30 January 2007

A Church is a Church

because of the Word of God that is proclaimed therein - whereby the voice of the Shepherd is heard, and little lambs and sheep are made who heed the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Many are vexed at how the Church can be among the heterodox. But the answer is clear: to the extent that also among those who teach falsely the voice of the Shepherd has not been entirely silenced, it remains divinely powerful to create faith in those who hear it.

Does that mean that heterodoxy is then not dangerous? By no means! The danger of heterdoxy is that that other voices are tolerated alongside the voice of the Good Shepherd and constantly threaten to drown Him out. When His voice can no longer be heard, what we have is not even heterodoxy but non-Christian cult.

There is no jurisdiction or communion upon earth where the danger is not present of other voices drowning the alone-saving voice of the Good Shepherd. I would never deny that the danger is a real and persistent one in the Churches of the Augsburg Confession. But I still maintain that in their Confession - where that Confession lives, informing actual preaching, teaching, and practice - there the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd sounds forth with a clarity not to be missed. There the Church comes into her own because His and His voice alone holds sway.

A vision? A dream? Yes. But more than either: a confidence in the Word of God to accomplish its end. "Those who believe on me through their words." "My sheep hear my voice." As our heavenly Father commanded at the Transfiguration: "This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: HEAR HIM!"

7 comments:

Dixie said...

Pastor Weedon,

I am intrigued by your definition of "Church". It does a lot to explain how some may want to view Baptists and Pentecostals and even the Orthodox. What surprises me though is that you do not qualify "Church" by the presence of the Sacraments as well. You know...where the Word is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. Any particular reason you left that out? Or is that implicit in "the Word"?

One thought that came to mind...perhaps you have seen the former/future Father Fenton's recent post on Mark 9? He sees those who were not disciples but were casting out demons in Jesus' name as those outside of the Church. His understanding of Church in this regard is the Orthodox Church. In your definition of Church...who would you identify as those working in Jesus' name but apart from the disciples?

William Weedon said...

Dear Rose,

Yes, it is the voice of Jesus that constitutes the sacraments. They are what they are are because "verbum accedet ad elementum et fit sacramentum." The voice of Jesus says: "baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" and the voice of Jesus says: "whosoever sins you forgive they are forgiven" and the voice of Jesus says: "this is my Body given for you; this cup is the new testament in my Blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins." It's all about hearing the Shepherd's voice.

The passage in Mark 9 is intriguing. I do not think Jesus is there defining the limits of the Church, but is warning disciples against passing judgment on who IS such a sheep who hears His voice.

Pax!

Chaz said...

Dixie,

It's good that you point out the confessional language regarding the Sacraments and the Church.

Pr. Weedon is starting with the Lord's Institution, which is a good plan. At the same time, starting with the Lord's Words isn't an abstract thing. When we go to the body and the blood, the water, the sound from the pastor's own lips, there to we are going to the Lord's institution.

Also, Pr. Weedon didn't necessarily define the church in his post, and I don't have any problem with that.

The Confessions do define the church here and there, but more often they just say where the Church is. It's where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are given out.

It's where you hear the Savior's voice.

If you want to define what it is, the Confessions there just say that it is the congregation of all believers in Christ. Or, as Luther says, it is sinners hearing the voice of their Savior.

If you run with Luther's approach, it takes you back to the question of where, and that's the question the Confessions love to answer.

John Hogg said...

It seems to me that this particular way of looking at things lacks a corporate understanding of what the Eucharist is. If all that's important is that the voice of the shepherd be allowed be heard, and the danger of heterodoxy is that it presents other voices, that gives a person the perfect right to remain in a heterodox fellowship, as long as things are okay at his particular parish.

If there are bad voice along with the good at other parishes within your fellowship, what does that matter? Or, for that matter, if you visit a parish that you're not in communion with, but you decide that you like what's being preached and taught there, why can't you commune at their altars?

Grace and peace,
John

William Weedon said...

Dear John,

I'm not sure how it lacks a corporate understanding of the Eucharist, for the Eucharist may only be shared by baptized Christians who are agreed in the confession of the holy faith. The dangers of heterodoxy remain and cannot be overstated, but nor can the power of the voice of the Good Shepherd be limited. It's powerful wherever it is heard.

Because I can recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd in the preaching of a given parish and in its liturgy is cause for rejoicing that the Good Shepherd no doubt has sheep there; but it gives me no right to ignore the heterodoxy that exists in that place along side the Good Shepherd's voice. There can be no intercommunion practiced there.

Now, if you are pointing to the mess in the Synod, the only way one can remain is if one is seeking to correct the abuses and has not given up hope yet that they can be corrected. Again, such is the power of the Good Shepherd's voice that hopeless causes have again and again been shown not to be hopeless at all where His voice sounds forth. May our Shepherd's voice yet bring the Synod to the joy of repentance!

Wishing you every good thing in Jesus!

John Hogg said...

Dear Pr. Weedon,

I guess what I mean is this: Given the understanding that you've put forth here, why should a traditional Anglican leave the Anglican Church? Or should he not? Should he remain, and just make sure that his parish is okay, and speak and write about the "other voices" in Anglicanism in general being dangerous, but remain in communion with them?

And if the dangerous thing about heterodoxy is the other voices being heard, why commune along synodical lines? Why commune with the heterodox within one's own fellowship but not with those who may be more faithful to the shepherd's voice in another fellowship?

Grace and peace,
John

William Weedon said...

John,

I'm not really sure how to advise a traditional Anglican - for I'm not sure what one is. It seems to me that Anglicanism has from its Reformation striven for a "big tent" approach with room for everyone provided you kept to the liturgy of the prayer book. Sort of a lex orandi devoid of lex credendi content? I'm sure that seems unkind, and I don't mean it that way, but I've never known WHAT to make of Anglicanism in any form.

As to why commune along Synodical lines - the Synodical lines are to demark the doctrinal agreement. The fact that the lines have blurred more than a bit of late makes the situation most difficult for all of us living within them. We desire neither to be precipitous in breaking fellowship, nor to be unfaithful to the Confessions of our Church by permitting other voices to rival our Good Shepherd's. Pray for us!