Friday, March 2, 2007

Roundtable 8: The Church

Our churches teach that one holy Church is to remain forever. The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, that is, rites and ceremonies instituted by men, should be the same everywhere. As St. Paul says, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" (Ephesians 4:5-6)
[The Augsburg Confession, Article VII, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (CPH: 2006, p. 34)].

With these words the Lutheran confessors provide what can rightly be referred to as the evangelical Magna Carta of the Lutheran Church. Article VII of the Augsburg Confession cuts through the clutter of man-made ceremonies and rites that had accumulated by the sixteenth century and focuses on the very heart of the matte, defining the Church with eloquent, powerful precision and grace. Outward unity in the Church is shaped, defined, and normed by Biblical truth (teaching), not the other way around. But note carefully: it is not just any old "Gospel" and "sacraments" here referred to, but the Gospel purely taught and the Sacraments correctly administered. The German version of the Augsburg Confessions makes this point very clear.

The beauty of this definition of Church lies in its focus on the Lord's gracious ongoing work among us through His Word and Sacraments, just defined previously in Article V.

Discuss.

39 comments:

William Weedon said...

Where do you find in this a discussion of the Lutheran Church? I thought it was about the one holy Church.

There.

Discuss THAT. ;)

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Ahh... lots to talk about on this article.

1. The "satis est" clause. There is a lot that can and has been said by some, to justify premature declarations of fellowship. Though, it strikes me that the immediate context here is the Evangelical Confession as it is being made in hopes of preserving the unity of the Church with Rome. It is not so much that this clause is being used to establish unity, but trying to preserve it. If the doctrine of the Gospel is maintained, and the Sacraments administered accordingly, the unity of the church should be able to be maintained. Of course, as is seen later, Rome's abuses were largely over the doctrine of the Gospel and, connected to that, a misunderstanding of the Sacrament (in the way that Rome understood/understands the Sacrifice of the Mass). This is why, later in the Smalcald Articles, Luther can so boldly say that Rome "is not the church." It is as though He is saying: we're catholic, y'all ain't.

2. The clause which says "is not necessary that human traditions, that is, rites and ceremonies instituted by men, should be the same everywhere." This clause has certainly evoked a bit of controversy in our own day, particular on the part of those intending to justify certain innovative forms of worship. While I don't want this roundtable to turn into a debate over the merits or lack-thereof of so-called "contemporary worship," it ought to be clear that this article cannot be used in the effort to justify many contemporary innovations. First, this article is simply saying that not all rites and ceremonies need to be identical in order to preserve the unity of the Church. That is a far cry from saying "anything goes." They don't all need to be identical -- in this context, some of the non-identical things that the Lutherans had brought into the Service were things such as the vernacular in some locales, and communing in both kinds. The Lutheran rites and ceremonies, however, were still firmly rooted in the Church's liturgical history. Simply because, in these respects, it is not necessary that all rites and ceremonies in the churches be identical -- it does not follow that they should be completely dissimilar. Neither does this amount to a blanket approval of anything! Those who argue that this article exhonerates contemporary worship innovations from criticism fail to grasp this article. It is, rather, because the Reformers believed that there were particular things that could occur in services that were plainly *wrong*, as is evidenced by the Lutheran liturgical reforms, that this clause needed to be articulated. There is plenty more I could add here, but I'll leave that to some of the more-litugically knowledgable contributers.

Christopher said...

On the "satis est" - I remember well the sainted Prof. Marquart saying, "We ask for no more (than unity in the Gospel and Sacraments) ... BUT ALSO NO LESS."

Rev. Fouts: Do you understand Luther as saying there that the Romanists are not part of the Church? Or that they are not *exclusively* the Church? This seems a rather important distinction to me.

+Christopher Esget

Mike said...

Rev McCain, thank you for reminding me of Ephesians 4:5-6 in your original explanation of this article. That whole chapter is solid gold that is so often over-looked by students of the Word.

How reassuring it is to have this article! Our very lives and hopes as Christians are put on such firm and solid ground in so few sentences. As we finish reading, we should each breathe an overwhelmed sigh of relief that God could be so merciful as to provide us with this assurance.

First, the opening line as it is supported by Scripture and the rest of the confessions, puts all my old erroneous end-times fears to rest in one sweep of the blessed Gospel.

"Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever." I vividly remember as a child running through my house on several occasions desperately looking for my parents hoping that they hadn't been taken up to Heaven without me. The thought of missing the only escape of the Rapture to be abandoned and persecuted in this sinful world without the help of Christ or His Church filled me with dread and haunted my nightmares. For me, the church could be taken away in the blink of eye. Thank God that I am finally free from that.

Second, the expectations of doctrine and practice are established. Contrary to all other confessions and doctrines, faith and the church are placed on the solid rock of God's clear and explicit promises - not in the imaginations of flawed, wicked men who deal in tradition, reason, and practicality. Our unity is determined by clinging to God's truth and not fickle opinion.

In terms of practice, this is not a license to do whatever you want whether it is the hundred flavors of zealous liturgical preference or the ephemeral whims of the “not-all-that-new” contemporary movement. On the contrary! It stands as a warning to all sides and, indeed, to all who wish to be called Christ's church: "Cling to the essential! Be vigilant!"

We should not go down the road chasing petty issues and obscure adiaphora and we will not take up the office of Lutheran Pope and try to force our man-made inventions and well-informed views upon others by force or vain debate.

The salvation of the Cross is the one focus and the only focus. The means of grace are to be protected at all costs without compromise… even from those who think they are improving on it or protecting it.

Christ alone.

"I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” Jn 5:43-44

Does the call for unity mean that we should never debate and defend our beliefs about how this important vigil is to be undertaken? May it never be!

...But any extra-biblical requirements, any personal procedure, any idle or malicious words, any constitutional guideline, any favorite tradition, any worship war, or any political litmus test that detracts from loving unity in "the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments", stands in stark opposition to our confession of faith.

Paul T. McCain said...

Just reading some Sasse today; from the Lonely Way, Vol. I, in which he addresses Pastor Weedon's "that" quite well.

Yet, what I found this fascinating pertaining to Pastor McCain's intro:

"This character of the congregation [that is, being "Church"] called by the Word and Sacrament is not lost because it is weak in faith, because some in it are beginners, or even "false Christians and hypocrites", so long as it yet possesses the pure Word and the pure Sacraments....And this Church is present wherever in Christendom, in all congregations and all denominations, where the Gospel is not so obscured and the Sacraments are not so disfigured that Christ the Lord is no longer present in them." (*same paragraph* p.83-84)

Fascinating definition of "pure" from a theologian I've come to highly respect. Thoughts for you, my wise seniors?

And, to add to Ryan -
a wise man once told me "it is not necessary that rites and ceremonies be the same everywhere" does not equal "it *is* necessary that rites and ceremonies be *absolutely distinct* everywhere"

-- Comment submitted by Rev. Jonathan Fisk

William Weedon said...

Jonathan,

I was ready to smack McCain for referring to me as his senior (which is true, but BARELY). I'm glad it was you. :)

Thank you so much for that Sasse quote. He gets to the heart of it, I think. Vis a vis Rome, the Augsburg Confessors insist that the Church is constituted via the actual Gospel proclaimed and the Sacraments administered - and done so in accordance with their insitutiton.

The "purely" here is not every jot and tittle down pat, but in such a way that the Gospel is heard as the Good News of the sinner's absolution through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. The "rightly" here is not following some human prescriptions, but delivered in such a way that the Sacraments are used to give the Gospel gifts that they were instituted to give.

Rome and the East attempt to secure the Church and that's how they know which Word and Sacraments are efficacious and sure.

The Augsburg Confessors (I love that Ed Schroeder term) proposed a totally different schemata: secure the Word and Sacraments, and God will take care of securing the Church through them.

Where the good news of the sinner's forgiveness in Christ sounds forth, the Holy Spirit is at work, creating and sustaining faith, having Himself a Church. Where the waters of baptism wash away sin, the Holy Spirit is at work creating and sustaining faith, having Himself a Church. Where the words of absolution dump a sinner back into the waters of Baptism, the Holy Spirit is at work creating and sustaining faith, having Himself a Church. Where the Eucharist is offered to the Father as unbloody representation of Calvary (cool down, McCain, just to get your goat), er rather, where the Lord's Words are spoken by His called servant over the bread and wine and Christ is giving to us His body and blood, there the Holy Spirit is at work creating and sustaining faith, having Himself a Church.

The Church, in other words, that community of believers that Christ has in this world, who live at the receiving end of the means of grace.

So when anyone offers to give you the disease of "Churchitis" - "are we Church?" - dispense with the humanly instituted stuff and turn back to the Word and Sacraments and you have a sure answer.

William Weedon said...

Oh, and so it follows that the *unity* of the Church is precisely as visible in this world as the Body and Blood of our Lord are under the bread and wine; or as the blood of Christ is in the waters of Baptism; or as the hand of Christ is in absolving the penitent. It is a unity that is a great article of faith, an article to be believed, and what is believed is precisely what is not seen, but what God declares to be so nonetheless.

There really is only ONE Church. It's the assembly of all believers. You won't see it until the big reality of what happens on Sunday is unveiled at the Parousia: the saints and angels gathered around the Lamb, singing to Him praise unending.

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

...And, to add to Ryan -
a wise man once told me "it is not necessary that rites and ceremonies be the same everywhere" does not equal "it *is* necessary that rites and ceremonies be *absolutely distinct* everywhere"....

Yes... yet here is a curious distinction to note: Those who abhor the propriety of Christians drinking alcohol at all are the same ones who also deny the sacramental use of water to their infants and quibble over the “is-edness” of is. The style of that substance has now infiltrated the heart of the Lutheran pew-side confession after years of regarding adiaphora as a blanket that covers all contingencies and felt needs instead of it rightly being the Gospel and all its articles as that which makes us one in Christ. The distinction to be kept clear—and often is not—is which traditions are human and which are not. In times when scripture’s authority is challenged, the source of faith is the heart. It is then the Lutheran religion becomes one of fideism, and its Confessions are likewise regarded as and become “tissues of insignificance” (to apply a quote of Kurt Marquart.)

I can’t think of any time period when the Lutheran Church has not faced this dilemma, from within or without.

Dcs. Emily Carder

William Weedon said...

Ryan,

By the way: Amen to 1 and Amen to 2.

wm cwirla said...

Hi guys. I just got back from "out of town."

My favorite article, at least 1 of 28 in the AC.

I just scanned over things, but wanted to chime in with my usual. Pardon any vain repetitions.

Yes to "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" here, No to "Lutheran Church." Good eye, Weedon!

Just as AC V establishes the holy ministry in dynamic terms - preaching/administering, so AC VII confesses the church. It is a congregation of saints (congregatio sanctorum) in which divine activities are going on through the instrumentality of the holy Office - that is preaching the Gospel, administering the sacraments.

This is no static, institutional view of the ministry or the church.

Apology VII/VIII elaborates: "The church is not only an association (societas, Gesellschaft) of external ties and rites like other polities, but it is principally an association of faith and the Holy Spirit in the heart, which has external marks (externas notas) to make it recognizable, namely the pure evangelical doctrine and the adminstration of the sacraments in accord with the Gospel of Christ." (Ap VII,5, Cwirla's buffing up of Tappert, 169)

This church is visibly manifest as an assembly or congregation where these divine activites are going on. Another way of saying it would be that every local congregation where the Gospel and sacraments are going on is a visible manifestation of the church in her fulness. (Yeah, Sasse!)

(In truth, I was just looking for a good excuse to use the word "fulness.")

Paul T. McCain said...

Of what significance are the modifying adjectives "purely" and "correctly" when this article speaks about the Gospel and Sacraments?

wm cwirla said...

I think there are two aspects to the notion of "pure and correct" consonant with Sasse's quote.

In the hands of fallible and sinful men, the Gospel and Sacraments, like Garrison Keillor's Powdermilk Biscuits will be "pure mostly." There will always be some adulteration of error.

On the one hand, the Gospel must be proclaimed so that the justification of the sinner by grace through faith for Christ's sake is clearly heard. That is the "pure Gospel" Likewise, the sacraments must be administered "according to the institution of Christ," and not so disfigured so as to be unrecognizable. You can't have an unrecognizable "mark of recognition."

Yet, as Sasse noted, these marks can be, and are, present among error. The error will obscure these marks more or less, much like static or a competing signal will obscure a radio broadcast. The church is not more or less present but more or less manifested, due to the presence of error.

Of course, this also raises the issue of whether there actually is a "true visible church" or whether the true church is more or less visible in various communions.

Paul T. McCain said...

I believe there is a true visible Church on earth and it is that Church that confesses what is contained in the Book of Concord. The confessors never claim to be describing merely a "Platonic republic" and in fact eschew that notion as they are confessing the Word of God.

The claim, that there is in fact a true visible Church on earth, and that it is the Church that confesses the doctrinal content of the Book of Concord strikes many today as outrageously offensive, mind-bogglingly narrow-minded, and hopelessly ignorant and misinformed. But, I've not found any other confession of faith that so purely, clearly and consistently confesses Christ and Him crucified for the comfort and salvation of sinners, no other confession that so correctly teaches what God's Word teaches.

And that's why I love Lutheranism so much, because it gets the Gospel and Sacraments so right. This is not to suggest that there are not very real and serious problems within the Lutheran Church, but I'm unaware of any church that has as members human beings that does not have significant challenges and problems.

Nor is this to suggest, for a microsecond, that the Gospel is unheard in other confessions and communions, or that Christians alone are to be found in Lutheran congregations. To the extent to which the Gospel, purely taught, is heard in other communions, to that extent there is Church.

Here I stand.

William Weedon said...

We learn something quite instructive if we ponder the diff between St. Augustine and the Confessors on this. For St. Augustine the distinction was between visible and INVISIBLE word. For the Confessors, the distinction was between visible and AUDIBLE word. That invites us to think about the Church as where the Word is visible (that is, where Baptism and Eucharist are going on) and audible (where Absolution, preaching the Gospel, and the mutuum fratrem is happening). To speak only of a "visible" Church is to cut out the most important thing of all: the audible Word of which those visible Sacraments are constituted. Verbum accedat etc.

So, instead of speaking of a "true visible Church" would not we have done much better to speak of a true Church that manifests itself in visible Sacraments and audible proclamation - both of which deliver the goods of the sinner's free justification.

wm cwirla said...

Fortunately, the phrase "true visible church" does not appear in the Confessions. The visible and audible Word keep the church from being a platonic ideal. (see Apology VII/VIII.20, also Smalcald Articles XII - "sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.")

William Weedon said...

Bill,

And so we both should say in unison:

"Thank you, Dr. Korby!"

:)

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Additionally, while Luther does at times use the "visible"/"invisible" distinction, it is clear that he does not use it in the way of the Reformed (i.e. how do you know who is elect?). While he sometimes uses those words, he more often prefers to use the distinction between "the church hidden" and "the church revealed." It is a sort of ecclesiastical theologia crucis. There are not "two different" sorts of churches, as you get with the Reformed use of visible/invisible, but one church that is both hidden and revealed. She is not always perceived clearly (as in Cwirla's helpful comment about being more or less manifest), thus she is revealed as she is hidden in her sufferings. Nonetheless, as she endures, she is likewise revealed therein through the Word (both the oral/aural word, and the visible Word in Sacrament).

wm cwirla said...

Brother William -

Amen. Our beloved father in the faith Kenneth rests from his labors in Jesus, and his works do follow him.

Thanks be to Jesus!

William Weedon said...

Ryan,

Amen. And I think that is part of what Melanchthon is driving at in Ap VII/VIII:18 where is speaks of Christ's true Kingdom, Spirit enlivened, "whether it is revealed or covered by the cross." There are times when the Kingdom IS revealed here and now; there are times when the Kingdom is utterly hidden beneath the cross.

Paul T. McCain said...

Before we get too carried away eschewing visible/invisible...we would do well to pause and consider that in fact, while the terms may not appear in the Confessions, the concepts are surely there. The Church is not *merely* an association of outward rites and other such ties, but it is that as well. The Church does take form and shape in this world, call that "strictly speaking" and "widely speaking" or what what you will (visible/invisible?) the concept still pertains. The Gospel "purely" taught and the Sacraments "correctly" administered are references to an actual concrete reality that we can identify and say, "See,there is Church and there it is going on. I see it. I hear it." Take your pick. Yes, Reformed may misuse the concept, but the terms "visible/invisible" can be properly used, as Luther did. "Hidden" and "revealed" are fairly close concepts too, no?

There is in fact a true visible Church on earth. And it is that Church that confesses, teaches, and preaches the Gospel purely: not Orthodox, Rome, Reformed, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, or the various "spin offs" of any of those movements.

William Weedon said...

Paul,

I would only note that the categories as such are not operative in AC VII. This article is first and foremost about the Una Sancta, and it does tell us how we can locate the Una Sancta in this world, and even more, how the Una Sancta herself continues to EXIST in this world - for she lives from this purely preached Gospel and rightly administered Sacrament.

Now, I am not arguing that visible/invisible language is sinful or wrong. But it is not the language of Augsburg Confessors when speaking first things about the Church, and if it comes in before its due place, I think it CAN skew how the Confessors could look Rome in the face and say: Don't kick us out.

William Weedon said...

Said another way: Rome first becomes sect in Lutheran eyes when she has no room in her communion for the Gospel as preached among us and the Sacraments as administered among us. Until that moment arrived, hope remained in the Confessors hearts for Rome herself.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Paul,

There is definitely a way that these terms can be used profitably -- but even though Walther uses the "visible/invisible" terminology, it seems that it ought to be understood as Luther used these terms in the sense of hidden and revealed. We do have the visible/invisible language in our heritage -- it's just hard to use it today without people thinking that you're getting at it from the perspective of defining the church by way of "whose the elect," and "what's with all these reprobate in the church?"

As Dr. Korby also points out (though I'm a bit too young to have ever had him in class, I have enjoyed listening to some of his tapes), when we confess the Church in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, we've artificially imposed the idea that this is the "invisible" church we're talking about here. It is worth noting that no such notion would have been at all on the table at Constantinople in 381 when this clause got into the Creed. Or, to go at it from another angle, as Dr. Nagel is famous for asking, "Would someone please show me where I might find this invisible church?"

William Weedon said...

Ryan,

The way I heard him say it was:

"Would someone tell me where this invisible church worships?"

:)

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

That hope remained in the confessors hearts in varying degrees.

It is quite evident, for example, due to his "provisio" subscription to the Smalcald Articles that Melanchthon held out such hope much longer than Luther.

There is some disagreement about this, well after Luther's death as well.

Consider, for example, Flacius’ Lenient Propositions (Linde Vorschl├Ąge) of 1556. These were articles that Flacius had sent to the Wittenbergers in hopes of resolving their dispute over the interims.

One of Flacius' propositions says in no more nor any fewer words, "We confess that no agreement in religion can be made with the Papists." (proposition #6).

While the efforts of the mediators between Flacius and Melanchthon failed in 1557, it is interesting to see how, due somewhat to Melanchthon's insistance, Flacius' 6th proposition was revised in the mediators' "8 Articles" to read, "No agreement is to be made with the Papists, unless an agreement has first been reached in regard to pure doctrine."

While it is only of tangential relevance, I find this little variance to be a rather fascinating depiction of the competing views of Lutherans at the time concerning their relationship with Rome. Some, like Flacius (his uncle being killed by Romanists for confessing the evangelical faith didn't help), really didn't seem to think there was any reason to even hope for reunion with Rome. Others, however, sought that agreement should still be sought by way of hammering out pure doctrine.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Ah -- well, so long as "Nagelisms" are not elevated to the status of churchly confessions, I suppose the author is allowed to change them slightly as the occasion warrants.

:-)

William Weedon said...

Ryan,

Fascinating about Flacious. About the Nagelisms, well, I suspect he's said them in more than one way. As I suspect our Lord spoke his words in slightly different ways at times, reflecting in part the differences among the Gospels.

wm cwirla said...

I make it my practice not to argue on blogs.

William Weedon said...

Your Grace! What a glorious picture!!! You do not need to argue. You have only to PRONOUNCE. :)

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

I never thought my chapel-brocade red stole could be surpassed with regard to liturgical "bling bling." Alas, I've been out blinged.

Paul T. McCain said...

I think I see the concern motivating some of the remarks. Ironically, I'm saying that AC VII is precisely *not* some speculation about some "invisible" Church whose existence exists only in the realm of theory. But, the use of the terms "purely taught" and "correctly administered" in fact refer to an actual concrete reality in the world. Call that the Church "revealed" or "strictly speaking" or even "visible" ... as long as we define all these things properly, I see no problem with any of these ways of speaking of and describing these realities.

I think that AC VII has been too quickly relegated to describing some "invisible" reality. I'm trying now to remember how it was put to me once by a person, in contrast to FX X which speaks about "agreement in the Gospel and all its articles."

As a side-note, I've never been at all convinced or persuaded that Walther's use of invisible/visible was leaning along the lines of "Reformed." I've heard people toss that accusation off, but when I've not seen convincing evidence that in fact on this point, somehow, Walther was falling prey to Calvinist tendencies here.

As for Pastor Cwirla's policy of "not arguing." I didn't think we were arguing, but if we are, I never argue with a guy dressed like him. (grin)

Paul T. McCain said...

As I think more about "visibility/invisibility" language in regard to the Church and AC VII it strikes me that the problem with "visibility/invisibility" is that it is improperly applied to Church if it is used to try to define what the Church is. Rather, it would seem to me that the terms have more to do with talking about who is, or is not, part of the Church. But Church, as Church, is better referred to as "hidden/revealed" or "strictly speaking/widely speaking" [which is the distinction used in our Confessions. That's why Dr. Nagel's question is such a good one. And then, if "visible/invisible" are used in such a way as to serve these distinctions, then it is ok, but I have seen the distinction used to suggest things about the Church which are not in sync with our Confessions. I think the terms are used contrary to Walther's intention, when it is suggested that "Well, since the Church is, strictly speaking, invisible, then anything visible is just adiaphora." I've actually had it put to me just this plainly. But then this is where my initial question comes in that I asked in this thread. What is the implication of the phrases, "purely taught" and "correctly administered" in this article? Is *that* invisible? Etc.

wm cwirla said...

Paul - Inside joke, Irishman, though I actually do believe blog debates to be an exercise in futility.

To carry on with this civilized discussion:

One problem I see with the concept of a "true visible church" is that once you bite into the notion you are almost bound to set out on a quest to find it. Churches always look better on paper than they do in practice. If absolute purity of doctrine and practice become the criteria, the search will become a quest for the holy grail, or in this case holy church.

I think this also speaks to the satis est of AC VII. The pure Gospel and administration of the sacraments in accord with Christ's institution are sufficent to visibly mark the presence of the church at any time and place, and are then also sufficient to denote the church's unity in Christ, as AC VII indicates.

Mike said...

It seems like hair-splitting to me. Most people I know use "revealed"/"hidden" and "visible"/"invisible" interchangeably. They do not understand the difference in the terms (myself included).

After all, if something is visible it has been revealed and if something is invisible it is hidden from us. The only negative I have heard presented against the use of "invisible" has been that it sounds too much like hocus pocus and that "hidden" better reflects the type of language used in the church.

I've also heard various Protestant bodies use the terms "hidden" and "revealed" when talking about the elect so I am not so sure that "hidden/revealed" protects you from the Reformed usage any more than "invisible/visible".

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Again -- I think the difference (or at least the preference for hidden/revealed over the visible/invisible language) is in applying these terms to Christ. For Luther, the Church is the body of Christ. That is the Church, the bride, one-in-flesh with Her bridegroom, as she partakes in His Spirit.

Thus, where is God at the cross? Is he visible or invisible? Well, you truly see God even though all you see is suffering, cross, death, etc. So, it would seem odd to say that God was "invisible" on the cross. Though God is "hidden" or "veiled" there. In his hiddeness He is likewise revealed. That is to say, if God is "veiled," and you perceive the veil, you are seeing God, as He is hidden beneath the veil (which is human flesh, suffering, the cross, etc.). It sounds like hair-splitting, perhaps. Though the reality is, at least in my experience, most who come across the "visible"/"invisible" distinction in Lutheran theology presuppose a reformed understanding of these terms. Can we use these terms rightly? Sure. But why should we when we have more precise language by way of Luther's hidden/revealed distinction?

Paul T. McCain said...

Pastor Cwirla, do you think it really is impossible to say where the Gospel is purely preached and correctly administered? I can see a problem with overdoing this "quest" for the "true visible Church." Ironically, I've noticed in those who have headed East their quest takes them to the point that they must locate the visible Church using criteria other than the Gospel purely preached and sacraments rightly administered, but there seems to be something going on here with AC VII beyond a polite nod to Gospel and Sacraments [I know you are not suggesting that]. Some seem to want in the "satis est" some sort of license for "whatever goes as long as we have 'Gospel' and 'Sacraments' going on, but we dare not attempt to define those things." And, again, the notion of Gospel "purely" taught and sacraments "correctly" administered are ignored.

Here's an interesting question, which Pastor Fouts raised. Did the Lutherans when making this assertion really intend to include the Church of Rome in their definition of "Church." Would they have said that the Gospel was being purely taught and sacraments correctly administered in Rome?

The article is tantalizing brief and we can be very thankful that we do have more on the subject elsewhere in the Confessions, particularly in FC X where we read about fellowship being constitued by agreement in the Gospel and all its articles. But I suppose we will wait until we get to the FC for that conversations.

wm cwirla said...

I think it's quite possible to see/hear where and when the Gospel is preached purely and the sacraments administered rightly. If that were not possible, these would not be "recognition marks." What I'm saying is that some measure of error will always be present, given that these marks are in the hands of fallible men. Hence the notion that there is a "true visible church" that possesses these marks without any aduleration seems to me to be a platonic ideal. Even as late as 1539, Luther could discern the marks of the church in the Roman Church in spite of the papacy.

I don't believe that CFW Walther's visible/invisible construct was "Reformed," though he is quite in line with Augustine's ecclesiology. Augustine, you recall, had the true church of the true believers (elect) hidden within the greater visible church of those who associate with the Gospel and sacraments (the called).

It's important to note, as Paul did, that AC VII does not have to do with "fellowship" among the churches but with the true unity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church and its visible/audible manifestation in the world. The satis est is not intended as a least common denominator for "fellowship."

Mike Baker said...

[This is the same "Mike" that posted earlier in the thread. After reading Rev Cwirla's recent paper on Cyberbrethren, I have adjusted my "avatar".]

Rev Fouts,

Good point on "Hidden/Revealed". I like that explination and it has formed my opinion on the matter. Thank you.

And now, a few stupid questions for the table:

1. Where could the Church be found prior to Luther's reformation?

2. How would these terms (hidden/revealed) be properly applied to the church during that time?

3. "The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered." Does this mean that a pastor who preaches false doctrine or administers the Sacraments incorrectly cuts his congregation off from the Church?

wm cwirla said...

My answers to the questions:

1. Same way - listen for the Gospel, look for the sacraments. If you were walking down the streets of Ephesus in the 1st century and wanted to know where the Christian church was, they would direct you to a meeting where those were going on.

2. Same way - the church, as the mystical union in Christ of all believers everywhere at all times and places is a hidden reality (mystery) that is manifested visibly in the gathering of believers around the Gospel and sacraments.

3. Not necessarily - the pastor who preaches or practices falsely obscures the marks of the church to a greater or lesser extent. The issue is whether that congregation accurately and clearly manifests the church or not. Faith clings to the Word, and the clearer the Word, the better.