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) ; VII, The “Church-speak” that we need ; VIII, Judge your mother, o child (the tragic necessity of the Reformation)
Warning: long and heady post here….
A man named Mark Patison said, I believe accurately, that “the German Reformation is imperfectly described when it is considered an appeal to scripture vs tradition. It was rather an appeal to history” (Isaac Casaubon, 1559-1614. 2nd ed. Oxford: Carendon Press, 1892, from the book pictured on the left, which I will be saying more about in a future post)
A conversation at a Roman Catholic blog has shown me how little importance these things have for at least some Roman Catholics (perhaps this is a reaction vs. Hans Kung, who said “Christianity is the activation of memory”!). One prominent online Catholic apologist, Michael Liccione, says that the question of which church can really discern Divine revelation is philosophical, not historical (post #321)
Earlier in the comments, in post #221, a man named John Thayer Jensen wrote: “… people often seem to me to make the mistake of deciding, first, what things are true – which implies some external canon – and then looking around for the body that teaches that.”
Michael Liccione, responded to that in post # 222 saying, “And that is the very essence of Protestantism. One assumes that the deposit of faith is knowable independently of ecclesial authority, and that one knows its content. Then one chooses a church whose teaching conforms with that.”
In which case, Lutherans are not Protestant by this definition. We like to quote Luther saying “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.” True enough! The key content of this faith is simply the Gospel pure and simple (as in John 3:16) – and by this all who believe will be saved. And yet, in our Christian lives, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of God – from the whole counsel of God. But just what is that Word of God that has been divinely revealed to us and all people – that was provided for us to “safeguard the truth” (Luke)? The Scriptures! And this is ultimately how are able to identify fallible human opinions, discerning when the Body of Christ is actually teaching as His Body (and we always must keep talking about who decides what claims about Divine revelation are now out of bounds and how we determine that).
And yet, we dare not say that we would surely know what Scripture was apart from the fact that there were certain books of the Bible that our spiritual fathers (i.e. the undivided early Church – those in fellowship with the Apostles and one another) unanimously accepted as being the infallible, Divine revelation of God. We received the deposit of faith from ecclesial authorities, who received it from ecclesial authorities – our spiritual ancestors in the Church. In short, because there is “a dynamic interaction between the verbally transmitted Word, and the Word committed to writing” (Paul Strawn), whatever did not conform to the Rule of faith was not Scripture (miracles and prophecy alone could not establish the authenticity of the prophet: the people needed to recognize the *voice*). Lutherans often forget that Luther himself was hesitant to give the book of James, II Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation full canonical status. After all, there were congregations early on who had never recognized these books as being Divine revelation!
Mike also says some interesting things about how we can discern what the true visible church is:
“The question at issue is whether there’s a principle necessary for discerning which human interpretations are only that, and which are also authentic conveyances of Divine revelation. My argument has been that the Catholic interpretive paradigm (IP) contains something that qualifies as such a principle, and that yours does not….(#276) [In short], “Which IP[, or interpretive principle,] best facilitates distinguishing, in a principled rather than an ad hoc way, between Divine revelation and human theological opinions–regardless of the actual content of either?” (#321)
In addition, he thinks that all Protestants (he includes Lutherans here), by virtue of their divisions, show they cannot make a tenable claim to knowing Divine revelation and that his principle shows that infallibility in the Church is necessary. In which case, I point out that we have never denied the concept of infallibility for the Church today. Here is what I said about that:
“…while a person may indeed speak infallibly as God enables them to utter His oracles, there are no prophets or apostles we can find in the Bible who ever said ‘you should listen to me because I am infallible’ or said ‘I have the infallible charism – that can never be lost in certain circumstances – for infallibly interpreting the words all we believers recognize as God’s very words to us” [Divine revelation].
I also note that this need not be synonymous with Divine revelation per se, which is given to the whole Church by God for teaching all persons and is public knowledge. The Holy Scriptures were given to “safeguard” (see Luke 2) the Apostolic deposit, “putting in writing” that which Jesus and the Holy Spirit taught the Apostles for the benefit of all persons.
There are other things we should notice about Mike Liccione’s “interpretive paradigm” (I.P.) however.
First of all, we simply note that Mike’s I.P. assumes a particular view of infallibility up front – i.e. there is theological “content” in it. It has a view of infallibility that has been formed in persons during the course of history – whether by God or not (note of course that even if it “doesn’t require us to look at history at all” it itself is formed by considering history). In other words, I would say that it is imperative for “separated brethren” (Rome’s current description of other Christians) compelled to explore Rome’s claims (which may seem compelling on the face of it), first be mature and knowledgeable in the practice of their own faith. All should be aware that one may not be able to “walk in a Roman Catholic’s shoes” via this I.P. in a “neutral” way, whereby one can be sure of being unaffected.
Second, we note that if this I.P. is wrong*, it will be particularly harmful to the Church because of the all-encompassing claims that it entails – convinced that only one person in particular (who at times in history has wielded great worldly power as well) may always speak infallibly under certain discernible circumstances, i.e. convinced that God means for us to possess this kind of certainty in this kind of way, persons may be unable to accept that God’s rightly appointed leaders may err as they in fact did throughout the Old and New Testaments. On the contrary, Acts 17 indicates that leadership that follows in the Apostolic train should be eager to have its claims verified by previously recognized (i.e. the past, i.e. history) Divine revelation – specifically the Apostolic deposit. While doctrine “develops”, should not all claims at least be clearly implicit in these writings, since they were given to safeguard the truth? Also consider this: just because one concludes that Mike’s I.P. is the best option because it is the most useful and powerful at giving certainty regarding God’s will for us since Jesus’ ascension (in other words, the I.P. itself is a good reason for a Christian to believe that [Roman] Catholicism is true), one might just as easily conclude that it is the “best” option because it is the most powerful for concentrating unifying political force in one person! Also note this post about some of the more practical problems with this I.P.
The “Lutheran I.P.”, as explained above, grounded in particular circumstances of the past, can already get us to infallible Divine revelation found in Holy Scriptures (see above). As to continuing to rightly and infallibly discern the will of God, we claim that we can only determine which I.P is best or preferable by actually taking the time and effort to look at the past with others who will point out things to us we may have missed. This is where the rubber hits the road. Mike’s I.P. really ends up bypassing the Lutheran contention that this is primarily about persons, their purposes, real history and real trust – and not primarily about principals, processes, and methods. This involves the knowledge – not just the opinion – that that can be attained through historical study. The Lutheran view here involves a deep reverence for evidences from the past outside of ourselves, particularly, but not limited to the Scriptures that past believers universally embraced (also, we can also do this in part by dealing with the living histories of persons formed by bodies revering these Scriptures in the present).
It is also important to note that there is in our view no more Divine revelation per se. Human theological opinion can accurately reflect Divine revelation – and speak it appropriately in the moment where it is demanded – without itself being Divine revelation. In other words, it is true knowledge – perhaps even authoritative public knowledge in line with God’s very words – even if it is not, strictly speaking, Divine revelation.
Other things to make explicit here that are related to this discussion:
- Whatever we Lutherans might want “Sola Scriptura” to mean it does not mean that anything not taught explicitly in Scripture cannot be essential doctrine (infant baptism is clearly implicit).
- To give just one example, the teachings of the early Church Fathers are necessary, for making an irrefutable case (persons may still deny this) for infant baptism (update: this connects with the Lutheran viewpoint that, by default, authorities – particularly church authorities – are to be obeyed – see first paragraph here)
- While the Scriptures are clear enough so that a genuinely curious atheist could discern their main message (on a careful reading), he could not, for example, produce by himself the theological content of the Lutheran Book of Concord – determining what is essential and non-essential doctrine cannot be done satisfactorily without the true Rule of faith (Acts 8 – teachers to guide).
- One component of the true Rule of faith is that it always tests the Spirits by checking those Scriptures that have been accepted by God’s people and that safeguard the truth (see, for example, Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11 and I Corinthians 4:6).
- Aspects of the Rule of faith are often tacit, meaning it can become further refined (more specific) through the interactions with heresies which are tested vs. the Apostolic deposit.
- All manner of traditions can be followed in the visible church that are not in Scripture so long as they do not contradict or detract from the core Apostolic teaching.
- Adiaphora (“indifferent things”) are part and parcel of the church. Given uncoerced deliberation among Christian bodies, there may be things deemed necessary or simply helpful for preserving unity in the Church (where we, as in any good marriage, willingly give up certain things we would otherwise be free to do without sin) but not for salvation per se (although a loss of unity in the Church may eventually lead to a loss of salvation, as love for one’s Christian brothers – inevitably due to a lack of love for God! – grows cold… and this because of a lack of faith).
When it comes to the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Lutherans never left. I do not insist that LC-MS to be infallible – only that perhaps it, and those in fellowship with it, alone can contain and deal with persons who may speak infallibly. I make the claim that there is always a remnant (within larger institutional bodies claiming and trying to show in their own way some measure of devotion to Yahweh [OT] and Christ [NT] and those things He commanded) and those who speak infallible words – which are truly saving words – among them…. even if they refuse, on the basis of the true emphases of the Scriptures, to focus on the issue of the infallibility of any person or body. “Catholicity” does not in any sense mean big and outwardly conspicuous, but universal, in that there are *at the very least* faithful believers and groups of believers spread throughout the world who agree with one another in the doctrines that brings life and salvation, even if it means they are hidden in caves, deserts and prisons.” (John Gerhard).
* – Mike objected here, saying that an interpretive paradigm could only be “useful” or not – i.e. does it help us accomplish our purposes? I said that since in my view it made God’s purposes/desires for us subservient to our own purposes/desires, it was in fact false, wrong, bad.