Saturday, December 30, 2017

It is not that word that was/is the problem. . .

A person visiting smiled the knowing smile to me and then said they caught how I had slipped in that word into the creed, catholic.  It was the kind of banter that would take place when somebody, usually a child, did something forbidden and folks were snickering because he almost got away with it. Lutheran aversion to the word catholic is not Lutheran.  In fact, it is not that word that was or is problematic.  While some have played with the Reformation to make it out that Luther was styling a church more to his liking, the real cause of the Reformation (at least the Lutheran one) was to emphasize the word catholic and de-emphasize the word Roman.  What had become the identifying character of the Roman word was conflicting with the character of the catholic word.  To be blunt, Rome was getting in the way of catholic.  Lutherans never had or have a problem with the word catholic; it was and is a problem with the word Roman.

And, by the way, Lutherans are not using the word catholic to say "me, too"  -- yeah, we are also catholics.  There are no garden varieties of catholic -- only one catholic, full, whole, complete, and universal faith.  You don't have part of it or some of it are a version of it.  You either have it or you don't.  This is the standard Lutherans set for themselves beginning with the Augustana.  This faith confessed is the catholic one.  Yes, we know that it is not the Roman one but that is what the Reformation is about.  Roman had replaced catholic to the point where it conflicted with what was believed, taught, confessed, and practiced at all times and in all places. The Reformers, in effect, denied that the word “catholic” was equivalent to or a synonym of “Roman.” 

For all the pious drivel that has been bantered about in this 500th anniversary year, Rome is still requiring that Lutherans be Roman in order to be catholic.  Lutherans are still confessing that catholic is not a synonym for Roman.  Yes, we ought to be people of good will and kind and polite but we should be talking about the great issues that divide us -- not to find common ground but to resolve serious differences.  Common ground is fine and has been there from the beginning.  The Confutation found no problem with many articles of the Augustana and spent precious little ink on others.  We know the issues.  Why can't we face them and discuss them openly, like adults, not simply to find commonality but to address the historic divisions between us?

FWIW, the odd curiosity is that groups that never intend to be catholic (for example, those who reject baptismal regeneration or the real presence, among other things) seem to have no problem with that word.  Lutherans, who insist that what we confess and practice is either the catholic doctrine and practice or we will change it, are the ones who hesitate to embrace the word.  But it is not the word catholic that was or is the problem.  It is the word Roman and its equation that what is Roman is by definition catholic.  At best we should be standing with others who challenge this assertion (like the East) but it seems more and more we are standing alone, both as Lutherans against Protestants out of control and as confessional Lutherans within Lutheranism.

To be honest, I am relieved 2017 is over so that we can stop spending our time correcting the false ideas of what Luther believed, who he was, and what the Reformation was all about.  Now that the hype is toned down, we can get back the issues at  hand.  How did we celebrate the Reformation in our parish?  We had indepth studies of everything in the Book of Concord except the Formula (that is coming).  We had historical displays (complete with a replica of the original Luther Bible and a host of other things, including the Wittenberg altar piece).  We preached the unchanging Gospel to a changing world.  In short, we did the things Lutherans are supposed to do all the time.  Remember the past, confess the faith, preach the Gospel, and administer the Sacraments.

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