Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Varying Views of Reform

An interesting paper I am reading is tracing the history of reformation before the Reformation as well as differing views of reformation by the various church perspectives.  On the one hand are those who see a linear view of the doctrine and faith.  The faith actually develops but in linear fashion.  The truth is not static then but always in motion.  The key to reformation lies in making sure this development takes place within certain boundaries.  Reformation is then not a return to a former position but the restoration of the forward movement to a certain linear plane.  The Church does go backwards but ever forwards.  I would use the image of a freight train that keeps adding cars but remains the same train and headed in the same direction.  This is in essence the view of Rome.  Thus Rome does not disdain or reject developments from her past but attempts to reform by keeping them within a certain boundary.  Controversy allows the Church to more clearly articulate her position and this enables the Church to come to fuller understanding or development of the faith.  The only problem with this is that the baggage becomes very weighty and, like a train, the Church begins to slow down under the weight of all the cars added over the years.

On the other hand is evangelicalism and classic Protestantism.  Here there is deep suspicion of the Church and skepticism of the faithfulness of the Church as an institution.  The faith is always up for reconsideration and the viewpoint of the past holds no normative value for the Church – only Scripture.  The time of the apostles represents a kind of baseline in the thought or expression of that faith.  In this viewpoint even the creeds and confessions represent unhealthy development or divergence from the apostolic ideal.  In this case the Church is always reaching backward to the pristine era before controversy, development, and divergence diluted or contaminated the faith and the Church.  Reformation is the constant return to the apostolic age or position.

Orthodoxy represents a similar but more complicated understanding.  On the one hand there is development and the faith moves in linear fashion but the extent of this development is much more limited than in Rome – limited to the first seven ecumenical councils but able to reactivated if and when the ecumenical era of episcopal, conciliar leadership were restored.  If, for example, Rome and Constantinople could come together and bring those elements of the Church which have a valid ministry and orthodox confession together, the ecumenical era could reconvene and doctrine, faith, and understanding pick up where it was left, frozen, or paused, in the past.  At the same time, Orthodoxy has a much more pivotal role for Scripture and has been somewhat insulated from the Western controversies and higher criticism of Scripture.

Lutheranism is a different course all together.  For Lutherans the Reformation is not a return to a pristine apostolic era but neither it is a nod to a linear development of the Church’s faith and belief.  Rather, Lutherans see ongoing reform as the normal mode of the Church.  Reformation is when the  faith expressed in the Scriptures and by orthodox teachers throughout history and the faith confessed at any given time are brought closer.  So the Church may suffer from times of institutional deterioration and unfaithfulness but God works to reform His Church by raising up men and movements to bring the current confession into line with the Scriptural witness.  The Church is always undergoing a correction process in which the faithful fathers and the Scriptural witness is brought to bear upon the present moment.  Reformation is not a course correction in the development as much as it is a restoration of the once for all faith to the Church at a particular time -- something that happens not here and there but always.  But neither do Lutherans see a pristine era as the golden age to which the Church must return in order to be “pure.”  For Lutherans reformation is not innovation but revival and this occurs even within Lutheranism, the great reformation movement itself.


Anonymous said...

What is reform?
For Roman Catholics: RESTORATION
For Classic Protestantism: RETURN
to the Apostolic Age
For Orthodoxy:REACTIVATION of first
7 ecumenical councils
For Lutheranism: REVIVAL that is

For the one holy Christian and
apostolic Church: It is the work
of the Holy Spirit to enlighten,
sanctify, and keep it with Jesus
Christ in the one true faith.
This is Dr. Luther's view of the
church in the meaning of the third
article of the creed.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: I have to think that you want to remain anonymous because your name might distract from the truth you have so eloquently expressed. But, as Sasse wrote, “The Holy Spirit has lost His citizenship in the Lutheran Church …”, and (now I am paraphrasing), “we look for Him were He is not, and we do not look for Him where He is.” Unfortunately, as accurately and as beautifully as the blessed Dr. Martin Luther expressed the truth about the Church in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, I don’t think he did as well in his explanation of the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. We are not allowed to note the obvious contradiction between the two; therefore we ignore the problem, or insist that there is no problem. Consequently our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church remain flawed. Before anyone takes up garrote and firewood for the pyre, just substitute “Church” for “Kingdom” in the explanation of the Second Petition, per The Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII: Of the Church. “16] … Besides, the Church is the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of the devil.” and you may see the problem.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart