Monday, November 17, 2008

Book of Concord-itis

A friend asked me this weekend what new was going on the LCMS, at least what was new in the last six months or so. I didn't have much to report. There was a Walther Conference last week or so, and some have blogged about that. Matthew Harrison released a paper calling for a movement to address our problems within the LCMS via a "Formula of Concord" procedure, and there was much debating about if it would work and if it did, should it be an addendum to the Book of Concord. Consensus on that issue was a pretty solid "no," as it would be parochial and even further fragment Lutheranism.

It begs a question, however, as to why Lutheranism is so badly fragmented anyway. What are out beefs with the ELCA? Higher criticism: not addressed explicitly in the confessions. Womyn Pastors: not addressed explicitly in the confessions. Their stance and acceptance of other issues such as homosexuality and abortion have further distanced us from them, as well as their unions with the Reformed and the Episcopalians. Similar differences would describe our relations with the other churches of the Lutheran World Federation.

What are our differences with WELS? Prayer fellowship: not addressed in the confessions. Church and Ministry: addressed, but not in a way to mandate certain arrangements, and what it does recommend neither of us do anyway (such as retaining Bishops and the other orders). What else?

Now we can argue all we wish about how faithful these other groups are to the Confessions, and they can certainly argue back, but we must admit that the Book of Concord has not ensured unity among the Lutherans as its intent was. There are controverted issues that the confessors did not anticipate or wish to address.

Members of the LWF might argue that where the Confessions are silent, then we are free to teach and practice what we wish.

Members of the LCMS might argue that we apply not only the doctrinal statements of the Confessions, but also their spirit and implications to our teaching and practice.

Both groups hedge and fudge and "nuance" their understandings of the Confessions. Recently I heard someone arguing the obtuse issue that we subscribe only to the doctrine of the confessions, and not every word or the exegesis of certain texts. That lets us off the hook for having to confess the ever-virginity of Mary. The other bit of back-peddaling we do is to say that "descriptive statements" applied to Lutherans then but not to us; therefore we are justified in "abandoning the mass" and inventing new ways of worship even though the Augustana describes that the early Reformers hadn't.

Men and women smarter than I may find fault with these brief statements. Perhaps this assement is unrefined, plodding. Regardless, it seems clear that all Lutheran Church bodies are in crisis. We have this strange relationship with Confessional statements written 500 years ago, statements which we all neglect in various ways, and to which we have added confessions and doctrinal statements, officially or not.


  1. DRB said...

    If subscription to the confessions means something other than agreement with the doctrine the confessions, what does it mean? Are you saying that subscription means agreement with all exegetical statements, and thus that no one really subscribes to the confessions anymore?

  2. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Well, that's the rub, isn't it? The case is made that subscription refers to doctrinal statements only...but obviously the texts are much more than that, and in fact describe a condition and weltanschauung that doesn't seem present.

    I do think it's pretty safe to say that *hardly anyone* subscribes to the confessions anymore.

  3. DRB said...

    Thanks for your response. That leaves me as a layman from a Reformed background wondering exactly what you and other LCMS ministers mean by the ordination vow that includes subscription to the confessions. Some Reformed denominations see subscription as adherence to the "system of doctrine" contained in their confessions. Is something like that the case here?

  4. Pastor Sharp said...

    So, you think that garlic takes away the magnetic properties of a magnet, or you aren't a confessional Lutheran?

  5. Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

    I'm not a Lutheran, Pr. Sharp (what a cool name, by the way), but I'll take a stab at your question. The scope of the Lutheran confessional writings is not science or "natural philosophy," as the garlic/magnet observation would have been labeled at the time. But it is most certainly theological, and things like the ever-virginity of Mary would certainly have been understood as having theological import. (It was understood, as late as Pieper's Dogmatics, to have some theological significance--hence Pieper says that if a man's Christology is "in all other respects Orthodox," he should be left alone if he rejects the sv.)

    The unworthy priest, and former Lutheran theological professor,

    Fr. Gregory Hogg

  6. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Fr. Gregory, thanks for stopping by. In our Confessional study this morning I found the perfect example. I'll have to post in the morning.

    And Pr. Sharp not only has a cool name, but is one of the funniest Lutheran Pastors I know, so funny, in fact, that I doubted I'd ever type "Pr." in front of his name, but that is 1000 stories that don't need to be told.

    drb--that is the question, isn't it. We subscribe to the doctrine of the Confessions. In the LCMS we give a "quia" subscription: we subscribe to the Confessions because (quia) they agree with Scripture, not "where" or "in so far as" they agree with Scripture. But there are many rhetorical statements, exegetical conclusions and historical examples that, in my understanding, we do not subscribe to.

    Does this help? Can anyone else help?

  7. DRB said...

    Thanks, Pr. Hall. It's good to hear there are still 6000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

  8. Anonymous said...

    Pastor Hall, you did not read Pastor Harrison's paper very carefully. He is not suggesting we add to the Book of Concord. He is saying we should look at the way the Formula of Concord was developed and model ourselves on that methodology of resolving disagreements.

  9. Christopher D. Hall said...


    I actually did read it carefully. You didn't read my post carefully, though. What I wrote was "Matthew Harrison released a paper calling for a movement to address our problems within the LCMS via a "Formula of Concord" procedure, and there was much debating about if it would work and if it did, should it be an addendum to the Book of Concord."

    I think that's pretty fair. He wants a process such as one that developed the Formula. Others debated if it should be added to the Confessions. I regret if my use of the passive voice lent confusion. It's almost never good to use the passive.

    But thanks for reading and commenting. Please feel free to use your name next time.