Monday, October 29, 2012

Canon law does not define or determine confession...

Lutherans do not have canon law.  Some rejoice at this and others lament it.  What we do have is constitutional law.  Constitutional law has become the canon law of Lutherans (I am especially speaking here from the perspective of the Missouri Synod).  For several generations dispute in our church body has come from and its response has been directed from constitutional article and by-law.  As I have posted before, this is not a good thing.  When we are left to discuss theological truth merely from the vantage point of constitutional law, we are left with no abiding theological truth at all.

In reading an exchange between an eminent canon lawyer (Ed Peters) and a cardinal on the subject of the ordination of women to the diaconate, I discovered a sentence that would be worth repeating among Lutherans.  Canon law does not determine, but rather, upholds doctrine and theology.  What Ed Peters was reminding Roman Catholics is that canon law neither defines doctrine nor espouses theological truth.  Instead, it upholds and, shall I say, enforces the catholic doctrine and theology in its practice and expression in the church.

We in Missouri sometimes argue more about constitution and by-laws than theology but our canon law (constitution and by-laws) cannot conflict with our doctrine and exist only to uphold this catholic confession and to promote its faithful practice.  We can appeal all we want to article and by-law but these are neither the source of truth nor the expression of that truth.  They merely create the working rules in which the catholic confession is supreme and its faithful practice is promoted.

The Commission on Constitutional Matters has become something of a Supreme Court in Missouri and it has wide ranging opinions which have the force of law among us.  Yet even the CCM cannot define doctrine or formulate its confession.  It merely makes sure that we follow the rules in dispute and that we have structures to call out error and confront it.  Our doctrine flows from Scripture, is confessed in the Book of Concord, and is consistent with the church catholic (the basic underlying claim of those Confessions).  Yet the CCM can no more overrule our doctrinal standard than can the Synod in Convention conflict with our Confessions.  We insist that Scripture and the Confessions reign supreme. 

Perhaps we have forgotten how to dispute Scripture and Confessions as theology and doctrine so our conversation has become merely about rules of our own creation which have no objective authority or identity beyond that which we commonly give to them.  In any case, it would do well for us as we face the Koinonia program and engage in discussion of what divides us and what is disputed among us that the rules do not define us.  It is our doctrinal standard and what Scripture teaches and our Concordia has confessed that are the issues.

BTW while some things are neutral, others are not.  What we can do with respect to our own version of canon law is not necessarily what we should do.  The principle of freedom is, therefore, less important than the issue of faithfulness and the goal of what is best (in view of what we believe, confess, and teach).

Just a few thoughts as our Synod makes ready for another convention about 9 months from now....


Janis Williams said...

Americans (and everyone else, it seems) have lost the ability to argue (debate in an unambiguous way), and all we do anymore is argue (i.e., fight/squabble/complain in a very hazy way).

As a woman, I watch from the sidelines. Not all women want to "run the show." Nevertheless, I see, hear, and follow where my small mind can take me.

Forgive the analogy, but are all our theologians clergy-castrata? Heaven forbid we should cause division! We might be called haters.

Anonymous said...

I think it is sad how the catholic church is so focused on rules and regulations and focuses less on god. The focus way too much on Mary.

i do wish protestant churches would have an entrance procession at the begining of thier service with the candles and crucifix though.