Monday, April 07, 2003

One Holy Church Will Remain Forever

So in my last comment, we understand this article as a task; now we note the beginning of this article as a promise. One holy church will remain forever. Behind this seemingly short phrase lies a big idea. Will the gates of hell ever triumph over the church? This article says resolutely: no. And surely this assertion belongs only to the side of those things by which God the Spirit acts, not the accomplishment of churches. The Spirit liberates the church from sin, keeps the church in truth. We surely do not need to develop overly elaborate theories of the indefectibility and infallibility of the church or even say where or how the church never fails or never is outside of the truth to appreciate this fact. We trust we are not decieved when the church forgives and frees.

But we can only resist those questions of where and how so long. In the case of Roman Catholicism, no matter how we may be able to attain mutual understanding (if ever!) of such difficult topics as councils, bishops, and the bishop of Rome, Lutherans and others have a memory of abuse of power and authority. Abuse does not destroy the substance but how do we ovecome such difficulty? How can we say the church is holy and will remain? Do we here mean that church will be holy? The subject of this article is the churches that do exist, not the "Platonic republic" that Melanchthon refers to in the Apology to this confession.

One does not need to point out a solution to demonstrate the need to have one. To continually operate as if these things did not matter, that the functions of whatever bodies of the denominations are nonbinding, we duck this article's promise. But even now we slip into that strange region between the Spirit's promise of abiding in the church and sanctifying it and the task given to the church as human beings to speak the truth.

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