Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, March 4, 2019


To follow up on my post of F, 3-1-19, “The Times, They Are A-Changing,” and Albert Outler’s statement: “The church has never done the right thing except under pressure from the world…”

Despite being a Methodist, church historian and theologian Albert Outler was an invited participant in Vatican II, the Roman Catholic ecumenical council in the early 1960s, because he was able to translate obscure Latin documents that were a mystery to others, and he knew more Catholic church history than anyone else around. [1]

I was having lunch one day with fellow theologian, David Shipley, then a professor at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, and we fell to talking about Outler. He had been one of my professors at Perkins School of Theology at SMU and had been a fellow PhD candidate with Shipley at Yale.

Shipley said: “It was hard to like Albert, because he was so smart, and he knew it. One day we were studying together for exams. He read a whole page of St. Charles Borromeo in Latin and then closed his eyes and recited it, word for word, off the backs of his eyeballs.”

The Vatican Council wanted Outler precisely because he was so smart, in Latin and lots of other languages, and they didn’t care if he knew it. Besides, he was almost sixty at the time of the Council, and he had mellowed from his graduate school days.

That Latin ability was one of the reasons the Vatican Council wanted Outler. It’s hard to change if your whole theology is based on the idea that you have always been right. Outler was able to find precedents in church history to allow the RC Church to “change” while claiming that it was what they believed all along. [2]

 The Council was a pivotal event, for John XXIII declared it was time to “open the window and let in some fresh air.”

Letting in fresh air was the right thing for the Roman Catholic Church to do, and it was because of pressure from a changing world. After his participation in that Council and his life time study of the church, Outler made his statement, because, he realized, God is not at work in the Bible or the church, but in the world. It is there, in the world, that God makes the necessary changes. The church’s job is to respond to the changes God makes in the world. As my friend, Herb Beuoy, always said, “It’s our business to love people, and God’s business to change them.”

I remember walking by a bakery in Moline, IL, in early July, several years ago. A beautiful cake was displayed in the window. It showed a red, white, and blue Bible, open to John 3:16, with the words: “For God so loved the USA…”

Whenever we try to restrict God’s action, God’s love, to a particular race or nation or gender or religion, we are the ones on the outside, because God is at work in the whole world.

The church’s first job is to find out what God is doing in the world. Our second job is to go with it. Our third job is to point it out.

God is at work in the world, not in the church. The church's job is to tell what God is doing in the world.

John Robert McFarland

1] “Ecumenical” didn’t mean what it generally does today, joining together disparate religions or denominations, but just the entire Roman Catholic Church, with its various orders, etc. coming together to decide on “a way forward.”

2] They also wanted Outler because he was a convivial companion when the theologians met together after hours at the Vatican’s “Bar Jonah” watering hole. He had lots of great stories to tell the Catholics in Rome, and lots of great stories to tell about them when he got home.

Okay, so I promised to stop writing and preaching. As my YGLF [Young Gal Lutheran Friend], Rebecca Ninke, says, “You’re really bad at quitting.”

Speaking of my YGLF, her ten-year-old daughter, Kate Watson, wrote a picture book, called There’s No Wrong Way to Pray. I read it for Children’s Moment in our worship service a week ago and was immediately besieged by folks who want to buy copies for kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews and neighbors. Here is the publisher’s link with all the information about it.

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