Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Varying Views of Reform
On the other hand is evangelicalism and classic Protestantism. Here there is deep suspicion of the Church and skepticism of the faithfulness of the Church as an institution. The faith is always up for reconsideration and the viewpoint of the past holds no normative value for the Church – only Scripture. The time of the apostles represents a kind of baseline in the thought or expression of that faith. In this viewpoint even the creeds and confessions represent unhealthy development or divergence from the apostolic ideal. In this case the Church is always reaching backward to the pristine era before controversy, development, and divergence diluted or contaminated the faith and the Church. Reformation is the constant return to the apostolic age or position.
Orthodoxy represents a similar but more complicated understanding. On the one hand there is development and the faith moves in linear fashion but the extent of this development is much more limited than in Rome – limited to the first seven ecumenical councils but able to reactivated if and when the ecumenical era of episcopal, conciliar leadership were restored. If, for example, Rome and Constantinople could come together and bring those elements of the Church which have a valid ministry and orthodox confession together, the ecumenical era could reconvene and doctrine, faith, and understanding pick up where it was left, frozen, or paused, in the past. At the same time, Orthodoxy has a much more pivotal role for Scripture and has been somewhat insulated from the Western controversies and higher criticism of Scripture.
Lutheranism is a different course all together. For Lutherans the Reformation is not a return to a pristine apostolic era but neither it is a nod to a linear development of the Church’s faith and belief. Rather, Lutherans see ongoing reform as the normal mode of the Church. Reformation is when the faith expressed in the Scriptures and by orthodox teachers throughout history and the faith confessed at any given time are brought closer. So the Church may suffer from times of institutional deterioration and unfaithfulness but God works to reform His Church by raising up men and movements to bring the current confession into line with the Scriptural witness. The Church is always undergoing a correction process in which the faithful fathers and the Scriptural witness is brought to bear upon the present moment. Reformation is not a course correction in the development as much as it is a restoration of the once for all faith to the Church at a particular time -- something that happens not here and there but always. But neither do Lutherans see a pristine era as the golden age to which the Church must return in order to be “pure.” For Lutherans reformation is not innovation but revival and this occurs even within Lutheranism, the great reformation movement itself.