Monday, January 8, 2007

Roundtable 3: Augsburg Confession, Article I -- "With Common Consent" -- What does this mean? How is this done?

Today we begin our discussion of the Augsburg Confession, beginning at the beginning, with the first sentence, of the first article, "God." We read: "Our churches teach with common consent." That's how the Latin version of the Augsburg Confession puts it. The German says: "We unanimously hold and teach..." The Latin continues: "that the decree of the Council of Nicea about the unity of the divine essence and the three persons is true. It is to be believed without any doubt." A tall order! "To be believed, without any doubt." Is there anyone who never has a doubt about the mystery of the Holy Trinity? Doubtful [pun intended]. Then what does it mean when the Confessions refer to belief without any doubt? Here we are introduced to a concept that runs throughout the Lutheran Confessions. We are not here dealing with individuals but with church, and churchly, confession. Note the "our churches," plural. Not, "our Church." Another important concept is here introduced which is worth paying close attention to while reading the confessions. Some would attempt to translate "churches" as "congregations" so as to give the indication that the Lutheran Confessions have, primarily, the local, individual, congregation in view when they speak of "churches." But instead here we have a reference to groupings of churches within the various territories and cities represented by those who signed the Augsburg Confession. I am hard pressed, frankly, to find in our Lutheran Confessions the notion of the autonomous, independent, "free agency" view of the Church that would regard each and every local congregation as free and independent of one another. That is a misunderstanding that I think we would do well to pay heed to as we read the Lutheran Confessions. So then, what does it mean to say that "our Churches teach" and that this teaching is to be "believed without any doubting." Doubting by whom? Individuals? Pastors? Laypeople? Or is there something more there going on?


William Weedon said...

I think the "without any doubt" is intended to communicate to the papal party at Augsburg that the Trinitarian orthodoxy of the Lutheran parishes was beyond dispute, and that they are indignant that it should be called into question. They had been accused, recall, of every sort of heresy from the past that Eck could dredge up. Thus the big push with affirming Nicea - the very touchstone of Christological orthodoxy.

Your point on "churches" is also very important and I agree with it. Note that this way of speaking was actually present in the original Ektenna, which read: "for the peace of the whole world, for the well being of the *churches* of God, and for the unity of all." The East still prays it that way. Someone in the Lutheran Church in the 20th century argued that this was put wrongly and it should read: "church of God" and so it has since then among us.

But I think the strength of the plural is precisely the point you make here: the Church is fully manifest in the local congregtion, without the local congregation ever exhausting the fullness of the Church. The shape of the transparish Church - the relationship of various parishes and pastors to each other - has varied across time and today we have nothing that parallels exactly what the Confessors meant by "our churches" but we do have trans-parish relationships between clergy and congregations.

Petersen said...

I agree with both Prs. Weedon and McCain (btw, we use the Ektenia here and am often criticized by students for the plural churches.) I would add that "our churches" also indicates something of the confessors recognition of the Body of Christ in Rome. The contrast of "our churches" is the implied "your churches." In this article, by the grace of God, our churches agree with their churches.

This position was different from Rome's position at the time, which was that the pope was the head of the Church and there was no salvation apart from Rome. It is also different from the East's ambiguity about not knowing where the Church isn't. The confessors were able to say that the church also existed in Rome, not that we don't know if God is not working there, but that we know God is, for we know that God works through His Word and Sacraments and where ever there is faith in Christ there is forgiveness and salvation.

wcwirla said...

I'm joining in late on this one (as always), having survived a very long and difficult January filled with tentatio, but want to go on record as wholeheartedly agreeing with what is said here regarding "churches" and the "Church."

I especially appreciate the way our brother William puts it: "The Church is fully manifest in the local congregation." One could also turn this around to say: The local congregation is a full manifestation of the Church.

The historic note regarding the Ektenna is interesting. While I prefer "churches of God" (for all the above reasons), our congregation retains the wording given us in our liturgy books ("Church of God") not wishing to tinker with our common liturgy. Given what was said above, both are perfectly acceptable. To pray for the well being of the Church is to pray for the well being of the churches, and vice versa.

I think it is also important to note that our Confessions begin with the confession of the Holy Trinity; we are orthodox, catholic, trinitarian Christians in the way of Nicea. I would contrast this with confessions by later Lutherans (eg the Brief Statement of 1932) which begin with the doctrine of Holy Scripture.