04 July 2008

On Looking At Things the Other Way Round

It strikes me how often that is the case with Lutheranism. Not that we get things backwards, but that we affirm the inverse of what other's assert as truth. A few examples.

"The finite is not capable of the infinite." This was the definitive Calvinist answer to the Lutheran doctrine of the Eucharist (and of the means of grace and Christology in general). But what did the Lutherans say to this? "Ah, but the Infinite IS capable of the finite."

"Whatever is not commanded is forbidden." Again, a classic Reformed approach. But the Lutherans inverted it: "Whatever is not forbidden is permitted." Hence the Lutheran retention of so much of the liturgical treasure of the Church, her much more open approach to the Church of the Middle Ages and the ancient undivided Church.

"The Church preserves the Gospel." Thus the constant appeal to tradition in both Rome and the East. But what do Lutherans say to this? "Rather, it is the Gospel which preserves the Church!" And we point to tradition *as witness* to how the Gospel has done so!

"The Church interprets the Scriptures." Again a Roman and Eastern favorite, to which the Lutherans infuriatingly say: "Rather, the Scriptures interpret the Church." "A book can't do that!" is the claim. "This book can," our smiling response, "because this book is GOD speaking. His Word. Mighty and active. Just listen up!"

"We recognize the Sacraments are efficacious only when they are performed in the communion of the Church." Thus, guaranteeing the sacraments via the Church. We flip it: "We recognize the communion of the Church only because the Sacraments are efficacious." Thus, guaranteeing the Church via the sacraments.

Lutherans are so infuriatingly backwards to other Christian confessions and jurisdictions - but what freedom, what joy, yes what certainty in our delightful reversal of things! At bottom each reversal is founded in the belief and certainty that God's Word and promises can be banked on - without first getting the "a okay" from human reason or running any ecclesiastical safeguards into the promises of God.


Red said...

thank you for that!
i always knew i was backwards ;)

Fraser Pearce said...

Thanks for this stimulating post.

William Weedon said...

Red, LOL. Me too!!!

Fraser, thanks. Still listening to the haunting and beautiful music you shipped my way.

George said...

Thanks, Pastor Weedon! That is great. And it shows why we Lutheran don't really fit into any easily defined religious grouping. And why nobody else really likes us. ;) For many people to rely solely on the promises & works of God is a scary thing. We don't like having some else be totally responsible for how things turn out & we have no power. But thanks be to God, we have certainty because of the One whom we believe & thus we have His gifts. As Wilken always says, "We are only beggars."

Chris said...

Fr. Weedon,

Happy 4th! With regards to your post, I wouldn't say that Lutherans are backwards. I would just say that you are wrong! Sorry, couldn't resist.

Oh, I hope you don't mind, but I included a link to your blog from mine. If that's a problem, I will discontinue the link. I just think others should have the opportunity, if they wish, to puruse what you have here.

Jim Huffman said...

This is like the hubris of Lutherans who imagine they're not Protestants. Why this is thought important isn't clear to me (there's nothing per se wrong with being Protestant) but some Lutherans think they're so different when the reality is they're not. Every church body has nuances that differentiate them from others; Lutherans are not different on that, and this is merely an example of it. In response to another post, Lutherans do fit in, and quite well: ask 99% of the population. Heck, ask 95% of Lutherans: the answer will be: "Protestant." As to "nobody liking us," another harsh reality is that 99% of the population doesn't think about Lutherans, or Lutheran theology.

William Weedon said...


You're welcome to link at will.


Hubris sadly infects our race at all points. And it can be that Lutherans PRIDE themselves on being different; nonetheless I do believe that we tend to go at things backwards from others.

The Protestant thing is a great point. Lutherans ARE Protestants, but they're not Protestants like other Protestants - and the others have noted it over the years: "still halfway stuck in Rome" is the frequent caricature. Krauth nails it again when he writes: "Christian believers holding the faith Catholic we are - but we are, besides, Protestant, rejecting the authority of the papacy; Evangelical, glorying in the grace of the Gospel; and Lutheran, holding the doctrines of that Church, of which the Reformation is the child - not only those in which all Christendom or a large part of it coincides with her, but the most distinctive of her distinctive doctrines, though in the maintenance of them she stood alone." (CR, 168)

BrotherBoris said...

If you think Lutherans get ridiculed for being "backwards," you should see how Eastern Orthodox are talked about sometime. "You people are so backwards you don't even have pews or organs!" Or "You're STILL upset over the filioque after all those centuries? You Orthodox are so backwards! Get out of the Middle Ages!"

Nevertheless, I do see your point. Lutherans are difficult to categorize.

William Weedon said...

Brother Boris,

LOL. Indeed. With the Orthodox one finds that not only the answers, but the questions have changed. Which is confusing as heck until one realizes it!

I actually envy you your pewless churches. When our floors were being redone at St. Paul's the pews were out of either half of the nave for a week, and let me tell you, the room was transformed. I thought then: "Oh for the good old days. No worry about children sitting still, let them wander about! Benches along the edges for those who can't stand, but the rest of us standing for the Divine Service. It would be heavenly!"

BrotherBoris said...

Pastor Weedon:

I think a pewless Lutheran church is gonna be a really HARD SALE. LOL