Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Yes, Even Lutheranism

I noticed a while ago, that Catholic Christians consider Lutherans as Protestant. Those affiliated with mainstream Protestant denominations consider Lutherans as very nearly Catholic. Lutherans consider themselves as particularly different from both. And that doesn't mean we are fence sitters.

In William F. Buckley, Jr.'s self described autobiography of faith, Nearer My God, Buckley relates his first interest in the sphere of Christian apologetics. His friend Arnold Lunn while still an agnostic, had engaged Fr. Ronald Knox in a long term correspondence on the difficulties of the Catholic faith. These written discussions were later published as Difficulties: Being a Correspondence About the Catholic Religion. Buckley attributes this book, along with other lively discussions with Arnold Lunn, as being the root of his interest in apologetics.

In Nearer My God, Buckley spends an entire chapter on several of what to him are the most compelling discussions between Knox and Lunn. During the first of those discussion points, Buckley summarizes Fr. Knox's view of Protestant ecclesiastical authority, "Protestants tend to think in terms of a community of the elect who stand together to protect their churches, protected from the infirm policies by their peers." It seems to me that this hits directly on one of the important ideas being debated in Lutheranism today. Lutherans do not accept the infallibility of the Pope. But nor is it our mere "standing together," that makes our doctrine what it is.

Buckley continues, "Yet a company of men and women is subject to fits of passion, vulnerable to demands of fashion." Aha! Although some Protestant denominations have always been a bit more democratic in their doctrines than others, Lutherans are supposed to stand on the Lutheran Confessions as the clear expression of Holy Scripture. They also rely on the earlier church fathers, when there is consistent Biblical teaching. And first and foremost they rely upon The Holy Bible.

Now here's the rub. There are some among today's Lutherans who want to lessen the Lutheran Church's reliance upon the Lutheran Confessions. They see subscribing to such a human writing as akin to Catholics depending more upon the edicts of a human Pope than to Scripture itself. Isn't the Bible supposed to be clear on its own? Do we need human interpretation?

When we do not stand upon the historical writings of our forebears, we are indeed, as Buckley put it, " subject to fits of passion, vulnerable to demands of fashion." There is a word for that in theology: enthusiasm. Judging God's will for our lives on the whim of a particular moment.

Each reading of God's Word can, indeed, open new insights into His will. But if those insights are not tethered by a common historical foundation, the Lutheran Confessions, then we are like a chaff blown in the wind.

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