Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Who changes teaching. . .
What Pope Francis has said is that the death penalty is contrary to Church teaching. What makes this so interesting is that the Vatican actually has had an office of executioner -- though it has been vacant for quite some time. So, whatever this Pope has said, previous occupants of the papal throne have not found it so. Furthermore, any idiot knows that the Scriptures do speak of the right of execution, not as any private rite but as part of the instruments available to those charged with protecting, guarding, and leading God's people. This was a tool for the pursuit of justice and to punish wrongdoers which existed within clear parametrs. So anyone who suggests that the death penalty is contrary to Church teaching must either ignore or explain away this Old Testament witness. In fact, though many find it distasteful, the death penalty cannot be judged contrary to historically contrary to Christian doctrine. There is no conflict between the pro-life teaching of the Church on behalf of the unborn, vulnerable, and aged AND the death penalty. They speak to completely different situations. At the same time, life is always sacred and can never be treated casually or without grave consideration of the heavy responsibility placed upon those who promulgate and administer the law to promote virtue and punish wrongdoing.
Therefore, the Pope cannot say with any integrity that the death penalty is contrary to the constant teaching of the Church without admitting that the Church was in error prior to his declaration. When Francis deals with ambiguity with more ambiguity, he not only confuses and confounds those within His flock, he creates hardship for others (yes, even Lutheran) who attempt to maintain the Biblical witness and teaching consistently.
BTW Lutherans face the same problem when we disconnect our witness and teaching from our Confessions and venture to go where Lutherans have never gone before. So we see the example of the ELCA which did not deny that their departure from Lutheran teaching and faith with respect to homosexuality and same sex marriage but affirmed a principle which not only excused but even required them to depart from the past witness. According to the ELCA, Church teaching changes when the Spirit leads us past the Scripture or when being faithful to the "Gospel principle" requires us to abandon what we have believed, taught, and confessed in the past. It is no wonder that other Lutherans find it hard to recognize their wandering cousins as part of the Lutheran family.