20 March 2007

What is the Real Church?

What is the real Church, the true mother of all Christians? According to St. Paul, she is, first of all, "the Jerusalem above." Therefore, she is not of this world. She is not an earthly, bodily, visible kingdom, but an invisible, spiritual, heavenly one. She is not an institution perceptible to the senses, not a number of people who are bound by certain laws and customs. Instead, she is a kingdom of hearts that are bound together in one understanding and one Spirit. What holds her together is unseen by the eyes of people. She is not a host of people who can be recognized by natural descent or by the country in which they reside. She is bound to no nation or city of the world. She is a congregation that is dispersed over the face of the entire earth, and she has members of every age and station among all people everywhere.

Furthermore, the apostle says, the Church is "free." There are no children of Hagar, no Ishmaels, none who by their human birth alone belong to her as servants of the Law. She is made up entirely of Sarah's children, of Isaac's, of pure children of the promise, namely those who are born again by the promise of grace as free children of God.

The true Church is thus the whole number of those who have sought and found their salvation, not on Sinai, but on Golgotha. -- C.F.W. Walther, *God Grant It* - Tuesday of Lent IV (sermon on Gal. 4:26)

34 comments:

Schütz said...

What an excellent example of how far Walther was in much of his ecclesiology from Confessional Lutheranism. Every confessional Lutheran knows that the Church IS visible: it is known by its marks. It is the Assembly, the Gemeinde, the Congregation, gathered and assembled around the Word preached in its purity and the Sacraments celebrated in accordance with that Gospel. This may not be a Catholic ecclesiology (although it has elements in common with it) but it is a far cry from the spiritualised, non-incarnate, invisible, non-sacramental "church" that Walther envisages. Walther has much more in common with the Reformed tradition on this one than with Lutheranism. The main difference between the Lutheran "Gemeinde-ecclesiology" and the Catholic "Communio ecclesiology" is that the one tends towards the universal and the other toward the local. Both believe the Church to be a visible society. They also disagree on what it is that counts as the "marks" of the true Church, but neither contends that you cannot find the true Church here on earth if you go looking for it. My own personal ecclesiology as a Lutheran began to come unstuck when I was actually challenged on it by a couple of Lutheran pastors (who are still Lutheran pastors in excellent standing, I might add). I think you would do well to ask yourself, Pastor, what your ecclesiology is and whether it stacks up not only with the Lutheran Confessions but also with Patristic tradition. Walther's doesn't.

William Weedon said...

Dear Schütz,

It is something I have thought about quite a bit - as you might well imagine. I do not think, though, that Walther here is the least bit unfaithful to the Lutheran Symbols. The marks tell us WHERE the Church can be found, not what the Church is. For the Lutheran answer to "what" the Church is, we have only to think of the Apology: "at its core, it is a fellowship of faith and the Holy Spirit in hearts." (Ap VII,VIII:4) and how this coheres with the Smalcald Articles and the bold statement that every 7 year old child now knows what the church is: "holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd." That last bit nicely ties the "where" (find the Shepherd's voice!) to the "what" (holy believers). So Walther is not at all, in this place, running contrary to the Symbols, it seems to me. FWIW.

William Weedon said...

By the way, I do agree that the way Lutheran ecclesiology works, the focus is on the local - that's because the focus is on where the Lord dishes out the gifts that bestow the Holy Spirit who creates the faith that sets idolators free and joins them to the Triune God, thus adding to the Church - that great congregation of those who in living (and repentant!) faith are united to the Blessed Trinity.

William Weedon said...

Oh, and you are VERY naughty. That chicken dance Luther just about had me spewing my wine all over the key board!!!

Chaz said...

Jen and I really enjoyed the devotion tonight. We like many of Walther's devotions, but are often disappointed that the editor chooses to give a selection with absolutely no word of Gospel.

Tonight was a welcome change from that recent norm.

Sometimes we just use Eckhardt. :-)

Past Elder said...

Der ewige Schuetz!

(Pastor Weedon, in case you missed it, we've been having a ball over on his blog, under the post "I'm no enemy of the Old Rite".)

Most esteemed brothers, I think Walther's comments for to-day are not so much an exercise in ecclesiology as they are pastoral comments deriving from the Gospel for Laetare. This will be easy for Pastor to locate, as the church's lectionary is offered side by side with the "we don't need no stinkin' miracles" bogus ordo, I mean novus ordo, three year lectionary in LSB, whereas it is banished completely from the Roman original and one may use the traditional liturgy only after swearing fealty to the Spirit of Vatican II unto the third and fourth generation before the Sacred Congragation for the Intergalactic Observance of Vatican II. I have a few missals around which survived the pogrom after the Council, but one can also simply turn one's Bible to John 6:1-15.

When he saw that they would seize him and make him king, he fled to the mountain.

Was gibt's? Is he not, along with Priest and Prophet, King? Of course he is -- after his idea, not ours. We would have a king after earthly kings: a kingdom with clear borders, within which one can be by one's own action of going there, by his own action of professing loyalty, obeying laws, paying taxes, and even losing his life in its defence. Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and all he got was the Church, the liberals used to say, more right than they knew. We can do to his church what we would do to his kingdom, even appropriate the title of emperor/chief priest (pontifex maximus) from the local earthly kingdom. Jesus will have none of it. One enters this kingdom, and this church, unlike one enters anything else on this earth, by no action on one's own part to any outer structure, but by repentance and comversion by the work of the Holy Spirit giving a new and changed heart. Which is why Galatians 4:22-31 is the Epistle for Laetare, speaking of the children of Agar and of Sarah (sorry, I lapse into the Septuagint derived name spellings of my youth when on a roll), the slave woman and the free, Sinai or Golgotha, Law or Gospel. We are by nature Agar's children and by grace Sarah's, and our nature wants to seize Jesus and make him king our way, with a visible kingdom for which one can do visible things. To the children of Agar this kingdom or church is but a Platonic ideal at best refined out of human experience, but to the children of Sarah it is more concrete, vivid and real than anything on earth.

Walther is ultimately talking about the new heart, not ecclesiology, and without which ecclesiology becomes worthless, futile, and an effort to seize him and make him king and us subjects rather than let him as King make us free!

Past Elder said...

Congregation, not congragation. Mea maxima culpa.

William Weedon said...

Past Elder,

You preach it, Bro! :)

Right on, except that while informed by the Laetare Gospel, I'll just bet he was here preaching on the Laetare epistle itself, probably at the second service of the day.

Chris Jones said...

One enters this kingdom, and this church ... by no action on one's own part to any outer structure, but by repentance and conversion by the work of the Holy Spirit giving a new and changed heart.

But whence comes the Holy Spirit Who works faith? By the external, covenanted means of grace; and that means through the concrete and, yes, visible Apostolic Church.

Schütz is right. The Lutheran Symbols nowhere teach the invisible Church. What the Symbols tell us is invisible is not the Church, but the heart of man, such that we cannot see whether a particular individual has been truly grafted, by faith, into the body of Christ. But the Church herself is never invisible, even if there be some (or even many) individuals whose membership in the Church is only apparent, not genuine.

Walther's notion of an "invisible" Church would have been nonsense to Ss Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Cyprian. If we read the Confessions in the context of the teaching of the Fathers, with the expectation that they teach the same faith that the Fathers taught, then we are safe from reading them as teaching an invisible Church.

When we read the Confessions apart from that proper context we are susceptible to all manner of difficulties, of which the notion of an "invisible Church" is just one.

William Weedon said...

Christopher,

I think it is not an either/or. Walther here is being faithful to the Symbols in accenting (as the text he is preaching on) does the interior reality of the Church as the Spirit-wrought fellowship of faith in the heart. "Keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith." Marquart in his outstanding book on the Church notes how the Church then has these two aspects that are inseparable: she is a hidden fellowship of faith in the heart and she is a public fellowship in the means of grace. The caveat of AC VIII is that she is the later even when those who use or administer do not share in the former. "In" the church, but not "of" the church. The Marquart book, if you've not had the joy, is really a delight. I think you'd find yourself rejoicing in much of what the good dr. had to say.

Chris Jones said...

Of course it is not an either/or. I'm not denying that there is a heavenly (even a divine) and therefore invisible aspect to the reality that is the Church. It is Walther, not I, who is positing an either/or:

She is not an earthly, bodily, visible kingdom, but an invisible, spiritual, heavenly one.

This is the statement that is the "either/or", and it is simply wrong. It is not the teaching of the Bible, the apostolic tradition, or the Lutheran Confessions.

William Weedon said...

Chris,

But Walther is not offering a spurious alternative here, for the Church precisely AS Church is not "an earthly, bodily, visible kingdom." Our Lord made that clear in saying that His kingdom is NOT of this world.

Her marks are audible and visible, but her very essence as "fellowship of faith and of the Holy Spirit in hearts" is not. WHERE she is, we can see. WHAT she is, well, "the Lord knows those who are His."

Pax!

Chris Jones said...

Fr Weedon,

If Walther had said not only an earthly, bodily, visible kingdom, but also an invisible, spiritual, heavenly one, then I would be willing to agree with you. But he did not.

Walther's Church is a spiritual reality only, not a sacramental reality. If you say that the Church is in essence only spiritual, only invisible, then you are saying that what is visible about the Church -- her concrete, historical connection to the Apostles, her external, covenanted means of grace, her acting in the stead and by the command of the Saviour -- is accidental, not essential.

That may not be what you mean to say, but it is the clear implication of what Walther actually said, and it is what is involved in the false notion of the "invisible Church".

I am sorry if I am being difficult or obdurate here; but I sincerely believe that this is a serious error infecting Lutheranism.

William Weedon said...

Christopher,

I think Walther would decline to recognize his teaching in how you are presenting it. He specifically opposed the notion that the Office of the Ministry was "accidental" and not essential - it was divinely mandated and instituted. But he does not regard the Office AS the Church but as something IN the Church. Similarly with the sacraments that the Office is called upon to administer for the Church's very life.

Walther does not hesitate to speak of the Church as "invisible" but I think we must beware of reading into that kind of lingo anything more the confession that at its core, the Church is that fellowship of faith and the Holy Spirit in the heart - a fellowship that is not possible apart from the divinely instituted Office of the Ministry administering the divinely instituted Sacraments in the midst of divinely instituted assemblies.

Schütz said...

It might be interesting for you (but I know that it will be little more than that) to know that Catholic Church, in insisting on the visible nature of the Church, does not deny the invisible also. Here is just a snippet from the 2nd Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium para. 2):

"The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest [cf. Heb 13:14]."

Can't really argue with that, can you?

William Weedon said...

No objection. Rather of a flavor with Becker's reflection on Lumen Gentium's language that Christ's church "subsists in the catholic church" rather than IS the "Catholic church:: "Thus the Church of Christ can also be present outside the Catholic Church, and it is present, and indeed visible, in so far as factors and elements which create the Church are effective there." Quote again, thanks to Marquart.

L P Cruz said...

Pr. Will,

I do not see why there is opposition to Walther here, may be I am just naive. I think Walther's point is fair enough. Also just reading it does not make me conclude that he denies the existence of the visible church. In fact the title is so appropriate "the Real Church". Real Church because you may be in the visibile church but not part of the invisible church, and the latter counts the most. Our evaluation of what is in people such as their faith is fallible and only Jesus knows his sheep.

Past Elder said...

Hi guys. I'd have jumped in earlier, but in catching up I hit the words Sacrosanctum concilium and Lumen gentium and had to spend a little time over the toilet until sure I wouldn't barf.

It seems a lot of this is coming from the Laetare meditations from Walther's sermons in God Grant It, so hey, right after the part I shamelessly paraphrased above that Chris Jones quoted, Walther adds, Everything external either does not belong in this kingdom or is only a means that should work the change of heart by which a person is incorporated into this kingdom.

This ain't Plato and it ain't Buddhism either. Matter isn't an illusion or a veil here. Walther is in no way getting non sacramental or Pietistic. It's about the heart. And it's about not thinking that having the external means around that should work the change of heart mean that the heart is thereby changed. In RC language, pre Revolution, a sacrament was defined as an outward sign of an inward reality. It's about not mistaking all kinds of involvement in external means and outward signs for the inward reality itself. Or to borrow Pastor Weedon's excellent distinction, it's about not making things that are visible in the church for the church itself.

This is precisely what the Western Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox have done, it is precisely what sad to say some of our liturgically minded Lutherans do and in some cases do so well that they embrace Rome or the East, and it is precisely in reaction to this that some, seeking a breath of fresh air or to breathe at all, seek to reinvent the church as Willow Creek Lutheran or Saddleback Catholic or leave altogether.

And how we children of Agar love that! Attempting to produce the inward reality without the outer signs or means Christ has established, or assuming the inward reality in nothing more than a preoccupation with the outer signs and means! Either way seizing Christ to make him king, and risking being told at the end of it, I never knew you.

Rather, let the King seize us in Word and Sacrament!

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

If the office of the ministry is essential, and not accidental, in the Church; and if, in contemporary Lutheranism, the office of the ministry is not *practically* essential (for lay absolution and lay administration of the sacraments are tolerated, and if the ministry does not exist for the sake of giving the holy things to the holy ones, then what *is* it?)--then by your own words, Lutheranism is not Church.

Christopher, come home! Walk while you have the light.

The most unworthy priest, and fool,
Fr. Gregory

Joel said...

Past Elder's comments are worth heeding. Attraction to (or lust for) Rome or Constantinople can be a form of idolatry. Some men buy a flashy sports car in mid-life, some have a fling with a pretty young woman, some convert to one of the hypercatholic churches.

I had the misfortune to read Marquhart's book. Whatever the soundness of his theology, the book is shot through with an imperiousness of tone that is breathtaking. I found it unworthy of a fallible theologian of a fallible church.

Isn't the church's visible vs invisible distinction better and more Biblically expressed by our Lord's own called vs chosen distinction? That way we avoid any semblance of Platonism.

William Weedon said...

Dear Joel,

I never had the privilege of meeting Prof. Marquart, but I have heard consistently from those who have that he was a man both gentle, humble, and kind. I know that he doesn't come across that way at times in the book, but I assume that's just a flaw of the writing. It's easy to sound pompous when you are writing, when you are merely certain of God's promises. And I wonder if what is what you heard in his tone.

Pax!

Past Elder said...

Joel -- thanks for the affirmation. I'm 56. If I'm going to have a mid life crisis I'd sure as hell rather it be over a flashy sports car and a pretty young woman than Rome or Constantinople!

Chris -- you already are home! So am I. Like any family, who likes ALL their relatives? Sometimes I have to remind myself, thinking it's a bad church because of all the sinners and hypocrites in it islike thinking it's a bad hospital because there's so many sick people there.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Dear Past Elder,

If you read Christopher's post, he isn't raising concerns about some of the relatives. He's raising concerns of a structural and doctrinal nature about contemporary Lutheranism.

Lutheranism is full of wonderful, kind, generous people. The issue never was, and isn't now, the people.

The unworthy priest, and fool,

Fr. Gregory Hogg

Past Elder said...

Raise my rent. And who is it who has brought about the structural and doctrinal problems in contemporary Lutheranism but the relatives?

I've professed the Lutheran Faith -- having been to Rome literally and figuratively, with Constantinople right across the street literally and figuratively -- twice now, once in WELS and once in LCMS. Neither time did I profess faith in WELS, LCMS or any other trans parochial entity, or promise to spend a year working against tossing individual cups in the trash after Communion, but in the truths of Scripture as accurately taught particularly (being a layman) in The Little Catechism, and in something called the evangelical Lutheran church, which is not a denominational name any more than catholic, or one or holy or apostolic for that matter.

Good thing too. If I reserved joining based on structural and doctrinal concerns about practice, what I see around me, there isn't a church anywhere worth joining because they're all full of sinners like me whose real nature is in open revolt against God. Looks like we're back to the visible invisible thing again. Or better, borrowing again Pastor's distinction above, not taking things visible in the church as the church itself -- and when you don't do that, other things visible in the church that shouldn't be don't invalidate the church itself either.

Chris Jones said...

Past Elder,

Fr Gregory is right: this has nothing to do with the individuals who make up any Lutheran Church body. It has to do with a false doctrine which is not taught by the Bible, the Fathers, or the Lutheran Symbols.

Fr Gregory,

You bid me come home, but in truth I never was fully "home", because I do not make this journey alone, and I ought not to have tried to do so. If you have never been thus divided, you cannot know what it was like.

More than that I will not say in a public forum. If you want to discuss it further, you know how to contact me. (If you figure out who the bishop of Boston is, perhaps you could have him give me a call.)

Past Elder said...

Chris, I get it that it's about doctrine. I see much too that I cannot support from Scripture, the Fathers or our Symbols. It may be that our lists of such things are somewhat different, but regardless, false doctrine is like true doctrine in that who shall hear it if it is not taught, and that means people. I would not presume to know exactly what constitutes "thus" in divided for you, however from context I will say I spent about twenty years being similarly divided, and it felt like all bloody hell. On the other hand, I do know who the bishop of Boston is!

I remember years ago walking past the LCMS parish in the Back Bay, thinking those would be my guys if I had guys.

Joel said...

Rev. Weedon,

You are right about the tone of Marquhart's book. I will try to put that charitable interpretation upon it. It was one of the first books of heavy Lutheran theology I ever read. I can honestly say I had never heard anything like it before.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Christopher,

In no way would I make light of your situation; nor do I fully know it.

We are damned by ourselves, and saved in community: this is true. But the community we are saved in is not father, mother, husband, wife, parents, or children. It is the Church. "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him." Such, after all, is the point of the story of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas--and that of St. Elisabeth the New Martyr--is it not?

It is also true that we are born alone, and die alone; we believe for ourselves, and we are judged for ourselves. Who can be more wretched than me, who knows the truth and does not live it; who receives the dread mysteries, and offers them to others, but does not fear God or love my neighbor!

May the Lord Jesus be merciful to me, the sinner, on that dread Day!

The unworthy priest, and fool,

Fr. Gregory

PS--I know how to contact you by phone. I do not know your email address; if you'd like to send it to me via email (pastor_hogg@hotmail.com), that's ok by me.

PPS--It is better to have more than one bishop, all of whom confess the same faith and all of whose members intercommune, than it is to have no bishop, but rather a cacophony of clergy, few of whom say and do the same thing, and all of whom commune with those they disapprove of, and do not commune with those they agree with! And, as the recent experience of ROCOR and the Patriarchate of Moscow demonstrates, the Church's wounds are being healed by the grace of her Head. May we be found in her, and therefore in him whose body she is!

William Weedon said...

Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas were given the choice of sacrificing to the emperor or dying for the Christ they confessed. St. Perpetua's father pleaded with her for the sake of her family *to sacrifice to the emperor*. Do you really mean to say, Father, that should Christopher remain a Lutheran, he would be DENYING the Christ confessed by Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas? Lord, have mercy! Perhaps, the example of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr fits a wee bit better the point you are seeking to make.

Joel said...

"It is better to have more than one bishop, all of whom confess the same faith and all of whose members intercommune"

Fr. Gregory,

It seems to me EO's have a tendency to idealize the Church such that she becomes indeed an invisible church and Platonic republic. Where is the visible church where all the members have always intercommuned? Remember when Rome was out of communion with Cyprian? The Meletian schism where Rome was out of communion with St Meletius while St Basil and other bishops were in communion with both Rome and Meletius? As I understand it, this situation dragged on for years. Timothy Ware admits in the 1997 edition of The Orthodox Church that "There are in fact certain breaches in communion, particularly among the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox" (p.7).

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Pastor Weedon,

The circumstances faced by Perpetua and Felicitas were different from those faced by St. Elisabeth; but the basic principle is the same. Shall I compromise what I know to be the truth, or shall I suffer?

The unworthy priest, and fool,

Fr. Gregory

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Joel,
Your query presupposes the visible/invisible church distinction when you ask, "Where is the visible church where all the members have always intercommuned?"

WRT His Grace KALLISTOS' remark, it's precisely that breach in communion between the Patriarchate and ROCOR I was referring to as now being healed.

BTW, I had a great night last night. I got to hear a lecture by Bp. KALLISTOS, sat next to Fr. Tom Hopko, and shook hands with Troy Polamalu from the Steelers! It doesn't get much better than that...

Fr. Gregory

William Weedon said...

Fr. Gregory,

The clear implication is that to be or remain a Lutheran is to be a compromiser of the divine truth - and to do so knowingly. But for a Lutheran the divine truth is known only from the Sacred Scriptures, and at no point does our Confession compromise that divine truth. Instead, at every point, it upholds it. And the confessors, of course, did make their confession at great cost indeed. May God grant me to be counted worthy to suffer like them for the truth of God's holy Word!

But to try to give Christopher a bad conscience for remaining with a Synod which seeks to uphold that confession - admittedly in great weakness and as a constant struggle - and above all to suggest that remaining in that Confession is akin to offering sacrifice to the emperor and denying the One who has purchased us with His blood... well, I just can't believe you think or say such things.

If you do think so honestly, then I pray that Christ would remind you of the faith you once espoused and the Gospel you taught among us so beautifully for so many years.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Pastor Weedon,

Christopher's own words speak for themselves. It was he, not me, who spoke of "a serious error infecting Lutheranism." We become responsible for the truth we are given to see.

What you call a "clear implication" is certainly not clear to me, who spoke the words in question. The principle involved in both cases, P&F and E, is the same. Shall I compromise what I know to be the truth, or shall I suffer?

And you knew me well enough, once, to know I do not do "implications." I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. Can it be, perhaps, that you are doing a little eisegesis?

I cannot give Christopher a bad conscience; nor can I give one to you. I can only give myself a bad conscience, when I do not walk in the light I have been given.

The unworthy priest, and fool,

Fr. Gregory Hogg