22 June 2010

A Thesis for Moving Beyond the Limitations of a Quia Argument

With assist from Prs. Boerger and Yakimow:

Those who jettison the Lutheran liturgy fall short of and are, in fact, at odds with the spirit of the Lutheran Confessions which evidence a delight in receiving the Church's heritage as gift, rejecting from it only what is sinful or obscuring of the Gospel, and freely shaping her use of that heritage as best suits the needs of the Church at present, always with a mind toward passing it on toward the next generation.  "The living heritage and something new." (Intro LW)

From a discussion on the ALPB boards.

The challenge is that Quia, as the LCMS has historically understood it, speaks to the doctrinal content of the Symbols.  But does this do justice to what the Symbols confess?  They weren't addressed to disembodied heads.  The focus on propositional doctrine leads to an ever diminished role for the Symbols as item after item gets swept from "doctrine" to "practice" category, where the practice is regarded as "descriptive" (and hence, dispensable)  while the doctrine (continually narrowed down) as "prescriptive."  But this deconstruction of the Symbols simply runs counter to their spirit - which is a joyful embrace of all the gifts the Lord has given through His Church through the ages (third article gifts, if you will).  It runs counter to say:  "I don't HAVE to do that" when the Symbols would lead our response to be:  "What a gift that is!  How that witnesses to the Lord's mercy and love!"  

The Symbols freely confess that private absolution, for example, is of human origin.  It is not commanded in the Sacred Scriptures.  It is a human ceremony for the application of the Gospel.  And yet, our Symbols are adamant that it would be a wicked thing for it to be taken from the Church; they state we retain and encourage its use.  Such a wonderful gift for living in the forgiveness of Christ!  Or take the observance of Sunday.  Luther states clearly enough in the Larger Catechism that it is not commanded to be kept as the "new" Sabbath day by the Apostles or our Lord.  Yet, in the same document, he celebrates and rejoices in it and says we ought to keep Sunday as the Lord's Day.  Doctrine or practice?  Misses the boat, doesn't it?  Rather, GIFT - gift born out of the course of the Gospel in the history of Christ's Church and so the response is never:  "You can't make me do that" but "even through human custom, the Lord is giving something to delight in!"

Fire away, lads and lassies.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I would suggest that rather than speak in terms of Subscription at all, we ought rather focus on attacking the premise that seems to be prevelent that "style" and "substance" are independent. This would be the angle that needs to be taken - for one who holds that there is no correlation between style and substance can say that they have a Quia confession and then write you off.

Perhaps a study showing that within the confessions themselves there is a thorough demonstration that the Lutheran substance is directly tied to a Lutheran style would be more beneficial first -- then the implications of what Subscription means can be made. By introducing the idea of subscription up front, people with faulty assumptions are allowed to hide.

It's like faith - you don't need to say faith to preach faith. I don't think you need to even mention subscription to teach and show what subscription truly is.

Rev. Kevin Jennings said...

Hi, Wil!

I think you were the first to tell me the difference between "have to" (duty) and "get to" (gift). I still remember that and use it often.

Is not the question of the independence of style and substance really the same question posed by those who challenge the authority of Holy Scripture? In pitting style and substance against each other, we wind up saying that the Confessions are not really all that authoritative, unless we want them to be. I'm not sure if that's really subscription at all.

I think Pastor Brown has something. The sainted A. L. Barry asked in his book "The Unchanging Feast," "What do we confess by the songs we sing, the liturgies we use, etc.?" or words to that effect.

The question has great merit. Whenever I go to a church using video screens, bands, etc., and hear the music, I look at the words. What do these words confess? Do they confess the Real Presence? Do they confess the Gospel as God's power unto salvation? Very often, the words confess that God is far removed from us in "His heaven," and we poor slobs are slugging out here below.

We might hear the right answers on the subscription final exam, but what is preached and taught and sung will reveal what is authoritative.

Boaz said...

Ok. Why did Luther drop the Agnus Dei, use paraphrases of the creed and Lord's prayer, and suggest altars, vestments, etc. could be changed as pleased?

He changed more than what was obscuring the Gospel.

Or was Luther just wrong under the confessions?

William Weedon said...

Dear Boaz,

Lutherans bring the private writings of Luther to the touchstone of the Symbols; not vice versa. Nevertheless, in both Formula Missa and Deutsche Messe - the only two orders we have from Luther's hand - we find:

Then while the Agnus Dei is sung (Latin Mass, AE 53:29)

Then shall the cup be blessed and administered, while the remainder of these songs is sung, or the German Agnus Dei. (AE 53:83)

Luther did indeed offer in His German Mass, German settings of much of the Ordinary in rimed paraphrase. Lutherans freely continue this tradition - see LSB Divine Service 5 or the Liturgy supplemental hymns LSB 942-963. It was part of "freely shaping her use of that heritage as best suits the needs of the Church at present." In a similar way, Chemnitz defended the Lutheran ordering of the consecration, when he wrote: "And our churches are unjust condemned because in the celebration of the Lord's Supper they, as did the ancients, freely use prayer formulas which are in harmony with the faith and because they accord with the nature of our times and make for the edification of the church, in which nevertheless the essential things are comprehended which were customary in the prayers of the ancients." (Examen II:514,515)

Dr. Luther's comments on vestments run the gamut; and Lutherans have always exercised a great deal of freedom in their use of them. To this day you will notice those who use a black academic robe, those who use alb, those who use surplice, those who use chasuble. We have the freedom to use them, or to forego.

Anonymous said...

Private absolution is of human origin. HUH?

William Weedon said...

See Larger Catechism, Exhortation to Confession, par. 14.

Anonymous said...

Not from a confessional document, but nevertheless, Luther on private confession: "Private confession, which alone is practised, though it cannot be proved from Scripture, is wholly commendable, useful and indeed necessary. I would not have it cease, but rather rejoice that it exists in the Church of Christ, for it is the one and only remedy for troubles consciences..." from the Babylonian Captivity of the Churc, 1520.
Bethany Kilcrease

Anonymous said...

Guess if Luther were correct (which he is not), then absolution can not be considered a Sacrament.

William Weedon said...

Luther's words were addressed to the institution of PRIVATE confession and absolution as not having divine mandate; never that absolution in itself did not have divine mandate. It may indeed be considered sacrament - gift of the Lord. There is similarly no mandate that we should commune the sick in the hospital; but there is no question that that they receive the Sacrament there.

Pr. Lehmann said...

Our approach to confessional subscription (the idea that we only subscribe to the theology of the confessions) is really just quatenus subscription by another name. It leaves us way too many opportunities to ignore what we don't like.

Approaches to the confessions that treat them as if they are close to inspired are also out of line.

There has to be some approach that walks the line, but I'm not sure exactly how to describe it.

I've been on generally the same page as you on this matter for some years.

mlorfeld said...

In our ordination and installation rites we not only subscribe to the Confessions *because* they are a true exposition of Scripture, but we make them our own. This latter phrase moves us beyond a reductionistic quibbling over what is and is not a doctrinal statement, but puts us right along side the confessors. The objection may be "well what is your position as a confessor regarding the nature of garlic and magnets?" My response would be that given belief at the time it was a valid illustration (since it was not disproved until 1600 by William Gilbert). Furthermore the point is to be an illustration, thus the confession is not upended given our current knowledge. Anyhow my point is that there should not be a sentence in the Confessions that we try to weasel out of, lest we make liars out of ourselves.

Pr. Lehmann said...

I was kind of hoping there'd be more discussion on this, but I think Matt nailed it.