Wednesday, April 02, 2003

VII. Concerning the Church

Likewise, they teach that one holy church will remain forever. The church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teach of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere. As Paul says: "One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all..."

We in the Lutheran church recently had a lot of shouting and posing and posturing and weeping and puzzling over the "true unity" of the church. Or I shouldn't say recently, but rather continually. This particular article of the Augsburg Confession has been much quoted in recent debates over the Called to Common Mission statement of the ELCA, largely centering around the brief phrase, "it is enough". I even have a pastor friend who's email address is "satisest", the Latin original which we translate as "it is enough".

Interestingly, both sides in the CCM conflict used this phrase as part of their flag-waving, either to support the Word Alone contention that certain kinds of liturgical practices at the ordination of pastors is unnecessary, in fact harmful to the faith, especially when mandated by ecumenical agreements; or to support CCM itself, in that other rites and what have you are part of our "freedom", and we can freely do them for the sake of ecumenism as long as they don't get in the way of the right administration of the sacraments and the pure teaching of the gospel.

Of course, everybody knows that lex orendi, lex credendi, therefore what we "do" around ordination has an impact on our teaching and administering. So the debate over satis est became a hermeneutical one, how best to interpret this old confession of ours in light of a new and (for the Reformers) unimagined situation. Who could have known that some Protestants in another country would want to maintain some of the Roman Rites that the Lutherans had rejected, albeit separate themselves from the Roman church proper? And who knew that these Episcopalians would one day be close enough to the Lutherans in America that they would seek full table fellowship, full communion?

And who amongst us, including the clergy, really understands why issues of ecclesiology have to be central to the arguments around full communion? Isn't the unity of the table established by the one who instituted it, so that, we could just as easily say that the unity of the church is dependent not on pure teaching and right administering, but on the unity of Christ himself. Inasmuch as Christ is one body, so the church is one body that will indeed remain whole, catholic, and inviolate forever.

The issue remains, that Christ promised to be present in the preaching of the Word and the administering of the Sacraments, and just so, it is important for the church to always clarify how these two things have both symbolic and real unity through time and space. It remains ironic that the AC article on the unity of the church has become the basis for its division, an issue over which a stunning number of words have been spilled.

No comments:

Post a Comment