Sunday, March 27, 2011
Pastors Guided and People Protected
We are not a Biblical Church but a Confessional Church. Now before you raise up your hands with stones ready to hurl one my way, think about this. When we confess Scripture as the source and norm of Christian faith and practice, we are defining what sola Scriptura means. But by saying sola Scriptura we have not yet defined what Scriptura means. Scripture is not to be supplanted by reason or other authority as that which is the source and the norm of Christian belief and practice but neither is Scripture to be stripped of the "tradition" that surrounds it -- creed and confession. Scripture is sola but not nuda -- not naked. It is not some private domain of the individual but the Book of the Church and what it says is not the domain of one man's thought or speculation (not even Luther's) but the domain of the Church.
Sasse said it so much better than I just did. The true church is gathered not around Scripture, but around the rightly understood, the purely and correctly interpreted Bible. It is the task of the church's confession to express the right understanding of Scripture which the Church has reached. Thus pastors are helped to proclaim only the pure doctrine, and congregations are protected against the whims of the preacher and the misinterpretation of Scripture. In this sense the church's confession is servant of the Word. [From Church and Confession (1941), English translation by Norman Nagel in We Confess: Jesus Christ (Concordia Publishing House, 1984) p. 84, with a HT to Pr. Mark Henderson for drawing my attention back to this statement.]
This purely and correctly interpreted Bible is the Scriptures believed, confessed, stated in creed and confession, proclaimed within the mass, and taught to catechumens through the ages. As Lutherans we know this but we also tend to forget it. We have been so influenced by the evangelicals and fundamentalists around us that we often end up talking like them. I have not particular grudge against them here except that they are not Lutheran and we are. We are a confessional Church in which we have preserved and proclaimed in those Confessions Scripture's witness purely and correctly stated and interpreted.
Pastors are not on their own before these Scriptures any more than the people in the pew are on their own with them. We stand with the great teachers and confessors of old. What we confess is no private interpretation but that which has always been believed, taught, and confessed, at all times and in every place. We confess a catholic Scripture which is not the possession of the interpreter but the job of the interpreter is to make sure that this Scripture does not change its voice with every wind of change nor switch its teachings with every trend or fad. We are anchored in this way and Pastors make formal tie to this anchor of the faith when they are ordained.
In this way people are protected from the speculations and internal doubts or fears of the Pastors who serve them in Jesus' name. We are both directed by and held accountable to those Confessions and their evangelical and catholic witness. We are thus protected from being sectarian or venturing too far away from this catholic voice of Scripture lest its truth be obscured and its saving power emptied by unrestrained rationalization, heretical speculation, and personal doubt or fear.
Our Confessions are not true because they might be faithful to Scripture but because they are faithful to Scripture and therefore hold us accountable not simply to a book but a Bible read and proclaimed through a particular lens (Confessions). We do not read the Scriptures as if they had been read for the first time but from the vantage point of the faithful and orthodox confessors of every age. We do not begin with a blank slate but with the creeds and confessions that have gone before us and that have been proven truthful. Only in this way can the Scriptural truth be maintained in a world of individualism and subjective truth. We believe, teach, and confess... to guide the Pastor in his calling and to protect the people in the pew and to maintain in every age and amid every temptation what is yesterday, today, and forever the same. As Lutherans this is not an embarrassment to us but the greatest of gifts and treasures.