Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Giertz on the Three Great Heritages of the Church

"If we wish to know what true Christianity means, how the church of Christ lives and works, and how a soul is saved, we must seek to understand three great heritages of the church. We must go back first to the days of the apostles, martyrs and church fathers; then we must ponder the message of the Reformers; and lastly, bring to remembrance the blessed spiritual leaders in the last century through whom God gave the church great awakenings from which all future generations may learn.

This is the threefold heritage of which we have been made stewards and which is to be made a living possession. It is ours to preserve and to pass on. We are to learn lessons from the past that are to be a vital force in the present. It is the risen and living Lord who wrought all this in the past. To hold fast the old heritage is to abide in Him. For then it is at the same time something new, renewed by the Resurrected Christ Himself. In the measure that we live by the resources which built the church in days of old, will Christ give us clear instruction for the way we must walk today.

This, then, is our program: to learn of the past that we may be prepared meet the coming day; to immerse ourselves so deeply in the great life stream of the church that we may be equipped to proclaim the Word of God in a new age, and to modern men and women, and to live His life in the manner which the new century in the history of the church demands."

From the Pastoral Letter of Bishop Bo Giertz to the Diocese of Gothenburg in the Church of Sweden, 1949 (ET by C.A. Nelson published as 'Liturgy & Spiritual Awakening').

Pic: A young Bo Giertz preaching(courtesy

Note the order of the questions Giertz raises in his first sentence - 'what true Christianity means' leads to 'how the church of Christ lives and works', which leads on to 'how the individual soul is saved'. One can glimpse here already at the beginning of this programmatic address to his diocese how Giertz effortlessly combined the typical Swedish high-church 'catholic' concern for churchliness and order with the once also typically Swedish low-church 'evangelical' concern for times of awakening (the more usual English term here might be 'revival', although it is tainted by misuse) and personal salvation. That Giertz seems to be a rare 20th century embodiment of these traditions perhaps only indicates how far the church had fallen from health at the time.

Without the concern for personal salvation, 'high-churchism' tends towards a preoccupation with the outward form of church life which comes to present only a mask of piety to the world, while without the concern for churchliness, evangelicalism tends towards becoming sectarian and individualistic, wreaking havoc upon the body-life of the church. The health of the church in any age surely depends on keeping the current of its life alternating between these two polarities in a creative and positive manner; when the current runs in only one direction for a lengthy period of time, impoverishment of the church's life results.

The dissolution of Anglicanism before our very eyes is the outcome, in my view, of the failure to keep the catholic and evangelical currents of that church's life in positive contact, while the future of the Lutheran Church, humanly speaking, depends on avoiding that mistake.

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