Monday, February 4, 2019

Too visible or not visible enough. . .

I have been watching and reading the unfolding story of Francis and the Roman Catholic Church amid scandal, dissent, and conflict.  It is an unpleasant story and one fraught with disappointment for anyone looking for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church confessed in the creed.  But therein lies some of the problem.  One author announced that he was leaving Rome and found his decision both attacked by those who wondered how could you and happily accepted by those who think good riddance.  But most of us outside of Rome see the conflict between its very public failings and its claims though Rome does not.

Outside of Rome, the Church is not viewed as all that visible.  It surely exists in time and has marks that are identifiable but this always lives within the tension of what you do not see -- the hearts of true believers, the saints of old who lived and died in the Lord, and those not yet to come.  So the truth is that most serious Christians outside of Rome yearn for a more visible Church -- yet not necessarily one that is identifiable with an earthly institution.  We think that Rome is not all that much different.   We think that Rome thinks that they are the fullest option among choices and we understand that these choices are not all equal or of the same worth or value.  Naturally, we tend to think of our own church body as the best among the many choices.  Lutherans, at least of the Missouri stripe, think that ours as close to perfection as is possible this side of glory.  Naturally, we understand that others may also think this about their own tradition but we know deep down inside that they are still wrong and we are still right.

So it is confusing to us when we discuss ecclesiology, especially with Rome.  Because Rome does not think like this at all.  Even with all the scandals and shortcomings of the present pontiff, Rome does not see itself as the best of the choices or the most legitimate or authentic of the options.  Rome is not afraid to say that it is, as an institution, the only legitimate Church.  Not the best of choices or the best option but the only choice and the only option.

While we might think of the Church as an institution on a scale of better or worse, rightly or wrongly ordered, or having a history and a past that contributes to its authenticity, Rome does not see such a scale or order churches in comparison to one another in this way.  In fact, it does not matter a whit to Rome if it is ordered more rightly and fully than others.  Rome's claims go to the heart and core of its identity as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church established by the Lord, ordered through Peter, and given life by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is not simply that other "churches" are not simply inferior or deficient in some way but that they are essentially false -- politely called separated brethren but not necessarily believing that they are brethren -- separated or not. Now this would offend Protestants except for the fact that Rome has softened the blow by using terms that are essentially deceptive.  Rome may call those outside of Rome Christian  but that does not mean all that much to Rome. Rome is not giving up anything but simply using semantics to disguise what those outside of Rome would find consummately arrogant and presumptive.  Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was fond of saying that Rome allowed him to be the Catholic he always was, indeed, his place within other churches made it untenable to be that Catholic.  Neuhaus did not repudiate his past as a Lutheran but saw Rome as the ultimate destination for him and for all Lutherans.  Perhaps he was being gentle but Rome certainly claims much more than the best option or the most authentic choice.  Rome does not even acknowledge other churches but insists it alone is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Lutherans, among others, find this definition of church too visible, so visible that THE Church is coterminous with the borders of institutional Rome -- which is, after all, Rome's historic claim.  While this Lutheran, in fact, often complains that the Church is not visible enough in Lutheran ecclesiology, the Church in Roman ecclesiology is entirely too visible and this Lutheran finds this just as uncomfortable.  In college it was a typical joke to claim that the Missouri Synod could not make the claim that it was the true visible church on earth (like Rome) but if we weren't we were at least the true visible sect on earth.  Rome would laugh and heartily agree for outside of Rome there is no church -- only cults and sects in which one might occasionally find the felicitous consistency of a believer or two. 

19 comments:

Carl Vehse said...

Lutherans know that the Missouri Synod is not a church, much less the true visible church, but instead a human organization. Lutherans agree with Martin Luther that the Church, that is the one holy, Christian and apostolic Church, is invisible, and Lutherans agree with C.F.W. Walther when he identified the Evangelical Lutheran Church as "[having] thus all the essential marks of the true visible Church of God on earth as they are found in no other known communion."

Anonymous said...

Vernon Staley lists four marks of the Church: (1) One, (2) Holy, (3) Catholic, and (4) Apostolic. It is important to understand that this mean Catholic in the sense of Universal, not Roman Catholic. Also, the term Church here refers to the true Church of Jesus Christ, not to any institutional Church organized by men.

With regard to Pastor Peters remarks, two things come to mind.

The most obvious is that the current Roman Church is not holy in its actions in society and its public statements. Rather, it is a false witness to Jesus Christ.

The second is regard to apostolicity. In the early Church, direct descent from one of the Apostles was regarded as a warranty of fidelity and truth. The Apostolic Succession in the Roman Church is pretty clear, but it seems to have failed in its purpose because the current Roman Church is clearly not faithful to the teaching of the Apostles.

Fr.D+

John J. Flanagan said...

When the Lord judges each of us, I think our denominational affiliation will be less important than we often feel. The RCC is not a faithful church in relation to biblical authority, but many of us who were once Catholics earlier in life, did receive the Gospel message of salvation from our Catholic teachers. Since the Holy Spirit brings us truth, overpowering the indoctrinating dustinctives of false theology, many left and are leaving the RCC. However, our exposure to the Gospel came through this church, and we cannot deny this fact. The whole Papist system is heretical, and the worship of saints, Mary, and superstitions embraced by the RCC have never changed over the past thousand years. It is best, in my view, for each Christian to rely primarily on the Bible as our guide. I believe Lutheranism still reflects a more reliable interpretation of scripture than many other denominations, but we probably do not understand and interpret everything perfectly. God will judge.

Carl Vehse said...

As Walther stated in his Thesis II: While the one holy Christian church as a spiritual temple cannot be seen, but only be believed, there are nevertheless infallible outward marks by which its presence can be known. These marks are the unadulterated preaching of the divine Word and the uncorrupted administration of the holy sacraments. (See also AC.VII.1; Ap.VII and VIII.5, 7, 20)

Joseph Bragg said...

Where does the Bible tell us about the Lutheran view of the invisible Church? The only invisible Church I see is the Church Triumphant.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

Well said, dear brother. As one who was nurtured and nourished in Church by the Roman expression of the Catholic faith but now finds myself in this little sect called the LCMS, your analysis of Rome is true! As terrible as the sins of the clergy of the Roman system, even in the midst of assigning Cardinals, Bishops, priests and deacons to hell, that is far preferable to even contemplating living our lives in a non-Roman expression of the Church, which in fact does not exist. While the term “separated brethren” has given way to “Ecclesial Communities” with only Orthodoxy having the status of a Church, the myth of apostolic succession still disqualifies us and the efficacy of our preaching and especially our Sacraments since “Martin Luther started his own Church”....also not true.

I have begun an early Lenten fast from the FirstThings blogs and discussion and comment sections. No matter how factually correct my analysis may be, there is always the “better way” through Rome regardless of their faithfulness or sanctity.

Carl Vehse said...

Joseph Bragg: "The only invisible Church I see is the Church Triumphant."

Scripture specifically does not use the word "Trinity," but teaches the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. So also Scripture make it clear that the true holy, Christian Church is made up of all true believers and is hidden, or invisible, to all but known by God (e.g., Luke 17: 20,21; John 10:14; Rom.10:9,10; 1 Cor. 4:5; Col. 3:3,4; 2 Tim. 2:19).

In his Church and Ministry (trans. by J.T. Mueller, CPH, St. Louis, 1987) Walther quotes Luther (Commentary on Galatians 5:19, Halle Edition, 8:2745): "Therefore we rightly confess in the Creed and say: 'I believe a holy Christian Church.' For it is invisible and lives in the Spirit at a place to which no one can come." [p.41], and Chemnitz (Loci theologici, part 3, p.117): "The true and holy church of the elect nevertheless remains invisible" [p.43], and John Gerhard (Loci theologici, 'De ecclesi", par. 151): "When we say: 'I believe one holy Christian church,' the word 'believe' shows clearly that we speak of the invisible church, which is proved also by the added adjective 'holy' [p.43], and other Lutheran theologians, such as Meisner, Mentzer, Huelsemann, Dannhauer, Calov, and Quenstedt are quoted similarly.

In his "The Church in the New Testament, Luther, and the Lutheran Confessions" (Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 42:4, Oct. 1978, p. 389) Bjarne W. Teigen states:

"Some hold that the church cannot be referred to as "invisible," since the terms "invisible" and "visible" are not found in the Confessions....To take up the first point, it may be quickly discerned that the terms "invisible" and "visible" are not used in the Book of Concord, but they are found among the later dogmaticians. It is the position of this paper that the dogmaticians, the Book of Concord, and the Luther are in doctrinal agreement on this point despite differing terminology."

BTE, the Church Triumphant in heaven, like the Church Militant on earth, is invisible.

Joseph Bragg said...

Apostolic Succession consists of two parts, historical and holding the Orthodox Faith. If a bishop has historical succession but departs from the Orthodox Faith, he is no longer a bishop but a wolf in sheep's clothing. Grace is not created (something you can put in your pocket and go about your life as you please) but uncreated (found only in union with Christ God). Heresy and unrepented sin severs our union with Grace/Christ. There is no such thing as an unorthodox bishop, regardless of his title or clothing.

I'm still waiting to hear where in the Bible I can find the Lutheran teaching of the invisible Church.

Anonymous said...

The Lutheran Confessions use a more helpful way of describing the Church, in a wide sense and in a narrow sense. There is none of this "invisibility/visibility" talk of the Church in the Book of Concord.

Carl Vehse said...

For confessional Lutheran members of the Missouri Synod, the definitive statement under Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions of the Synod’s understanding on the subject of church and ministry, and that which all pastors, professors, teachers of the church, and congregations are to honor and uphold as the official position of our Synod on church and ministry and teach in accordance with it, is given in Kirche und Amt, including Thesis III on the Church:

Die Kirche im eigentlichen Sinne des Wortes ist unsichtbar.

"The church in the proper sense of the word is invisible."

Anonymous said...

It is a definitive statement, not THE definitive statement and should not be elevated to the point of inerrancy. Walther himself said "for further information" to refer to Johann Gerhard and other orthodox Lutheran teachers. Vehse and his ilk have made an idol out of Walther's "Church and Ministry" and can't even understand what the man himself wrote in it.

There is Church in a wider sense and narrower sense, but that it is visible is patently true and that it is not "invisible" in a "proper sense" is also clear.

This weird obsession with visible/invisible leads to all kinds of nonsense, as we have seen.

Only IF we interpret Walther in light of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and other Orthodox teachers will we understand him correct, not the other way around.

Carl Vehse said...

Anonymous on February 5, 2019 at 3:12 PM,

No one claimed synod resolutions or doctrinal statements are inerrant (otherwise they couldn't be repealed). But Kirche und Amt was declared, and later reaffirmed, in convention, as the official position of the Missouri Synod. And the 2001 Resolution 7-17A does use "the definitive statement under Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions."

Your comment contain more of your twaddle as in the past.

Anonymous said...

Well said "Anon" re. the visible/invisible distinction and the status of Walther's KA.

As for Vehse, everyone should know by now that when he refers to anything as "twaddle" in another person's post that is Vehse-speak which actually means:

"I have no rationale or reasonable response because the points raised are entirely out of my depth and do not support my warped understanding of Confessional Lutheran theology and my obsession with pushing a false narrative of the origins of The LCMS."

Just so everyone knows!

Cheers,
JBL

Carl Vehse said...

I’ve provided 14 different Scriptural or Lutheran references to support the points I have discussed in this blog. And elsewhere I have given numerous references to Missouri Saxon historical facts that have exposed the revisionism foisted off in many LCMS publications and videos.

Regarding all this, JBL, your twaddle has provided squat.

Anonymous said...

Anyone can quote things...actually understanding them properly is quite another matter.

You lack understanding, context, history or any appreciation for the breadth and depth of confessional Lutheran theology across the ages.

Your very weird obsession with your hero, Vehse, and your bizarre commitment to repeating yourself ad-naseum on the Internet is the very definition of twaddling the twaddle.

JBL

Carl Vehse said...

My references support the points made.

Meanwhile, JBL, your twaddle contains no specific references, nothing of substance, certainly nothing Lutheran, but reeks of ad hominems.

Lutheran Lurker said...

It would seem to me that the issue is not visible or invisible but what the meaning of the term proper sense is. It would not seem to dispute the fact that in one sense the church is visible (which Chemnitz and the Confessions gladly affirm) where the marks are, as Luther said, any child can plainly see.

Carl Vehse said...

The outward marks are visible; however the church in the proper sense of the word is invisible. Only in the improper sense, are congregations, which have hypocrites and wicked among the believers, called 'visible churches.'

Carl Vehse said...

Lutheran Lurker on February 6, 2019 at 5:20 PM: " the church is visible... where the marks are, as Luther said, any child can plainly see."

What Luther stated in the Smalcald Articles was:

Denn es weiss, Gott Lob, ein Kind von sieben Jahren, was die Kirche sei, nämlich die heiligen Gläubigen und die Schäflein, die ihres Hirten Stimme hören. Denn also beten die Kinder: "Ich glaube eine heilige christliche Kirche."

(For, praise God, a child of seven years knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children so pray: "I believe in a holy Christian church.")

There was no "see" in Luther's statement.