Saturday, April 29, 2017

The perfect trinity. . .

Most of those who care deeply about the faith have, at one time or another or still may be searching for the perfect Church, the perfect unity that has woven together into one rich tapestry the single and individual threads of doctrinal, liturgical, and diaconal catholicity -- a Church that believes rightly honoring Scripture and the catholic tradition, worships faithfully using the forms of the mass and choir offices to their fullest expression, and authentically serves neighbor and world in love.  Lord knows, I have looked for such a perfect expression of the Church.  But as we are often reminded, the perfect can easily become an enemy of the good.  Not long ago the Republicans found this out in their pursuit of health care reform but it is no less true within the Church.

We want something that is perfect and yet we live within the tension that the Church is filled with sinners (baptized and forgiven sinners who have been given new life in Christ but are sinners, nonetheless).  In addition the Church is served by sinners (pastors who are examined for life and learning and gifts before being ordained to serve but sinners still).  We want the perfect Church but the pursuit of the perfect is itself its own problem.  The perfect Church has little need of grace to forgive the people of God or of mercy to address their faults and failings.  I wonder if God has not designed it all so that we never grow out of our need to approach the throne of grace on our knees!  For He has placed the perfect means of grace into the hands of sinners to preach and administer to sinners who come with repentant hearts to believe, receive, and live its gifts in daily life.

The perfect trinity of catholic doctrine, faithful liturgy, and authentic diaconal service remains ever the pursuit of the faithful (both in pulpit and pew).  But. . .  here on earth we find it within the living tension of sinners whose belief is fragile, whose ears itch, who never tire of entertainment, and who live within the great temptation to find the neighbor in need a burden and problem for someone else to deal with.

I am under no illusions.  I know my own frailties and my unworthiness stares me in the face every morning as I put on the clerical collar.  As if that were not enough, my family knows my many weaknesses only too well and keeps me grounded like a salutary thorn in the flesh from God should.  I know that my parish is filled with problems -- problems that I dream about solving but I know it is God's Church and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ alone will rescue my congregation from me and from itself.  I know that my church body is fraught with troubles -- goodness knows that is what keeps a blog like mine going!  And yet our confession ever calls us back to the faithful believing and the living out of our common life as the baptized people of God.  I look over the fence and see the issues other churches are facing and know that there is no perfect place where the blessed unity of doctrine, liturgy, and service are woven perfectly together.

Now I am not suggesting that everyone simply stay where he or she is and live with the faults and problems.  Some of them contradict basic doctrine and truth and violate Scripture and the faithful Christian must be called out from those places where the truth appears beyond rescue.  But I am saying that in your pursuit of the perfect you may miss the good.  Right now I believe my own parish and church body are in a good position.  Some would challenge me on that.  But if our confession is faithful we have a starting place to deal with practices that are not.  If our leaders are committed to those confessions, then we have people who will guide us to reconcile our practices with that truth (as imperfectly and painfully slow as that will surely be).  And if God gives us a spirit of charity, we will make the difference we can make in serving the neighbor and the world with the love of the Good Samaritan -- in service to the Gospel!

So hang in there. . . with me. . .


ErnestO said...

This blog has been a blessing to are a good and faithful servant.

The Priesthood of Believers and the Divine Service (liturgy)
Author: Dr. George Wollenburg
With the exception of the biblical doctrine of justification, perhaps no biblical teaching is more dear to the hearts of Lutherans than the priesthood of all believers.
The very nature of the priesthood precludes making this gathering a marketing tool to increase the membership of the organization. When the public ritual becomes "meaningful" to people without faith in God, it is false ritual, a betrayal of the priestly gathering, and a betrayal of the God who has chosen them as his own purchased possession. It is idolatrous.

Carl Vehse said...

The so-called "catholicity" one is looking for exists. From C.F.W. Walther's "The Evangelical Lutheran Church the True Visible Church of God on Earth":

Thesis XXI.A: The Evangelical Lutheran Church is sure that the teaching contained in its Symbols is the pure God's truth because it agrees with the written Word of God in all points.
Thesis XXV: The Evangelical Lutheran Church has thus all the essential marks of the true visible Church of God on earth as they are found in no other known communion, and therefore it needs no reformation in doctrine.

Finding a local congregation that is a faithful part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is left as an exercise for the Lutheran reader, with guidance from C.F.W. Walther's
"The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation Independent of the State," and, of course, his Die Stimme unserer Kirche in der Frage von Kirche und Amt.

MarK said...

And don't forget "How to Start Or Keep Your Own Missouri Synod Lutheran Church" by J.M. Cascione. I finished reading that one today.

Carl Vehse said...

Yes, there is a lot of good information for Lutherans in Rev. Cascione's 2001 book, How to Start Or Keep Your Own Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.

However, to no surprise, as with almost every recounting of the Missouri Saxon (1839-1841) history by a member of the Missouri Synod, the book's Chapter 11 discussions (pp. 36-42) are replete with historical errors.

The most egregious errors are the statements (pp. 40-1) that link the positions of Drs. Vehse and Marbach, and refer to the "Vehse/Marbach theses." Even the statements' footnoted references to Carl Mundinger's book are incorrect (Mundinger makes the false link of the two men elsewhere, e.g., pp. 111-2, 122-3, and 162). As Walter Forster correctly states (Zion on the Mississippi, pp. 521-2), "Theologically, Walther's position [at Altenburg] was based upon an elaboration of Vehse's position that the immigrants were a group of Christians and by that simple fact 'a church'."

Mark said...

Do you know why there are varying accounts of what happened among Lutherans acting in good faith? Why is the truth not nailed down by now? I don't understand the agendas.

Carl Vehse said...

The revisionist accounts tend to diminish the importance and contribution of Dr. Vehse's Protestation document to Walther in the Altenburg debate, or merge the position of Vehse with that of Marbach, the loser in the Altenburg debate.

In his 1953 book, Zion on the Mississippi, Walter Forster noted (p. 520), "Walther was ready to admit his indebtedness to the Dresden archivist. Keyl and Burger joined in this aknowledgement. Later writers with a less meticulous sense of fairness, however, gave Vehse little credit."

C.F.W. Walther died in 1887. Six years later, such a "less meticulous sense of fairness" already appeared in an 1893 CPH publication, Half a Century of Sound Lutheranism in America.

Alan Graebner in his 1975 Uncertain Saints: The Laity in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod 1900–1970 observed (pp. 261-2) "[A]rchives have flourished in the synod while historical scholarship has not. To collect the texts of the fathers is one thing; to expose change quite another."

Ironically, even Graebner gets the history confused (p. 6) by combining Marbach with Vehse's position. Yet eight lines later (p. 7) Graebner notes that Walther was influenced by Vehse's ideas. This gives the contradictory notion that Vehse was vicariously debating himself in the 1841 Altenburg Debate.