Another great post by Pastor Ken Kelly on Priestly Rant: Pastor Kelly points out very importantly the need to be critical of even our fathers in the faith and their stances in light of Scripture and the Confessions. His honest (and often blunt) investigations are often refreshing.
Rome has the pontiff and The Magisterium. Eastern Orthodoxy has the Holy Synod and Bishops. Lutheranism has “The Book of Concord,” so there should be no question in anyone’s mind what constitutes Lutheranism, anymore than there should any question as to what it means to be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Whether or not there should be revisions to The Book of Concord may be a question well worth asking. Whether or not aspects of “Lutheran theology” should questioned may also be worthy of consideration, but it should be remembered that the simple posing of the question does not by default or fiat negate which is until otherwise proven, a confessional truth.
If in fact the confessions are in complete agreement with scripture, they then present Christ in all his fullness to the topics that are taken up. If this is true, then the confessions simply by their nature must stand (at a minimum) above any by-law or “rule” despite (or in spite of) what may be “legal.” To do so, is to secularize the confessions, or, to read things into the confessions that are not strictly dealt with.
The reading of the confessions within the contemporary framework of Lutheranism is I think cause for some concern. Too many times the confessions become largely ignored in favor of Lutheran fundamentalism, or worse (in my estimation) the work of Walther is elevated to the status of a confession. The same is true of Luther, and given the number of times Luther is reported to have said this or that, it seems that most Lutheran pastors have memorized the entirety of his work.
Of course where there is a confession, there will also be confessionalism. I think that perhaps simply put confessionalism is no more than the practice of embracing what is contained within our Symbols, regardless of personal opinion. I would further say that while it was and may still be fashionable to ask a candidate for ordination at their Theological Interview if they “have read the confessions,” I think it is disingenuous. What person, given the pace of the seminary has the time to spend actually studying the confessions, much less the time for reflection? Reading is a simple task; study is another matter all together. It is entirely possible that once out in a parish and the time presents itself for actual study, a pastor may have several questions. It is however the responsibility of the pastor (in my estimation) to continue to teach in accordance with the confessions, until (if ever) some sort of general council is convened to actually discuss the confessions, and to sort out those questions. It is also important to bear in mind precisely what is a confessional statement, and what is for lack of a better word “Traditionalism” within Lutheranism. “Traditionalism” (and yes, we spell with a capital “T”) and the confessions are not equivalents; they are not equals.
This disingenuousness has a tendency to lead to the self-conferral of Lutheranism, which by default and popular opinion has come to mean “confessionalism.” To call one’s self “Lutheran” is not by default the same as saying “confessional Lutheran.” Further, calling one’s self a “confessional Lutheran” has largely become a badge of courage or honor within the LCMS; it is that which one group often “is,” while another group “is not.” Unfortunately it has also become a label worn by many who simply have no idea whatsoever the very confessions they claim to adhere to actually say.
I don’t make the claim to have memorized every page in my copy of The Book of Concord (K/W), but I’ve started to actually wonder if in fact the confessions themselves aren’t the tool for reform. If they’re not, then those of us in the priestly office can simply preach and teach what we like. I think we’ve tried building the structure with regulations and by-laws first; I think most of us realize that inherent and continuing failure. It is also my belief that we’ve allowed Walther to influence our ecclesiology in a way that may not be in complete harmony with the confessions, but rather that addressed a specific concern. The result has been a congregationalism that is now afforded near confessional status.
There is I believe an christological center to the confessions, that has been lost in their continuing secularization. Picking up the confessions and reading them requires some presuppositions that may not be explicitly stated; the same is true of reading Trent. The confessions are christological but perhaps not written in, for example, the sort of mystical language that Athanasius might have used. This does not make them less christological or less incarnational; within the scholastic tradition of Rome and Wittenberg, such christology is simply assumed, the same is true of “faith.” The confessions have in essence been stripped of this center and become a Pharisaical handbook, that are largely, frankly speaking, ignored even by the structure of the LCMS, and one can’t help but wonder why anyone is asked to vow to uphold them.
If christology and the active proclamation of Christ are the center of the confessions-despite their polemic-then why aren’t they the center of the LCMS? And if they are not, it seems to me that very confessionality of the LCMS could be, to put the best construction on it, called into question. The irony is this: How does one challenge the very confessionality of the organization that claims to be the bedrock of the confessions?
When functionality replaces christology and when a secular definition of “church” consisting of by-laws and regulations, the end is more than near; it’s right in front of us.