24 July 2013

Nisi rite vocatus: Revisiting something I wrote a while ago

Apparently my former ecclesial body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, has rejected all attempts to affirm that only those "rite vocatus" may administer the sacraments--a claim its key confession makes. It brings to mind one of the "bread crumbs" I left behind before I left that body for the Church. I'm attaching it here, in part because some may not have seen it, and in part because it bears repeating. I do not mean to rub salt into the wounds of those who would try to be faithful Lutherans.

There is no Lutheran Church

Propositions concerning the Lutheran Church
1. The Augsburg Confession and those other writings assembled in the Book of Concord (1580) were initially the confession of a group of territorial churches in northern Germany.
2. These territorial churches were not merely congregations, but trans-parish entities, each united by the same administration and the same liturgy within itself, and all alike were trans-parish entities.
3. These territorial churches did not understand themselves as a new denomination, but as the continuation of the catholic Church in the west.
4. They intended their writings to be understood as an unalterable confession of faith, with which they would stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
5. These confessional writings constituted them not merely as a corporation, but as a living, organic entity, as “the churches of the Augsburg Confession.”
6. The principle of unity of the churches of the Augsburg Confession is the quia subscription to, and confession of, the articles of the Book of Concord. (To develop this point a bit: the principle of unity in Rome is the papacy. The principle of unity in the Pentecostal churches is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Other features may change, but the principle of unity is essential to each body and may not be changed without the body's being essentially changed. Remove the papacy, and Rome is no longer Rome. Remove the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and pentecostalism is no longer Pentecostalism.)
7. This act of subscription and confession is not mere intellectual assent, but the ordering of the lives of congregations according to this principle of unity.

Propositions concerning change
8. There are two sorts of change: accidental and essential.
9. Accidental change occurs when a thing is modified, yet remains what it was before. For example, when someone paints a blue chair red, it changes (color), yet it remains what it was (a chair).
10. Accidental change occurs to living entities when they grow, move, or alter in any way which still allows one to say, "It remains what it was."
11. Essential change occurs when a thing is modified in such a way that it no longer is what it was before. For example, when a chair is run over by a steamroller, it is no longer a chair, but a pile of wood, or metal, or plastic.
12. Essential change occurs to living entities when they change in such a way that one can no longer say, "It remains what it was." For example, a human being changes into a corpse at death, or (if it were possible) the humans making up Frankenstein's monster were essentially changed when they were sewn together to make the monster.
13. It is not necessary fully to know or to understand the circumstances of a substantial change in order to affirm that such a change has taken place. All that needs to happen is to show that what was essential to the being of a thing has altered.
14. In the case of a living being which appears to have undergone substantial change (i.e. death), charity requires us to make efforts to restore quickly what was lost.
15. There comes a time when those making such efforts recognize that the patient has died.

Propositions applying the latter to the former
16. The churches of the Augsburg Confession have changed since the Book of Concord was adopted.
17. Some of those changes have been accidental: they grew, they moved etc.
18. Some of those changes have been essential--i.e. the principle of unity (the Lutheran Confessions) no longer describes any existing trans-parish entity.

Lutheran Confessions
a. "Churches" of the Augsburg Confession refers to trans-parish entities, i.e. territorial churches.
b. The true body and blood of Christ are present under the bread and wine.
c. Luther excommunicates a pastor who mixes consecrated wine with unconsecrated following the service.
d. Private confession ought to be retained. Practiced as the norm. No one is admitted to the Sacrament unless he is first examined and absolved.
e. Only those rightly/ritely called should administer the sacraments and preach.
f. The traditional usages of the Church *ought* to be observed, which may be observed without sin. Uniformity of liturgy within territorial churches (i.e. not merely a parish-by-parish decision).
g. The Mass (i.e. the historic liturgy) is maintained, observed with greatest reverence, and ceremonies exist to teach the unlearned.
h. The right to excommunicate belongs by divine right (a very strong phrase!) to the pastoral office, and the people are bound by divine right to follow them. (AC 28)   
i. Mary is and remains a virgin after Christ's birth (FCSD 8.24, added by Chemnitz to reject the Reformed Peter Martyr Vermigli's denial of the semper virgo).
j. Prayers for the dead are not forbidden, and are not useless. (Ap)
k. The Scripture principle ("The Word of God alone shall establish articles of faith") is maintained in tension with the catholic principle ("In doctrine and ceremonies, we have received nothing new against Scripture OR the catholic church"). These two principles are not, of course, two "sources" of doctrine.

a'. "Churches" refers to congregations, but not to trans-parish entities.
b'. Grape juice is offered in many places as an alternative.
c'. Plastic disposable cups are used widely, tossed out unwashed after the service.
d'. Private confession scarcely exists; in most parishes, not at all, in some parishes, just barely. Open communion the norm.
e'. Unordained laity do both (administer the sacraments and preach).
f'. The traditional usages of the Church *need not* be observed (NB: "ought" and "need not" are logically contradictory).
g'. The Mass is not maintained, reverence is discouraged by creative services (See, for  example, http://www.thefellowship.com /ow/outreachworship.html), and ceremonies are instituted to entertain the bored.
h'. The right to excommunicate belongs by divine right to the congregation, and the pastors are bound by divine right to announce such excommunications. (Blue Catechism)
i'. The semper virgo is at best a pious opinion.
j'. We must not pray for the souls of the dead (Blue Catechism).
k'. The catholic principle is gone.

Let me add another, from my own experience. I was a doctrinal reviewer for the new hymnal (now I won't be one much longer, when this gets to the eyes of others--but I digress). In reviewing the baptismal rite, I suggested that we ought to use Luther's 1526 baptismal rite as a paradigm of what constitutes a baptism from a Lutheran point of view. No-brainer, right? After all, that rite is even included in some editions of the BOC. I was overruled, and it was said that the 1526 rite carries NO normative significance for the Lutheran Church.

19. In some cases, these aberrations can be dated, and the scope of their acceptance be fixed--e.g. the abandonment of AC 14 happened in the LCMS in 1989. In other cases, these aberrations cannot be dated, and the scope of their acceptance cannot be fixed. But it is not necessary to explain *how* a thing dies in order to affirm *that* it died. We bury people without autopsies all the time.
20. Efforts to change these aberrations and return to the teaching of the Confessions have proved fruitless. The time has come to check the clock, note the time, and call the morgue.

21. The quia subscription to, and confession of, the doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions in its fulness is the principle of unity for the churches of the Augsburg Confession, and hence is essential for their existence.
22. There exists no trans-parish Lutheran entity which maintains a quia subscription to, and confession of, the doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions in its fulness.
23.  In the sense that the Confessors understood themselves as 'church'--i.e. a trans-parish entity united by a common confession--There is no Lutheran Church.

Revised April 22, 2005


David Garner said...

Father, bless. I noted the same thing in our last months as Lutherans, and while I never articulated it as well as you have here, it disturbed me greatly. A very dear, well meaning friend who is a Lutheran pastor found us a nice, solid Lutheran parish a couple of hours from our home. I turned a corner in our journey to Orthodoxy when I realized I would have to drive past more than 10 LCMS parishes to arrive at this one. My conclusion was "this is not how the Church operates."

That fact saddens me -- I have many friends remaining in the LCMS and the WELS, and several in the ELS and ELCA, as well as other smaller groups. I dearly love the Lutheran confession. But we could not abide in those trans-parish entities that you so accurately describe, where one does this and another does that and both are supposed to be of the same faith. It simply came to a point where we realized that the fracture was so complete we could not see a basis for healing it.

Chris Jones said...

[the LCMS] has rejected all attempts to affirm that only those "rite vocatus" may administer the sacraments

I'm puzzled as to what the "trigger event" is for this re-posting. You say that the LCMS has "rejected all attempts"; have there in fact been any such attempts? Did anyone, for example, offer a resolution at the current convention to repeal the "Wichita Amendment" to the Augsburg Confession? If there have been any serious attempts to re-affirm AC XIV in the LCMS, and return to confessional practice, I am unaware of it.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

The LCMS convention blog reports as follows: http://blogs.lcms.org/2013/delegates-seek-wording-changes-on-smp-bylaw-applaud-csl-175th-anniversary

My re-posting came in the light of Facebook posts by Fr. Larry Beane.

Chris Jones said...


I don't know a great deal about the SMP program, but it's my understanding that men who have gone through the SMP program are ordained just like seminary graduates are, though with restrictions as to where they may serve. If that is true, then the SMP may be a poor way to prepare men for ordination, but it's not a violation of AC XIV, since these men are indeed called and ordained.

Perhaps St Ambrose of Milan should be the patron saint of the SMP program. If memory serves, his path to ordination was considerably accelerated.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

I think part of the concern might be (and you should probably have this conversation with Fr. Beane; I'm working off his FB posts) that if a man is restricted as to where he may serve, it creates a division in the office of the ministry--something Lutherans have classically not gone for. But again, you may want to take it up with Fr. Beane.