Sunday, August 27, 2017
Who is our guru?
In one of my favorite English blogs, a common error is presumed that cannot be allowed. That is that Lutherans have a "guru" or that we are somehow bound to the words of Martin Luther above all things -- including the Word of God, the catholic tradition, and the creeds. In reality, Lutherans are bound to very few of Luther's words. In fact, only to those words that were included in the Lutheran Confessions, namely, the Small and Large Catechisms and the Smalcald Articles. Indeed, the primal confession within the Concordia is the work of a layman, Philip Melancthon.
We are not a church built upon a personality. Of course, if we were to build on a personality, Luther's was big enough to serve as great and grant umbrella for such a church to be established but this is precisely a betrayal not only of the Lutheran Confessions but of Luther himself. He is captive to the Word of God, not a naked Word stripped of its creedal, confessional, and liturgical history but within that tradition of living faith born of the Word and shaped by that Word (and the Sacraments). It is great to appeal to Luther but such an appeal has no power to bind us unless Luther's words are from the Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions. I do not mean to suggest that Luther is irrelevant to Lutherans but his words are not normative, only the Confessions are, and only the Scriptures norm them. In fact, it was when we began to adopt a guru du jour we also began to suffer mightily as a church.
Lutheranism has worked best when we did not forget our Confessions, when we lived together within the framework of the weekly Divine Service, and when we did not neglect catechesis. When any one of these became weak, we became weak and susceptible to all sorts of problems. For Lutherans this three legged foundation has been both our strength and the rescue when we faltered. It is no less true for our own day and our own time than it was in other eras of our history.
I am not sure that it could be said that the English were so wonderful left with the Bible, the early church, and the grace of God. It appears to me the shape of English Christianity has gone all over the page. Perhaps the English have struggled with their own three legged foundation (Scripture, liturgy, and episcopacy) but it is clear that in the present day a wonderful ceremonial has not kept them from doubting if Jesus really is the Christ of the Word and from bishops whose own confessions were suspect, much less their episcope over others within their jurisdiction. Finally, it is a wonderful story that the Ordinariate is the full outcome of the English Reformation but it is just a story, a hopeful one for some but not a realistic one for any.