20 May 2015

Chapel Homily

Catechesis: Summary of AC, Part 1

1 This then is nearly a complete summary of our teaching. As can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church universal, or from the Church of Rome, as known from its writers. Since this is the case, those who insist that our teachers are to be regarded as heretics are judging harshly. 2 There is, however, disagreement on certain abuses that have crept into the Church without rightful authority. Even here, if there are some differences, the bishops should bear with us patiently because of the Confession we have just reviewed. Even the Church’s canon law is not so severe that it demands the same rites everywhere. 3 Nor, for that matter, have the rites of all churches ever been the same. 4 Although, in large part, the ancient rites are diligently observed among us. It is a false and hate-filled charge that our churches have abolished all the ceremonies instituted in ancient times. 5 But the abuses connected with the ordinary rites have been a common source of complaint. They have been corrected to some extent since they could not be approved with a good conscience.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Years ago, a friend of mine contemplated taking a summer class at Concordia Bronxville taught by Dr. Nagel. Now, he'd read much of Dr. Nagel's writings over the years, so he wrote him to ask if there's be anything new in this class. Neither he nor I ever forgot the good Dr.'s response: "No, nothing new. Same old catholic and apostolic faith." 

That is the very spirit in which the Augsburg Confession wraps up its basic layout of the doctrine taught in the Churches that had embraced the Reformation. Nothing new here. Same old catholic and apostolic faith. Check it out they say. It's what the Scriptures teach. It's what the Church catholic has always taught. It's even what the Church of Rome teaches if you bother to read the great fathers who served there. Nothing new! 

Yet they were charged by their opponents with teaching all sorts of novelties and not holding to the traditions of the Church. They own up that they've changed some things, but they characterize those items as abuses that crept into the Church's life without lawful authority. When we cover part two of the Confession, you'll hear a list of them: withholding the cup from the laity, forbidding priests to get married, buying and selling masses, and so on. Our churches fixed these things. And the Confessors note that part of the tradition of the Church is the exercise of freedom regarding humanly instituted ceremonies. They've never been the same everywhere, and they never will be. Nevertheless, say the Confessors, check out our churches and see if it's true or not. We diligently observe most of the ancient rites. That is, ceremonies that didn't conflict with the Word of God, that didn't obscure the Gospel, we cheerfully keep and diligently observe. Check out our Mass, our Divine Service. Check out the sermons and the topics of our preaching. Check out how we don't give the sacrament to anyone who hasn't been examined and absolved in private confession. Check out the kids being catechized and examined. Check out prayers in our homes and daily reading of the Word of God together. Check out how we baptize and teach its use. Check out how we ordain pastors and how only those who have been called and ordained publicly preach, teach or administer the sacraments in our churches. Check us out and you'll see, the Confessors told the emperor, that you've been fed a bunch of hooey about us!

Are we able to make such a claim today in honesty and truth? Is the doctrine taught in our parishes and schools nothing but the same old catholic and apostolic faith that the Church has ever lived from and that we've heard summarized in these weeks from the first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession? Is it true that we reform anything that ends up obscuring the Gospel, but diligently retain for the most part the ancient rites? 

It seems to me that to be a confessional Church, we must allow our Confessions to challenge us, correct us, and point us in the direction we need to return. If that's not a description of who we are, why can it not be a description of who we mean to be and become again? Surely to be a catholic Christian standing in evangelical freedom and rejoicing in the good order of the Church across the ages is a blessed, blessed calling. I am convinced everyone wants to be such a Lutheran; they just don't know it yet! The Augsburg Confession points the way. Nothing new. Same old catholic and apostolic faith. Shall we not return? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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