Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Infallibility. . .

Lutherans show some of their Protestant colors when they giggle with delight before the doctrine of papa infallibility.  As does Garrison Keillor in his caricature of  Lutherans, we often find ourselves a little too in love with our fallibility and this often translates into the principle that nothing is infallible.  While reading the rant of a Roman Catholic against those who dissent against the Roman Catholic Church in all sorts of teachings at seemingly every opportunity, I heard something I think we Lutherans ought to take seriously.

Even though bishops of the Church are not individually infallible, they do teach infallible truth, doctrine, and morality.  Go ahead.  Read it again.  The individual bishops (and priests) are not infallible but they teach infallible truth, doctrine, and morality.  That statement hits is about right.  The teachers may not be infallible but the idea that there is NO certain dogma or ethical life is fallacy.  Now, of course, we Lutherans would insert here the fact that the Word is infallible, that it does not err or lead astray.  But here again, though we might agree the Word is infallible, we are so tempted to say that no one understands the Word in all its truth and purity that it leaves the door open to error and uncertainty as if this were unavoidable and truth were unattainable.

Luther could hardly be called timid or hesitant.  In fact, at times I am most uncomfortable by Luther's boldness and, at least on the surface, what appears to be His rashness to rush where the wise would tread more cautiously.  Yet modern day Lutherans are more often than not characterized by their lack of agreement and their uncertainty more than their boldness and confidence in the truth believed, confessed, and taught.

No one would deny that when we venture from the clean confession into the realm of personal opinion or questions for which we are given no clear answer, we are potentially and probably in error.  But that is not where the Church lives and moves and has its being.  We live on the truth clearly taught and faithfully confessed.  Consider that the Augustana, the first of the confessions presented to our opponents, waits pretty much until the last of its 28 articles to bring up dispute.  We confidently and joyfully confess our agreement in the first nearly three-quarters of our chance to say what it is that we believe, confess, and teach.  We do not treat the faith as if it were unknowable or at least unknowable with absolute confidence.  So what has happened to us Lutherans?

The sad reality is that the creeds have moved from that which is most certain and confidently confessed to the delicious if forbidden doubts and disputes we have with the Church that went before us.  Luther had us confess and pray the Apostles' Creed no less than eight times a day.  Now we speak it barely once a week and then only in the Divine Service (and then when the Nicene Creed is not used).  The catechisms of Luther were once the rich domain of our teaching and our devotional life.  Now we are more likely to purchase the more sentimental words of some popular evangelical author than devote to the words of the catechism.  Once we knew the stanzas of the great hymns of our faith by heart and were not addicted to the printed page to sing them in the public service or speak them prayerfully alone or in the company of family or friends.  Now we hum to the sounds of the latest and greatest divas of pop gospel and the contemporary Christian radio station.  The soundtrack of our faith has a radically disconnect with the Church of our past and what happens on Sunday morning (unless you go to one of those contemporary worship venues).

With all of this diversity has come a hesitance to believe that belief is infallible, that truth does not change, and that the doctrine of the faith and the morality of Christian living is true truth as well.  I am not sure we have gained much by emphasizing the fallibility of the people.  Instead, we have by transfer assumed that nothing is true except our feelings -- the least infallible things of all.  No, I think we Lutherans ought to wise up to what is going on around us and pay attention to the careful distinction of the sentence with which I began this little rant...

Even though bishops of the Church are not individually infallible, they do teach infallible truth, doctrine, and morality...

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

And shame on me (and us) for not being bold enough to keep the doctrine. Keep in the sense of guard it, as the Greek St. Paul uses in Scripture.

The boldness of the Apostles has leaked away from us. We are afraid; afraid of disapproval from our fellow Christians, other church bodies, non-Christians, government, etc. If we are this afraid of the frown, what will we do in the face of real persecution and danger?

God help me to stand.