Saturday, January 23, 2010

Roundtable 45: The Church (SA Part III, Article XII)

This article is what so much comes down to. What is the Church? Is Rome the Church? Ought we to listen to the Pope when he speaks as Bishop of Rome because there is some unique promise attached to his office? Smalcald Articles III, Article XII is joyously clear:

"We do not agree with them that they are the Church." (Accent, should be on the Church) "They are not the Church. Nor will we listen to those things that, under the name of the Church, they command or forbid."

Don't misunderstand. Luther is perfectly clear elsewhere that he does not deny that Roman Christians are still Christians; the question is whether the Roman Pontiff is the voice of the Church and whether the curia and bishops submissive to him are the voice of the Church. The conclusion of our forebears in the 16th century was a resounding: "No way!" They are not "the" Church!

Luther goes on: "Thank God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray, 'I believe in one holy Christian church.'"

Seven year olds could even be admitted to the Supper in those days (see Bugenhagen's preface to the Danish Small Catechism) and thus were expected to know and confess the faith at that tender age. The definition of Church here is Christ's own, right out of John 10. Dr. Kenneth Korby, of blessed memory, pointed out that we must get the correct sense. It's not sight; it's hearing. Don't go looking for the Church with your eyes! Do the looking with your ears! Listen for where the voice of the Shepherd sounds, gathering His flock together around His divine promises. There you will find the one gathering of all believers, living - literally living - from the promises of our Lord.

"This holiness does not come from albs, tonsures, long gowns, and other ceremonies they made up without Holy Scripture, but from God's Word and true faith."

The holiness of the Church can't be "put on" externally, but only believed internally. You won't see it with your eyes, but it is given and bestowed in the Words of God's promise and made our own by the faith that holds tight to those promises. Again, you are directed away from what you can see and directed toward what God says. Find the Gospel being taught and preached and you find the Lord Jesus gathering, feeding and nourishing His flock.

In the context of the Smalcald Articles, the Lutherans were confessing: the Words of Jesus keep the Church the Church and we do not need the papal superstructure to do so, and when the papal superstructure contravenes the Word, far from speaking as the Church, it actually subverts the Church. From from the Smalcald Articles' confession of the Church one can understand the sung prayer of our spiritual ancestors:

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word!

10 comments:

Myrtle said...

I wanted to know if you would further discuss the Church, in light of the Augsburg Confession Articles VII and VIII and the Apology covering the same.

In AC VII, we are told "the Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered." What does correctly administered means? I have joined the Lutheran confession because I have found the pure teaching and proper focus on Christ I have longed for for a long time, but have struggled to explain this part of the Book of Concord to my Baptist friend (she has a copy she is reading). Her confession does not believe the Lord's Supper is a Sacrament, but rather an ordinance. Her faith does not believe that Christ is coming to us in His body and blood in the Lord's Supper. Does that mean that Baptists confessing such are not a part of the church?

In AC VII, we are told the church is "the congregation of saints and true believers." There is no outright restriction on the proper use of Sacraments. But the presence of Sacraments seems to be assumed since the purpose of this article appears, in part, to be stating that the person administering the Sacraments does not matter as much as the Work God is doing in the Sacrament itself, i.e., even if the pastor is wicked, the Sacrament is not.

That seems to also be the focus, in part, of the Apology.

However, in paragraph 10 of the Apology Articles VII and VII (IV), it says, "It [the creed] says Church catholic, in order that we may not understand the Church to be an outward government of certain nations. Rather, the Church is people scattered through the whole wold. They agree about the Gospel and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit, and the same Sacraments, whether they have the same or different human traditions."

Does viewing the Lord's Supper as an ordinance rather than a Sacrament fall under "different human traditions"?

My pastor described the difference between the two as who is doing the work. In Sacrament, God does the work. In an ordinance, the view is that it is work man is doing for God, an homage of sorts declaring faith. That is a fundamental difference. I cannot see how such can be merely a matter of human tradition, but I also cannot see how Baptists--those who truly have faith in Jesus Christ--would not be a part of the Church.

Mr. PSb said...

Though there must be order in the Church to survive, no man can take on an autonomous rule unto himself, impose it on other or make his authority equal with Scripture. Indeed the papacy fails on so many levels, being whitewashed tombs filled with dead men's bones, compassing sea and land to proselytize, making their disciples two fold more the child of hell. Indeed the true Church has its distinctive marks; where the voice of the shepherd is, so are the sheep indeed.

Clint Hoff & Family said...

Good post. Thanks.

Chris Workman said...

Hello, Mr. Weedon. I did enjoy reading your article. I can not say that I personally agree with your take on it. Though I do respect it. Can you answer how many times the Pope has spoken infallibly ex cathedra? It is very few though at this time I can not find a exact number. Some Popes do not ever do it. I would dare say most.

The bishops of Rome are wise individual men. Should there words be heeded. Is this structures much different than those in the LCMS, WELS, and ELCA amongst others who vote in there presidents who then administer for their office. I am by no means saying that they ever claim to speak infallibly. But their words do carry weight.

I have never ever heard a Catholic claim that the Church gets holiness from albs, tonsures, gowns, ect... This is just a ridiculous. what do you think happens in the Catholic Church? The preaching of God's word. The Holy Eucharist. Prayer. Does this sound different than other Churches? Not unless other Churches have changed since I was in them.

Yes. Lord keep us steadfast in Thy Word.

tehazy said...

Well stated. Thank you.

Mike Keith said...

Great post. I reember hearing somewhere:

The Christian Faith is an "ear" faith not an "eye" faith.

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Tommy said...

This is all true. What I find in speaking even to Lutherans is: Truth is relative. Now, they know that truth is not relative, and will even state that it is not relative; but they believe that what they believe is truth. Papal authority is not the authority for he is nothing but sinful man. On the other hand, neither is the individual. This is probably why they had church counsels. Even in our Missouri Synod, we are seeing much slippage. We lose sight of God's Word and, instead, desire to see growth. If you are growing, you are being "blessed" and are in line with Christ. Right? No. Being sinful, we seek our agenda--as does the pope and his bishops.

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OnlyLostBunny said...

I have a confession. Religion is debatable