23 July 2007

Thoughts on this Sunday's Gospel

Walther won me over a long time ago in his argument that we must interpret the Scriptures according to the Symbols if we are to be ministers of the Lutheran Church. He pointed out that it was only in this way that the Church could assure herself that her pastors were in fact teaching Lutheran doctrine.

Yet this is not an a priori. Or at least it ought not be. Krauth works what comes before it with the observation that we do not first interpret Scripture in accordance with the Symbols or the Symbols with the Scriptures, but we interpret both according to the ordinary use of language (yes, a loaded term, that) and what we discover - if we are Lutheran - is that they say the same thing! The Scriptures, which cannot err, happen to find a faithful explication in the Lutheran Symbols, which did not err (but could have!).

Thus, when the Lutheran speaks of his faith to others, he does not appeal for submission to the "mind of the Church." Instead, he invites a prayerful reading of the Word of God and then for the exercise of private judgment in deciding whether what that Word says is confessed correctly in the Lutheran Symbols. "Check it out" is our invitation to those who inquire about our Church's teaching. We invite them to read and study the Scriptures and to do so with humility and a spirit of prayer. And we invite them to read and study our Symbols (usually our Small Catechism) and see if the same message heard in the one is found in the other.

Pastor George Lobien, long-time pastor at the Lutheran Church of St. Andrew in Silver Spring, Maryland -- and my home pastor -- used to conclude each homily with telling words: "Test my witness to you this morning against these words of..." and he would reread the text.

"Test my witness." How utterly in the spirit of the Gospel for this Sunday: "Beware false teachers." And of St. Paul: "Test all things; hold fast to what is good." No wonder Paul could commend the Ephesian elders to "God and to the Word of His grace which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among those who are sanctified."

Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
For round us falls the eventide.
O let Your Word, that saving light,
Shine forth undimmed into the night.
LSB 585:1


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

If they say the same thing, why do you need Scripture plus?


Chris Jones said...

... why do you need Scripture plus?

Because Scripture is sometimes misinterpreted to say something else altogether. In other words, for the same reason that the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian definition were needed.

If there were no error, no doctrinal definitions would be needed to correct error. So if no one had ever said "There was when the Son was not," we would not need to say "begotten, not made".

Likewise, if no one had said that grace is given only to help us earn our own salvation; or that the faithful departed must suffer to pay the "temporal penalty" for their sins; or that such temporal penalties may be remitted by the Church on earth (and that, for a price); or that the Pope is the sole vicar of Christ on earth; then the Lutheran Confessions would not have been needed.

Anonymous said...

Pr. Weedon,
Are the Confessions our hermeneutical tool to read Scripture? What about the Confessions' "rule" (Apololgy IV) of interpreting Scripture through the lens of the law and the promises?

William Weedon said...

Dear Anon,

Yes, they serve as a hermeneutical rule, but they do so merely because they operate with the law/promises distinction that Scripture itself teaches.

William Weedon said...

Amen, Christopher!

L P Cruz said...

I think it can sound strange when we cry sola scriptura at the same time rely on the confessions, people find this odd, strange and inconsistent.

But I think that only sounds that way if one learns sola scriptura from popular evangelicalism which says that the Bible alone is the rule for managing one's life, a recipe book for getting on top of life.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

It can also sound circular. We interpret Scripture by the Confesions because the Confessions are the correct interpretation of Scripture. The Confessions are the right interpretation of Scripture, because they say the same thing as Scripture. At least according to our interpretation they do. And our interpretation is that of the Confessions.

The Scriptures are the unnormed norm, which norm the Confessions, yet in practice, the Confessions norm the Scriptures. (Per the original blog entry sparking this thread.)

But as a Lutheran on another blog pointed out to me, things are not really circular, because what it really means is that the Confessions, like the Scriptures, are simply "givens" for Lutherans.

But then Lutherans ought just to come out and say so. In practice, there is no such thing as sola Scriptura. Everybody reads the Scriptures according to *something* and that something, in practical terms, is *above* the Holy Scriptures. The only real question is what or whom to put there, above the Holy Scriptures.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

The "plain language" argument is an obvious crock, by the testimony of Scripture itself. St. Peter himself describes St. Paul's writings as hard to understand, easily twisted by the unlearned and the unstable. Jesus very often taught in parables instead of plain language, precisely to reserve His meaning for those capable of receiving it constructively.

"Plain language" would mean that God chose for salvation those He foreknew would accept His salvation. Plain language would seem to indicate that whatever Christ felt on the Cross, God the Father never abandoned or forsook him. ("WHEN He cried to Him, He heard Him..." Ps. 22:24) Plain language tells us Christ is our Judge, not the Father.

And so on. Plain language just isn't so plain as to preclude being interpreted a dozen different ways by honest people.


William Weedon said...

Krauth seems to invite a step out of the circle. His point was that if a person read the Sacred Scriptures, seeking and praying for the guidance and illumination of the Holy Spirit to work through them, that what he would see in their light is the same truth confessed in the Lutheran Symbols - that God's salvation cannot be purchased, earned, or bought; that it comes as a free gift in the Savior Jesus Christ, so that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins in His name; that Baptism saves; that the Eucharist is the body and blood of the Savior for the forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life and salvation; that the God we worship is One God in three divine persons; that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to answer for our how we have lived our lives; that we can never keep the Law as God intends it to be kept; that we must always and constantly plead for His mercy and trust in His love; and so on.

The Bible does plainly teach all these things, and as we read the Spirit's inspired Words we do not insult them by suggesting that they need a light brought to them, but we see that they ARE the light given us to illumine all things - and the light that shines from their pages is both the light of God's law that condemns us for our rebellious hearts and ways and the light of God's Gospel that God has freely chosen to save us through the incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and parousia of His beloved Son.

William Weedon said...

By the way - that in no way denies that there are difficult passages! Just as St. Peter confessed about some of St. Paul's writings. Who can understand what he meant by baptism for the dead in 1 Cor. 15? But what is not the least bit cloudy or unclear in Paul is the whole matter of the sinner's justification before God through faith for Christ's sake, whom God put forth to be the means of atonement for our sin.

L P Cruz said...


There is nothing circular when one asserts P ; NOT NOT P.

In other words if the Confessions are asserting the same statements that the Scriptures are stating only in different language, there is nothing circular about it.

Circularity happens when one is in the midst of proof and the thing to be proven becomes the thing asserted in that proof.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

But we don't see that happening, do we? That "if a person read the Sacred Scriptures, seeking and praying for the guidance and illumination of the Holy Spirit to work through them, that what he would see in their light is the same truth confessed in the Lutheran Symbols"? No. The vast majority of people who do as you describe do not come to that conclusion. Only Lutherans do, some Lutherans, Confessional Lutherans. Other people read the same words, say the same prayers, seek as truly, and come to different conclusions, myriad conclusions.

The whole idea of the Confessions is to be sure one has arrived at the RIGHT conclusions. That's what they're for.

"IF the Confessions are asserting the same statements that the Scriptures are stating only in different language..." but that IF is the problem. The attempt to remove it is where the circularity comes in.

"as we read the Spirit's inspired Words we do not insult them by suggesting that they need a light brought to them," -- well, then, back to my original question: why the Book of Concord? Why have you just said "we must interpret the Scriptures according to the Symbols"?

If the Scriptures do not need a light brought to them, then at least we do. The Ethiopian eunuch needed such a light brought to the Scriptures. So did the two disciples walking to Emmaus.

It's really only a question of what light?

William Weedon said...


Walther's point about interpreting the Scriptures according to the Symbols was that Lutheran PASTORS must promise to do so , to assure the Churches that they are not rejecting the faith of our Confessions. But Krauth's point is that any person can come to that point only after having read both Scripture AND the Confessions and seen that they confess the very same reality; that they say the same thing. Thus, Walther's point is for those being ordained; Krauth's is for anyone who studies the Scriptures and compares the teaching therein to the Symbols.

William Weedon said...

Krauth, by the way, did not stop with the sad status quo of our Church. He looked into a future that he hoped and prayed would be realized:

The effort at reformation, in some shape, was beyond recall. Henceforth the question was between the conservative reformation and revolutionary radicalism. Rome and the world-wide errors which stand or fall with her, owe their continued baleful life, not so much to the arts of her intrigue, the terror of her arms, the wily skill and intense devotion of Jesuitism and the orders, as they owe it to the division and diversion created by the radicalism which enabled them to make a plausible appeal to the fears of the weak and the caution of the wise. But for this, it looks as if the great ideal of the conservation reformation might have been consummated; the whole Church of the West might have been purified. All those mighty agencies by which one form of Protestantism tears down another, might have been hallowed to one service - Christ enthroned in His renovated Church and sanctifying to pure uses all that is beautiful in her outward order. The Oriental Church could not have resisted the pressure. The Church Catholic, transfigured by her faith, with robes to which snow has no whiteness and the sun no splendor, would have risen in a grandeur before which the world would have stood in wonder and awe. But such yearnings as these wait long on time. Their consummation was not then to be, but it shall be yet. (pp. 829,830)

I well realize how triumphalistic that must sound to Orthodox ears, but it was the great hope of the Lutheran Reformation, a hope that has not yet been wholly vanquished.