There is No Lutheran Church
This post is part of our No Longer Sola Series.
"The Orthodox Church is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It isn't non-denominational - it is pre-denominational. It has believed, taught, preserved, defended and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago."
- Steve Robinson and Bill Gould
Today is the anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. On this day 488 years ago the reformers presented their confession of faith to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the city of Augsburg.
What is the Augsburg Confession (Augustana)? It is similar to the Declaration of Independence in that it is a foundational document for Lutheran Identity. Today you would find it as the second document in the 1580 Book of Concord. To an extent it is fair to say that every other writing in the Book of Concord is commentary on what was confessed in 1530 during the Imperial Diet.
The first 21 articles of the Augustana present a positive statement of what the Lutherans believed, framing it within the acceptable stream of Roman Catholic doctrine. The last 7 articles contain the abuses they fixed in their territorial churches.
Today I wanted to share a couple of resources with you, ones that I believe are helpful explanations for what the Lutheran Church actually is (or isn't), why it exists like a dream, like Plato's famous Republic.
First, I recommend the paper co-authored by Fr John Fenton and Fr Gregory Hogg, posted with permission at the resources page of this blog: What Options do the Confessions Give Us?
Second, Fr Gregory has laid out very helpfully a set of propositions that show the logic of why there is no Lutheran Church today on his blog, Pillar and Ground of the Truth. These are below:
Propositions concerning the Lutheran Church 1. The Augsburg Confession and those other writings assembled in the Book of Concord (1580) were initially the confession of a group of territorial churches in northern Germany.
2. These territorial churches were not merely congregations, but trans-parish entities, each united by the same administration and the same liturgy within itself, and all alike were trans-parish entities.
3. These territorial churches did not understand themselves as a new denomination, but as the continuation of the catholic Church in the west.
4. They intended their writings to be understood as an unalterable confession of faith, with which they would stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
5. These confessional writings constituted them not merely as a corporation, but as a living, organic entity, as “the churches of the Augsburg Confession.”
6. The principle of unity of the churches of the Augsburg Confession is the quia subscription to, and confession of, the articles of the Book of Concord. (To develop this point a bit: the principle of unity in Rome is the papacy. The principle of unity in the Pentecostal churches is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Other features may change, but the principle of unity is essential to each body and may not be changed without the body's being essentially changed. Remove the papacy, and Rome is no longer Rome. Remove the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and pentecostalism is no longer Pentecostalism.)
7. This act of subscription and confession is not mere intellectual assent, but the ordering of the lives of congregations according to this principle of unity. Propositions concerning change 8. There are two sorts of change: accidental and essential.
9. Accidental change occurs when a thing is modified, yet remains what it was before. For example, when someone paints a blue chair red, it changes (color), yet it remains what it was (a chair).
10. Accidental change occurs to living entities when they grow, move, or alter in any way which still allows one to say, "It remains what it was."
11. Essential change occurs when a thing is modified in such a way that it no longer is what it was before. For example, when a chair is run over by a steamroller, it is no longer a chair, but a pile of wood, or metal, or plastic.
12. Essential change occurs to living entities when they change in such a way that one can no longer say, "It remains what it was." For example, a human being changes into a corpse at death, or (if it were possible) the humans making up Frankenstein's monster were essentially changed when they were sewn together to make the monster.
13. It is not necessary fully to know or to understand the circumstances of a substantial change in order to affirm that such a change has taken place. All that needs to happen is to show that what was essential to the being of a thing has altered.
14. In the case of a living being which appears to have undergone substantial change (i.e. death), charity requires us to make efforts to restore quickly what was lost.
15. There comes a time when those making such efforts recognize that the patient has died. Propositions applying the latter to the former 16. The churches of the Augsburg Confession have changed since the Book of Concord was adopted.
17. Some of those changes have been accidental: they grew, they moved etc.
18. Some of those changes have been essential--i.e. the principle of unity (the Lutheran Confessions) no longer describes any existing trans-parish entity. Lutheran Confessions a. "Churches" of the Augsburg Confession refers to trans-parish entities, i.e. territorial churches.
b. The true body and blood of Christ are present under the bread and wine.
c. Luther excommunicates a pastor who mixes consecrated wine with unconsecrated following the service.
d. Private confession ought to be retained. Practiced as the norm. No one is admitted to the Sacrament unless he is first examined and absolved.
e. Only those rightly/ritely called should administer the sacraments and preach.
f. The traditional usages of the Church *ought* to be observed, which may be observed without sin. Uniformity of liturgy within territorial churches (i.e. not merely a parish-by-parish decision).
g. The Mass (i.e. the historic liturgy) is maintained, observed with greatest reverence, and ceremonies exist to teach the unlearned.
h. The right to excommunicate belongs by divine right (a very strong phrase!) to the pastoral office, and the people are bound by divine right to follow them. (AC 28)
i. Mary is and remains a virgin after Christ's birth (FCSD 8.24, added by Chemnitz to reject the Reformed Peter Martyr Vermigli's denial of the semper virgo).
j. Prayers for the dead are not forbidden, and are not useless. (Ap)
k. The Scripture principle ("The Word of God alone shall establish articles of faith") is maintained in tension with the catholic principle ("In doctrine and ceremonies, we have received nothing new against Scripture OR the catholic church"). These two principles are not, of course, two "sources" of doctrine. Present-day a'. "Churches" refers to congregations, but not to trans-parish entities.
b'. Grape juice is offered in many places as an alternative.
c'. Plastic disposable cups are used widely, tossed out unwashed after the service.
d'. Private confession scarcely exists; in most parishes, not at all, in some parishes, just barely. Open communion the norm.
e'. Unordained laity do both (administer the sacraments and preach).
f'. The traditional usages of the Church *need not* be observed (NB: "ought" and "need not" are logically contradictory).
g'. The Mass is not maintained, reverence is discouraged by creative services (See, for example, http://www.thefellowship.com /ow/outreachworship.html), and ceremonies are instituted to entertain the bored.
h'. The right to excommunicate belongs by divine right to the congregation, and the pastors are bound by divine right to announce such excommunications. (Blue Catechism)
i'. The semper virgo is at best a pious opinion.
j'. We must not pray for the souls of the dead (Blue Catechism).
k'. The catholic principle is gone. Let me add another, from my own experience. I was a doctrinal reviewer for the new hymnal (now I won't be one much longer, when this gets to the eyes of others--but I digress). In reviewing the baptismal rite, I suggested that we ought to use Luther's 1526 baptismal rite as a paradigm of what constitutes a baptism from a Lutheran point of view. No-brainer, right? After all, that rite is even included in some editions of the BOC. I was overruled, and it was said that the 1526 rite carries NO normative significance for the Lutheran Church. 19. In some cases, these aberrations can be dated, and the scope of their acceptance be fixed--e.g. the abandonment of AC 14 happened in the LCMS in 1989. In other cases, these aberrations cannot be dated, and the scope of their acceptance cannot be fixed. But it is not necessary to explain *how* a thing dies in order to affirm *that* it died. We bury people without autopsies all the time.
20. Efforts to change these aberrations and return to the teaching of the Confessions have proved fruitless. The time has come to check the clock, note the time, and call the morgue. Conclusion: 21. The quia subscription to, and confession of, the doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions in its fullness is the principle of unity for the churches of the Augsburg Confession, and hence is essential for their existence.
22. There exists no trans-parish Lutheran entity which maintains a quia subscription to, and confession of, the doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions in its fulness.
23. In the sense that the Confessors understood themselves as 'church'--i.e. a trans-parish entity united by a common confession--There is no Lutheran Church.
I found out about these theses after I left Lutheranism but I think they accurately show what I also discovered. The Lutheran Church is not the fullness of the Church.
The search for authentic Lutheranism is like trying to determine whether the ghost of Samuel conjured by the witch of Endor was really the prophet or a satanically fabricated apparition. I borrow that point of comparison from one of my seminary professors, Dr. David Scaer who wrote the same thing concerning the search for the real Luther in his article "Will the Real Martin Luther Stand Up?"
"Sadly, in the half millennium celebration of the Reformation, Lutherans are less likely to agree on his core doctrine of law and gospel. In identifying the real Luther who will stand up, scholars will continue to offer different options. It is left unresolved, much like the question of whether the ghost of Samuel conjured by the witch of Endor was really the prophet or a satanically fabricated apparition. Thus, the search for the real Luther continues, just as the search for historical Jesus continues with some biblical scholars."
The Lutheran Church today is essentially different. More than the essential change that took place, I came to believe that the principle of Scripture Alone, which is essential to being Lutheran, prevents the Lutheran Confession from ever fully reforming itself. The Lutheran Confession is genetically flawed and does not fully represent the Faith once delivered to the saints, the Holy Tradition that is guarded and proclaimed by the Church of Christ.