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

21 July 2013

Homily on the centurion's faith

            Much of what our Lord Jesus did made others marvel. The disciples marveled when he calmed the storm with a word, and when he withered the fig tree. The people marveled when he cast out demons, and healed the sick. Even his enemies marveled when he avoided their traps with a clear and powerful answer.
            But only once in the Gospels do we ever read that Jesus marveled—and this is that text. “When Jesus heard
            Note first, that the centurion didn’t ask for himself. He was concerned about others…in this case, for his slave. Slaves had no status in Roman Israel. They were expendable, replaceable. But still the centurion cared for him.
            And not only for him! We read in Luke’s account that Jewish elders approached Jesus on behalf of the centurion. They told the Lord, “He is worthy for you to heal his servant. He loves our people, and built us a synagogue.”
            How refreshingly different from our culture’s self-absorption and victim mentality! Last year I read the book, “I’m Proud of You,” the story of Fred Rogers’ friendship with a Dallas sportswriter. The man’s life was turned upside down because he found in Mr. Rogers a person who was genuinely concerned about him. Friendship, for Fred Rogers, was about the other person. How about for us?
            When I focus on “me,” it only makes life harder. None of us lives to himself, St. Paul reminds us. When we turn our attention to our self, we miss the mark God sets for us. We sin. We can learn from the centurion. When we focus on others, and their needs, we find God’s deepest will for us. By losing myself, I find myself.
Earlier I mentioned that the Jewish elders told Christ that the centurion was worthy. And that’s the second thing about him. When the topic turned to himself, the centurion could only say, “I am not worthy.”  
            We live in a culture of victimhood. I am a victim when I think I’ve not been treated as well as I think I deserve. That leads to anger, and pain, and more hurt. It leads to nothing good.
            How much better to acquire true humility! True humility doesn’t come from comparing myself to others. True humility comes from comparing myself to God. When the words “I am not worthy” are spoken from the heart, it’s a clear sign we’re drawing near to God. Remember when St. Peter caught the great shoal of fish at Jesus’ word, he fell at his feet and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And when St. John, when he was old, saw the Lord Jesus, he tells us, “I fell at his feet as though dead.” When we pray, let us draw near to God in firm faith, because of who he is; and with deepest humility, because of who we are. “Lord, I am not worthy.”
True humility confesses an infinite gap between God and me. But firm faith confesses that God has bridged that gap in Christ…and that’s the third thing about the centurion’s words. He believed that Christ could act without needing to come to his house.
There’s an interesting comment made by one of the fathers on the Lord’s response, “Not in Israel have I found such faith.” Israel, as you know, was the other name for Jacob. In the Old Testament, when God appeared to Jacob at Bethel, Jacob said, “This is the house of God.” Jacob understood that God could appear at one place. But the centurion understood that Christ is everywhere present, and able to act by his word alone.
So come to him now, as he comes to you in his life-giving flesh and blood. Bring him the needs that press so hard on you—especially the needs of others. Lay aside your anger, your bitterness, that victim mentality that blocks his love. Come to him as you are, humble, unworthy of his mercy. Come to him with great faith, trusting that he who made all things from nothing can surely grant more than you could ever ask or think.  And he will work all things together for his glory and our good, who love him because he first loved us; in the name of the Father, Son,  and Holy Spirit. Amen.

16 July 2013

Raskolnikov's dream

From the Epilogue to Crime and Punishment:

"He dreamt that the whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became at once mad and furious. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible. Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection. All were excited and did not understand one another. Each thought that he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat himself on the breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other. The alarm bell was ringing all day long in the towns; men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no one knew. The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. The land too was abandoned. Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other. There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The plague spread and moved further and further. Only a few men could be saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth, but no one had seen these men, no one had heard their words and their voices."