Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Not the Middle Ground

I grew up hearing Lutheranism described as the middle ground between two extremes -- the works oriented sacramental nature of the Roman Catholic Church and the decision oriented Word nature of the Protestant churches.  I must admit I initially found it appealing.  Moderation seems to be a particularly Lutheran virtue, after all, and nobody likes extremists -- especially religious ones.  Further it seemed to be reasonable since Lutherans were Word AND Sacrament Christians while it seemed pretty clear to me that Roman Catholics were mainly sacramental and the Protestants Word oriented. 

I confess that as a young Pastor I used this analogy to describe Lutherans to folks who wondered who we were.  Once they attended, it seemed reasonable to them, also.  They saw in the liturgy and vestments a distinctly catholic faith in practice but they noted the strong homily, the Sunday school structure, and adult Bible classes and found that Lutherans were also very much Word centered Christians (like they noticed in Protestant churches).  But I do not use this analogy any longer.  I know that it is not only patently false but ultimately destructive for the Church of the Augsburg Confession.

We are not a church in the middle ground, picking a few things from Rome and a few things from Geneva.  It may work in politics that you campaign from one side in primary and in the general move to the middle, but that is not how it works for Lutherans.  We do not speak sacramentally when we are around those who understand it (Rome and Constantinople) and then speak in the general parlance of decision theology and the Word around the folks from Geneva or Edinburgh or Wheaton.  We are not a split or a merger of two different personalities.  We are not Two Face, the nemesis of Batman.  We are one Church.

This is why it is so important for us to reclaim the word "catholic."  When we confess in the creed "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," we are not speaking of the things of dreams but of this very communion.  We are not the whole of it but the fullness of it dwells right here where we gather in the Name of Christ, at the bidding of Christ, through the Word of Christ, to be fed by the body and blood of Christ.  We are not a little of this and a little of that but that one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in this place.  Anything less and we are but a sect, unworthy to exist at all.  To strive to be anything less is to betray Jesus Christ and deny Him as much as Peter did.  To expect anything less is to settle for something inauthentic and ultimately false.

It seems to me that the Lutheran Confessions do not claim to be a version of Christianity nor a segment of a many formed and varied church.  No, they claim to be the Church, to possess the marks of the Church, to have the authority of the Church, and to be the identity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church and nothing less.  We do not claim we possess this alone or that salvation is among us and among no other.  We are not embarrassed by the felicitous inconsistency of Lutherans dwelling in churches not called Lutheran -- we delight in this.  We are not a common denominator of ecumenical endeavor but the confession of the truth that has the power to bind and unite in the way that negotiation and compromise can never achieve.

If there is anything that saddens me more about Lutherans and the communions so named, it is when we act as if we are borrowers from others, without a clear, confessional identity and practice.  It is this that causes us to look across the lawn and borrow from what we think is greener grass.  The greater enemy of Lutherans are not those from whom we borrow or to whom we look with longing.  Our greater enemy is that we have forgotten who we are, lost confidence in who we are, and even become embarrassed about who we are. 

If who we are is not the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church -- then leave this rotting hulk of a ship and find a better boat.  But if we are who we claim to be in our confessions, then let us sail as the noble ship we claim to be, raising up Jesus Christ and Him crucified, living out what have become the cliches of Word and Sacrament or means of grace because we believe in them and because Christ is the voice of His Word, the Savior whom we meet in the water, the power who absolves through the Pastor's voice, and the flesh and wine hidden in and consumed with the bread and wine of His Table.  We are not middle ground for those who are uncomfortable on the edges.  We are not a more Word oriented Roman Catholicism or a more sacramental Protestantism.  We are the Church of Jesus Christ and nothing less.  It is not pride to say this but the humble profession of truth -- not for our glory but the glory of Christ, the work of His kingdom, and the life of the world.


Rev. Kevin Jennings said...

As I regularly tell our members and confirmands: We are not Protestants, nor are we Roman Catholic. We are Lutherans.

As Pastor Peters notes, nobody really knows what to make of us. I know he serves in northern Tennessee, and it's the same in southern Texas.

Anonymous said...

In this month of celebrating the
Reformation, here is a quote from
Martin Luther, "I ask that men make
no reference to my name, and call
themselves not Lutherans but
Christians. Let us call ourselves
Christians after Him whose doctrine
we have." It seems that the world
around us needs to hear that we are
Christians and that our brand is
Lutheran which centers around
justification by faith in Christ alone.

Carl Vehse said...

What's the "middle ground" between orthodox and heterodox?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

What is the Middle Ground between Orthodox and Heterodox?

Waltherian? >=o)

Viva La Ohio Synod!

Steve said...

Pastor P,
Amen, more true words were never penned.

Steve Foxx

Andy Wrasman said...

I got lost. I think I get what you are saying, but how exactly would you respond when someone asks you what is Lutheranism? You would respond with, "The true Catholic church," and then unpack what that means, am I correct.

Pastor Peters said...

We are not like Protestants but with sacraments and we are not like Roman Catholics but with the Word... We are those who believe, teach, and confess the one, catholic and apostolic faith, once delivered to the saints, attacked in every age, and raised up by reformers in the 16th century as it has and will be in every age when the Gospel becomes hidden or removed from the central focus of the Church's faith and life, namely, the means of grace - the Word and Sacraments... and then unpack what that means...