Bayer on Christianity and Other Religions

[I find helpful Oswald Bayer’s discussion of the relationship between Christianity and other religions]

The relation of the Christian faith to the other religions is not only problematic but also full of opportunity.  Its claim to universality, however, does not give it the right to regard the truth claim of the other religions as indicative of an unbridgeable chasm separating them from Christianity.  Indeed, the existence of the other religions is a reminder to us that Christian theology does not exist in a vacuum and there is no such thing as a pure theology that dialogues with itself in isolation from the conflicts and struggles of the world and its religions.  On the other hand, the clear certainty of the Christian claim makes it impossible to transform this relationship into an apparently already existing identity, even if it is as Christologically grounded as Karl Rahner’s assumption of an “anonymous Christianity” in all religions. … [H]is assumption is thoroughly speculative and fails to recognize the importance of sin.  We must avoid the identification that Rahner makes, as in his thesis of the anonymous Christian, just as strongly as the disjunction that others make, and recognize that we are in a situation of conflict in which truth and error are in contention. …

A key event, especially for the history of religion, and one that is very specific as well as being universal, is the union of divinity and humanity.  This event is God’s physical and verbal self-communication in Jesus Christ.  That explains why the image of God in humans is to be understood in a concrete physical way… theology attends first and last to the “form” by appreciating the bodily aspect of the word as much as the linguistic aspect of the body.

If, in light of the Christ event, God’s self-communication and its appropriation involves our senses, and if God’s goodness can be “tasted” (Ps. 34:8), it follows that one of the tasks of mission is to take seriously the rites and myths of the ethnic and world religions that in themselves are responses to God’s address with its appeal to the senses.  However, in doing so, we must avoid starting with the idea of a general openness, in which the general closedness of humankind to God, which scripture calls sin (Gal. 3:23; Rom. 11:32), is not recognized.

This general closedness makes dialogue with other religions impossible insofar as a dialogue, at least according to the conventional understanding, assumes that the hidden truth, which always drives us to ask questions, will reveal itself little by little as we search for it together.  This assumption of a general oppenness succumbs to the same illusion as the anticipation of a common understanding. … The alternative to dialogue is not domination but intercession in the solidarity spoken of in Romans 9:3.  In the congregation’s intercession that grows out of learning through suffering, the church is there for others.  [Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, 199-201]


Luther’s Baptismal Birthday

Today, 527 years ago, Luther was baptized, and given the name of St. Martin of Tours, whose feast day it is. 

Accordingly, curses will not be lacking.  But go forth to face them more boldly, be strong, and cling steadfastly to the blessing, no matter how much everything seems to be full of a curse.  For this is what we should conclude: It is sure that I have been baptized.  I have heard the Word from the mouth of the minister.  I have made use of the Sacrament of the Altar.  This is the divine and unchangeable truth.  Even though I am weak, it is sure and unalterable.  They are exceedingly powerful and rich possessions, but the heart is slippery and vacillating when taking hold of them.  But we should not deny them.  This is the only thing against which we should be on our guard.  And if we are unable to confess with a loud shout, let us at least make ourselves heard in a low murmur as best we can.  If we cannot sing when we praise God, let us at least open our mouths, in order that we may continue steadfastly in the blessings into which the Son of God has placed us–the blessings which cannot be kept without a great struggle and trials of various kinds.  For in this manner the fathers had sure and firm blessings, but not without a trial.  And for this reason Christ so assiduously exhorts us to persevere.  “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19).  You are children of the kingdom, your sins are forgiven, the devil has been overcome and laid low under your feet, sin and death will do you no harm; but you are blameless.  Therefore bear the hostile curses with equanimity.  … One Christian who has been tried does more good than a hundred who have not been tried.  For in trials the blessing grows, so that with its counsel it can teach, comfort, and help many in physical and spiritual matters.  Thus in the world you are cursed, but at the same time you are filled with a heavenly blessing.  [Luther’s Works (American Edition), vol. 5, 145-146]


“Christ Dwells Only In Sinners”

Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou has taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.’ Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation. For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours (Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel [trans., ed., Tappert], 110).