Saturday, September 19, 2020

To me, it means. . .

Over the course of the past years I have grown more and more frustrated with the ability of people to define things and to define themselves in ways that diminish the whole idea that words mean something.  Take for example Joe Biden's or Mario Cuomo's or Andrew Cuomo's or Nancy Pelosi's claim to be devout Catholics.  They are no such thing -- not because I have some innate ability to see into their minds and hearts but because their words and actions betray the lie on their lips.  You cannot be Roman Catholic and approve of, vote funding for, or legislate for free access to abortions that are free.  It is not possible.  This is no minor error here. In the same way, you cannot be Roman Catholic and not believe in the Real Presence.  You cannot claim to be devout and then reject basic tenets of the faith.

But Roman Catholics and politicians have no corner on this market.  Lutherans do it all the time.  You cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and believe in salvation by your works.  You cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject the Trinity.  You cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject infant baptism or baptismal regeneration or that baptism saves you.  You cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and accept the fact that Scripture is replete with error except in the narrow sense of those things that apply to our salvation (so you cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and say Adam and Eve are mythological characters or that the miracles of the Bible or of Jesus did not happen or that Jesus did not rise bodily from the grave).  I would also suggest that you cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and accept or approve of abortion.  These things are not little things that can be dismissed in favor of something bigger.

Although I will lose some of you here, I will also say that you cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject any or parts of the Lutheran symbolical books.  Here I am not saying that you must simply accept them all as Lutheran Confessions but that the content is also required.  I will admit that it might not be necessary for a church body not to formally include all in their confessional article but it is not possible for that same church body to reject some of those confessions.  Some Lutherans would insist that it is not only possible but the best Lutheran form to pick and choose from those Confessions the way they have picked and chosen what is in Scripture -- confessing and insisting upon some items but rejecting others or refusing to be bound by them.

Let me go one step further.  It is not possible to be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject what is in those Symbols.  For example, can you be Lutheran or claim to be and insist that the frequency with which you observe the Sacrament of the Altar is an indifferent matter?  Can you have the Mass every quarter whether you need it or not and claim to abide by the Confession that we observe the Mass every Lord's Day and every other day there are communicants desiring to receive it?  Are ceremonies truly a matter of indifferent things so that you can say you are Lutheran but reject the liturgy, reject the customary rituals and ceremonies which the Augsburg Confession insists we have retained?  It may be possible for ceremonies to differ but is it possible for ceremonies to be rejected almost in toto as they are by many Lutherans on Sunday morning?  It is one thing, for example, not to practice them but to affirm that they can and are rightly practiced but in our church body there are those who insist that the elevation or genuflection or a thousand other things are not Lutheran.  Are they right or wrong?  Can you be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject or refuse to offer private confession?  Can you be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and insist upon the right to define Lutheranism or read the Lutheran Confessions according to your own interpretation?

So, have at it and take me to task.  But I am inherently suspicious when any conversation about doctrine and practice begins with "to me, it means. . . "  Do you get to decide what it means?  Do you get to decide what the Confessions say?  If you do, then in what sense does anyone give consent and promise to them in ordination or installation?  It is like saying that you love hamburgers but you only eat veggie burgers and then call them hamburgers.  Language cannot survive if words only mean what you decide they mean.  We do not live in Humpty Dumpty's world or in a Humpty Dumpty church:  "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

I am frustrated by those, pastors or lay, who insist that they are devout but whose devotion is to something other than what their church believes, confesses, and teaches.  I grow weary of those who say they are Lutheran but who look nothing like Lutheran on Sunday morning.  There is no such thing as Lutheran in theory.  The fabric of Lutheranism is tearing not because of outside threats but because inside the big tent people are picking away at the very threads that we say bind us together.

I will risk going further.  There are those who insist that Scripture is so clear that it settles every argument and establishes every position.  But if we all accepted this, there would not be a plethora of churches and we would not need creeds or confessions to apply what Scripture says to us.  The clarity of Scripture does not conflict with the creeds and confessions which have applied and bound us to its doctrine and truth down through the ages.  I am not saying that Scripture is vague but I am saying that we are -- that we find wiggle room where there is to be none and that we make our reason and preference the ultimate magisterium over Scripture and for this reason creeds and confessions have not only been beneficial but essential.

It is a funny thing, really.  We decry those who are Republican in name only or Democrat in name only or Roman in name only or Lutheran in name only but we do exactly the same thing when we define the faith and its faithful practice for ourselves and find every possible way out of binding us to what we have decided we do not want or like.  And then we complain about the egregious examples of those who have, like Humpty Dumpty, emptied our language of meaning in the cause of elevating individualism, preference, and experience.  Finally, the Augsburg Confession insists it is a catholic document but could it be that we have made it into a Lutheran one?  If we have, have we really held to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession at all?  Is it no wonder that all the kings horses and all the kings men cannot put our Humpty Dumpty church and world back together again?


Anonymous said...

The confessions state that we retain the Mass. But this is the purified, Evangelical Mass. Which is what, exactly? The Roman Mass minus ex opere operato and transubstantiation? No. It is more than that. It is not ceremonial, for we state, “And rites and ceremonies need not be the same everywhere, for there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc.”

One of the many criticisms of the Lutherans was that they had abolished not just the Mass, but the daily Mass. Listen to how Melanchthon defines Lutheran worship in asserting that we have not abolished either the true Mass or the daily Mass:

“They cite also the daily sacrifice (cf. Ex. 29:38f.; Dan. 8:11f.; 12:11), that, just as in the Law there was a daily sacrifice so the Mass ought to be a daily sacrifice of the New Testament. The adversaries have managed well if we permit ourselves to be overcome by allegories. It is evident, however, that allegories do not produce firm proofs [that in matters so highly important before God we must have a sure and clear word of God, and not introduce by force obscure and foreign passages; such uncertain explanations do not stand the test of God's judgment]. Although we indeed readily suffer the Mass to be understood as a daily sacrifice, provided that the entire Mass be understood, i.e., the ceremony with the preaching of the Gospel, faith, invocation, and thanksgiving. For these joined together are a daily sacrifice of the New Testament, because the ceremony [of the Mass, or the Lord's Supper] was instituted on account of these things; neither is it to be separated from these. Paul says accordingly, 1 Cor. 11:26: As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come. But it in no way follows from this Levitical type that a ceremony justifying ex opere operato is necessary, or ought to be applied on behalf of others, that it may merit for them the remission of sins.

“And the type aptly represents not only the ceremony, but also the preaching of the Gospel. In Num. 28:4f. three parts of that daily sacrifice are represented, the burning of the lamb, the libation, and the oblation of wheat flour. The Law had pictures or shadows of future things. Accordingly, in this spectacle Christ and the entire worship of the New Testament are portrayed. The burning of the lamb signifies the death of Christ. The libation signifies that everywhere in the entire world, by the preaching of the Gospel, believers are sprinkled with the blood of that Lamb, i.e., sanctified, as Peter says, 1 Pet. 1:2: Through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. The oblation of wheat flour signifies faith, prayer, and thanksgiving in hearts. As, therefore, in the Old Testament, the shadow is perceived, so in the New the thing signified should be sought, and not another type, as sufficient for a sacrifice.

“Therefore, although a ceremony is a memorial of Christ's death, nevertheless it alone is not the daily sacrifice; but the memory itself is the daily sacrifice, i.e., preaching and faith, which truly believes that, by the death of Christ, God has been reconciled. A libation is required, i.e., the effect of preaching, in order that, being sprinkled by the Gospel with the blood of Christ, we may be sanctified, as those put to death and made alive. Oblations also are required, i.e., thanksgiving, confessions, and afflictions.”

Anonymous said...

Luther encouraged elevation. Melanchthon, Chemnitz, and Bugenhagen banned it. Which is Lutheran?

Lutherans in Sweden retained eucharistic prayers and fracturing the host at the altar. German Lutherans eliminated eucharistic prayers and fracturing the host. Which is Lutheran?

Frederick William III, author of the Prussian Union and father of modern liturgics, prescribed that the “Evangelicals” would cross themselves, kneel for communion in front of an altar with paraments, candles, Bible, and crucifix, while pastors would follow a liturgy drawn largely from Luther’s German Mass while facing the altar during the prayers and preaching for no longer than 30 minutes, a de-emphasis of the sermon intended to combat Pietism and Rationalism. Well, at least we know that’s not Lutheran.

John Joseph Flanagan said...


John Joseph Flanagan said...


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I suppose the labels we place on people, and the labels folks use to describe themselves, are often open to debate. I identify as a Christian, yet I often see hypocrisy in the mirror, and I see sinful thoughts, words, and actions not befitting a practitioner of my faith. I am convicted of hypocrisy daily, as my shortcomings, failings, weaknesses, and disobedience are sharply brought to my attention, roundly and dispassionately by the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, who is there to expose spiritual pride, root out blatant sin, and protect me from this fallen nature inherited from our first parents in the Garden. I know I have fallen short, and I cannot claim to be a good Lutheran either. But I do understand your points here. Anyone who claims to be a devout Catholic, or Lutheran, or any a Bible believer of no particular denomination should not fool themselves into thinking that the Lord of glory accepts abortion or same gender marriage, or any other sinful actions with a wink and a shrug. The eyes of the Lord see everyone, and He will judge...."I never knew he," these words will echo as the souls of carnal Christians fall headlong into eternal fire.

Anonymous said...

A person can claim to be a "recovering Lutheran".

Lutheran Lurker said...

Comment: the purified, Evangelical Mass. Which is what, exactly? The Roman Mass minus ex opere operato and transubstantiation? No. It is more than that. It is not ceremonial, for we state, “And rites and ceremonies need not be the same everywhere, for there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc.”

Response: What exactly is the purified Evangelical Mass? Could it be that it is the Mass without the accretions of the period from the 600s to Luther's day? That would make it not necessarily an Evangelical Mass but the catholic one.

Comment: “And rites and ceremonies need not be the same everywhere, for there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc.”

Response: That they need not be the same does not make them unimportant, without meaning or purpose, or useful and salutary. It simply means that not every ceremony need be uniform. Which, prior to Trent, was also more common in Rome with its various rites and rituals.

Comment: they had abolished not just the Mass, but the daily Mass

Response: The obligation of the priest to offer daily mass without communicants was, indeed, abolished but at the same time the Augsburg Confession insists that if there are communicants desiring to receive the sacrament who have been examined, then the "Mass" will be held for them -- daily if they wish to receive it and are well prepared since no limit was placed on the frequency.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Thanks for your insights and fidelity to the Lutheran Confessions. You are an inspiration and help to the church.

Janis Williams said...

As the old saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding.”