Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The claim of truth. . .

The great attraction to Rome and its most attractive claim is that not of doctrine or practice but of ecclesiology.  What I mean is this, those who leave one tradition for another do so for a variety of reasons but the main case for Rome is its claim to be the one holy catholic and apostolic church of the creed and its insistence upon an unbroken history to the apostles.  Now I do not mean to grant every claim made in this regard or even to suggest that they are as attractive as might seem on first inspection.  What I to mean to point out that the settled truth of Rome with regard to ecclesiology at one and the same time points to the unsettled nature of church (and ministry) among Lutherans.

While listening into a long email conversation in which a Roman Catholic was urging a Protestant to chose Rome over Orthodoxy, I heard familiar complaints about Rome.  The church is a mess.  People do not take doctrine seriously.  People like the personality of some popes but completely disregard their teaching and in other cases are drawn to the personality because they think this pope may not be serious about doctrine.  The liturgical state of the individual parishes is also a mess.  Throw away missals and music predominate and masses seem like mass production industrial style events to see how fast they can go through the liturgy and commune the assembly and send them home.  Morality is in decline and many Roman Catholics openly reject the church's teaching on everything from homosexuality to birth control to divorce to sex outside of marriage.

The sole argument in favor of Rome was ecclesiology.  As long as you get the church, everything else will sort itself out in its own time.  What you have to make sure is that you have chosen the one true church that fulfills all claims -- authority, catholicity, liturgy, etc...  Normally this would not be a compelling argument for Protestants accustomed to Biblical truth and authority.  What makes this attractive is the sad and sorry state of the church among most Protestant denominations and even within Lutheranism.

We look around us and we see the signs of a broken church and wonder how can we claim we got the Scriptures right,  confess the correct doctrine, and we have such a confusing and contradictory mess when it comes to oversight, discipline, and faithfulness in the church?  Take the Lutherans, for example.  We have a wonderful church -- at least theoretically -- but in practice we have DIY church on Sunday morning with little of our doctrinal catholicity showing up in worship.  We have the highest sacramental theology but treat the elements as if they were barely symbolic and treat the means of grace as if it were a little added extra to our faith and piety and not source and summit.  We have a high view of the pastoral office but hire and fire our pastors at will for such things as failing to make "sales quotas" or "being all things to all people."  We have mighty words of vocation and baptismal calling but we are losing youth in part because they find nothing compelling about the church and we have left them incapable of discerning eternal truth from momentary whim.

As I have often said, few people become Mormon for the doctrine.  They are drawn in by the fellowship and swallow hard at the outlandish claims of Mormon dogma.  Could it be that the attraction to Rome is equally a mix of what attracts and what one must stomach as well?  Could it be that the soft underbelly of Lutheranism (church and ministry) are the very things that are clear in Rome?  Could it be that Rome also has a soft underbelly but we can stomach this as long as we have the ecclesiology we long to know?

Just a few thoughts as I ponder what makes Rome so attractive to some among us. . . Contrary to those who think that liturgical type Lutherans are attracted by the smells and the bells, the average Roman parish does little of either.  Roman Catholic parishes typically do not chant, do not sing, and have a sparse ceremonial -- perhaps even barer than a typical traditional Lutheran Divine Service!  If smells and bells are what turns your crank, the better choice is a traditional Lutheran Divine Service with mighty organ, strong congregational song, and a people not held captive to Catholic prejudice -- I would certainly choose this over a strumming guitar, Joncas/Haugen song, a liturgy rushed so 500 enter, commune, and exit in 45 minutes, and a sermon empty of everything except some pious platitudes and moralistic guilt.  No, liturgical considerations cannot be the magnet for Rome but ecclesiological concerns may well be.


Anonymous said...

It appears to me that Lutheranism has splattered into incoherency. It no longer seems to stand for anything in particular. On the other hand, the autocratic, humanistic, legalistic theology of Rome has no attraction at all. This is where Orthodoxy begins to look much more attractive. It offers all the things that Pastor Peters finds attractive in Rome, but without the heavy legalistic, humanistic, authoritarian bent of Rome.

On the practical side, one of the biggest problems with Orthodoxy, for those of us of Western European descent, it its very strongly ethnic orientation. Each parish is Greek, Ukrainian, Russian, Bulgarian, etc. and if you don't fit the label, you don't really belong.

This is where I find much of the strength of Anglicanism. Our theology is very close to the Orthodox, and yet, we are decidedly Western. My own family is from the British Isles, and it is especially easy for me to fit into Anglicanism. But even for those not from the UK, at least everything, back to the beginning so to speak, is in English. But the key thing, the really important thing, is the theology and worship. They are real, they are correct (as far as we are humanly able), and they stand in any unbroken line back to the early Church.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

David Gray said...

The 39 Articles don't remind me of EO theology. It is more a mix of Calvinism and Zwinglianism. Which isn't surprising given that Cranmer was a Zwinglian.

Janis Williams said...

Fr. D, Agree and disagree. Lutheranism is not '"splattered" any more than any other 'denomination.' There are confessional, 'orthodox' Lutherans, and there are liberals. There are liberal Episcopalians/Anglicans. There are conservtive E/A. Same with Catholics (even some true believers in Rome). So in one sense, we are all "splattered," but in our individual ctegories, we are not.

I can see in the new Anglican movement external resemblance to Orthooxy. This is likely true for any outsider looking in. Theologically, I have read he 39 Articles, have the BCP in my possession, and have read a bit of J.C. Ryle (no where near comprehensive, I know). In my limited reading, I do not see theological similarities.

My personal opinion is that more Lutherans (confessional) drift toward Constantinople because of the mystery, liturgy, and dare I say it? the morality. I expect this might be true of Anglicans. I see far more liberals of Lutheran, Evangelical (think Emergent/ing), and such head for Rome. Rome is all over the place - splattered. Therefore it is attractive to liberals who want 'churchiness' yet can pick and choose their own lifestyles and theology. Orthodoxy holds together in its ethnic groupings, but there are far too many converts outsidde of them to indicate it is on the whole a ghetto.

Chris Jones said...


What Fr D refers to as "Anglicanism" probably has little or nothing to do with the 39 Articles. If I am not mistaken, Fr D is a "continuing Anglican"; as such, he represents the heritage of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Catholic Revival within the Church of England. That is a wing of Anglicanism that has little use for the Articles.

But even among low-Church Anglicans, the fact is that the Articles have little purchase. The Church of England has never been a confessional Church. The 39 Articles have never filled the role that the Book of Concord fills among us, or that the Westminster Confession (inter alia) has filled among the Reformed. They were a compromise from the get-go, and all parties within the Established Church have agreed only not to preach and teach against them (at best) -- not to "believe, teach, and confess" as our pastors do.

As one who was baptized and raised an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, and then left ECUSA for Eastern Orthodoxy, I can tell you that Anglicanism, as taught and practiced among the Anglo-Catholic wing, is very close indeed to Eastern Orthodoxy. When I converted to Orthodoxy I renounced none of the beliefs that I had been taught as an A-C Episcopalian. The specifics of the liturgy were quite different, but on the level of theology and personal piety there was no change whatever.

Anonymous said...

Last Palm Sunday (2015) I attended an orthodox Lutheran church. Before we entered the church that morning we blessed and distributed the palms (cycad fronds). During the service the Pastor read the entire passion account and we stood for it. I have spinal stenosis and not sitting is painful. I fidgeted about, shifting my weight, poking myself on the cycad frond's thorny tips. Two thirds of the way through the Passion reading, I sat down, but I had tried. Later that day I went for a late lunch with Catholic friends and then tagged along when they ran by a church to catch an afternoon mass. And so I found myself, twice on the same day, standing for the reading of the full Passion account. I couldn't believe I'd thoughtlessly submitted myself to a second, painful, standing event in one day. Surely, I should have known better.

A large Catholic church with a very low ceiling, so low that I commented to my friends, trying to be positive, that it felt like worshiping in the catacombs. The music was almost as painful as the standing. Strummers up front and a lady, who arrived very late, on a piano. The church was full, hundreds and hundreds. Crowd control is definitely an issue for Catholics, don't dismiss it. My friends asked politely how many were at the Lutheran church that morning, and I fulsomely estimated about 60.

If you're not occasionally attending Roman Catholic worship services, then you probably have a very unrealistic idea of what looks and sounds like Roman Catholic these days. No chanting, or very little, no veils, no incense, no organ; a small crowd of people at the altar (men and women), it may take some effort to identify which one is the priest. Women distribute the wine of the sacrament. My friends went to confession right before the mass began, and we passed an attractive chapel by the side door with a large monstrance for the adoration of the host. The sermon was good, good enough for a Lutheran chapel service.

And yet with so much liturgical drift, they are there in their hundreds and hundreds, and this was only one of probably six masses held at this church on Sunday. Paris is still worth a mass.

David Gray said...


Thanks, that's interesting. I guess a lot of different things can be called Anglican.

Pastor Rich Balvanz said...

Perhaps my experience is unusual but our confessional Lutheran congregation is receiving approximately one former Catholic family per month while zero members have joined RC churches. I simply don't see the great interest you speak of. Unless you refer only to clergy. I have no knowledge of that.