Here’s the situation, I told the group, you have to own the fact that you are Protestants (as am I). Which means that you are never going to land on an uncontested “biblical view.” Protestants have never agreed on what the Bible says. Just look at all the Protestant churches. Underneath the conversation about the “biblical view” what you are searching for is a hermeneutical consensus, the degree to which your community can tolerate certain hermeneutical choices.His conclusion is extrapolated by Rod Dreher here:
Stretch the hermeneutical fibers too thin and the consensus snaps. People can’t make the leap. The view is deemed “unbiblical.” But if you keep the changes within the hermeneutical tolerances of the community the consensus holds and the view is deemed “biblical.”
what Protestant churches and organizations are really doing in these [contemporary] debates [about same-sex marriage] are trying to find out if its membership wants to change, and if so, how much change will it accept. The truth is, says Beck, is that Protestantism is a “hermeneutical democracy,” in which the individual consciences of believers determine what is true and what is false. This, he says, is the “genius of the tradition,” and having to do all this “relational work” is a key part of what it means to be Protestant. The Bible doesn’t speak for itself; it has to be interpreted, and for Protestants, that means that everybody gets a vote.In other words, Biblical means what we deem it to mean and usually that means what the folks in the pew will stomach. Surely this has been the weakness of Protestantism for half a millenium but it should not be the problem for Lutherans. In fact, this is why I do not believe it is at all accurate to include Lutheran among those who fit under the generic heading of Protestant. Yes, the radical end shape of most of Protestantism, certainly of all non-confessional Protestantism, is that the individual, reason, and the democracy of what people will tolerate at the moment has become the chief means of defining what is Biblical. Indeed there is little mechanism within the non-confessional groups to resist such an outcome.
But not for Lutherans!
Lutherans insist that the principle of the Reformation is the refusal to depart from catholic doctrine and practice -- that everything deemed new to the Reformers was in essence ancient and catholic. So our Confessions spend as much time with the church fathers as they do Scripture, making sure that we get it. We are not a democracy of voice or vote and the definition of what is catholic and Biblical is not a fill in the blank left to those at the time to complete.
Martin Chemnitz, the second Martin of Lutheranism listed seven different types of traditiones which Lutherans not only grudgingly accept but wholeheartedly subscribe to…
- Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows:
- the faithful transmission of the Scriptures;
- the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon);
- the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”;
- dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts;
- the consensus of true and pure antiquity;
- rites and customs that are edifying and believed to be Apostolic, but cannot be proved from Scripture.
Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide, as Pelikan so aptly noted. The past may not have veto but has a vote that carries at least as much weight as the moment. As Chesteron put it, "Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead." Lutherans are fully conversant and comfortable with this (except those whose itching ears have led them to believe and act more like the Protestants. Protestantism has eliminated one pope in favor of everyone being a pope while Lutherans refuse a papacy while allowing that catholic doctrine and practice -- THE tradition -- with Scripture is pretty close to our papacy and is certainly our magisterium for sancta mater ecclescia.