Thursday, July 31, 2014

False ecumenism is also false catholicity. . .

An essential part of the gospel is that it is catholic—that is, the Good News is given to all people. And the church the Holy Spirit creates is catholic.Putting the matter like this may make some Christians squirm. Many Protestants affirm, either weekly or semi-regularly, the Nicene Creed, proclaiming, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," but many balk at that word, catholic.

So says one Mark Dever in Christianity Today. You can read him in his own words (at least if you subscribe).  But what he also says that negates what he is trying to affirm is that denominational differences based upon doctrine agitate against the catholicity of the faith.  That is the oft cited position of many -- on both sides of the liberal and conservative divide.  It is certainly the position of the media.  But is it correct?

Catholicity, if it means anything, means not the diminishing of doctrine and practice but taking very seriously what is believed, confessed, and taught and how it is lived out within the church.  It is not that catholicity is some commodity of commonality which different groups share in bits and pieces but that it is a strong and ordered catholicity of the faith, whole and undefiled, except which no one can or will be saved.  

Matthew Block put it succinctly:  Belief in the invisible Church does not, however, mean that denominational affiliation is unimportant—and it’s here that I take exception to Dever’s article. “Since we all profess the same faith in the same Lord, the denominational lines that distinguish us from other Christians should never mark an ultimate separation,” he writes. “Insofar as denominations do not breed an uncharitable and divisive spirit, and allow Christians to work for the kingdom, they can be helpful. But what unites us as Christians must always be valued more highly than the things that distinguish us.”   

Catholicity is not devaluing where we disagree and emphasizing where we do (this is called reconciled diversity).  Catholicity is the striving at all times and in all places to confess the fullness of the one, true, catholic and apostolic faith and never content with a bare minimal confession.  Catholicity is never minimalistic but is always a fullness -- a fullness sought out and a fullness expressed.  Scripture is the norm of all doctrine and life but Scripture is not so muddled as to preclude any agreement or catholicity except in the barest of forms and the most minimalistic of expressions.  This is not only an affront to catholicity but its betrayal -- and so often it comes at the hands of those determined to protect catholicity and promote it.

Again, Matthew Block:  Denominations which reject such catholic teaching therefore, in essence, reject part of what it means to be catholic.  Any church determined to be catholic up to a point is not catholic at all.  While in Mr. Dever's case he is speaking from the Baptist perspective, these words ought to be carefully mulled over by those who most presume to be catholic -- Confessional Lutherans.  When Lutherans say that agreement in the Gospel and its articles is sufficient for fellowship and unity among Christians on earth, we are not suggesting that Christianity can be boiled down to a set of minimums or that catholicity can be approached bite by bite in part.  No, catholicity can only mean that we endeavor the fullness and will never be content with bits and pieces.  Where people of different denominations begin with this endeavor, there will be fruitful conversation.  But where people begin with the choice to be only partially or even mostly catholic or where they end with the belief that a little unity makes up for a diversity of contradictory confessions, there is an ecumenical ride to nowhere God wants to go.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

You be Catholic or catholic...I will be Christian because I am saved by Christ.

Anonymous said...

Christians confess all the teachings of the Bible, not just some of them. Jesus told us to hold to all of his truth. Thanks for another great article.

Carl Vehse said...

As discussed in a previous Pastoral Meanderingarticle, Lutherans in the past have and today may use "Christian" in place of "catholic" (including "Christianity" in place of "catholicity") in their Creeds and discussions.

When the replacement of "catholic" with "Christian" leaves a statement or article unclear or confused, then one should examine whether the context is referring to a different meaning of "catholic."

Janis Williams said...

Anonymous, there are many who call themselves Christian, and would say they're saved by Christ but are heretics, and bound for Hell. It is doctrine that makes them evident. You cannot deny the catholic (yep, there's that word) creeds and be saved. (Athanasian Creed)

I understand what Fr. Peters is saying. I have been in the same 'camp' as Mr. Dever - Reformed Baptist. Understand me; I don't deny he is a Christian, but his view (which used to be mine) of Baptism is wrong. I sincerely love my friends from those days, but I could not commune with them. They don't believe the Sacrament is anything more than a symbol.

Yes, we Lutherans (and I am proud to be able to now say it) always think we're right - but would you want us to be wrong?

If everyone is right, we're playing tetherball with the Scripture. Everyone who swings a bat and even touches the ball gets a trophy.

Those who want every one to get along, and forget doctrinal differences are children of this politically correct age. If being catholic and Christian aren't synonymous (and don't cause differences and separation), why were there martyrs? What's to prevent us from eventually joining with anyone who claims to believe in Jesus (as many religions do)? You see, even the folk who want to get along HAVE to (and do) draw a line somewhere.

John Flanagan said...

Read the history of the church through the ages, noting all of the doctrinal disagreements,, from the Gnostics to the Donatists, to the Theists, Arminians, Calvinists, Anabaptists, and so forth, from the bloody purges and persecutions, to the inquisitions, and all of the turmoil, tears, and theological disputes......it is a wonder of Grace there is still a church left. I am a Lutheran of the LCMS, but I am first a Bible believing Christian with no claim on all truth....but I try to keep it simple, keep my faith in Christ, secure in His finished work on the cross, knowing each day I am in His hands. For all of the debating that goes on between denominations, I am certain some of this time is wasted on disputes which cannot be resolved here. Lord, remember me in your Kingdom, and guide me safely, keep me from false teachings, and lead me into glory at the appointed hour.

Carl Vehse said...

John Flanagan: "I am a Lutheran of the LCMS, but I am first a Bible believing Christian with no claim on all truth"

Then what did you answer when asked at your confirmation, "Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from them, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?"

Or when you agreed to become a communicant member of your LCMS congregation, whose constitution requires that all communicant members accept the confessional standard of the congregation, which is the confessional standard of the Synod, which is an unconditional subscription to the Book of Concord of 1580 as the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to which, when you claim to be a Lutheran, you claim as being a member.

David Gray said...

>Then what did you answer when asked at your confirmation, "Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from them, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?"

Given your inability to grasp the question it is immaterial what he said, for purposes of this discussion.

Carl Vehse said...

David, it is your Lufauxran rejection of an unconditional subscription to the Book of Concord that is contrary to Lutheran reality.

The confession of the confirmand or a new communicant member, according to the synod's guidelines for congregational constitutions, is a quia subscription since there are no subcategories of quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions.

The doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is contained in the Book of Concord of 1580, not exclusively in the Small Catechism.

The CTCR Report, "Admission to the Lord's Supper," recognizes (p. 57) the communicant's quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, even though the person may have only studied the SC.

The same CTCR report clearly states (p.44) that ceasing to insist on a communicant's quia subscription to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, increasingly erodes the importance of doctrine, and heterodoxy becomes acceptable. Also, any abbreviated catechesis also accelerate indifference to true doctrine.

Other than a quia subscription, there are no other valid levels of subscription to the Lutheran Confessions. There is no "free trial period" or "learner's permit" level of quia subscription.

A quatenus subscription is a Lufauxran subscription.

When a confirmand answers "I do" when asked if he confesses the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as faithful and true, a confirmand is equivalently stating that he confesses the doctrine of the Smalcald Articles and the Formula of Concord and all other Lutheran Symbols as faithful and true. This includes the Formula of Concord's exposition about the doctrine of the third use of the Law and the doctrine on adiaphora. It also includes Martin Luther's statement in the Smalcald Articles that the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ.

Carl Vehse said...

A confirmand's public unconditional subscription to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is congruent with this excerpt from Martin Chemnitz, about the rite of Confirmation for the Lutheran Church, in his Examen Concilii Tridentini, Pt. 2, L. 3, De Confirmatione (translated in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Trans. by Fred Kramer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978, vol. II, p 212):

"Our theologians have often shown that if traditions that are useless, superstitious and in conflict with Scripture are removed, the rite of confirmation can be used in a godly fashion and for the edification of the church, namely, in this way, that those who were baptized in infancy (for that is now the condition of the church) would, when they have arrived at the years of discretion, be diligently instructed in the sure and simple teaching of the church's doctrine, and when it is evident that the elements of the doctrine have been grasped, be brought afterward to the bishop and the church. There the child who was baptized in infancy would by a brief and simple admonition be reminded of his Baptism, namely, what in his Baptism the whole Trinity conferred upon and sealed to him, namely, the covenant of peace and the compact of grace, how there Satan was renounced and a profession of faith and a promise of obedience was made.

"Second, that the child himself would give his own public profession of this doctrine and faith.

"Third, he would be questioned concerning the chief parts of the Christian religion and would respond with respect to each of them or, if he should show lack of understanding, he would be better instructed.

"Fourth, he would be reminded and would show by his confession that he disagrees with all heathenish, fanatical, and ungodly opinions.

"Fifth, there would be added an earnest and serious exhortation from the Word of God that he would persevere in his baptismal covenant and in this doctrine and faith and, by making progress in the same, might thereafter be firmly established.

"Sixth, public prayer would be made for these children that God would deign, by His Holy Spirit, to govern, preserve, and strengthen them in this profession. To this prayer there could be added without superstition the laying on of hands. This prayer would not be in vain, for it relies upon the promise concerning the gift of preservation and on God's strengthening grace.

"Such a rite of confirmation would be very useful for the edification of the young and the whole church. It would also be in harmony with both the Scriptures and the purer antiquity." [Emphasis added]

Carl Vehse said...

Martin Luther did not think much of the Roman sacrament of confirmation, using terms like Affenspiel (monkey business), Lügenstand (fanciful deception), and Gaukelwerk (mumbo-jumbo).

These descriptions are equally applicable to the claims and twisting of the vow that a person who is confirmed or becomes LCMS congregational communicant member is only making a quia subscription to the Small Catechism or a part of the Lutheran doctrine.

David Gray said...

You may quote whatever you wish, however the individual is only responsible for answering the questions they are asked, regardless of what someone has said somewhere else. And the questions asked clearly do not mean what you wish they mean.

Carl Vehse said...

"And the questions asked clearly do not mean what you wish they mean."

What you or I wish is not relevant here. What is relevant are the various statements and excerpts from Lutheran theologians supporting what you have continued to reject.

The confirmation (or membership) question does ask the confirmand whether he unconditionally subscribes to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is contained in the Book of Concord of 1580.

This is also demonstrated grammatically. There are three phrases or a clause used to describe the word "doctrine":

1) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church,
2) drawn from them [i.e., all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures]
3) as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism

None of these limit the confirmand's confession to anything less than a quia confession to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is contained in the Book of Concord of 1580.

The clause, "as you have learned" does not limit the confirmand to only what articles of doctrine he may have "learned to know it from the Small Catechism."

The infinitive phrase, "to know it" is used as a direct object of the verb "learned."

The adverbial prepositional phrase, "from the Small Catechism," modifies the verb "learned," and not the verb "confess" or "know."

Consider a similar question, "Do you agree to follow proper firearms safety as you have learned to shoot a pistol from your weapons instructor?"

Here "from your weapons instructor" describes where the learning came from. It does not mean your shooting the pistol came from your instructor. Also, such a statement does not limit your agreement to follow proper firearms safety to only that from given by that weapons instructor when you learned to shoot a pistol.

Carl Vehse said...

The fourth phrase describing the word "doctrine" is the infinitive phrase, "to be faithful and true."

When agreeing to confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church with this infinitive phrase, the confirmand is making an unconditional subscription to that doctrine, which is the Lutheran Confessions. One cannot confess a doctrine to be "faithful and true" and "only limitedly or partially faithful and true" at the same time.

David Gray said...

>>What you or I wish is not relevant here.

Very true. The clumsy wrestling with the grammatical structure of the question simply makes my point as does your firearms example. I may wish to embrace all of gun safety but I'm only agreeing to follow what I was taught. Good luck in court with an alternate construction.

I think I'm done for the moment.

Carl Vehse said...

You seemed to be done some time ago when you rejected the documentation, Lutheran excerpts, and reference links provided in support of what the Lutheran confirmation vow means. Your rejections since then have consisted of your own opinions, sans any substantiation, and rhetorical questions.

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