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.


Carl Vehse said...

"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!"

For someone to totally betray their confirmation and ordination vows, one would expect some sort of dramatic (if not melodramatic) revelation. In the case of Dan Woodring, I wonder if his 4-part revelation is meant more an attempt to convince himself, rather than others.

From Dan Woodring's Part 4 of 4, How I became the Catholic I am:

"The last option was finding a church, outside of Lutheranism, where I, as a layman, could remain a Lutheran and yet worship and receive the Eucharist. This left only a few choices: Roman Catholic, Orthodoxy, and perhaps Anglican (or at least, Anglo-Catholic). I want to stress that at this point, I continued to believe that Lutheran theology was the correct exposition of the Word of God, and I had no intention of becoming anything other than a Lutheran in heart and mind. I didn't think I would find any of these options to be perfect in doctrine and practice. From my perspective, I was already a member of a heterodox church body: The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. Why not go to another heterdox fellowship? Perhaps they would be more tolerable than the Missouri Synod."

If true, this sad statement (more so from a pastor) is evidence that, at the time, Woodring no longer had a clue of what Lutheran theology is. Had he forgotten, subconsciously never accepted, or never really understood?

"As one friend, a confessional Lutheran pastor, said to me, 'The Catholic Church is, at least, one place you can go and still be a Lutheran.' I wasn’t totally convinced this was true, but it was worth exploring."

If true, this sad statement is evidence that, at the time, Woodring's fellow (faux confessional) pastor no longer had a clue of what Lutheran theology is.

Chris Grindstaff said...

Fr. Eckardt,
You accurately quote the Lutehran position as "she [the Church] is present wherever her Gospel is preached and her Sacraments administered rightly."

The problem with this incomplete, though accurate in so far as it goes, "definition" is it is purely subjective. Every Christian gets to {or has to) decide for himself if the Gospel is preached and Sacraments rightly administered. There is no objective standard - or more correctly no objective authority.

And, suppose, and individual Christian comes to the conclusion that at his particular congregation the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. Well, what is he to do if his congregation is in Eucharistic communion with those that do not preach the Gospel of rightly administer the Sacraments? I think you would agree, Church fellowship matters.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Mr Grindstaff, you point out a need for an "objective standard - or more correctly [an] objective authority."

Actually I'd say the former is more correct. The objective standard is the Confessions; but the objective authority remains, ultimately, the Scriptures.

My statement, incidentally, was not meant to be a definition of the Church. But it is a true statement, nonetheless.

Jeff said...

Ooo! Ooo! Define the church!

and church

and the Church

and The Church.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Ooo, ooo?

Carl Vehse said...

"Ooo! Ooo!"?!?

Maybe Jeff's referring to what Luther stated in the SA:

"For, thank God, a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: 'I believe in one holy Christian Church.' This holiness does not consist in albs, tonsures, long gowns, and other of their ceremonies devised by them beyond Holy Scripture, but in the Word of God and true faith."

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Mr Vehse:

Yes, the same quotation came to my mind . . .

Jeff said...

Ooo, ooo?

No! No question mark. That makes it sound like a monkey. The true Ooo! Ooo! is a time-honored vocal technique to get attention, recently converted to type-speak by myself.

Good quote by the way.