13 May 2008

Jesus, His Mother, and Babies

The northern Indiana spring pastors' conference was especially good this year. I always welcome the opportunity to drink beer and talk theology with my brother pastors, many of whom I do not often get to see (not often enough, at any rate). On that point, I am very sorry that my good friend Greg missed out on the comradery, all the more so because I know him to enjoy and value the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren. He wasn't aware when or where the rest of us were gathering, and he ended up spending the evening alone in his room. That made me feel badly for him, and it's painfully too easy for me to empathize, as I have spent such evenings on my own before. It's usually been my own fault when I've been left in that boat, typically waiting around for others to take the initiative instead of seeking out the company and care of my brothers in Christ. In Greg's case, the fault was mine for not seeking him out to join us. How shall I ever learn to be consistently more concerned for my neighbor than for myself?

Greg's gregarious persona would have made the gathering grander, but it was pretty good as it was. There were various guys coming and going as the evening wore on, but there were four of us who stuck it out to the end. The conversation was invigorating, as ever, equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking. The beer was not to be compared to Fiddler's Hearth in South Bend, but it was okay. The discussions were superlative. Only don't ask me to remember everything we talked about, given that it roamed the landscape over the long course of several hours and several beers. No, I wasn't drunk, but I was suitably relaxed, and I'm glad that we were all walking back to the hotel rather than driving. I slept better than a baby that night and awoke refreshed for the next new day.

One thing I remember very well from the evening's meandering gabfest was this great epitaph, evidently originating with a seminary grad student: "I just love Jesus, His Mother, and babies." I'm contemplating the possibility of willing this to be inscribed on my tombstone, when that day should eventuate (I don't anticipate any such need anytime soon, though one never knows). It would also make a nifty campaign slogan for any would-be synodical president; not that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod would ever stoop to political campaigns or campaigning, but I'm just saying, hypothetically, that one could do far worse than such a platform: "Jesus, His Mother, and babies." For those of us who don't just put Jesus first, but believe, teach and confess that all theology is Christology . . . and for those of us who hold St. Mary in high esteem, that most highly favored lady and graciously blessed woman, not only because she is the Mother of God (which is already quite enough to esteem in itself), but also because she is set forth as a beautiful example of faith and a living icon of the Lord's holy Church . . . and for those of us who also love the little children, in the home and family and in the Church, and who rejoice with our Savior that our Father in heaven has hidden Himself from the wise and intelligent and revealed Himself to infants . . . well, anyway, let me just say that I really like this motto: "Jesus, His Mother, and babies." Granted that Jesus alone is inexhaustibly sufficient, but His Mother and babies bask in the radiance of His grace and His glory, like Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration; and if one can see the Holy Sacraments implicit in all three (that is, in "Jesus, His Mother, and babies"), then there's almost nothing else we'd ever need to talk about.

This wonderful little epitaph was mentioned in the course of our long, rambling discussion, because it became known to us that our conference speaker, the Reverend Dr. Gregory Lockwood, was likely to include some comments on infant Communion in his presentation the following day. My good friend and faithful colleague, Pastor Petersen, tells me that infant Communion is the topic of our time, and perhaps he is correct. He gets around more than I do, so I suppose that he would know such things better than me; and, even if he doesn't really have his finger on the pulse of things, I'd prefer to pretend that he does. I'm not saying any of this to prejudice my own thoughts and conclusions on the topic of infant Communion. I expect I'll get around to thinking-out-loud about that at some point in the near or not so distant future. For the time being, I'll say this much: I'm not advocating infant Communion in the LCMS at this juncture, nor am I practicing infant Communion in my own congregation, but I am in favor of discussing the practice on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and the historical precedents of the church catholic. There are critical aspects of this discussion which need to be addressed, in any case, irrespective of any conclusions; not only the nature of the Sacrament and the protocol of its administration, but the broader contexts of pastoral care, ongoing catechesis, church fellowship and church discipline.

As it turned out, Dr. Lockwood did address the topic of infant Communion at some length, in connection with a wider discussion of First Communion prior to the rite of confirmation and at an earlier age than has typically been practiced among Lutherans of recent generations. Apparently, these topics have been very much on the table in the Lutheran Church of Australia, in which Dr. Lockwood serves. He and others have recently given papers on various considerations to be taken into account in contemplating the ways and means of admission to the Sacrament of the Altar. I was impressed with what he had to say, and with the way that he presented his points. My sense is that he comes down at more or less the same point I do, although our approach to the topic and our thinking about it are not identical.

I was pleased, not only by Dr. Lockwood's presentation, but also by the way in which it was received by the pastors at the conference. Reactions and discussions were respectful and polite, thoughtful and balanced. There were no emotional outbursts or defensive rants, but some good questions were raised and helpful comments offered. This is all quite striking to me, given that, less than twenty years ago, the notion of infant Communion was simply and flat-out taboo. The fact that it now seems to be a topic for reasonable discussion and careful investigation is encouraging to me. Not as though I presume to know what the outcome of such discussion will be, but because the Church needs to engage in vigorous theological discussion in order to stay healthy and vital. I'm not talking about relativism or accommodation (God forbid!), but about daily repentance and ongoing reformation and growth in the wisdom and knowledge of God.

It's been a number of years since I've seen Dr. Lockwood or had any opportunity to chat with him. I was very glad for the chance to do so at the conference. He was one of my professors at Fort Wayne back in the early nineties, and I really appreciated him then, too. He helped me to discover Wilhelm Löhe and his tremendous contribution to the Lutheran Church worldwide, for which I shall always be grateful. Along with that, Dr. Lockwood was the one who rescued me for a positive attitude toward Lutheran missions. A previous missions professor had basically convinced me that one had to choose between orthodoxy and missions, but from Dr. Lockwood (and Wilhelm Löhe) I came to understand that genuine orthodoxy and real evangelical missions go hand in hand. Dr. Lockwood's own example of faithful, evangelical service is a case in point. His ability to speak with scholarly acumen and pastoral insight, with a charitable heart and a gentle spirit, and with an evident zeal for those within and outside of the Church, is refreshing and edifying. In all these ways, he reminds me of his friend and colleague, Dr. John Kleinig, for whom I also have tremendous admiration. Those boys down under are doing something right.

1 comment:

Susan said...

>There are critical aspects of this discussion which need to be addressed, in any case, irrespective of any conclusions; not only the nature of the Sacrament and the protocol of its administration, but the broader contexts of pastoral care, ongoing catechesis, church fellowship and church discipline.

Personally, I think the most critical part of the discussion is "What is faith?" When you get right down to it, after all the objections to infant communion are discussed, the final objection always remains, "But the baby's faith isn't the right kind of faith to receive the Supper." And that means we need to discuss what faith is, and if there are two (or more) kinds of faith.

As long as we do not agree on what faith is, there cannot be true discussion of infant communion. And once we all agree on what faith is, then the rest of the discussion (whether a person be "for" or "against") falls relatively easily into similar agreement.