Sunday, August 27, 2017

Who is our guru?

Most of the Reformation ecclesial bodies took as normative the Bible, the Early Church, and, to provide a 'hermeneutic' (after all, both Bible and Early Church can be differently interpreted by different people) a normative theological interpreter: it might be Luther; or there is always Calvin; or whoever. But the Church of England never had a hermeneutic; we have no Reformation guru (like Luther for Lutherans) who, if you can find evidence in his werke , trumps all arguments. So we were left with just Bible and Early Church and, if you will forgive me for saying so, the Grace of God. 

In one of my favorite English blogs, a common error is presumed that cannot be allowed.  That is that Lutherans have a "guru" or that we are somehow bound to the words of Martin Luther above all things -- including  the Word of God, the catholic tradition, and the creeds.  In reality, Lutherans are bound to very few of Luther's words.  In fact, only to those words that were included in the Lutheran Confessions, namely, the Small and Large Catechisms and the Smalcald Articles.  Indeed, the primal confession within the Concordia is the work of a layman, Philip Melancthon. 

We are not a church built upon a personality.  Of course, if we were to build on a personality, Luther's was big enough to serve as great and grant umbrella for such a church to be established but this is precisely a betrayal not only of the Lutheran Confessions but of Luther himself.  He is captive to the Word of God, not a naked Word stripped of its creedal, confessional, and liturgical history but within that tradition of living faith born of the Word and shaped by that Word (and the Sacraments).  It is great to appeal to Luther but such an appeal has no power to bind us unless Luther's words are from the Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions.  I do not mean to suggest that Luther is irrelevant to Lutherans but his words are not normative, only the Confessions are, and only the Scriptures norm them.  In fact, it was when we began to adopt a guru du jour we also began to suffer mightily as a church.

Lutheranism has worked best when we did not forget our Confessions, when we lived together within the framework of the weekly Divine Service, and when we did not neglect catechesis.  When any one of these became weak, we became weak and susceptible to all sorts of problems.  For Lutherans this three legged foundation has been both our strength and the rescue when we faltered.  It is no less true for our own day and our own time than it was in other eras of our history. 

I am not sure that it could be said that the English were so wonderful left with the Bible, the early church, and the grace of God.  It appears to me the shape of English Christianity has gone all over the page.  Perhaps the English have struggled with their own three legged foundation (Scripture, liturgy, and episcopacy) but it is clear that in the present day a wonderful ceremonial has not kept them from doubting if Jesus really is the Christ of the Word and from bishops whose own confessions were suspect, much less their episcope over others within their jurisdiction.  Finally, it is a wonderful story that the Ordinariate is the full outcome of the English Reformation but it is just a story, a hopeful one for some but not a realistic one for any.


Ted Badje said...

That quote is nonsense since the Book of Common Prayer borrowed heavily from Luther's Litany.

Anonymous said...

The foundation of Lutheranism is:

1. Word alone
2. Grace alone
3. Faith alone
4. Christ alone

Carl Vehse said...

In addition to the Antichrist, one of the last people to rely on for trustworthy information about the Reformation and Martin Luther is someone incardinated into the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and his July 12, 2017, column, "Cranmer, the Ancient Fathers, and the Missal."

John Joseph Flanagan said...

We need to be Christ centered, Gospel centered, Bible centered. Luther said many things, and not everything was instructional, but he did stick close to the word of God. We need no guru in the LCMS, but rather we need more preaching pastors who actually prepare their Sunday sermons with care, deliver them with enthusiasm, and actually teach from the Bible. Some of today's contemporary pastors are too casual, too worldly, too superficial, and unprepared to stand before the congregation as God's ordained servants. I do not think the seminaries are doing a good job of teaching, and of culling unsuitable candidates. This is where our focus should be today.

Anonymous said...

The neglect of catechesis in the LCMS began when pastors started giving
the task of teaching 7th and 8th grade confirmation to other people.
They no longer wanted to teach Confirmation classes and jobbed it out
to Elders, Sunday School Teachers, and other parish laity. This is a sad situation for the local congregation. Pastors should be willing and able
to teach with energy their confirmation classes. There are no excuses.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, Take it one step further. The Catechism itself says it it to be taught by the father as head/priest of the family. Pastors should be receiving students into catechism class who are well prepared by parents.

Carl Vehse said...

And on top of all that some LCMS pastors push for "early (pre-confirmation) communion," a version of open communion, and on some blogs have bragged about how young an age a pre-confirmation child has been communed.

Chris Jones said...

Dr Strickert,

Paedocommunion is not "a version of open communion." When a child is communed who is not confirmed and is younger than the customary confirmation age, that child is a baptized member of an LCMS congregation. "Open communion" means communing those who are not members of an LCMS congregation, nor of a congregation with whom we are in altar and pulpit fellowship. A congregation's children are members of the congregation. Therefore, communing them does not constitute "open communion."

I understand and respect the arguments against early communion in the LCMS, and I don't care to argue for or against it on this thread. But whatever the problems are with early communion, "open communion" is not one of them.

Anonymous said...

Someone older and wiser once told me, "The confessional Lutheran church will never fall because we have the strongest confession." It was not spoken in arrogance but in humble acknowledgment that our church fathers strove to align all doctrine with scripture and to address the errors of other church bodies.

The CofE/Anglicans have, in contrast, many confessions, or no confession, so far as I can tell. They have no anchor. They approach the 39 Articles ala carte, picking and choosing by congregation or small church body to which they will subscribe. Thus it becomes a church built on the whim of the pastor/leaders of the church and is nothing more than a swaying reed.

Carl Vehse said...

One individual's own made-up definition of "open communion" works only for oneself. Thus its rejection by Lutherans or Lutheran church bodies should be no surprise.

“Open Communion” [is] the admission of individuals to the Sacrament with minimal or no concern for Baptism, repentance, faith, self-examination, or unity of confession, is intolerable for any who take seriously that our Lord gave the Supper only to his disciples (Matt 26:20), Paul’s plea that a church be of one mind or judgment and without division (1 Cor 1:10), and his insistence on self-examination and discerning the Lord’s body (1 Cor 11:27-28). Excerpted from the December 11, 2014, LCMS CTCR "Guidelines for Congregational, District, and Synodical Communion Statements," which was approved for study and discussion by 2016 Convention Resolution 5-15.

The "unity of confession" is contained in the doctrine of closed communion. When no public confession, such as in confirmation, is made or even required for a communicant member of a Lutheran congregation, especially a LCMS congregation, then the rational for any catechesis disappears and the concept of being identified as a member of that Lutheran congregation evaporates.

The 1983 CTCR Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper contains the following description [p. 21]:

"The practice of Close Communion is prompted by love and is born of the heartfelt conviction, on the basis of Scripture alone, that we must follow Christ's command. This means refusing the Lord's Supper to those whose belief is not known to us."

To no surprise, this has been explained in previous posts with references, here, here, here, here, and here.