Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Pssst!: "You (whoever you are) are outside the Church"
Although the matter of Lutheran pastors going off to other church bodies is a serious one -- the latest being the defection by one LCMS pastor Dan Woodring to the Church of Rome -- I confess that one of my knee-jerk reactions to his expressed reasons for doing so was a touch of amusement.
Sorry, sorry . . . it's not a laughing matter, I know. But sometimes I can't help myself. Listen, I'll be glad to admit that maybe the reaction, and, for that matter, this blog, are merely opportunities for some catharsis. It's no fun seeing people leave, and they leave behind people who had trusted them, and etc. etc. . . . yes, I know it's hard to take all that.
So why else might I have grinned?
Well, there's just this. One of the common threads I see in these defections is the claim by those making them that they have finally found the Church. Before this they hadn't yet found the Church. But now they have. Ah, the Church! She is here! I've come home at last! Home at last!
Yet they're not all going to the same place. Generally the two big options are to go to Rome or to the East, though I have in my vague long-term memory some recollections of some who have gone elsewhere with the same notion, viz., the idea that at long last they have found the Church.
And to be sure, today, since it is in vogue to sound irenic in their ecumenical dialogues, people try to down-play something that was once up-front and center among them: we are the Church and you are not. Once upon a time it was stylish even to put heretics on the rack, to set an example by which peasants learned to stay at all cost in the Church. OK, so those tactics have changed, thankfully, but perhaps the allegation itself remains intact.
Anyhow, here's what amuses me: that allegation has always come with an air of great authority and dignity, no matter from whom it came.
And yet, there have been enough people making it, all over the globe, that the bottom line is this: no matter who you are, you can always find somebody of great authority and status who will charge that you (whoever you are) are outside the Church. Most times these days that claim is whispered or implied, but it is unquestionably in the air.
Therefore I propose that the debate over who is in the Church and who is not must begin with this rule: no appeals to sentimentality are allowed. No exclamations of final relief are permitted. Keep your Alka-Seltzer for that.
As for me, I still maintain with St. Cyprian that there is no salvation outside the Church, and that she is present wherever her Gospel is preached and her Sacraments administered rightly. Here is a mystery: sometimes her disguise is thicker than others, sometimes she is less evident than others, and sometimes she is well-nigh impossible to find. Of course, the same may be said of the glory of God, which is why we do well to apply a theology of the cross to the Church as well as to our individual lives.