up
Your spirit and your flesh.

"I'll grab that sarkos carcass
And cleave it from your soul
So that no sin can enter in
when passion starts to roll.

"I'll keep you safe from conscience
When wrong sweats out your pores.
I'll call it love, your lust that just
gives birth to open sores.

"And if the Prophets shout out
The Word, don't fear its gist.
'Cause damning law can't get a claw
In loins that don't exist.

"So come and soothe your spirit
Come sanctify your fun
Come slice apart your fleshly heart
And burn it when you're done."

So this the Gnostic promised
And many wand'ring sheep,
They traded blood for formless flood
And leapt into the deep.

And peering in that chasm,
I looked at those below
And feared this Gnostic name would claim
Me in its undertow.

And so I fell down, weeping
Convinced I could not stand,
Until I felt the grain that dwelt
Beneath me wasn't sand.

This coarse and gritty substance
That kept me from the sea
Was specks and flecks of Flesh Divine
Was God's anatomy.

And as the Gnostic threatened
To drown me in the deep
The Flesh of God, that Holy Sod,
He swallowed me, His sheep,

Encased me in His Castle
Comprised of Holy Skin
and vowed my foe to overthrow.
He swore my war to win.

And so He rose a Fortress
Congealed from Righteous Blood.
And though the Gnostic stormed and swarmed
His walls it could not flood.

The Gnostic crashed with fury.
The Gnostic screamed and screeched.
But through the hours, the Godly Tow'rs
of Flesh could not be breached.

The Gnostic slapped with vapor.
The Savior struck with fists.
Its phantom pokes were met by chokes
from Hands with bloody wrists.

And when the Gnostic, gurgling,
spat out a mocking sound
to say the Heel, it wasn't real,
that crushed it on the ground

I heard the Fleshy Logos
Condemn the Gnostic Sea.
Then with His hand, He grabbed it and
Impaled it on a tree.

He trapped it in His fingers
And nailed it to the wood.
Then, with my eye, I saw it die
Right where the Savior stood.

He killed it with His body.
He slew it with His breath.
This thing that cursed His final thirst,
He dragged it into death.

Then as the Gnostic's raging
expired with my sin,
My heart rejoiced to hear the voice
of God call to my kin.

To those within the chasm,
To those within the graves,
To those who tasted death in wasted
life as Gnostic slaves.

"Come up," the Savior beckoned.
"Come up and touch my side.
And see that He who made your souls
Is wearing human hide.

"Come gaze on God your Brother
Who, from a virgin's womb,
was called to rid your skin of sin,
And break apart your tomb.

"So with those tombs in tatters,
Come live within the Flesh
Where those released can dwell in peace,
their souls and bodies mesh

"As one within my mercy,
As one within my grace,
Both purified and sanctified
By God's own bloody face.

"So leave that Gnostic sewer.
Depart its formless flood.
Come join my feast, come eat your Priest
And drink His Holy Blood."

And so that Fleshy Fortress
In which I safely dwelt,
His halls and walls began to quake,
to quiver and to melt.

Then Saints from every nation
Began to enter in
The space of God’s incarnate grace
The home of God in skin.

And when my final brother
Within that Castle stood,
That Godly Hide repetrified
And sealed us in for good.

So when the Gnostic grumbled
And growled from its grave,
We laughed within our Savior’s Skin,
Preserved inside His Nave.

And so amidst the chorus,
Above our loud “rejoice,”
I heard the Word made Flesh cry out
I heard my Savior’s voice:

"The day of war is over
The day of rest is here
So let me dry your eye, and cry
No more the tears of fear

“Your weary head come lay on
My Tabernacle Bed.
The formless one has been undone.
The Gnostic Sea is dead.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who Taught Whom?

Once upon a time, in between finishing college and starting seminary, I worked as a substitute teacher.  Out of all the temporary jobs I've ever had, I probably loved substiteaching the most.

There was, however, one day when I did not enjoy substiteaching.  That day took place when I filled in for a neophyte first grade teacher who had never had a sub before.  Due to her inexperience, this otherwise great teacher made the critical error of assuming that I knew the jargon of a first grade classroom.  (I, of course, didn't.)  And the result of combining her assumption with my ignorance was that I had a list of things that I was supposed to teach the kids, but I didn't actually know what any of those things were.

At 8:30, we do Calendar.  At 9:15, it's Happy Friend Time with Mr. Letters Hour.  At 11:37, it's Super Storybook Explosion.

That's pretty much all I had in my teacher-prepared notes.

Of course, I tried my best to prevent those kids from knowing that I had no idea what I was doing.  Ok, I'd saccharinely say, who wants to tell me about Calendar time?  But after doing this a couple of times, the students had figured out what was really going on, that I was just trying to get them to teach me what I was supposed to teach them.  And once they realized that, they saw that the tables had turned.  The teacher was now the one learning.  And the learners were now those attempting to teach.

I bring this up because, when it comes to church music and hymondy, something very similar happens whenever we Lutherans start eating up non-Lutheran stuff.  Just like that day in Ms. What's Her Name's first grade classroom, the one who is supposed to be imparting knowledge ends up having to take knowledge in.  Likewise, the one who is supposed to be absorbing it is having to dish it out.  And whenever that happens, whenever the teacher-student relationship is reversed, the quality of instruction is never very good.

It happens like this:

So one day, a non-Lutheran says to himself, hey, I'm going to write a hymn.  And because he recognizes that Colossians 3:16 states that hymns exist to teach people stuff, he then thinks in his brain, since I'm a Non-Lutheran, I'm going to teach all kinds of Non-Lutheran stuff in this hymn.  So, if he's a Methodist, he teaches people that Jesus becomes their savior when they welcome him into their hearts.  If he's a Calvinist, he teaches people that they should think God is super awesome because Jesus didn't die for everyone.  If he's a Pietist, he teaches people that the love of God can be found in swooning over our own faith.

Then a bunch of Methodists and Baptists and Pietists start singing these hymns because they affirm their theology and because they have pretty melodies and are easy to remember.

Then your Grandmother Ethel hears the choir sing one of these hymns on S. Parkes Cadman's radio program.  Or your Uncle Herb hears Andy Williams' recording of it on his latest Christmas album.  Or your daughter Stayceee hears Switchfoot play it at the concert she went to with her Non-Denominational friends last week.

Then Grandma Ethel or Uncle Herb or Little Stayceee asks his or her pastor if he or she can sing those songs during the Sunday morning service.  And, either because he doesn't want to upset someone or because he's a theological sack of mashed potatoes, Pastor says yes and his congregation falls in love with this new piece of music.

But then, when someone objects to this inclusion of non-Lutheran music in a Lutheran service, the congregation singing such a hymn becomes somewhat defensive.  Yeah, it had some bad theology in it, she says.  But don't worry.  We Lutheranized it.

Now, by Lutheranized, this congregation does not mean that she tracked down the author of the hymn, properly catechized him, then convinced said freshly-orthodox pastor to freeze all licensing of his composition, recall all copies and rewrite every word of his poetry with the faith of the Augsburg Confession dripping out of his pen.  No, by Lutheranized, this congregation means that she changed maybe three or four words so that the hymn was no longer teaching blatant false doctrine.  It used to say of the Sacrament of the Altar, too soon we rise; the symbols disappear.  Now it says, the vessels disappear.  It used to say, once for favored sinners slain.  Now it says, once for every sinner slain.  It used to say, I feel a rumbly in my tumbly, now I know that I am saved.  Now it says, I feel a rumbly in my tumbly, which is a perfectly natural emotional response to hearing the external Word, which, as we all know, is the sole Power at work in conversion.

Granted, if a Lutheran congregation is going to insist on using non-Lutheran hymns, it's better that she play the heresy-white-out game instead of leaving hell enough alone.  But in the end, she's still turned the tables and gotten things all backwards.  Because instead of the hymns she sings telling her what to confess about the Gospel, she's the one telling those hymns what they ought to confess.  Instead of listening as a theologically brilliant poet deftly executes the immeasurably difficult task of beautifully and clearly proclaiming the pure Gospel in meter and rhyme, she has to shout over a theologically inept poet in an attempt to cover up his mangling of Law and Gospel.  

Or, to put it in simpler terms, instead of those hymns teaching that congregation, that congregation is the one teaching those hymns.  And just as those first grade students came to discover the day I subbed for Ms. What's Her Name, when you're the one instructing the person who is supposed to be educating you, you're really not learning much at all.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  And my wife had been nagging me to write something other than a Lutheran Satire commentary for a while.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How To Be Controversial: Director's Commentary

I know, I know.  I am a couple weeks behind in my current events with this latest video.  But I was gearing up for vacation right as this story was hitting and didn't quite have time to animate my snarkery before hitting the road.  

Well, technically that's not true.  I did have time, but I had to cancel Bible Class my last Sunday before vacation in order to go to my cousin's ordination in Iowa.  And, you see, one of the Lutheran Satire Rules is that all of my videos have their world premier in Bible Class before going up on the webbernets.  I do this for two reasons, those reasons being:

1. If I happen to get a little too mean or irreverent in my satiricizing, I want to give folks in my congregation the opportunity to pull me back from the abyss of angry cynicism before I embarrass myself and my congregation in internetland.

2. This is the core of my evangelism program where I create a bunch of Lutheran Satire addicts who will leave their high paying jobs and 6,000 square foot, ocean front mansions for Channahon, IL in order to be the first consumers of my confessional silliness.  You may think that this is a really dumb evangelism program.  And you are right.  In fact, it is so stupid and gimmicky and non-Lutheran that I'm quite certain I can convince at least half of the mission executives in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to adopt it by the end of the week.  


But I digress.  My original point was that my brain came up with the idea to do a video something like what this one ended up being before I left town.  And after my brain came up with that idea, my brain then thought, "I should probably write a blog piece fleshing out a bit the Lutheran view of the pope as antichrist and why it's neither news nor terribly controversial."  But then, just a few days into my vacation, my dear friend Mollie Ziegler Hemingway wrote this superfantasticalbodaciouslyawesome piece for the Wall Street Journal.  So then my brain thought, "Sweet!  Now, I can just link Mollie's article instead of thinking!"  My brain is lazy like that.

So there you have it.  Read the article and enjoy.  And if you didn't know it before, you will now know why Mollie is one of the LCMS's greatest living treasures.