Thursday, September 16, 2021

Who cares?

As is evident from comments on this blog and from other perspectives on other forums throughout Lutheranism, many Lutherans are adamant that they do not care what Rome thinks or does -- that no good Lutheran should care either.  At the same time, it is also fairly clear that a vocal group within Lutheranism does not care all that much about the early church or the medieval church and that, for them, Christianity began with the bang from Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.  It is obvious, however, to any casual reader of this blog that I do not hold to this position.  Contrary to reports, I am not alone in this.

Hermann Sasse also holds to the position that Lutherans are not Lutherans but the true Catholics, Evangelical Catholics, and that Rome is the innovator which has departed from that which is Catholic in doctrine and practice (as the Augustana itself insists).

“Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Ireneaus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the [First] Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation. For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. And just as the very nature of the Reformed Church emphasizes its strong opposition to the medieval church, so the very nature of the Lutheran Church requires it to go to the farthest possible limit in its insistence on its solidarity and identity with the Catholic Church. It was no mere ecclesiastico-political diplomacy which dictated the emphatic assertion in the Augsburg Confession that the teachings of the Evangelicals were identical with those of the orthodox Catholic Church of all ages, and no more was it romanticism or false conservatism which made our church anxious to retain as much of the old canonical law as possible, and to cling tenaciously to the old forms of worship.”  Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand, Augsburg Publishing House, 1938, pp. 110-11.

Indeed, that is the radical claim of Lutheranism.  It is that the Roman Catholic Church did not begin to exist until Trent and after Trent indoctrinated the very teachings that were not in accord with the earliest Christianity or Scripture.  Consider, if the Evangelical [Lutheran] Church is, indeed, the medieval Catholic Church reformed, what does that make the Roman Catholic Church?  What began in Trent reached its zenith when, in 1870 at Vatican I, the Roman Catholic replaced Scripture and Tradition with the infallibility of the Pope.  Earlier opinions noted, this officially placed the Pope over Scripture, over Tradition, and over history.  In contrast, the Evangelical or Lutheran order of faith is that only Scripture can norm what is believed and confessed and not council, court, or papacy.  Would the early church recognize this doctrine as its own or the papacy that this office has become?  Lutherans insisted that the answer is no.

But there is something else to contend with.  It is not simply Rome's problems but what Lutherans have come to contend for and to be content with.  It should be obvious that for too many Lutherans there is no desire or intent to be the Catholic Church.  The influences of the Reformed and Radical Reformation voices has shaped Lutheran thought as much as Luther and Lutheran voices of the Reformation.  Sadly, we are far too content to be Lutheran to the exclusion of anything remotely Catholic and tend to care little about the early church and even less about the church that followed it.   While the claim that Lutherans are the true Catholics may seem audacious to those outside Lutheranism and especially to Rome, it is even more scandalous that even Lutherans do not seem to care much about that claim anymore.  It is to this that Sasse would rise up in horror.  For it is one thing to suggest that Lutherans do not have to be concerned about Rome but it is quite another for Lutherans to willingly surrender their catholicity and content themselves with being a Protestant Church with a somewhat peculiar way of worship.  Yet that is the argument before us today between the confessional Lutherans and an institutional Lutheranism.  How easy it is for us today to concede the claim to catholicity that our forefathers were once willing to risk everything to retain.  This is surely as responsible for the excesses of liberalism among some Lutherans as it is the temptation to fundamentalism among others.  In both cases, the point is missed.  If it is neither our claim nor our intention to be the Catholic Church, why do we exist at all?


Michael Taylor said...

Good article. Growing up in a LCMS - the one clear teaching was that "We Were Not Catholic" I went to serve in my first church as a called and ordained minister and was told after I sang the pastor's part of the liturgy that "We Were Not Catholic." That (mis)understanding caused so many to miss the deep understanding of the faith. This blindness caused not a few to 'open their eyes' to Pentecostal services led by a pop-rock band because of its 'success.' At some point there will be "the day the music died" to quote a pop tune lyric. May God save us from an institutional Lutheranism

Pastor D said...

Well said!