Thursday, June 20, 2013

Impressions from My Visit with ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod – PART IV

(Continued from PART III, yesterday.)


Scrupulously Confessional Orthodoxy
The informational tri-fold pamphlet of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA) begins with the following sentences:
    Should Lutherans apologize for the Reformation?
    A lot of modern “Lutherans” seem to think so. In America, many “Lutherans” appear to want to be something else, and so they adopt the worship services of the Baptists or Pentecostals and are disinterested in biblical theology. Others weaken the doctrine even further, claiming that they are now agreed with the Roman Church concerning the doctrine of Justification. Others abandon any pretense of standing on the foundation of God’s holy Word, teaching the lie of theological liberalism which only views the Bible as one more man-made book of human “wisdom.”

    In practice, the name “Lutheran” is reduced to a some sort of ‘brand preference’ or they think of the Church as simply one more ‘denomination’ among many [i.e. like Lutheranism as merely a “tribe” of believers -DL]. Many of the clergy seem to wish they were something else – and wish that the Church would be more like the Protestants or even Eastern Orthodoxy. Given such a surrender of Lutheran teaching and practice, such individuals seem bent on apologizing for the Lutheran Reformation. We reject all such compromises. We believe it is time to be:
    Lutheran – without apologies or excuses.

    The Pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA) reject any such surrender of Lutheran doctrine and practice. They believe that it is far past time for the Evangelical Lutheran Church to stand steadfast on the foundation of God’s Word, and to boldly confess that faithful exposition of Holy Scripture which is found in the Book of Concord (1580).

Such convictions were evident to me during the entire time I was present for the 2013 Colloquium and Synod of the ELDoNA, as both informal conversation and scholarship presented at the Colloquium were coloured throughout with references to the Lutherans Confessions, as the normed norm of Lutheran teaching.

It stood out to me. I rarely hear such normalizing references in other Lutheran settings; and have been under the growing suspicion that metastasizing crypto-quatenus sentiments are to blame. Indeed, while it is an easy thing to merely assent to the words, “I believe that the Unaltered Augsburg Confession [along with the other confessional documents contained in the Book of Concord of 1580] is a true exposition of the Word of God and a correct exhibition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church,” by comparison, it seems to be inordinately difficult, if not totally out of touch with modern theological and cultural influences, to do so while regarding such Confessional documents fully one's own convictions, rather than merely the Confessions of 16th Century disaffected Roman Catholics. That is to say, as long as one views the Lutheran Confessions as “their Confession” rather than “my own Confession,” then it is really pretty simple to mouth such words, and in an entirely empty gesture, “subscribe” to them as principally someone else's Confession, rather than fully as one's own. This is how Lutherans today can justify a scoffing rejection of emphatic Confessional statements. Take Article XXIV for instance: Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence (AC:XXIV:1ff) and We do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it (AP:XXIV:1ff). More and more frequently these days, one will hear such statements dismissed by confessional Lutherans as inconsequential historical trivia, with remarks, like, “Surely, you don't expect that such statements of preference, expressing the Reformers' general medieval sensibilities regarding their practices, have anything to do with Scripture teaching or constitute any aspect of our confession, do you? In making an unqualified subscription to the entire Book of Concord, are you seriously suggesting that we also subscribe to the mere preferences of the Confessors and Concordists?” That is to say, “Such was their Confession that they risked their lives and reputations defending before the Roman authorities. Not ours, and not us. We'll pick and choose which parts conform to our idea of 'Scripture teaching,' and dismiss the rest.” (Incidentally, those who despise the liturgy and dismiss the emphatic retention of the Mass in Article XXIV as an unfortunate wrangling over “externals,” would do well to read §78ff of the Defense of this Article, where Melanchthon clearly defends the Mass [or the Liturgy] from the Scriptures as almost synonymous with the Office of the Holy Ministry itself.)

Thus, quoting the Confessions can become rather cumbersome, if, with all the picking and choosing one must be aware of in doing so, he is also forced to lace his references with qualifiers, such as, “Well, that's mostly true, except for this one part – that was just their opinion.” So in many confessional Lutheran circles today, the “general preference” is to simply omit all references to the Confessions – just pass them up, don't mention them, simply go straight to the Scriptures and declare as orthodox and Lutheran whatever one derives from them. This leads to the Lutheran identity crisis most Lutheran laymen suffer from today. For several years, I had a lot of fun asking my fellow laymen the simple question: “What distinguishes you as a Lutheran?” I would always get the response, “Lutherans believe what the Bible says.” I would always reply, “Every Christian on the planet says that. So what is the 'Lutheran difference'?” I would almost always hear them answer, “Lutherans are right, they are all wrong...” – and I would correct this ridiculous statement with the following: “No, you are wrong. You are not Lutheran because you say you believe everything the Bible says – that is a necessary requirement to be a Christian. Nor are you Lutheran merely because you insist that Lutherans are correct and all other Christians are wrong. Nor are you a Lutheran because Lutheranism is the 'tribe' of Christianity you were born into. What makes you a Lutheran Christian is one thing: the Augsburg Confession. Who we are as Lutherans is, and only is, what we say we believe in our Confessions.” I had a lot of fun asking such questions... but eventually got tired of being accused of the heresy of “adding to the Scriptures.”

The unfortunate fact is, among most confessional Lutheran laymen today, the Book of Concord is a title for something they've never heard of, rather than something that ought to norm their thinking and speaking as Lutherans (although, LCMS seems to be taking official steps to treat this malady). My visit with the ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod has me convinced that they've recognized this lamentable affliction, indeed they've struggled against it for decades, suffered at the hands of those infected by it, and finally cut themselves off from it by forming a new church body – the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America. This was evident not only in their speaking, but in their scholarship – and it is their scholarship which will be the subject of tomorrow's concluding post in this series on my Impressions from their 2013 Colloquium.

More to come, tomorrow...
Click here to Continue to PART V.1

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