Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Ministry of the Laity

There has been a lot of talk in the Lutheran Church of Australia for a couple of decades now on the 'ministry of the laity', which has resulted in more lay involvement in the liturgical services of the church, for example reading the lections, praying the general prayer, even, in extreme cases, preaching and presiding at the Lord's Supper (!), which of course is not a practice consonant with our Lutheran confessions and is not officially endorsed by the LCA. Alternatively, the requests have been answered by providing more opportunities for laity to serve in paid positions in the church.

These developments often present as a challenge to perceived clericalism in the church, i.e. the feeling that the church is dominated and controlled by its ordained ministers, but they ironically betray that the proponents are themselves trapped in clericalism, and believe that only work done 'in church' or paid for by the church is 'ministry' done in service to the Lord.

We need to recover the dignity and importance of the 'ministry of the laity' in the proper sense, which is their bearing of the Gospel into the world beyond the walls of the church, and release the church from spending its energy on this debate, which threatens to polarise the church into advocates for increased lay ministry opportunites on one side and defenders of the preaching office from lay encroachment on the other. (I know that some defenders of the preaching office, in defensive mode, will even object to the term 'ministry of the laity' altogether. I share their desire to guard the God-given office of the ordained ministry, but I submit that, properly understood and defined so as not to impinge upon the office and functions of the ordained ministry, there is no objection to the use of this term in principle. If the Catholic Church can live with the term 'the apostolate of the laity', then surely we can live with 'the ministry of the laity', understood in the sense that the laity really do have a vital share in the Gospel ministry of the church in their own sphere of life and activity in the world. I also note that even the Orthodox Churches have adopted the term 'lay ministry' in English-speaking contexts.)

This morning I read an essay by the German theologian Peter Brunner, a particularly clear and incisive thinker, in which he gives this summary in point form of the calling of the laity as it relates to the tasks of proclaiming the Gospel and administering the sacraments in the world:

1. Personal missionary witness in the individual's social context
2. Personal confession of faith in private and public life, esp. in times of persecution
3. Instruction in the household by father and mother
4. Daily devotions in the home
5. Mutual conversation and consolation in the Gospel with other Christians
6. Congregational proclamation of the Gospel in psalms and hymns of praise
7. Administration of Baptism in emergencies
8. Participation in the Lord's Supper and proclamation of Lord's death by it
9. Extraordinary missionary witness should a Christian find himself in a place where no other Christians exist, as if called to be a missionary.

It is no secret that, at the same time as calls for increased lay involvement in 'church work' have been becoming more strident in our church, the areas mentioned in points 1 through 5 have suffered neglect among us. We need to teach and recover the ministry of the laity as outlined above before everyone becomes 'a minister' but there is no-one left to minister to.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Luther & the Scriptures

'Luther and the Scriptures', a classic work by Dr J.M Reu, is now freely available in PDF format. Just click the post title to access (this is a large file - 200 pages of text).

Continuing with the Reformation Day theme, 'Luther and the Scriptures' is an old (i.e. 1940s) book by Dr J. M. Reu, pictured (1869-1943), a German born scholar who was the principal theologian of the Iowa Synod, a body founded by Wilhelm Loehe's followers after their break with Walther's Missouri Synod. The Iowa Synod later (1930) helped form the American Lutheran Church (ALC). Reu was a bit of a theological polymath, authoring authoritative texts on practical subjects such as homiletics and catechetics, and producing a Sunday School curriculum for his synod, while also being recognised internationally as an authority on Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. In fact, Concordia recently re-published Reu's classic book on the sources of the Augsburg Confession some seventy years after it was first published, such is its value. Very few theological scholars these days would have such proficiency across several disciplines, and while that says a lot about how complex modern theology has become (for better or worse?), it also says a lot about how gifted Reu was. Reu was also a mentor to Hermann Sasse, and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia, one of the constituting bodies of the LCA, to which I belong, used his textbooks in its seminary up until the late 1950s (indeed, a retired UELCA pastor passed his collection of Reu's works on to me when I was heading to seminary in 1997, including this monograph). Forty years after Reu's death, the ALC became one of the three founding bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which had a very weak confessional foundation - which goes to show how quickly a church body can move from orthodoxy to heterodoxy, but one or two generations in the tumultuous times of the 20th century.

Of course, right (in the sense of right and wholesome!) attitudes to scripture are seminal to the health or otherwise of a church body, which is why this book is still of interest and value. Apparently, while Reu was certainly no liberal, he did set out to to show that Luther did not hold to an 'untra-orthodox' position on the inspiration and innerrancy of scripture, and that this came later with Lutheran orthodoxy. This work was to be a bit of a refutation of the Missouri Synod's position on scripture, as the ALC and LC-MS had 'history', we might say, and were involved in debates and dialogues at the time, and would eventually end up in fellowship several decades later (a fellowship terminated in the 1980s).

As Reu's research progressed, however, he realised that his thesis was untenable in light of the mass of evidence in Luther's writings that Luther did indeed hold a conservative, orthodox position on these matters. Thus, like any reasonable person who is confronted with evidence that disproves even a dearly held theory, Reu changed his mind and wrote this book instead instead of the proposed missive. Reu still maintains that Luther held to a 'dynamic' theory of inspiration, and not a 'dictation' theory, but since few Lutheran scholars of either 17th century orthodoxy or the 20th century LC-MS held a strict dictation theory, this is a bit of a straw man that Reu takes on, and most conservative Lutherans today would be happy with what Reu writes here anyway.

Reu's work has never been refuted, only ignored by those in his own church body and others who didn't like his conclusions. It is still referred to by conservative scholars today, even those from non-Lutheran backgrounds, who are examining Luther and the scriptures and seeking to defend him against his liberal re-interpreters.

Take up and read! Or should that be, Download and read!?
May your confidence in God's Word be strengthened by it.

Thanks to Joseph Schmidt of Mantorville, Minnesota, USA, who I believe did the scanning and web publishing [] and to Pr .Peter Kriewaldt for alerting me to this via a chat group. Joseph is also scanning Gerhard's Confessio Catholica here:

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Walther on the Reformation

With Reformation Day coming up, the following quote from C. F. W. Walther is timely:

“But, my friends, the fact that the Lutheran Reformation was an actual and therefore a complete one is …important for us… because it comforts and encourages us in the face of the deterioration under which the church of the Reformation suffers at the present time. For if the Reformation was a work of God, which anyone can easily see who compares it with God’s Word, why should we be discouraged? Men may mock and despise such a work, but they cannot destroy it. People may forsake the fortress of our church and rob themselves of their heavenly treasures, but they cannot destroy this fortress. It stands in the midst of the ocean of the world, exposed to the waves of unbelief and error, assailed by the most fearful weapons of the mighty and wise of the world, hidden by the very clouds of heaven, withdrawn from the eyes of men by the smoke of battle, covered with offences, yes already seeming to totter. But, take heart! It does not fall, because it is built on a rock which lies deeper than the ocean of the world, upon the rock of the words of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ the cornerstone, upon the rock of the eternal Word of God itself. For God’s Word is nothing else than Luther’s doctrine, and Luther’s doctrine is nothing else than God’s Word. Why then should we despair? For “all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away, but the Word of the Lord endureth forever.”

From a Reformation Day sermon preached in 1858 (Thanks to Clarrie Priebbenow & Peter Ziebell for alerting me to this passage via their newsletter).

Walther is one of the most powerful writers on practical theology I have read, perhaps second only to Luther. Unfortunately, we only seem to have extracts from his sermons available in English; it would be very beneficial for the church at the present time to have a volume or two of his sermons in English (I believe there may have been a volume published 20 or so years ago for the centenary of his death, but it has long been out of print.)

Clicking on the post title should take you to a volume of daily devotions taken from Walther's sermons published by Concordia. I recommend it.

Addendum: Seems like the good folks at Concordia read my mind, they have made that volume of sermons available again, albeit on a print on demand basis.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Who'd Want to be Archibishop of Canterbury?

Who'd want to be the Archbishop of Canterbury? The 'job' has always been one of the toughest in Christendom, particularly at the moment. News that up to 50 Anglican bishops from the USA, Australia and the Pacific region have petitioned the Vatican to enter the Roman Catholic Church as 'Anglican Rite' Catholics, along, presumably, with those of their flock who are prepared to swim the Tiber with them, is just about the most depressing news an Archbishop of Canterbury could receive after the last few years of one crisis after another.

First it was the consecration as bishop in the U.S. of a man living in an open homosexual relationship, then the approval of the blessing of same-sex unions in a Canadian diocese, followed by the snub of a considerable number of bishops from the new and third worlds who refused in protest to attend the Lambeth Conference last year (the periodical gathering of national church Primates and select bishops which sets the course for the worldwide Anglican communion). Instead, they held their own 'Global Anglican Futures' conference in Jerusalem instead, and it was more exciting and garnered more press coverage than Lambeth (pic below).

It seems that the much vaunted 'comprehensiveness' of the fabric of Anglicanism has finally been stretched as far as it can go and is now starting to fray, and rather quickly too. Who'd want to go down in history as the Archbishop of Canterbury and titular leader of the Anglican communion who presided over the dissolution of a world-wide commmunity of some 80 million members? (As with all communions in which state church arrangements exist or did once, the number of Anglicans in England is grossly overestimated, which would reduce the numbers officially deemed to belong to the Anglican communion by the tens of millions. But we'll leave all that aside for the moment).

The decision of the Blair government back in 2002 to recommend Rowan Williams to the Queen for the position of Archbishop of Canterbury instead of the other front-runner, the conservative Pakistani born Michael Nazir-Ali, is now looking like a fateful decision indeed. The reasoning was apparently that Williams' intellectual profile would help make Anglicanism attractive to educated sceptics, of whom there are many in England. But Williams came from the liberal Anglo-Catholic wing of the church, which has been in quite marked numerical and spiritual decline for decades now and is thus significantly failing to connect with either sceptics or ordinary people who may be alienated from the church, in England or elsewhere.

Nazir-Ali, on the other hand, while an English bishop, also represented a vital third-world Anglicanism strongly connected with the communion's historical roots but also looking forward to the challenges of the new century, especially in those parts of the world where Anglicans are now most numerous and practising their faith! (Nigeria alone has more Anglicans in church on a Sunday than England.) He also had support from both evangelicals (which is where numerical growth in Anglicanism has been seen since the 1950s) and conservative Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican communion, and thus would have been a figure around whom Anglicans could have united.

In contrast, Williams' pre-Canterbury public support for the ordination of active homosexuals put him off-side with conservatives of all styles of churchmanship from the beginning, and they have only lost further confidence in him as his handling of developments since has lacked resolution. Over the same period, Bishop Nazir-Ali has become the de facto spokesman for orthodox Anglicanism in Britain, where his clear and articulate pronouncements have stood in marked contrast to Archbishop Williams' studied ambiguity which few Britons seem to be able to make head or tail of.

No wonder he looks depressed at this press conference yesterday with the Roman Catholic Primate of England and Wales, Vincent Nichols, where the Pope's adjustment of the Canons of the Roman Church to permit the en bloc conversions was discussed. Just look at that body language...

Tony Blair has since moved on, from both the British Prime Ministership and the Anglican Church (he converted to Roman Catholicism after vacating Downing Street), and is positioning himself to be the first President of the European Community

Dr Nazir-Ali has also moved on. The self-described "evangelical and catholic" Anglican and cricket lover, who became the first non-white diocesan bishop in England in 1994, has since retired from his episcopal duties in order to focus on writing and evangelistic endeavours, and he is positively beaming as he is pictured here at a farewell function in his diocese in September...

And Rowan Williams still holds the poisoned chalice: he is Archbishop of Canterbury.

Ah, what might have been...

(Top picture, St Alphege, 953-1012, one of at least three Archbishops of Canterbury who have been murdered whilst in office.)

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

"Even when steeples are falling..." Yeago on What's Wrong with the ELCA and What Can Be Done About It

These days one would like to be in a position to ignore what happens in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but as it is one of the three largest church bodies in the world that bear the name Lutheran, that is a luxury we do not have. The following is part of a reflection by a noted theologian of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, David Yeago, on the future of that church body following several decisions of its recent Assembly in Minneapolis which amount to a rejection of the scriptural and traditional teaching on homosexuality. This is probably the best response I have read to date on this matter because, in my view, it correctly diagnoses what's wrong with the ELCA (and most other mainstream Christian church bodies in the Western world, for that matter), and that is the disintegrating sensus fidelium, which literally translates as "sense of the faith" and refers to a commonly held understanding of the objective content of the faith among the people. This is happening as a result of the truly terrifying reality that much of the church is no longer living in and from scripture but being blown this way and that by the chill winds of post-modern relativism and subjectivism. Much more could be said about the ELCA and particularly its flirting with methods of Biblical interpretation that undermined the authority of God's Word and hastened the present situation. Once the hermeneutical genie has escaped the bottle, is there a way to put him back? The following recommendations from Yeago are the best, in fact the only place to start.

From The Way Forward (3): The Bible in the Church, by David S. Yeago:

"According to the Formula of Concord, the “Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” are “the pure clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm by which all teachers and teaching are to be judged” (Solid Declaration, Rule and Norm). Our attention easily locks onto the description of Scripture as the “only true norm” in doctrinal controversy. That’s the contested Protestant bit, the “Scripture-principle.” It’s been endlessly discussed since the Reformation, and entered deeply into Protestant identity.

It has also been viewed with increasing skepticism since the Enlightenment, not without reason. It just doesn’t seem to have worked out very well. Conflicts don’t actually seem to be resolved by biblical interpretation in the Protestant churches; controversies seem more likely to generate schism or else the formation of ongoing opposed parties within ecclesiastical communities. Hasn’t any unity Protestants have enjoyed really been brought about by state-church regimes or capacious denominational structures, rather than a meeting of the minds over Scripture?

Notice, though, that the Formula does not present Scripture only as a norm to be appealed to in controversy. Before Scripture is norm, it is the “pure, clear fountain of Israel,” the source of the water of life. A fountain is different from a norm; its work is prior to any outbreak of controversy, any pressing need for judgment. A fountain gives life and provides cleansing. Its waters sustain travelers, clear dust from human eyes, and turn deserts into fruitful fields. Unless the church is constantly being enlivened and formed by Scripture in this way, appeals to the Bible as norm and judge will be operating in a vacuum.

No method of resolving disputes within the church can function without the support of an underlying sensus fidelium, a common mind among the faithful. Even a teaching office on Roman Catholic lines can only settle disputes successfully if there is a shared perception that the office deserves respect. This can never be wholly a matter of recognizing the formal authority of the bishop or the Pope, as in the slogan “Rome has spoken – case closed.” It has to include a perception that the actual decisions made by the teaching office reliably cohere with central Christian beliefs and practices. Only so can a sense be maintained that obedience to the teaching office is an authentic form of discipleship. But for that to be the case, the teachers and the faithful must share a common formation in faith and life. They can only meet, so to speak, if they live in the same Christian universe.

The root of our problems with authority in the ELCA, I would suggest, is the confusion, weakening, and consequent fragmentation of the sensus fidelium, the common mind of the faithful. This confusion and weakness are by no means all on one side. We’ve all been affected by the biblical illiteracy, thin catechesis, clueless educational programs, and unfocused preaching that are widespread (I’m not saying universal) in our denomination. Seeking scriptural resolution to a passionate controversy on top of such weakness, confusion, and fragmentation is like trying to ride up the glass mountain in the fairy tale: no matter how strong your theological horse or how well you ride it, you’re never going to get traction.

This is one reason I’ve been suggesting that the way forward has to be a renewed formative engagement with Scripture as pure, clear fountain. We need to set the Bible loose in the ELCA; we need to uncap the hydrant and let the waters pour where they will. We need to do this not defensively, nor simply in a new round of argument about sexual ethics, but with the air of people discovering treasure in a field. The new mantra in the ELCA is that our unity is in Christ, not in theology or moral teaching. A confused mantra – but why not respond: “Good – then let’s go looking for him. Let’s dig up the field of the Scriptures to find him.”

I heard a couple of words in church last Sunday that encouraged me: “The word of God is living and active” (Heb 4:12) and “With human beings it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (Mk 10:27). When we let the Bible loose, we don’t really know what’s going to happen next. But it’s not just our own power we have to reckon with. And we’ve just about run out of other things to try."

Addendum: If you've read this far, you might also enjoy reading another interesting recent reflection on the marginalisation of scripture in the church from another quarter entirely, namely Robert Forsythe, an Anglican Bishop in Sydney, Australia, which for overseas readers not familiar with our Australian church scene, is a bastion of conservative evangelicalism which lives in some tension with what passes for mainstream Anglicanism these days. You can read it here:

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Lutheran Catholicity - Definitive Evidence!

You've probably all heard of "Lutherhalle", the Reformation Museum in Wittenberg, but what about "Lutheran Halal Cafe", in Brooklyn, NY? No, it's not a Photoshop manipulation, the place actually exists and can be found listed in the Brooklyn telephone and business directories.

I submit this as definitive evidence of Lutheran catholicity! No longer will Lutheranism be inseparably associated with such northern European culinary delights as lutefisk (jellied cod), wurst, kuchen and mock chicken sandwiches (don't ask what's in 'em), - we now have Lutheran gyros and falafel, and they are Halal to boot! Truly, the Lutheran faith has taken root in all cultures, and is thus shown to be genuinely, undoubtedly catholic. This will finally close the mouth of that nay-sayer in the beret.

Is this a tent-making ministry undertaken by zealous mid-west Lutherans eager to break-up the hard soil of Brooklyn's Islamic population in preparation for sowing the Gospel? Is it a business venture by newly arrived Palestinian Lutheran emigrants who are not afraid to make a confessional statement? Or, more prosaically, is it simply named after a local landmark Lutheran church? In the unlikely event that any of my readers are in Brooklyn, perhaps they could let us know and inform the owners of our approval of their business name. May the Lutheran God prosper them!

Friday, 16 October 2009

An Evangelical Orthodox on Reclaiming the Gospel

Today I had reason to read Orthodox theologian Bradley Nassif's article "Reclaiming the Gospel" again (click on title to read it), and again I was impressed by what he has to say in regard to Eastern Orthodoxy in both its Eastern and Western milieus. But I also think it may be relevant to all liturgical churches. I love liturgical worship, it is second nature to me, such that I feel uncomfortable, even unable to pray aright, in non-liturgical worship services (e.g. your average Baptist church). That no doubt says a lot about my personal history, my personality and my aesthetic sensibility, and a Baptist might well respond with a "different horses for different courses" type of argument, but in the end I think the matter of worship style is about more than personal preference and that there are good theological reasons for liturgical worship.

But I love the Gospel even more than liturgical worship, and being present in liturgical worship services where the Gospel is absent makes me even more uncomfortable, and it could even destroy my faith if it was my weekly fare. Splendid high church liturgical experiences may please my aesthetic sensibility, but in my experience at least, they are all too rarely vehicles for the Gospel.

Of course, liturgy and Gospel need not be set in opposition to each other, and that is one of the joys of being Lutheran. But at a time when many Lutherans are enamoured of high liturgical churches like Rome and Orthodoxy, partly at least because they appear to offer sanctuary, beauty and stability at a time when many Lutheran congregations and church bodies are struggling with the question of their identity, Nassif strikes a warning note.

In fact, Nassif sounds to me very much like a Lutheran, or at least very Evangelical in the best sense of that word, i.e. a Gospel person. May God bless his work of bringing a deeper knowledge of the Gospel to Orthodox people. Here's how he concludes his article:

"if we Orthodox wish to possess a truly incarnational, trinitarian faith, we will constantly need to recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church. Failure to keep the gospel central will constitute an experiential denial of our own faith. We must stop our religious addiction to "Orthodoxy" and its "differences" with the West. We need rather to recover the evangelical dimensions of our total Church life. The liturgy itself exhorts us to that end. The four Gospels are the only books that sit upon the very center of the altar because in them alone do we hear the Good News -- all else in the Church is commentary. It is the Bible which guides and judges the Church, not the other way around. Thus, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, whose name our liturgy bears, "The lack of Scriptural knowledge is the source of all evils in the Church." I fear that many converts are coming to the Church through a revolving door, quietly leaving because their lives and families are not being sufficiently fed. Only a gospel-transformation will make the Orthodox Church healthy enough to sustain the lives of parishioners who seek spiritual nourishment in our communities."


Thursday, 15 October 2009

Another Florovsky Fragment on Catholicity

“Yet the Church is not catholic because of its outward extent, or because it is an all-embracing entity, nor only because it unites all its members, all local churches, but because it is catholic all through in its very smaller part, in every act and event of its life.” [Italics mine]

I found another "Florovsky fragment" in my files, presumably from the same essay as referenced in the previous post. Firstly, this reads like a bad translation, but for now I assume that doesn't effect the substance of what he says, which is quite remarkable! I will make a point of finding my copy of this essay so I can read it again in its entirety. I must have copied it from a volume in Loehe Memorial Library at my alma mater.
Oh, and I found an early photo of Fr George too. Quite the ectomorph, and what about those specs? Everything old is new again. The more I read from him the more I like him.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

An Orthodox View of Luther's Catholicity

I read the following this morning by the Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff on Luther's catholicity:
“Luther’s main intention was to go back to the New Testament, to revive the sense of the God of the Bible, the living God, the Creator and the Soveriegn. He recovers the primitive concept of salvation as a drama, a battle between God and the evil powers of sin and death which have usurped God’s sovereignty over the world... Lutheran theology was indeed a re-establishment of the basic Biblical and Patristic elements in this drama. His concern for the catholic tradition of the church was obvious, and the Augsburg Confession itself claims to be nothing else than a reestablishment of the ancient apostolic faith liberated from all human philosophical systems.

Catholicity and the Church by John Meyendorff, pp68-69
SVS Press, NY [italics mine].

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Gospel as a Criterion for Catholicity

This post follows up on a discussion David Schuetz and I had over the legitimacy of using the Gospel narrowly defined, that is, essentially the article of justification by faith alone, as a criterion for evaluating catholicity. You can read David's comment in the comments section of the post below. His basic charge is that by using the Gospel narrowly defined in this way (all Lutherans who know the Confessions will understand what I mean by narrowly defined) I am verging on sectarianism.

It occurred to me this afternoon following that exchange of views that this topic was covered in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and further elucidated in the Annex to the Official Common Statement later agreed upon by both parties.
However the merits of those documents are judged, there is no doubt that the Roman authorities basically agreed therein with the Lutheran view, which I have espoused in my 'Provisional Statement on Catholicity' (makes it sound more important than it is to mention it in this context!), that the Gospel narrowly defined (i.e. JBFA) is a valid criterion by which to measure the teaching and practice of the church through the ages.

If it's good enough for the Vatican, it ought to be good enough for any Roman Catholic, and it is certainly good enough for me.

Here is the relevant extract from the Annex:
3. The doctrine of justification is measure or touchstone for the Christian faith. No teaching may contradict this criterion. In this sense, the doctrine of justification is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ" (JD l8). As such, it has its truth and specific meaning within the overall context of the Church's fundamental Trinitarian confession of faith. We share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Tim 2:5-6) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts" (JD 18).

Lutheran Catholicity

Here are some initial thoughts on criteria for defining "catholicity" for the purposes of the "Lutheran Catholicity" blog your comment:

1. The Scripture Principal. To be catholic a statement or practise must be scriptural - "we believe, teach and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with all teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic scriptures of the Old and New Testaments alone, as it is written in Psalm 119:105 "Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path". And St Paul says in Galatians 1:8, "Even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed." [Formula of Concord, Epitome, 1]

This does not mean that an explicit scriptural warrant is required for every statement or practise to be deemed catholic, since some aspects of doctrine are drawn by logical and necessary inference from scripture (e.g. infant baptism), while some practises in the church which do not contradict the scripture principal or the Gospel (see next) may be permitted due to the freedom that the Gospel grants to the people of God under the New Testament (e.g. vestments).

2. The Gospel Principal. To be catholic a statement or practise must be consonant with the Gospel, defined in the narrow sense, i.e. that we are freely justified before God for Christ's sake when we believe that we are recieved into God's favour and our sins forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes to us as righteousness (Romans chs. 3 & 4) [see Augsburg Confession, Art IV). Any statement or practise that contradicts God's Gospel can self-evidently not be catholic.

This does not mean that every statement or practise deemed to be catholic must give the most perfect expression possible to the Gospel, only that it is clearly consonant with the Gospel as defined above. It is acknowledged that under God's mysterious providence, and for his own good purposes, the fortunes of the Gospel have waxed and waned in the history of the church and the world, and therefore the church's understanding and reception of the Gospel has at times been darkened, though never completely extinguished. Even in such dark times, people were saved by clinging to God's Gospel, to his glory.
In particular, it is acknowledged that the Lutheran Reformation brought forth a deeper and clearer appreciation for and understanding of the Gospel and its application to the Christian life than had hitherto existed (except among the Apostles), which finds expression in the Lutheran confessional writings. However, it should not be expected that God's people who lived and wrote before the Reformation will use exactly the same terminology as the Reformation Fathers (see next). Also, many expressions of genuine catholicity can be found emanating from outside of the Lutheran communion since the Reformation, and such are welcomed as true evidences of catholicity.

3. The Historical Principal. Under God's providence, the church's understanding and reception of scripture, the Gospel and the articles of faith, has unfolded and deepened over time, often as different crises from within and without have engaged teh church's attention, bringing forth deeper insights into Scripture and the Gospel. Nevertheless, the Godly doctrine and practise in the life of the church which we call "catholicity" has run through the church's history like a golden thread through a tapestry, always present, though with differing degrees of brilliance in different times and places. It is this thread which we term catholicity and which we seek to trace.

This means that statements and practises deemed to be catholic must be evaluated with due reference to the historical position and prevailing culture of the writer/church at the time, although the Scripture and Gospel principles must prevail.
This also means that the church will not lightly discard aspects of its life sanctified, as it were, by long usage through its history, provided such historical practises do not contradict Scripture or the Gospel, although the church retains the right to revise such aspects of its life as time and place necessitate, that the Gospel may have free course to impact people of all times, places and cultures.

OK. While you ponder that, here's a visual expression of catholicity, if you will, the altar painting from the Torslunde church in Copenhagen, Denmark, which depicts several aspects of the Divine Service according to Lutheran practise. I was going to use this behind the title of the Lutheran Catholicity blog but it proved too colourful for the title to come through clearly. I may still use it somewhere else on the blog. Many years ago I used this in a seminary class to show how the Lutheran Reformation retained the use of vestments - it was a hot issue at the time, perhaps not so much anymore.

Now, any high church types out there, tell me what is "wrong" with the clergy in the picture (apart from the fact that the preacher does not appear to be vested; and I don't mean the sleeveless surplices either).

Monday, 12 October 2009

Who Am I?

David Schutz (or Schuetz; sorry, no umlaut available, David), an erstwhile Lutheran pastor who "swam the Tiber" in 2001, has been kind enough to draw attention to my blog 'Lutheran Catholicity' (which at the moment is nothing more than a proposal, really) on his esteemed blog 'Sentire Cum Ecclesia' (click on post title to view), which has a much wider readership than I could ever aspire to.

David is wondering who I am and has put the challenge to his readers to identify the blogger who goes by the nom de plume 'Acroamaticus' (which is Latin for "one devoted to higher things", according to the old Oxford Latin-English Dictionary). This has resulted in more hits on my profile in three days than I would normally get in three months! However, to date, no-one has identified your author, which just goes to show that I am even more obscure than I thought.

Now, one characteristic I have observed in Germans, even in German-Australians (and I hope David is not offended if I refer to him as such) is a fondness, even a compulsion, for categorising people. David has pegged me as a "Luthero-Catholic", which I must say is not a category with which I would willingly associate myself, as to me it seems rather too close to "crypto-Catholic" for comfort. Perhaps David has misread my intentions with the blog 'Lutheran Catholicity'? The intention is not to show how close to Rome the Lutheran faith is, but to show its continuity with the church catholic down through the ages. Indeed, there may even be a polemical edge to it vis a vis Rome, especially the path Rome has taken since 1563. As to how catholicity is defined, that is a famously difficult question, as recent posts here have indicated. I am working towards a definition adequate for my purposes anyway.

As far as churchmanship goes, like C.S. Lewis in regard to his Anglicanism, mutatis mutandis, I am uncomfortable being categorised into one style of Lutheran churchmanship or another, whether high or low, evangelical or catholic (or Evangelical Catholic!), contemporary or traditional. I seek to be centred by Holy Scripture, the Creeds and the Confessions and to judge all things from that position, rejoicing in the truth wherever it may be found and whatever form it takes. If that makes me a "Luthero-Catholic" in the eyes of some, so be it, to my mind it simply makes me a genuine catholic.

Oh, yes, who am I? I am but a flower quickly fading, a wave tossed on the ocean, paper in the wind, a poor, miserable sinner ever reliant on God's unmerited grace in Jesus Christ for salvation from sin, death and the devil.

With that in mind, I offer the following for your entertainment and edification:

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Florovsky on the Vincentian Canon & Church Councils

I have a penchant for modern Russian theologians, partly I'm sure because when I was a young man I had a dear Russian Orthodox friend who tried to teach me the language and who exhibited a profound but simple piety that deeply impressed me (indeed, she later became a nun), but also because Russian theologians often say what one least expects them to say - see some of the quotes posted on my blog from Schmemann and Meyendorff, for example. I can only attribute this quality to the fact that from within their basic conservatism/orthodoxy they are secure enough to think the apparently unthinkable...and write it down! This can make them fruitful interlocutors for conservative Lutherans.

Apropos the Vincentian Canon, the subject of my most recent posts, I now offer the following quote from the writings of Fr. George Florovsky (or Georges, if you prefer the French). Born in Russia in 1893, the son of a priest, Florovsky was a polymath who after the Revolution of 1917 went into exile and soon found himself in the heady environment of the Russian emigre movement centred in Paris. He later emigrated to the USA and became Dean of St Vladimir's Seminary in New York, and then Professor of Patristics and Russian Religous Thought at Harvard, following which he became a Professor of Slavic Literature at Princeton -a stellar career by anyone's standards!
However, while highly erudite, Florovsky was also pious, a rare combination in my experience. Note here how Florovsky's views on the catholicity of church councils dovetail quite nicely with the Lutheran view (see Luther, On The Councils and the Church). His views also remind one of Kierkegaard's dictum - truth never resides with a majority!

"The well known formula of Vincent of Lerins is very inexact, when he describes the catholic nature of Church life in the words, Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. [What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all]. First of all, it is not clear whether this is an empirical criterion or not. If this be so, then the "Vincentian Canon" proves to be inapplicable and quite false. For about what omnes is he speaking? Is it a demand for a general, universal questioning of all the faithful, and even of those who only deem themselves such? At any rate, all the weak and poor of faith, all those who doubt and waver, all those who rebel, ought to be excluded. But the Vincentian Canon gives us no criterion, whereby to distinguish and select. Many disputes arise about faith, still more about dogma. How, then, are we to understand omnes? Should we not prove ourselves too hasty, if we settled all doubtful points by leaving the decision to "liberty" — in dubiis libertas — according to the well known formula wrongly ascribed to St. Augustine. There is actually no need for universal questioning. Very often the measure of truth is the witness of the minority. It may happen that the Catholic Church will find itself but "a little flock." Perhaps there are more of heterodox than of orthodox mind. It may happen that the heretics spread everywhere, ubique, and that the Church is relegated to the background of history, that it will retire into the desert. In history this was more than once the case, and quite possibly it may more than once again be so. Strictly speaking, the Vincentian Canon is something of a tautology. The word onmes is to be understood as referring to those that are orthodox. In that case the criterion loses its significance. Idem is defined per idem. And of what eternity and of what omnipresence does this rule speak? To what do semper and ubique relate? Is it the experience of faith or the definitions of faith that they refer to? In the latter case the canon becomes a dangerous minimising formula. For not one of the dogmatic definitions strictly satisfies the demand of semper and ubique.
Will it then be necessary to limit ourselves to the dead letter of Apostolic writings? It appears that the Vincentian Canon is a postulate of historical simplification, of a harmful primitivism. This means that we are not to seek for outward, formal criteria of catholicity; we are not to dissect catholicity in empirical universality. Charismatic tradition is truly universal; in its fulness it embraces every kind of semper and ubique and unites all. But empirically it may not be accepted by all. At any rate we are not to prove the truth of Christianity by means of "universal consent," per consensum omnium. In general, no consensus can prove truth. This would be a case of acute psychologism, and in theology there is even less place for it than in philosophy. On the contrary, truth is the measure by which we can evaluate the worth of "general opinion." Catholic experience can be expressed even by the few, even by single confessors of faith; and this is quite sufficient. Strictly speaking, to be able to recognize and express catholic truth we need no ecumenical, universal assembly and vote; we even need no "Ecumenical Council." The sacred dignity of the Council lies not in the number of members representing their Churches. A large "general" council may prove itself to be a "council of robbers" (latrocinium), or even of apostates. And the ecclesia sparsa often convicts it of its nullity by silent opposition. Numerus episcoporum does not solve the question. The historical and practical methods of recognizing sacred and catholic tradition can be many; that of assembling Ecumenical Councils is but one of them, and not the only one. This does not mean that it is unnecessary to convoke councils and conferences. But it may so happen that during the council the truth will be expressed by the minority. And what is still more important, the truth may be revealed even without a council."
From an essay by George Florovsky, The Catholicity of Councils. (Unfortunately, I have misplaced my copy of this essay, and can give no more accurate bibliographical information than this; fortunately, I had copied this extract onto a scrap of e-paper.)

Friday, 9 October 2009

Grace in the Apostolic Fathers

Further to my last post on why the Vincentian Canon is not a reliable or workable rule for establishing what is "catholic doctrine" (one of the few subjects on which I find myself in agreement with John Henry Newman), I submit this quote from the doctoral dissertation of the Scottish theologian Thomas F. Torrance on the decline of the doctrines of grace in the early church soon after the Apostolic period ended.
The theme of striving for justification (hence, justification by works) either through martyrdom or by strict adherence to "The Way", a version of the Christian life strongly influenced by Judaism, marks the writings of the Fathers of the immediate post-Apostilic period, and inevitably led to the loss of the Cross of Christ as the ground of our justification and the power for Christian life, as was so powerfully exhibited by Paul in his letter to the Romans (see the Didache or Barnabas for examples of this tendency).
When reading these authors, look out also for the sense in which they (e.g. Clement) use the term "faith" - more often than not it refers to acceptance of the doctrines of Christ misinterpreted in terms of submission to an ethical path that leads to heaven.
These themes of striving for salvation and ethical submission to Christ later pass into monasticism and to this day mark the ascetical literature of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Anyway, here's Torrance...

Salvation is wrought, they thought, certainly by divine pardon but on the ground of repentance [self-amendment before God], not apparently on the ground of the death of Christ alone. There is no doubt about the fact that the early Church felt it was willing to go all the way to martyrdom, but it felt that it was in that way the Christian made saving appropriation of the Cross, rather than by faith…It was not seen that the whole of salvation is centred in the person and the death of Christ…Failure to apprehend the meaning of the Cross and to make it a saving article of faith is surely the clearest indication that a genuine doctrine of grace is absent.

Thomas F Torrance
The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (1959).

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Newman on the Vincentian Canon

I have often heard from the lips of Lutherans on the way to Rome (or read from their pens, on their blogs, etc) that they have discovered through reading the Fathers that the Lutheran faith is not catholic and that Luther was guilty of introducing doctrinal innovations into the faith which were unknown to the early church (ironic, eh?). The assumption (no pun intended!) behind this argument is that the early church, being closer in time to our Lord and the Holy Apostles, exhibits a purity of doctrine which ought to serve as a model for us today. That idea certainly presents with a tinge of piety; if only it were so! But it is a questionable assumption, and one only has to consider the tenor of some of the writings of the sub-Apostolic Fathers ( those closest in time to the Apostles) to see how the light of the Gospel was dimmed in just one generation, not extinguished, mind you, but certainly dimmed. But I will leave that discussion for another time, back to our Lutherans heading Romewards. Usually, mention is made by these folk of the rule of Vincent of Lerins (c.400-450AD). Vincent's rule, as written in his Commonitorium, is that "care must especially be taken that what is held is that which has been believed everywhere [ubique], always [semper], and by all [ab omnibus]."

The appeal to the Vincentian Canon has always seemed to me to be a facile one; in theory it sounds good, but as suggested one only has to actually read the Fathers to discover that it is in fact very difficult to determine what was believed quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus in their time. I was therefore interested to come across the following by John Henry Newman, a writer generally revered by converts to Rome, on the subject of the usefulness of the Vincentian Canon, authored while he was an Anglican on the way to Rome:

"It does not seem possible, then, to avoid the conclusion that, whatever be the proper key for harmonising the records and documents of the early and later Church, and true as the dictum of Vincentius must be considered in the abstract, and possible as its application might be in his own age, when he might almost ask the primitive centuries for their testimony, it is hardly available now, or effective of any satisfactory result. The solution it offers is as difficult as the original problem."

As stated in the previous post, I find Newman's proposed solution of the problem of catholicity misleading and even dangerous, but that does not mean that his view of the Vincentian Canon is not valid and does not deserve to be better known.

From An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman(London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1927 p. 27). The portrait to the left is from about the time when Newman wrote this work (c.1842-45).