Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Church does not become visible via institutions but via proclamation.

The Church does not become visible via institutions but via proclamation.  One more line I wish I had written!  This time by Pastor Peter Speckhard in an exchange on the ALPB Forum.  It is a genius line.  It touches on all our strengths and weaknesses as Church.  It cuts to the heart of the matter of the marks of the Church, the nature of true ecumenism, and the way we too quickly equate the structure of the institution with the dynamic of a people gathered around Word and Sacrament.

The Church is visible where the Word is proclaimed in all its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are administered according to the will and institution of Christ.  This has always been the truth and it is the strength of the Church that who she is is intertwined in what she does.  How easy it has been and still is to think of the Church as if it were something in theory that did not exist in practice!  In reality it is just the opposite.  The theory extrapolates from the practice, from the reality of the priest and people, gathered around the Word and Table, as the baptized whom God has made His own now receiving His gifts and rendering thankful praise in response. 

Of course there are those who will remind me that the Church is also known through her acts of mercy.  But these are not strictly the actions of the Church -- separate and distinct from the baptized living out their baptismal life in but not of the world.  No, the Church's acts of mercy are first and foremost the acts of mercy done by the baptized and are called the Church's only because the baptized are that Church.  Their royal priesthood is not liturgical in the modern sense of people dividing up the Divine Service so that everyone gets their part but liturgical in the Biblical sense of the work of the baptized fulfilling their calling in the world gives the Church her identity and presence on every street corner and neighborhood.  We were not redeemed for self-centered purpose but to display the good works of Him who called us from darkness into His marvelous light.  Where the baptized live out their baptismal life in home, neighborhood, and community, there is the Church.  Now surely the Church may organize and facilitate the cooperative work of the baptized so that we do not always or even usually act alone or as individuals but this is not the greater focus.  That focus always lies in the baptized fulfilling their baptismal calling and life, individually and together.

I once had a member of our congregation complain that during a particularly hard time in life the Church was not there for them.  I asked if people from the parish prayed for them, with them, sat in the home, visited the hospital, wrote cards and letters of encouragement, brought meals, etc...  The answer was "well, of course but that is not the Church."  What this person meant was that he received plenty of pastoral care but not from the pastor who was there at the time.  This individual equated the Church with the pastor -- either acting individually or as the organizing agent of the care provided to the family in their trials.  That is a typical yet false distinction.  It happens not only on this level but when the Church is equated with constitutions, by-laws, standard operating procedure manuals, boards, commissions, etc...  The Church is dynamic, the realm of the Spirit, and the Spirit works through the means of grace.  Often we need to be reminded of this.

The weakness of the Church is revealed when we equate the institution with the fuller identity of the Church.  Rome was accused of doing this by the Reformers.  The Church was strictly seen as only the bishops and only the bishops in communion with the Pope; priests, deacons, and the religious by extension extended the bishop's presence and ministry.  Vocation was the new old word of the Reformation.  Baptismal vocation that posited the Church's identity and work not only in the Office of the Ministry but in the baptized and their call to live out the new life into which they were baptized and do the work of the Kingdom assigned to them within the realm of home, neighborhood, and community.  In this way the artificial distinction between the religious and secular was bridged.

Funny how we continue to fall into the trap of equating structures with Church and institutional identity and shape with the Church.  In this way ecumenism lives out the lie that the only or the true unity of the Church lies in a common mailing address for the headquarters instead of common confession, proclamation, liturgy, and baptismal vocation.  One Lord, one faith, one baptism is not a command laid upon the churches rightly divided over the substance of creed, confession, and doctrine but the unity inherent among those who rightly confess and proclaim.  Our security or confidence comes from the fact that we proclaim what we proclaim with accuracy and clarity, the Scriptural faith in accord with the catholic tradition, in both doctrine and practice.

We yearn for institutional unity, vitality, and authenticity but this cannot exist with the same flowing freely from and back again to the Divine Service, to the assembly of the baptized, around the Word and Table of the Lord.  Where this is authentic to the Word of God and catholic in shape and practice, the unity of the assemblies will ensure the vibrancy of their structure and the faithfulness of their institutions. 


Carl Vehse said...

The Church is not visible, but invisible, although the presence of the Church may be perceived by the true marks of the Church. This has been repeatedly pointed out in the Lutheran Confessions, the writings of Martin Luther and other Lutheran theologians, as noted in previous Pastoral Meanderings posts of June 10, 2011 at 10:46 AM, June 11, 2011 at 2:58 PM, June 11, 2011 at 3:10 PM, August 27, 2014 at 2:24 PM, August 27, 2014 at 3:56 PM, August 28, 2014 at 3:28 PM, and in other statements, such as C.F.W. Walther's Church and Ministry Thesis III, on the Church, The Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod, and the Christian Cyclopedia's definition of Church. Even President Harrison quotes Hermann Sasse:

The glory of the true church “is hidden under the cross” [Ap.VII/VIII.18], until with the glory of Christ on the Day of Judgment will become manifest the glory of the Church as his spiritual body. With the one shepherd the one flock will become visible. Those who want to anticipate the perfection – make the invisible visible – are chiliasts. May God gracefully protect us and our congregations from such enthusiasm and keep us by his Word.

The statement—"The Church does not become visible via institutions but via proclamation"—is simple false doctrine that opposes the confessional Lutheran position. And ALPB-style Lufauxrans, Romanists, Stephanites, Loeheists, Schwärmerei, and XXXA apostates continue to 'circle the wagons' around the false doctrine of the Church being visible.

David Gray said...

This is quibbling at best. By your own statement the church is both invisible and visible (i.e. the Church may be perceived by the true marks of the Church). One of the true marks of the Church is the right preaching of the Word. The right preaching of the Word involves the "proclamation" of the Gospel. Consequently the Church, using your own concepts, is made visible (able to be perceived) by proclamation.

Carl Vehse said...

"This is quibbling at best."

No. It is not quibbling in the least! It is the confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the official position of the Missouri Synod (which, with little to worry about ecclesiastical supervision, some of its members seem to publicly ridicule).

"By your own statement the church is both invisible and visible (i.e. the Church may be perceived by the true marks of the Church)"

No. I previously stated, "The Church is not visible, but invisible, although the presence of the Church may be perceived by the true marks of the Church." The Church in the proper sense is not visible, The perceived presence does not make the Church visible. Your statement is a lie and a transgression of the Eighth Commandment. It is a sin to attribute words to a person that he did not state. Repent!

In his paper, "The Significance of the Doctrine of the Church and the Ministry" (Concordia Theological Monthly, 11:1,1940, p. 19-36), John Theodore Mueller quotes C.F.W. Walther:

"The Church in its proper sense consists of all believers in Christ, so that in this strict sense of the term no unregenerated person belongs to it, and therefore it is invisible to us in this life, since no man can discern who is a true believer or not. Nevertheless, the Church, though invisible to man, may be perceived by us in its actual presence by its true marks, the pure preaching of God's Word and the administration of the holy Sacraments according to Christ's institution. In an improper sense the term "church" is applied in Scripture also to the visible sum total of all who profess allegiance to the Word of God and use the holy Sacraments. In the Church, in this sense, there are both good and evil persons, both true believers and hypocrites, though the membership of the latter is external only."

Mixing these two separate senses of the term "church," like the similar sophism of mixing "[Roman] Catholic" and "catholic," is a recipe for doctrinal deceit.

David Gray said...

Thanks for reinforcing my point.

Carl Vehse said...


David Gray said...

I try to every day, but only for sin.

Carl Vehse said...

That includes the sin of attributing words to a person that he did not state. Repent!

Anonymous said...

Jesus is visible in His body and his body is the Church. Ephesians 1:22-23. Yet, Jesus remains hidden from our earthly sight. This is a paradox that Christ and His Body is both visible and hidden from human sight, yet fully present and discernible through the marks of the Body, the church. Amazing, yet true.

Carl Vehse said...

Anonymous posts an eisegetic misinterpretation of the Ephesians verses.

The Lutheran understanding of the Church is explained:

"All who affirm that the Church is either wholly (papists) or partly (modern Lutheran theologians) visible destroy the Scriptural concept of the Church and change it from a communion of believers to an 'outward polity of the good and wicked' ( externa politia bonorum et malorum; aeussere Anstalt; Heilsanstalt), in which the believers only play a more or less important role.

"Occasionally Lutheran theologians to-day speak of two aspects of the Church, a visible aspect : the Word and the Sacraments, and an invisible one: the true members of the Church. But it is logically incorrect to describe the marks of the Church (notae ecclesia) as an essential part of the Church. It is true, the Gospel and the Sacraments are true marks of the Church; for the Church is never found where these are not in use. Moreover, the Gospel and the Sacraments are also the means by which the Church is established and preserved; for without the means of grace there can be no believers, Is. 55, 10ff.; Rom. 10, 17; Matt. 28, 19. 20; Mark 16, 15. 16. But to call the means of grace a part of the Church or the Church itself is an absurdity."

Excerpted from J.T. Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, 1934, p. 547.

Chris said...

Carl Vehese and David Gray,

Thanks to the both of you for continuing to make my day. I'm still laughing.

Unknown said...

Methinks the definition of the words quibble and kibitz are being confused.

I'm only 7 years a Lutheran, but I thought paradox was one of our favorite words?