Batter Up!

America’s one-time favorite pastime started up again last week. They’re talking about pending rule changes. Balls and strikes called by AI; hey, in a badly called game you wonder if there is any intelligence at all. They’re talking about having a count on the pitch as you do on the shot in basketball. If you want to shorten the game, get rid of batting gloves. After each pitch, do you really think it’s necessary for the batter to unstrap and re-strap them? But it’s good to hear the nostalgic cry, “Batter up!”

When my sons were in Little League in the 90s, I attended a practice at the coach’s house. He showed them videos of Major League players in their batting stance. Some were bizarre, some were funny, none of them looked like the textbook position of a batter ready for the pitch. You’ve seen how they get up on tiptoes, waggle their butts, wiggle the bat; it’s truly bizarre. After showing all of these different stances, the coach moved the film forward frame by frame. Amazingly, each one of these players starting from such radically different positions ended up with the bat meeting the ball with the arms, hips, and legs in the same position. The coach said that any Major League player get to this position no matter how funkily he started out. So what’s batting got to do with theology?

There are three ways to approach a text, or teaching of Scripture: Catholic, Confessional Lutheran, and Reformed. No matter how much a Catholic may claim not to be a traditional Catholic or the parachurches claim to be original, the non-denominational claim to be not Baptist, or the Reformed to be like Lutherans, at the point where their theology reaches the text or the doctrine, it will be identifiable as one of those three. For example, the Catholic who thinks the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience are a higher form of Gospel will approach the gospel as a new law. The Reformed influenced by Calvin for whom the Third Use of the Law was the primary use (Horton, Christian Faith, 640), will be a “how to-er” in his approach. And the Confessional Lutheran who confesses the Smalcald Articles which says, “the chief function or power of the Law is to make original sin manifest” (III, II, 4) will not draw his life or comfort from the Law.

Of course, it goes the other way to. The Lutheran trying to have evangelical form while retaining Lutheran substance will be exposed as being Reformed in his approach and thinking when the ‘pitch’ of this or that situation arrives. And the Reformed who claim to be liturgical and sacramental will be exposed he is still swinging at them as one who is uncomfortable with the infinite being found contained in the finite. Likewise, the Catholic who says he is all about grace will be shown at the plate as believing that grace is found poured into his heart not objectively in God’s.

St. Kurt(Marquart) is the one who said that the 20,800 denominations worldwide could be distilled into five. Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Calvinist/Armenian, and Pentecostal, but upon further examination he said they can be reduced to three: Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed (Church Growth, 11). These divisions are there from the very beginning. You can find them already in Scripture, Gnosticism, and in the writings of the church councils. They were solidified in the 16th the century, but they have existed ever since Cain and Able.

So that new approach, that new take, that emergent, trailblazing, bleeding edge theology that looks as novel as that ballplayer on the balls of his feet or the one holding the bat far above his head, sure he makes you stare and wonder. But that new thing you’re so enamored with is one of the same old three. It’s either Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed, and depending on the which one is hitting the theological ball to you that’s what you will be too. Batter up!

About Rev. Paul R. Harris

Ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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