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Babies in Church (part VII): the “Church-speak” that we need

29 Oct

Here are the preceding posts in this series: I, Can adults be saved? ;  II, Word or the Church? ; III, The unattractive body, IV, Miraculous, ordinary, conversational experience ; V, The arrogance of the infant (a) ; VI, The arrogance of the infant (b)

Can one that believes the Creeds but say they don’t adhere to a Lutheran understanding of the faith be a member of the true visible Church on earth

Not the kind of question many Christians are used to (some reject the idea of a visible church altogether)!  Let’s look at another question first that may be easier to identify with:

If an unbeliever hears the Word of God, confesses Christ, and plans to be baptized, is that person already “truly Church”, a living member of the “One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” (the earthly, or militant, manifestation, as opposed to the triumphant one)?

Well…if a person who hears the “pattern of sound words” trusts God’s Promise in Christ in child-like faith (and hence really knows Him), we know that such a person would certainly be a part of the Church (triumphant) were they to die in faith.  They will be recognized in heaven as being “truly Church” – even if they die before being identified with the Church in baptism.  So can’t we say that they were necessarily a part of the Church during their earthly life?

Yes, but only because we are not speaking about a concrete individual: speaking generally, a person who truly believes is necessarily – in God’s view – “truly Church”.  But since the Church on earth is both hidden (only God knows with certainty who is His – truly “hid in Christ”, and hence, incorporated into his body) and visible, the answer to our question must be: while all who truly believe in the Lord Jesus will be saved, we aren’t called to know and proclaim any actual unbaptized person as being “truly Church”.  While we may strongly feel that we know (or “intuitively or subjectively recognize”) where a certain person stands in regards to God (even calling them “Christian”) we are only called to consider and proclaim those in the baptized fellowship with us to be “truly Church” (and yes, admittedly, some we consider to be this more than others!).*** 

But this doesn’t seem very simple (like a child) – after all, don’t we say some of the baptized are actually “false believers”?

Yes.  According to their Confessions, Lutherans talk about the church “properly so called” and “loosely so called”; also of being the Church or being in the Church “in name alone” or “in fact and in name”.  Nevertheless, on earth we must still publicly acknowledge (or “formally or objectively recognize”) as being “truly Church” those who fully participate in worship (i.e. in baptism and communion) where the Word and Sacraments are given in their purity.  The Eastern Orthodox say things like “We know where the Church is but not where it is not” or “We know who is in the Church but we cannot be sure who will not be”.  And yet, though the word “invisible” may be anathema to them, they nevertheless trust that some who are really in the Church on earth will not be in heaven (though they, unlike Rome, would not say that these were “dead members” of the Church).

All this said, I believe the key to this question of “are the yet-to-be-baptized Church?” – and our responsible answer – is found in Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde’s dictum that “all theology is for proclamation”. 

Finally, this is something infants would get: for ultimately, words are meant not to extract, freeze, abstract, and control life, but rather to lovingly respond to one’s concrete neighbor with God’s concrete and loving purposes in mind.

In other words, in regards to the yet-to-be-baptized, we know we are called to urge them to be formally recognized with assemblies that we see recognize the Shepherd’s voice – those we have every reason to believe recognize that Christ has tenderly and lovingly reconciled them to God through His Word!  We may not know with surety if the yet-to-be-baptized person is already “truly Church” here on earth (although again – if they truly believe, they would be members of the Church triumphant were they to die now), but we do know that such a person, confessing Christ rightly with their lips, is to be baptized by those who do the same – that is, to be formally recognized as a member of His Church!  Ecclesiology is simply Christology (Kurt Marquart), and so trusting in Christ is necessarily “baked in with” trusting the visible Church’s wisdom in this matter (despite understandable pastoral-evangelistic concerns to separate faith in Christ from a connection with the visible Church).  And baptism – which can both create (via the “liquid word” heard) and nurture faith – is the Church’s glorious and beautiful “official adoption ceremony”.  This rightly proclaims to everyone all that God does in Christ – before, during, and after this moment. 

As the new Lutheran Study Bible notes, “God’s kingdom is plainly visible because its citizens live in the world as living signposts pointing to Christ Jesus by what they say and do.”  The reign of God is among us in these!  Likewise, here true Gospel proclamation, recognition of what such proclamation creates – and the corresponding recognition of those who also recognize this Gospel and its effects – is made visible in the glorious institution we call God’s One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. 

…even as we still walk by faith, and not by sight, for only God truly knows those who are His.

So what then is the answer to the first question above?  I hope to tackle this one in the future – stay tuned. 

*** At the same time, speaking more broadly, we can’t be sure exactly where the entire Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is – even as we can say exactly where it is not (for example, it is *not* where the words “Jesus did not come in the flesh” are confessed, taught, and freely received [believed] without exception).

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15 Comments

Posted by on October 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

15 responses to “Babies in Church (part VII): the “Church-speak” that we need

  1. George A. Marquart

    November 6, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    According to our Confessions, the Kingdom of God is the Church. Therefore, any division into triumphal, militant, etc. only describe the part of the Kingdom in which we are members. One is either fully a member of God’s Kingdom, or one is not.

    We become members by grace, through faith. Faith is a gift of God that enables us to believe. Why some hold that our beliefs must be perfect in order to become members of the Kingdom of God, while sin in any other area of life is not cause for disqualification, is a puzzle to me. How many church bulletins tell us that the Eucharist is intended for people with weak faith. However, if that weakness relates to the belief in the Real Presence, then you better not! (I do, I do, firmly believe in the Real Presence, it’s just the mindlessness of some of our rules).
    Peace and Joy,
    George A. Marquart

     
  2. Nathan

    November 6, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    George,

    I think our concerns are hardly mindless.

    “However, if that weakness relates to the belief in the Real Presence, then you better not!”

    Hmmm. When it comes to the Reformed for example, it does not seem like its “I believe Lord, help me in my unbelief”, but rather, “I don’t believe”… or “why should whether the bread and wine is Christ’s body and blood that I consume with my mouth” matter?

    In Christ,
    Nathan

     
  3. George A. Marquart

    November 9, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Nathan, I wrote “rules”, not “concerns”. Far be it from me to disparage the concerns of one Christian for another. But often the rules we develop as a result of our concerns leave something to be desired. If the Lord’s Supper strengthens faith, and we believe that especially those with a weak faith should receive it, why deny it to those whose weakness is in that particular area? I know, it is because of 1 Cor. 11:29 and the question as to whether it is the sacramental or spiritual “Body” of our Lord! If we assert that one cannot have saving faith in our Lord without believing in the Real Presence, then, I assert that we are in violation of our Confessions, where we read in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord:
    “VII. The Lord’s Supper.
    8. We believe, teach, and confess also that there is only one kind of unworthy guest, namely, those who do not believe, concerning whom it is written John 3:18: He that believeth not is condemned already. And this judgment becomes greater and more grievous, being aggravated, by the unworthy use of the Holy Supper, 1 Cor. 11:29.”

    The only other time that this verse is used by itself in our Confessions (as far as I can determine. I am certainly open to correction on this matter), not as part of a number of verses from the same chapter, is in the Apology, where it states, “The canon speaks only thus: If any enter the Church and be found never to commune, let them be admonished that, if they do not commune, they come to repentance. If they commune [if they wish to be regarded as Christians], let them not be expelled; if they fail to do so, let them be excommunicated. Christ [Paul] says, 1 Cor. 11, 29, that those who eat unworthily eat judgment to themselves. The pastors, accordingly, do not compel those who are not qualified to use the Sacraments.” Is it not a bit of a stretch from “do not compel those who are not qualified to use the Sacraments” to denying them communion?

    As to the Reformed, are you saying that they know that they are wrong, but persist in their errors for whatever reasons, presumably not very God pleasing ones? Lutherans persist in their errors because they do not think they are errors. Are the Reformed any different? I know no persons who know that they are wrong about something but persist in their wrong belief.

    Peace and Joy,
    George A. Marquart

     
  4. Nathan

    November 10, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    George,

    First of all, it is a pleasure to speak with you again. Thank you for the interaction.

    I understand that you are trying to make a distinction here, but I don’t see it. In this case, I believe that our rules (i.e. closed communion) are entirely driven by our concerns for them.

    And quite honestly, I am greatly concerned. I daily listen to the Southern Baptist Albert Mohler, whom I have grown to greatly respect and love. At the same time, when he begins to disparage infant baptism, I must disagree – and vehemently, yet calmly. I may indeed, when I here him speak and hear of his life, be persuaded, as Paul was with Timothy, that I am dealing with another man that I will meet in the life to come. I am not saying “If we assert that one cannot have saving faith in our Lord without believing in the Real Presence”.

    Nevertheless – if given the opportunity in God’s time, I do not believe that I should fail to warn men such as this (or those who deny that they truly do eat the body and blood of the Lord with their mouths) of the danger of their denying the Lord’s gifts. I make no pronouncent upon the state of their soul, but only tell them that I cannot be silent but must speak about their unbelief.

    So as to your quote from the Formula, I can’t separate the Lord’s Supper from the Gospel. They are of one cloth. The “old canons” spoken about here presumed a belief in the Real Presence.

    Those with a weak faith should receive the Sacrament. But again – a weak faith does not mean wrong belief. If people have had the truth in this matter brought to their attention and they do not say “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief”, indeed, they should not partake. I don’t presume to look into their heart, exploring their reasons for their unbelief.

    I understand that you might find all of the reasoning above contradictory. Let me only say this: I rejoice that those who deny the great gifts of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper still, seemingly, cling to faith in the Lord Jesus and confess the Creeds. I do not think it is an optimal situation to be sure, and it certainly is confounding. Nevertheless, I would prefer they believe as they do than not believe at all.

    Finally, no one is denying them Communion. They are denying themselves Communion.

    ~Nathan

     
  5. frank william sonnek

    November 19, 2009 at 4:49 am

    ” being “truly Church”. While we may strongly feel that we know…even calling them “Christian”…we are only called to consider and proclaim those in the baptized fellowship with us to be “truly Church” (and yes, admittedly, some we consider to be this more than others!).***

    HUH??

    Your problem is that you use a word formulation that appears no where in either scriptures or the lutheran confessions. you use church without the definite article that makes it what part of speach exactly? If you put a definite or indefinite article in front of the word Church, would that work? why not? what part of speech is “church” the way you use it? is this some platonic understanding of church as some sort of infused quality? what ARE you talking about here?

    “*** At the same time, speaking more broadly, we can’t be sure exactly where the entire Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is – ”

    hUHH?

    since when is this?

    Pastor Marquart: Jesus informs the Pharisees “the kingdom of God is here in your midst” I always assumed from that that the kingdom of God is wherever Jesus is. Yes that WOULD be the church, but then that begs the question: “how do we know where the church is?

    Isn´t the answer: “wherever the word is rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered?” where there is word and sacrament the holy spirit works and promises that the church will be there. am i missing something important here?

    Nathan: read more Lutheran stuff. Please!

     
    • infanttheology

      November 19, 2009 at 12:35 pm

      Frank,

      Thanks for commenting – and challenging me. I can assure you that I am continuing to read more Lutheran stuff (though I already have read a lot). I hope to get to trying to answer your questions within a couple weeks. Check back then if you are interested in continuing a conversation.

      All I can say now is that yes, the Church is wherever the word is rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered. I don’t think I denied that anywhere…

      More later.

      Regards,
      Nathan

       
  6. frank william sonnek

    November 19, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    I think what I sense, by your using the word church as in “believers are ‘church”” is the word “church ” used in a sense that neither the bible nor the confessions uses it. that somehow some church-ish quality attaches to individual believers…. there is a reason I am thinking for why you are not saying “believers are THE church” or “a believer is A church” but instead “believers are __ Church”.

    This seems to apply a platonic quality in a way that is probably a confusion and distraction from the objetive means and marks of the church, relocating those means and marks into belief or believers. belief is invisible. bad plan!

     
  7. Nathan

    November 19, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Frank,

    First of all, thanks for engaging me on this. I hope you stick around.

    Really – I want to think on this and write stg more substantial to you – therefore, I will try very hard to comment again within a week.

    For now, I have no problem saying believers are the church and that individual persosn will be a part of the church if they endure… My issue is simply that I don’t necessarily think it is necessary to say that the LC-MS, and those in fellowship with her, are the only true visible church on earth. I suspect it is more complex than that, which is why I speak as I do…

    More later when I have time…

    ~Nathan

     
    • frank william sonnek

      November 23, 2009 at 3:17 am

      similarly, the statement that the lutheran church is the true visible church seems likewise defective. why? it establishes and confirms nothing specific. persons can spout pure doctrine and still not really be christian.

      at the same time purity of doctrine IS important, and teaching and confessions are like flags in a battle field. persons rally under the flag that represents the side they are on. no church has PURE doctrine. and even if they could have pure doctrine, the application of those doctrines will always be lacking something because of sin.

      this is NOT to say that we can not make certain and sure statements about doctrine. what is sure and certain is to follow the example of the augsburg confession and consider that there is really only one doctrine. with all the rest being subarticles under that one doctrine.

       
  8. frank william sonnek

    November 23, 2009 at 3:12 am

    For now, I have no problem saying believers are the church and that individual persosn will be a part of the church if they endure… My issue is simply that I don’t necessarily think it is necessary to say that the LC-MS, and those in fellowship with her, are the only true visible church on earth. I suspect it is more complex than that, which is why I speak as I do…

    I am sorta startled that you are seeing an either/or fork in the theological road here. the LCMS as the true visible church or even the Lutheran church as the true visible church is troublesome to me too, but I don[t see this as being a proper anthethesis to what you are saying, as in ” you either believe one view OR the other…” curious how you have come to parse things this way. you seem to phrase things about “church” much the same way the WELS does. is there a connection there?

    The teaching is really quite simple I think, and the structure looks like this

    christ founded the church with the word and the word in baptism , holy supper, and absolution in every form. This activity creates faith in the hearts of people. faith IS invisible, and so the church is invisible. the only thing that is “church” that we can see for sure and know for sure is the word of God preached and the sacraments administered. We cannot know for certainty if ANY person is really a christian because we cannot look into hearts. as Luther said somewhere… he accepts that persons are christian based on love, ie the law. He knows HE is personally saved through faith. so…. while “believers are the church” is true, as a proposition to use as a point of argument or a defense against error, it is rather useless because , precisely of the fact, that we cannot know where the church is using that statement. we can only know that wherever word and sacrament are, THERE christ has promised, are believers. even if that seems very unlikely.

     
  9. frank william sonnek

    November 23, 2009 at 3:18 am

    nathan… i think george is amazing and has alot to say here. I hope you use what he has shared to probe more deeply.

     
  10. frank william sonnek

    November 23, 2009 at 11:17 am

    all this is to say, that we should not only learn sound doctrine, but also learn the FORM of sound doctrine from those who came before us, seeing how they present things and the words they use. this helps us avoid error.

    reformulations such as ‘believers are church’ might be true enough, but when we then use such a phrase to build on it and draw conclusions, we run into alot of problems…. better to build on tried and true formulas and when we feel that those no longer serve in the face of some new error or issue, to take pause and consider if indeed this is so.

     
  11. Nathan

    November 24, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Frank,

    I hope to say more tomorrow (I definitely will sometime), but let me just say that if its true that “the statement that the lutheran church is the true visible church seems likewise defective”, then what was Walther doing writing a whole book on it? : ) :

    http://www.reclaimingwalther.org/articles/cfw00006.htm

    In any case, here’s one more question I have for you (and again, I promise I will keep talking, write more, etc): What do you mean specifically when you say that the way I am speaking sounds like the WELS? How would you distinguish the two views of the Church and again, what am I *specifically* saying that sounds like them?

    Thanks. Yes, I think George has a lot of very interesting stuff to say, and I enjoy hearing it. If you’re reading this George, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Regards,
    Nathan

     
  12. George A. Marquart

    November 24, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Dear Nathan and Frank: Thanks to both of you for your kind words. By now you have probably seen my response to Frank in another part of this blog that makes it clear that I am not a pastor. Since faith is a gift, if there is anything worthwhile I have to say, that is also a gift, so it is not I, but the grace of God, to Whom be praise and glory forever, that creates anything worthwhile coming from me.
    Frank: about Luke 17:21. Many learned papers have been written about the meaning of “ἐντός ὑμῶν,” which you render as “in your midst.” Suffice it to say that I cannot say anything definitive based on those words. But I do know that our Lord considered the proclamation of the Kingdom as a reason for His mission: Luke 4: 43But He said unto them, “I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities also, for therefore am I sent.” 44And He preached in the synagogues of Galilee.” Our confessional writings make it clear that this Kingdom is the Church. I think that most of us can agree that, as you and our Confessions put it, the Church is “wherever the word is rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered,” but, as my lawyer friends point out, is that the only place where the Church is found? The problem here is the same as the matter of salvation by works or by faith. We know that he who breaks one of the laws is guilty of all, and so if we are wrong in one aspect of the Gospel or the administration of the sacraments, must the Church then disappear? Furthermore, is it a matter of perfect instructions to the congregations of Synod that matter, or is it what happens in each congregation? I think the answer leads us to the conclusion that there may be Church outside of the LCMS, although I, for one, choose to be a member of this particular part of the Church.
    Is it important to be able to define the limits of the Church precisely? Our Lord Himself seemed to leave these rather vague in Luke 17. Does that mean we should not pay attention to doctrinal differences? By no means! But the main business of those who are members of the Kingdom of God; i.e. the Church, is to proclaim that Kingdom to those who are not. After all, the wonderful thing about the Gospel is that we need not be concerned about ourselves, because our Lord, who was never concerned about Himself, but only about others, has paid the price for our sins, and, as we sing in the Te Deum, “has opened the Kingdom to all believers.”
    My opinion is that the LCMS has neglected our Lord’s teaching about the Kingdom, by emphasizing that part of the Gospel which deals with what happened on Good Friday and Easter. The result is that we continue to be overly concerned about ourselves, and we loose many of the blessings our Lord would give us and to the world through a proper understanding of the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom. I think the Apostle Paul speaks to that in Colossians 1:13, “He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, 14in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” If we then are “delivered from the power of darkness,” is it not time to rejoice in that and to bring this joy to those who do not have it?
    So – do you now know what the Church is? I guess no more than you did before. My suggestion would be to look up every mention of the words “kingdom,” “church,” and “Holy Spirit” (some versions use mostly “Holy Ghost) in the New Testament, and then to reread the sections on “The Church” in the Book of Concord. This would have been a formidable task a few years ago, but, thanks to the Internet, it can now be done fairly easily. At the end, you will probably have more questions than those with which you began, but they may be pointed in a different direction – at least that’s my guess.
    Peace and Joy,
    George
    PS.: One more thing: The vast majority of instances when “the Kingdom” is mentioned in the NT refers to the “here and now,” in spite of the fact that we often hear about them as being in the “hereafter.”

     
  13. Nathan

    November 25, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    George,

    Good words about the Kingdom. Thanks.

    Frank,

    “what is sure and certain is to follow the example of the augsburg confession and consider that there is really only one doctrine. with all the rest being subarticles under that one doctrine….

    we can only know that wherever word and sacrament are, THERE christ has promised, are believers. even if that seems very unlikely….”

    Frank, we are not disagreeing. There is, one teaching, although this teaching as been reformulated over the years. Contextual conversation between real human beings dealing with real issues (what is “out of bounds”, what is not speaking rightly?) has always been critical. A few points though – one thing that bothers me about our ecclesiology is how un-ontological it is, given the beliefs about the visible oneness of the Church before the Reformation. Also, it disturbs me that our view can come off as very impersonal, in that the human being involved in proclaiming and giving the means of grace is minimized to, in my mind, an unhealthy degree. We need living flesh and blood. Finally, as I have said, we don’t know where the whole visible church is. The AC never claimed that we were THE true Chuch, only that we were a part of the True visible Church, i.e. “truly church”. The fact of the correspondence between the Lutheran theologians and Patriarch Jememias shows that what I’m saying has some traction.

    “reformulations such as ‘believers are church’ might be true enough, but when we then use such a phrase to build on it and draw conclusions, we run into alot of problems…. better to build on tried and true formulas and when we feel that those no longer serve in the face of some new error or issue, to take pause and consider if indeed this is so…”

    This is a very conservative view that I can’t really hold to. I think reformulations and different ways of framing things are healthy and necessary and should be done in the open. For example, I prefer the style of John Kleinig, who does not speak like very many Lutherans that I have met (http://www.geneveith.com/jesus-swaps-places-with-us/_3917/, read the whole book to really see what I mean), to those of John Starck (see new reprint of his prayer book), who also does not speak like any Lutheran I have met. And yet, I think they are still both profoundly Lutheran, and would also wholeheartedly uphold the Confessions, believing that they are a faithful exposition of the Word of God.

    More after the Thanksgiving holiday and weekend. It is an honor to have both of you on this blog.

    In Christ,
    Nathan

     

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