Saturday, January 19, 2019

Can the church become a sect. . .

Watching another blog, a questioner was quite concerned with the state of affairs within the Roman Catholic Church and wondered it if was the same Church or had betrayed its identity.  The responder wrote:  . . .the Church cannot become something that she isn’t.  An acorn cannot become a giraffe and the Catholic Church cannot become some sect. . .  As it is written, the statement is true.  The Catholic Church cannot become a sect because God has p[laced His promise upon her.  But if Catholic has become a mere synonym for the Roman Catholic Church, then the statement is not a fact but a supposition of those who hold it.  The Roman Catholic Church can become a sect and, in fact, that is the very present danger given the theological and moral climate within Rome now (just as was the contention of Luther in the 16th century).  When any orthodox Christian community turns its back upon the Word of God or trades the True Gospel for a false gospel, that community has forsaken its claims of truth, fidelity, and authenticity.  Even the Orthodox Church admits that fidelity is the source of authenticity and not a particular office or the claims of those office holders.

To be sure, Luther was no radical reformer who insisted that the Church had died in the darkness and could not be reformed and had to be reconstituted.  Luther insisted that where the Word was proclaimed faithfully and the Sacraments administered faithfully, there was Christ and there was His Church.  Luther saw the Church as reformable.  Luther said the Roman Catholic Church had lived in darkness when the Gospel did not predominate and where the Scriptures were not the authority but it was not complete darkness.  The Church never ceased to exist but Rome has ceased to be that Church and had, indeed, become sectarian because of its condemnation of justification by grace through faith alone and by its substitution of man-made doctrines for the doctrine of the Scriptures -- not to mention the placing of pope, council, and teaching magisterium above the Word of God as source and norm of all that is believed and confessed.

According to the responder, the Catholic Church has been abused by her custodians.  They have dressed her up in false colors and made her to dance to dreadful tunes, on display for the world.You get no argument from me on this point.  Yet it is not simply that Rome's leaders have abused their role as custodians of the sacred deposit, they have also forsaken their right to exclusive claim of that deposit.  For the faith is not entrusted to an institution but to a community of believers, to the baptized born anew by water and the Spirit, hearing and believing and following the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking through His Word, and gathered at His bidding to receive the gift of Himself in the blessed Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood.  When that community forsakes the Word, they lose its promise and their identity as the people of that promise and their leaders as custodians of it.

Lutherans believe in apostolic succession but not in a continuous mechanical succession of hands.  Rather Lutherans insist that there must be a succession of ministers AND a succession of faithful.  We joyfully affirm that the office of the Holy Ministry is one of the marks of that true Church but not the sole mark.  It exists with a community of hearers and believers, of people washed and cleansed, attentive to the voice of the Word, and gathered at His bidding to receive what His own Word promises in the blessed Supper of the Lamb (first here and then in eternity).  An episcopal office alone cannot guarantee this fidelity and authenticity nor can the so-called Petrine office alone be this guarantor of the Church.  It is an all or nothing sort of approach that Lutherans insist upon -- the faithful pastors and the faithful hearers together in complementary relationship. 

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