Closet Romanists - Attack of the Catholic Lutherans
Let's face it....I have no life. Because I have no life, I tend to spend my time being a dork. Being a dork, I tend to spend time cruising the internet looking up interesting topics. Today, I spent some time looking up the Society of St. Polycarp and several of its members on google. What I found, to be frank, urined me off. Here is why:
The Society is seen often as a "Romanizing" movement within Lutheranism. I have a theory about that. 1. Those Lutherans who call it Romanizing don't bother turning the mirror of logic back onto themselves and think, "hey, maybe I'm a crypto-Calvinist/crypto-Evangelical!" 2. Reading is not a gift when they analyze the rule of the Society. 3. High Church worship and practices are seen as legalistic because they have too many rules. And my favorite, 4. The Confessions obviously say ___________(fill in the blank) and therefore their rule is wrong in their opinions.
I will analyze each point in turn, after a general comment. Yes, it is true that many members of the society leave and join the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church. Yes it is true that we are high church and proud of it. Yes it is true we focus our attention on those who have gone before us in the faith. If you see anything in these last two points that is not Lutheran or a mark of a free Christian, you need to do a bit more meditating on this issue. It is not that cut and dry. Why some leave Lutheranism is beyond me to some extent. To say, however, that they must not think justification is not important is just absurd. Many times they have understood the broader meaning of salvation and communal rconciliation which even we confess, but don't have the "stones" to actually say (or for that matter, act on it). One could also ask the question, "hey, maybe if we didn't have our heads in our respective crevasses, we might have actually been able to understand one another before they left....no, I'm right and they're wrong!" If it sounds like I'm being a little snippy...I am. For too long have I read many people's blatanly ignorant opinions with regard to their brothers' and sisters' actions with narry a thought to analyzing our own little opinions and actions with such severity. Truly we are all Christians....we treat even those in our own Confession as potential heretics!
Thus, my first point begins: 1. The term "closet Romanist" is a loaded term, implying and assuming several things, namely; A. Rome (or the East) is inherently evil. B. Many of Rome's teachings are unbiblical and hence, not to be practiced (true, yet debatable). C. The Papacy is the office of the Antichrist. Several problems with point 1: A. Nonsense, it is inherently Christian even though it has its faults, just like any other denomination, even faults which are quite major (the muddling of justification - leading to Purgatory and Rome's version of invocation, the altered nature of the Ecclesium, the application of Aristotelian logic to areas it doesn't belong, etc.). B. See A...one could (and I have and will) argue that some of Rome's practices are actually good and acceptable (or matters of opinion), but their understanding and confession of them is wrong. The East's understanding and confession is difficult to grasp, but their practices and understandings are quite similar to ours (which is an opinion I know many don't share with me...but it's my opinion and I can defend it, so there :-P). Our problem is that we often use reason with regard to comparing Confessional statements and think if a word doesn't mean the exact same thing, they're heretics...way to pit rather than atually compare two differing ideas and concepts, hence bringing in western reasoning of paired opposites (and we chide the Protestants and Rome for doing the same thing!). With this reasoning, Alexandria OR Antioch would have been the order of the day in the ancient Christological controversies...not an agreement between the two, so there is precedent for actually comparing and synthesizing rather than ripping apart and overlaying. C. The Papacy is indeed an office of the antichrist...though last year on Ash Wednesday (or around that time), I wrote a piece where I slammed those Christians who didn't accept infant baptism (and hence properly understand grace) as antichrists. Going to either extreme never helps....and simply identifying the spirit of the antichrist in their doctrines doesn't mean everything they say is evil or bad...Satan would have no followers if he worked this way (no, I'm not saying other Christians aren't saved, I'm saying that through sin guided by his infernal nastiness, doctrines have differed and thus there is truth muddled with error)!
My point 2: Our rule is clearly posted and referenced, yet complete noobs have mis-read it and misapplied it MANY times over. Even the WELS have misread, or attempted to mislead a questioner with regard to our society (even deigning to put the question under "Romanizing Lutherans," how "Reformed" of them :-D). First and foremost, I do not speak for our society. I speak for myself and myself alone. To be in the society one must accept a quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions. Section 7 of our rule simply says that the Virgin Mary is to be recognized as the Ever Virgin Mother of God (it was brought to my attention by a Lutheran vicar that technically Mary is not referred to as Ever Virgin in the German translation which is what Pastors are to accept...I guess we get extra credit points ;-D) and recognize that she prays for the church. It DOES NOT FOLLOW that we advocate that we are to invoke her, and anyone who says this is completely overextending the meaning of the section in our rule. It basically is there to see whether or not you think the church dropped the ball on the Virgin for nearly 1800 years. If your confident that we know better, now, be my guest. I like to think I'm not smarter than the church fathers. Now, while I DO invoke her and the other saints, I have a clear and Confessional (and several other Lutherans do, or at least bandy the idea about) understanding of such an invocation. Again...the society does not endorse my view....but what allows me to have that view will be discussed later in this post. Maybe when we decide to seriously analyze our Romophobia (or Orthophobia) we can actually figure out what is going on with the doctrine in Scripture, tradition, our Confessions, and against denominational lines. IN SHORT - if you have trouble reading our rule properly I will have trouble caring about your response.
My point 3: Depending on if you think the Holy Spirit dropped the ball throughout the history of the church, your opinion will be different here (yes, I am implying that those who advocate against high church liturgy and ecclesiology are denying that fundamental aspect of the faith...those who advocate for low church or a change in church practice are not necessarily in this camp....I have more respect for the latter). We retain the high church view, because again, if you think you're smarter than St. Gregory the Great, St. Basil the Great, etc., show us that you can contribute as much to our practice and tradition and we'll make you St. _____________ the Great! Could these "the Greats" been wrong? Yes, in some things (Fr. Weedon mentioned on his blog that St. Gregory the Great argued against venerating icons...personally I would say he erred there), but wholesale no. Could you be right? Yes...but now the tricky thing is arguing for it and letting the Holy Spirit convict if you are right. To simply throw out liturgy and the church's tradition is basically to say to the church triumphant that what they did and thought was good for them, but we've got contemporary music and 45 minute - 60 sermons now that deal with how to live my best life now or how to have a better sex life in my marriage (how often to you hear the Trinity invoked in these churches btw? You often don't...you hear "God" and "Jesus," but usually only when there's a gospel presentation with an altar call, with the occassional smattering of the "Holy Spirit"), and also to tell the Holy Spirit that organic growth and change are not hip or cool anymore...we want punctuated equilibrium!
And finally, my point 4: Many people know what the Book of Concord says. Really? Why then do I commonly read that it condemns prayers for the dead...when it actually doesn't (Ap. XXIV [XII] p. 96)? Many people think that the church triumphant doesn't pray for the church on earth. Really? VERY WRONG. The problem with this one is that there are discrepencies between how certain Luther and Melancthan are. Luther is somewhat skeptical in the Smalcald Articles (Part II, Article II, p. 26), while Melancthan grants its certainty in the Augsburg Confession (Article XXI). In fact...Luther goes on to say in paragraph 26 that we should not hold fast and feast days for the saints........except we do have feast days for them! What is going on here? Historically speaking, the practice of invoking the saints is quite ancient (a history channel show I saw one night indicated that it existed in Judaism at the time of Christ - if this is true, it would most likey have been a pharisaical practice as they would have been trying to defend the resurrection of the dead against the Saducess) and is present in softcore form in the OT (the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), as well as being present in the Shepherd of Hermas and Tobit(with reference to angels being invoked). Luther is CLEARLY DEFINING THE GOSPEL. In his clear deffinition he is showing us what to do when someone says YOU MUST practice adiaphora for your salvation, namely, to take the complete opposite position. ALSO, the doctrine of invocation in the west became extremely heretical when the treasury of merit for the saints was developed to deal with those Christians suffering for the temporal price for their sins in Purgatory...and this is why in the Apology Melancthan jumps into discussing the ATONEMENT and therefore, in that context, 1 Timothy 2:5 is indeed violated. However, for simple prayer (i.e. the older form of invocation), no such atonement context exists....so the use of 1 Timothy 2:5 in discussion as a response is just silly. Of course it could be brought up that we're not sure the saints hear us in Heaven....to which I respond, "yes, Melancthan is trying to argue against the invocation of Rome because of the mingling of the atonement with the practice." Melancthan, as a trained Scholastic would use this reasoning and try to go as counter to his opponents as possible...that is a common philosophical tactic (and who says Lutherans don't use reason ;-)). Also, one could argue that because it doesn't have the promise of Scripture, we cannot be sure of it, hence it does not come from faith, and hence, is a sin....again, see the previous answer. If it is not clear in Scripture and is a "practice," then it falls under Adiaphora....so if you say I can't do it...I'm going to say I can as my Christian duty because it does not conflict with the chief article (Justification) if properly understood....the gate swings both ways.
Another example for point 4: The Lutheran Confessions are against monasticism, since monastics are "works righteous." Well so are Protestants who think their works please God by virtue of them doing them (thus again, confusing grace and the idea that God is pleased with you as a Christian because you are being conformed into the image and likeness of His Son, not because you've done something sanctimonious and cool)....what's your point? In actuality the Confessions defend monasteries when properly understood. Perhaps in our sex-crazed society, we should be advocating a form of monastic life to our young kids, more of whom than not I think you'll find are (to quote Emerging pastor Mark Driscoll) "bangin their girlfriends." A close reading of the Confessions show that it isn't as cut and dry as we like to think it is....in fact, what it really means to even have a quia subscription to them is in question. Here's what I mean: We are to accept that the Confessions are a faithful exposition of the Scriptures....I do. Does this mean though we are to accept the historical assertions with regard to the fathers? Does this mean we are to accept the thinly veiled opinions of the writers? Does this mean I am to be a "Confessional fundamentalist" even though, I Lutherans are not "Scriptural fundamentalists?" Does this mean I have to accept the reasoning for doctrines if understood in the context above (Melancthan grants the saints pray for us on the basis of 2 Maccabees 15:14 which he regards as Scripture, and doesn't mention Revelation!!!)? What is the relation of the 7 Ecumenical Councils to the Book of Concord...and are we bound to them over the Confessions?
To conclude: STOP throwing around the term "Romanizing Lutherans" as if it is necessarily a bad thing (after all, Rome reads the Scriptures and places great emphasis on the Eucharist, albeit with a false understanding...therefore, am I "Romanizing" if I do this in my church? Absurd!). It is a label meant to incite terror in the hearts of people who might actually listen to people like us. Come let us reason together and stop acting as though we're trying to sheep steal from each other...we're in the SAME SYNOD FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! We are saying nothing contrary to the Scriptures or the Confessions, and if we are, in love, let us discuss these issues as Christians, not bitter enemies. Save your wrath for Satan, not your brothers and sisters who might disagree with you in Christian freedom. However, to make dogmatic statements about matters which can actually be argued several ways from Scripture, are not central to the chief article, the Trinity, or the Sacraments, and are not fully supportive of your position from the Confessions is dishonest or ignorant, and hence, if you say that in matters of adiaphora I am bound to accept one way or else I'm "not Lutheran," then I believe I will go against your view on the basis of my Christian duty (and with "real Lutheran" precedence).
I know, I've probably ticked off some people....if you got ticked off, you should actually think about why you got ticked off...you may not like WHY you got ticked off on careful analysis. If you want to discuss WHETHER something I have mentioned is NOT adiaphora (invocation of saints, worship - there are Lutherans who hold that worship is not adiaphora, etc.), fine! Let's do it without the barstools in the backs. Let us discuss such matters in Christian love and humility, particularly during this season of Lent which focuses the church's minds on the foundation of our faith....the Passion of Our Lord and our delivery from the bondage of sin and death.