With the celebration of Dr. Korby's personal Pascha, his completion of the passage from this age to the age to come, fulfilling his Baptism into Christ, I have been listening again to his series on the Private Confession and Absolution. This led to some ruminations on the Church. I throw them out for discussion. Just musings...
Going with Korby's big "it's the wrong sensorium" - you exchange visible/invisible (and is the stress on the "visible" church just the opposite error of the stress on the "invisible"?) for audible/aural. His whole insistence that the question is one of authority: does the Word preached and sacramentally enacted have the authority to keep the Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic?
The "what about bishops" question perhaps misses the boat: a bishop is not there to be seen. He is there to be HEARD. And if he is worth being heard, he is delivering precisely what the presbyters are to be delivering. So there can be no essential difference because both are only worth what they deliver: the Word as it is proclaimed in Law and Gospel and sacramentally enacted. And both can betray the Church by not delivering the Word.
Now, the great joy of bishops originally is that they were put in place to see that such betrayal did not happen. That's their value as a separate office. When before the Reformation, they ceased to do this, instead becoming instruments to suppress the Word that alone creates and sustains the Church, then it was no question that they were not to be heeded. But the office of oversight was not a bad thing just because it could be abused. It was a good thing, even a great thing, when it fulfills its calling in the service of the Word. "The church cannot be better governed..." as Luther puts it in the Smalcald Articles.
There is only one Church. The Church created by the Word of God proclaimed and sacramentally given. That Church is the only Church the Symbols know. They don't know Roman Catholic Church or Lutheran Church or Anglican Church. They know Christ's Church. And they insist that this Church is kept one, holy, catholic, and apostolic not by obedience to the Roman see (because every institution can betray the Word, and the Roman see had), but by the Word itself.
The institutions of the Church (all of them) will either exist in the service of that Word of Christ being proclaimed, His gifts being delivered, thus rescuing people from the chains of idolatry and bringing them into the worship of the one true God; or the institutions of the Church will exist to thwart that Word, to keep it from being proclaimed. And this is where Satan aims his attacks upon the Church!
Each institution in the Church is capable of this betrayal. The ministry (in all its grades) is capable and has done so at various times. The parishes (in whatever location or jurisdiction) are capable and have done so at various times. All supporting structures have done so - and they so do precisely when they begin to exist *for themselves* instead of for the sake of that creating, sustaining Word of God.
When the ministry exists for itself instead of for the proclamation of the Word, we have clericalism.
When the parish exists for itself instead of for the proclamation of the Word, we have congregationalism.
When the liturgy exists for itself instead of for the proclamation of the Word, we have ritualism.
When the publishing house exists for itself instead for the proclamation of the Word, we have consumerism.
Back to Korby's assertion: It's the question of authority. Is the proclaimed and sacramentally enacted Word sufficient to sustain the Church's unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity? Or do we need some backups. In looking for backups, have we fallen into the self-same trap as those who look to church growth gimmickry? The Word cannot be trusted to do the job?
That then sheds whole new light on our task, if it is so. The task is then not to argue for the *position* that the Word can do the job. The urgent task is to SPEAK the Word that alone creates and sustains, that kills and raises from the dead, that breaks the chains of idolatry and bestows the gift of koinonia with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
"Preach you the Word and plant it home..."