Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The development of doctrine. . .

Fr. Hunwicke, always a good read, describes the take off from the opening speech of Pope John XXIII at Vatican II.  It seems that some try to invent in his words the idea that doctrine changes while Hunwicke reminds us of a quote which says that doctrine, while it does develop and become clarified over time, does not change or even evolve but eodem sensu eademque sententia -- keeps the same meaning and the same judgment or sense.  Goodness knows that Rome has had its problems with those who believe in the macro evolution of the church's teaching and practice and this has resulted in the rather remarkable disconnect between life and worship prior to Vatican II and thereafter.  But Lutherans also fall victim to the same notion.

St. Vincent of Lerins: 'Development' in the Christian Church and in her Doctrine: Development must take place eodem sensu eademque sententia [keeping the same meaning and the same judgment/sense].  Of course doctrine develops in the sense that the Church clarifies and sharpens its teaching -- especially in response to challenge or heresy.  Think here how the Nicene Creed further elucidates the two natures of Christ in response to the challenge and heresy of Arianism.  What is at stake here is not how the doctrine unfolds in response to need or challenge but rather if that doctrine itself changes -- moves from one thing to another.  Does God change His mind?  Do the Scriptures speak differently to different times and to different circumstances?  Does the Spirit move the Church beyond the past into a future which represents at least an evolution if not revolutionary disconnect from what has gone before?  These are the questions at work within the world today.

Of course churches that have adopted the GLBT agenda on everything from marriage to holy orders have admitted as much.  They acknowledge that the churches had in the past forbidden marriage to GLBT or restricted ordination to men only but they believe the Spirit is blowing a new wind and God is adapting to the changes of the world around us -- that the former constraints were rooted in culture and in the moment and are not the stuff of yesterday, today, and forever.  Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum not.  The Word of God evolves like the world around it and change is inevitable even for the truths of God revealed.

We find ourselves as Lutherans surrounded by those who would joyfully affirm that doctrine does develop -- not the elucidation or the clarification (iron sharpens iron) of it but the essence of it so that it is possible for God to say one thing at one time and another contradictory thing at another.  But of course that is the problem.  How do you know what is eternal and what is momentary, what you can count on forever and what may not be trusted so resolutely, and what to hang your faith upon and what to be open to change or adapt?  That is why the catholic principle is so very important and why the Lutheran reformers wrote in the Augustana that they were not promoting novelty but claiming that which had always been confessed and taught -- catholic doctrine and practice.  Anything less is to be subject to the tyrrany not of the certain but of the uncertain, of opinion that trumps the Verbum Dei and the Word incarnate.

Rome has its own challenges but we Lutherans are not so different.  We are not so much divided by different opinions as different understandings of the lifespan of doctrine and truth.  Some are holding on to the sacred deposit as the only thing which endures and others are holding to an idea of the sacred that takes many forms and shapes as the world evolves.  So for the first eighteen centuries creation meant Adam and Eve were real people and that God unfolded the world according to His Word in the mystery of power and grace but now that means God began the spark that evolution took over and ran with until it got us where we are today.  So for the first nineteen and a half centuries, no women were ordained but now God has opened a new door.  So for the first twenty centuries marriage was a lifelong union between a man and a woman with children being an essential component to their love and fidelity but now it is a temporary friendship with benefits between consenting people.  We argue the issues but under the issue remains this question -- does God and His Word and His truth change (one sense of develop) or is this development merely the elucidation or understanding of an eternal truth and Word that does not change?  Deal with this first and you will see how many other issues fall into place.  Fail to deal with this question and the arguments continue without progress on either side.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"Lutherans are not so different. We are not so much divided by different opinions as different understandings of the lifespan of doctrine and truth."

Another euphemism used to mask a change in doctrine is that an older doctrinal writing was "dated in its scholarship."

And there have been changes in Missouri Synod doctrine, as discussed by Dr. Arthur C. Repp in his article "Changes in the Missouri Synod" (Concordia Theological Monthly, Volume: 38, Number 7, 1967, 458-478), and discussed again in "Changes in the Wisconsin Synod" by Dr. Mark Braun (Despite the article's title, the first 11 pages (and approximately 140 out of the 184 references!) in the 25-page paper are about the doctrinal changes in the Missouri Synod that occurred during the first 70 years or so of the 20th century).

Besides those changes mentioned in the articles, other changes in Missouri Synod doctrine and its practice include Sunday School, women suffrage, endowment funds, and as evidenced in the recent synodical convention, the acceptance of levels of confessional agreement for altar and pulpit fellowship with other church bodies.