Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Blue Nose Theology

Luther vor Cajetan
I had an intensely interesting conversation-turned-debate with a delightful Roman Catholic friend at a local brewery recently regarding religion, particularly the differences between Roman Catholic and Lutheran teachings. I suspect that my friend had not met, or at least had an extended theological conversation with, a Confessional Lutheran, because she appeared to hold me as a curiosity. We had a great time discussing the deep thoughts of drunken philosophers and theologians (though I held the advantage as I was working, and therefore, sober). By the end, though, it sort of turned into a Rome vs. Wittenberg debate, with each of us vigorously defending our positions. It was almost like a modern day Luther meets Cardinal Cajetan[1] (Except, Cajetan was a Roman Catholic laywoman, Luther was a cop, and it took place at a hipster brewery. Also, I didn’t answer her questions on my knees so, not like Luther and Cajetan at all, I guess).

I wanted to pursue the conversation because, having many friends who still allow themselves to be subject to the antichrist pope[2], I have suspected for quite some time that there is a disconnect between what many laymen believe about Christianity and what their church actually teaches. This disconnect is not peculiar to the Roman church. It exists in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and in most other flavors of Christianity as well. It is most stark to me, however, when observed in Roman Catholicism.

The reason is because they have one guy who is the head of their church. Not only that, this guy claims for himself the title Vicar of Christ. He says that he is Christ's only representative on earth. Moreover, when he makes doctrinal pronouncements regarding faith and morals, his pronouncements are viewed by the church as infallible so, what he says goes. That, one would think, should be the end of it. It seems to me that Roman Catholic laypeople should not be as confused about the doctrines taught by their church as, perhaps, the laypeople of other denominations. I certainly wouldn’t expect there to be any instances of Roman Catholic laypeople flat-out denying their own church’s doctrines (I mean, if you knew what your church taught and disagreed with it, why would you remain a member?). Of course, the Roman church has had to contend with the same challenges as every other church body in America. This includes the church growth movement and the rise of post-modern thought. These two innovations will certainly always obscure biblical truth whichever denomination they infect.

I don’t chronicle our interaction to demean my friend in any way, or to flaunt my skills as a debater or theologian. I am in the lowest grade in both of those categories, and I think we genuinely had a fun time with our discussion. I write this to examine the danger post-modern thinking poses to God’s people. I will try to demonstrate the curious circumstance it causes for those who think in a post-modern way but still maintain an allegiance to a church body that professes absolute truths.

We didn’t begin with post-modernism, though. We started with…

The main difference between Catholics and Lutherans.

Right out of the box she asked my opinion regarding the main difference between the Roman Catholic Church, and the Lutheran Church. My “Cajetan” preemptively offered that the difference could be boiled down to… Consubstantiation[3].

My friend said that Lutherans believe in consubstantiation, and her church believes that the bread and wine at communion are actually the real body and blood of Jesus. I explained to her that, Lutherans do not in fact believe in consubstantiation. I pointed out to her that this is an area where Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians are closer to agreement with each other than Lutherans are with evangelicals, who believe the Supper is merely symbolic.

Rome teaches that Jesus’ body and blood is present in the supper, so do the Lutherans. We do, of course, disagree regarding the particulars of what actually takes place when the elements are consecrated. My explanation of the doctrine of the Real Presence, however, was completely misunderstood. When I said that in, with, and under the bread and the wine are Christ's real body and blood as he has promised to give us, for we Christians to eat and to drink, I was met with an incredulous stare. "Yes, like I said" came the reply, "you believe in consubstantiation!" Then she showed me a Google definition of the word Consubstantiation on her phone that mentioned Lutherans.

Such are the perils facing the Lutheran theologian. We have to navigate down the narrow road of God's word and avoid falling off into the ditch of popery and philosophy on one side or the ditch of Calvinism and rationalism on the other. The result is a nuance in our teaching that is difficult to grasp when one has imbibed beyond one’s limit. It's a good thing that I keep a copy of the Augsburg confession with me in the car. I fetched it and explained what Confessional Lutherans believe, Google notwithstanding.

We then moved to the matter in question. For a Confessional Lutheran the main difference separating Rome and Wittenberg is obviously the doctrine of Justification. Justification is the teaching upon which the church stands or falls. The explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism asks the question: How is it possible for a just and holy God to declare sinners righteous? God declares sinners righteous for Christ’s sake:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him…even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:22-24; 4:25).

The Whore of Babylon - Woodcut by Cranach from
the Lutherbibel, 1534
Going along with this would be Rome’s insistence upon papal authority over the Church by divine right. Luther asserted, rightly, that the Bishop of Rome was a pastor of God’s people in Rome and of all those who voluntarily attach themselves to him and nothing more (McCain, et al. 2005). He also asserted that the pope was the Antichrist[4]. The pope claims, however, his authority over the whole Christian Church by divine right and the Roman Church explicitly teaches that all those who are outside of Rome are outside of the one true faith. At this point our discussion took an interesting turn when my friend began making the point…

Your religion is true for you, mine is true for me.

This is where things got interesting. At one point I said that, in order to be saved, one must repent and believe in Jesus. My companion replied, "That's fine for us, but what about all the other people who have different religions?" I asked her to explain what she meant. She said, "What about Muslims?" Who are we, she continued, to say that they are wrong, necessarily? Their religion is true for them and our religion is true for us.

This type of postmodern thinking it's quite pervasive in American Christianity in particular and American society in general. I explained that, as Jesus teaches, no one comes to the Father except through him; anyone who does not have penitent faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins is lost. This would include Muslims, or Jewish people, or anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus. Just because you have many religions, doesn't mean you have many right choices. Other religions may have a shadow of the truth in them, and some more than others, but in the end there is right and wrong, good and evil, yes and no. Jesus explains this to us and gives us no other choice:

[Jesus said] Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me… Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Matthew 7:13-14; John 14:6; Acts 4:8-12).

My friend was shocked that I would assert such an insensitive, unenlightened idea. Imagine her surprise when I explained to her the dogma of her own church – that the only true Church of Christ is the Roman Church:

The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it…This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him (Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994).

And also, that salvation comes through this one Catholic Church alone:

The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism explains: “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God” (Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994).

I can understand why she was surprised. The supreme pontiff of the Roman church has made statements which have led many people to believe that the pope is OK with salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis made several, now infamous, statements that seemed to say atheists may be able to make their way into heaven by obeying their conscience[5]. Messy statements like those made by Pope Francis promote the idea of a kinder, gentler, Roman Catholic Church when reported by secular media who have little understanding of these things. They give the impression that the Roman Catholic Church has a “you go your way, I’ll go mine, we’ll all get there in the end” attitude. Liberal Catholic laypeople and post-modern American secularists believe the Roman Catholic Church is embracing the ideas of post-modernism in its doctrine because of this type of reporting: There is no “truth;” everyone has a shot at redemption with their own personal Jesus.

Except for Lutherans. We just can’t catch a break, and this I explained. Rome has been, and continues to be, clear on that point. Canon nine of the Council of Trent, which has never been rescinded by the Roman church[6], explicitly states that anyone who teaches the doctrine that man is justified by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone without works[7] is anathema.

If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema (The Council of Trent 1547).

Anathema: That means cursed. So, while their laypeople are given the false impression that their church has changed its teaching so that atheists and other noble pagans have a shot at working their way into heaven, the fact remains that all is as it was in the 16th Century. Rome still anathematizes the Gospel.

Needless to say, we never did come to a mutual understanding. There may not be absolute truth, but I was wrong, nevertheless. I was, however, able to get some sympathetic brewers to smuggle me out of the brewery inside a disused beer barrel and safely back to my patrol car[8].

The bottom line 

But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

Christ Among the Lampstands -
Woodcut by Cranach from
the Lutherbibel, 1534.
I believe the reason that Lutherans are strange to other Christians (not to mention pagans), and misunderstood, comes down to this: We confess the truth of God's Word, even where we don't necessarily understand it, or like it. The only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone[9]. This flies in the face of both the secular world, and Rome. Moreover, we interpret Holy Scripture using the Historical-Grammatical method[10], which respects and recognizes Holy Scripture for what it is – the divinely inspired, inerrant Word of God. The secular world has embraced post-modernism and asserts the truth that there is no such thing as absolute truth; The Roman Catholic Church claims that the church and its tradition is the divine authority, superior to that of even Holy Scripture, since the church existed before, and “created,” the Bible. To put it in a nutshell – church traditions preceded the Bible. Take into account the decades-long infiltration of post-modernism into the colleges and seminaries of the Roman Catholic Church and the result is a church body with doctrine that asserts it is the only true church and the only access God while its laity proclaims that all paths lead to the top of the mountain – I’m ok, you’re ok.

The Scriptures tested everything. This is the viewpoint of the authors of the New Testament, and the early church fathers. However, at the council of Trent, it was proclaimed that tradition was equal in importance and authority with the Bible. When the apostles preached the Gospel, the people who heard them tested what they said against the Scriptures they knew to be from God (the Old Testament)[11]. This happened before the New Testament was collected or the organized church existed. The Bereans tested the Gospel message and the apostles praised them for it.

Using the Historical-Grammatical method of biblical interpretation, an interpreter seeks the literal or intended sense of the text. He derives the meaning of the text from the text and allows Scripture to interpret Scripture. In order to discern God’s intended meaning, the Scriptures must be read as historical, literary documents. The meaning of Scripture is to be found in the text itself, not from some special revelation or extra-biblical source. The interpreter must also recognize that the Holy Scripture is the written word of God. It is not a primarily human witness to revelation, and thus not subject to human failings. In the historical-grammatical approach, the interpreter must always remember that Scripture, like our Lord, has two natures – the human and the divine – and has them equally and fully.

The Higher criticism method[12], on the contrary, favored by enlightened post-modern liberals, examines scriptural writings like witnesses in a court of law. Scripture must be “interrogated” and evaluated rationally. Following this method, Scripture is treated as any other human writings, subject to human failings. Higher criticism gives the individual interpreter, not Holy Scripture, ultimate authority and is incompatible with the “Sola Scriptura” principle of Lutheranism. Rome has begun to interpret Scripture according to this method in recent years. Main Line Protestantism and much of American Evangelicalism have been lost to Higher Criticism long ago.

What is disconcerting is that post-modernism is seeping more and more into those denominations which hold Scripture to be the divinely inspired, inerrant, efficacious Word of God. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has dealt with this in the 1960’s and 1970’s in what culminated in the seminary walk-out and Seminex[13]; we are still affected by it today.

We few who hold Holy Scripture in such esteem appear to be getting to be fewer.

Time to have a beer.

Works Cited

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church." Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html#top (accessed December 4, 2016).

Day, Michael. "Pope Francis assures atheists: You don't have to believe in God to go to heaven." Independent. September 11, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/pope-francis-assures-atheists-you-don-t-have-to-believe-in-god-to-go-to-heaven-8810062.html (accessed December 4, 2016).

Fields, Ligonberry. "7 Times Pope Francis Was Misquoted." BuzzVine. January 16, 2015. http://www.christianpost.com/buzzvine/7-times-pope-francis-was-misquoted-132679/ (accessed December 4, 2016).

Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cathechism of the Catholic Church. New Hope, KY: Urbi et Orbi Communications, 1994.

Lueker, Erwin L., ed. Lutheran Cyclopedia: A Concise In-Home Reference for the Christian Family. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984.

McCain, Paul Timothy, Robert Cleveland Baker, Gene Edward Veith, and Edward Andrew Engelbrecht, . Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Translated by William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

Reformation 500. "Luther meets with Cajetan at Augsburg." Reformation 500. http://reformation500.csl.edu/timeline/luther-meets-with-cajetan-at-augsburg/ (accessed December 4, 2016).

"The Council of Trent." EWTN: Document Libraries. 1547. http://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/trent6.htm (accessed December 3, 2016).

Wikipedia. "Martin Luther." Wikipedia. December 4, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther#cite_note-59 (accessed December 5, 2016).

[1] In the summer of 1518, legal proceedings in church courts began against Luther for his criticism of indulgences…As a result, an order was issued for Luther to stand trial in Rome. However, Rome lifted that requirement, paving the way for his interrogation on German soil. The counselor appointed for that case was the Dominican cardinal and papal legate Tomas de Vio, named Cajetan…Cajetan was a theologian and ecclesiastic of high standing…Frederick the Wise… had arranged for the accused’s safe conduct to Augsburg and a fair hearing from Cajetan…Cajetan was directed by Rome neither to debate Luther, nor make a final judgment on his theology, but rather to insist that he recant by saying the simple word revoco—“I recant.” Upon arrival, Luther followed the advice of his colleagues and prostrated himself before Cajetan, then rose to his knees to answer the cardinal’s interrogation. Luther, however, refused to recant his positions and instead pressed Cajetan for clarity on where he was in error. Over the course of the three meetings on consecutive days from October 12-14, the theologically erudite cardinal was unable to resist debate with Luther (Reformation 500 n.d.).

[2] SA II, iv, 14.

[3] Consubstantiation is the view, falsely charged to Lutheranism, that bread and body form one substance (a “third substance”) in Communion (similarly wine and blood) or that body and blood are present like bread and wine, in a natural manner (Lueker 1984).

[4] SA II iv 14: Finally, the papacy is nothing else than the devil himself, because above and against God the pope pushes his falsehoods about Masses, purgatory, the monastic life, one’s own works, and false worship. (This, in fact, is the papacy.) He also condemns, murders, and tortures all Christians who do not exalt and honor his abominations above all things. Therefore, just as we cannot worship the devil himself as Lord and God, so we cannot endure his apostle – the pope or Antichrist – in his rule as head or lord. For what his papal government really consists of (as I have very clearly shown in many books) is to lie and kill and destroy body and soul eternally (McCain, et al. 2005).

[5] The Pope wrote, “God's mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience” (Day 2013). He also said, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone!” These statements are vague and confusing regarding the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on Justification and RC apologists and theologians were forced to run some heavy duty damage control to clarify that Pope Francis was not, in fact, subverting centuries of church dogma (Fields 2015).

[6] The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it. This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council. Paul VI affirmed it and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: “There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation”. The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith n.d.).

[7] Ephesians 2:1-10

[8] The hearings degenerated into a shouting match. Cajetan's original instructions had been to arrest Luther if he failed to recant, but the legate desisted from doing so. Luther’s supporters got wind of this, and helped Luther escape the night on October 20th Luther slipped out of the city at night, unbeknownst to Cajetan (Wikipedia 2016).

[9] Galatians 1:8; FC, Ep. 1.

[10] The historical-grammatical method is a Christian hermeneutical method that strives to discover the Biblical author's original intended meaning in the text.

[11] Acts 17:11-12

[12] Historical criticism, also known as the historical-critical method or higher criticism, is a branch of literary criticism that investigates the origins of ancient texts in order to understand "the world behind the text".

[13] Seminex is the widely used abbreviation for Concordia Seminary in Exile (later Christ Seminary-Seminex), an institution for the training of Lutheran ministers that existed from 1974 to 1987. It was formed after a walk-out by dissident faculty and students of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (LCMS).