27 December 2008

Congregational Catholicity, Pastoral Practice, and Episcopal Ecclesiology

The catholicity of the Church comprises two aspects:

(1.) It is the unity of doctrine and fellowship, of teaching and practice, which is shared by all the congregations of the whole Church in every time and place; and,

(2.) It is the fullness of the one Church in each congregation, in each time and each place, wherever the apostolic doctrine of Christ is faithfully received and handed over in teaching and practice.

The locus of this catholicity is the preaching of Christ and the administration of His gifts. That is why the Church, properly speaking, is the whole communion of those believers in Christ among whom the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered in accordance with the Gospel. Wherever there is this faithful preaching and hearing, this faithful giving and receiving of the Gospel, there is the Church, the one Body of Christ.

The catholicity of any given congregation is therefore both inward and outward. On the one hand, the Church in each congregation is fully self-contained and self-sufficient in the local Ministry of the Gospel; because it is Christ Himself who speaks and acts in that Ministry. On the other hand, the Ministry of the Gospel does not belong exclusively to any one congregation; because it is the sacred tradition of the one Lord Jesus Christ, handed over to His holy Apostles and to each succeeding generation of His Church on earth. Because a congregation lives from that Ministry, and is the Church because of that Ministry of the Gospel, it belongs to the fellowship of every other congregation that lives from that same Holy Ministry.

The fellowship of the Church catholic is the shared participation of the means of grace. To have pulpit and altar in common is not merely a consequence of Church fellowship; it is the fellowship of the Church. For as the Church lives in the preaching and hearing, the giving and receiving of the Gospel, so does the fellowship of the Church reside in the mutual administration of the Gospel. This fellowship is not parcelled out in bits and pieces, nor by degrees, but is whole and complete in the common preaching of the one Lord, the common teaching of the one faith, the common practice of one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and the common administration of the one Bread, which is the Body of Christ, and the one Cup, which is the New Testament in His Blood. Many other things may differ between congregations, whether in their temporal circumstances, their pious customs or ceremonies, without impinging upon the catholicity and fellowship of the Church. But differences in the preaching, teaching and administration of the Gospel are a breaking of the Church's fellowship on earth.

The catholic faith is not divided, nor can it be, but the Church on earth is, on account of sinful human fraility and mortal weakness. Thus, the fellowship of the Church on earth is necessarily marked and measured by the outward confession of the catholic faith, that is, by the preaching and teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the administration of the Holy Sacraments. Differences in this outward confession divide the fellowship of the Church on earth, so that the integrity of the catholic faith may be clarified, and that the erring may be corrected and called to repentance. Since the heart of the faith is the Gospel, and Christ is the Savior of sinners, we do not conclude that the heterodox are damned; but precisely for the sake of Christ and His Gospel, neither do we encourage or embrace the outward confession of heterodoxy. Rather, we share the fellowship of the means of grace with those who share with us the outward confession of the catholic faith in teaching and practice.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is a fellowship of congregations ostensibly sharing a common confession of the catholic faith. The polity of this synodical fellowship was formed, historically, on a congregational basis. That arrangement demonstrates a real understanding of catholicity, in recognizing the wholeness of the Church in the life of each local congregation, and in the mutual cooperation of those congregations as fellow members of the one Body of Christ. The synodical membership of congregations collectively and of pastors individually, and the suffrage of both congregations and pastors in the governance of the Missouri Synod, rightly acknowledges that the Church comprises both preachers and hearers of the Gospel. That the official leadership of this polity is vested in men ordained to the Holy Ministry is appropriate, given that the pastors of the Church are responsible for the administration of the Gospel, which is the foundation of the Church and the basis for the fellowship of congregations in the Church.

Unfortunately, the autonomy of congregations within the fellowship of the Missouri Synod has increasingly meant an independence of spirit and practice. At the same time, the "advisory" role of "the Synod" has become increasingly legalistic and heavy-handed, as confidence in the Word of God appears to have waned and the unity of our confession in teaching and practice has been stretched and strained. The political representation of both congregations and pastors often seems to be a competitive balance of powers, almost adversarial, instead of the harmonious concord of preachers and hearers. Suffrage in general has been driven by partisan propaganda, rather than emerging out of the lived catholicity of the Church in the practice of congregations. The "pastors" who administrate the polity of our synodical fellowship have been ordained, but, with few exceptions, they are no longer pastoring the Church with the means of grace; they are not attached to any one pulpit and altar; and they are not regularly preaching and teaching and administering the Gospel. Sadly, that is also the case with most of our seminary professors. As a consequence, the leading "pastors" of our synodical fellowship are functionally removed from the beating heart of our catholicity, where the Church lives and the fellowship of the Church resides. That is not to fault those men who are presently serving in such offices, but it is a fault of the current LCMS polity.

Church fellowship is pulpit and altar fellowship. It is the fellowship of real bishops, that is to say, of parish pastors who are called and ordained to the oversight of particular congregations. When a pastor communes the member(s) of another congregation, it is because he is in fellowship with the pastor of that other congregation; which means, or ought to mean, that he preaches and teaches and practices the same confession of the catholic faith. Likewise, when a pastor preaches from the pulpit of another pastor's parish, he does so within the fellowship of their common confession, as a sharing of pastoral care and catechesis; for that is what preaching is.

The polity of our synodical fellowship ought to be connected, at ground level, as closely as possible to that real life of the Church in local congregations. It should therefore be structured along the contours of pastoral fellowship in the catholic faith, in service and support of pastoral practice. Such a polity would rightly begin with the mutual conversation and consolation of brother pastors serving congregations in close proximity.

The current arrangement of circuits in the LCMS is generally quite sound, and the monthly meeting of circuit pastors would be a fine starting point for synodical structure and governance. In that comradery of real bishops (parish pastors), a mutual consensus should be reached to identify one as an overseer of the rest. We have that now in the office of circuit counselor, but there is a lack of clarity and consistency in the way that office is understood and exercised. Although the circuit counselor is more-or-less chosen by his colleagues (whether by consensus or compromise), he then functions officially as an agent of the District President, so his relationship to the circuit ends up being from the top-down, instead of from the ground-up. But the special strength of the circuit counselor is that he (not always, but usually) continues to serve as a full-time pastor in his own parish; he remains a real bishop of the Church in that place. His humanly arranged oversight of colleagues is informed by the exercise of his divinely given pastoral vocation.

Now, the circuit overseers within a larger region might identify one of their number to serve as their overseer and representative; and, in turn, those regional overseers might identify one of their number to serve as their overseer and representative; and so on, and so forth, perhaps as many as three or four levels of oversight.

Each of these overseers should continue to serve his pastoral office as a real bishop of the Church in a particular place, that is to say, as the pastor of his own congregation. At some level of oversight, it is likely that a pastor would not be able to serve a parish on his own while also serving the larger synodical fellowship. Even then, instead of becoming a "full-time" politician, he should still be attached to the particular pulpit and altar of a local congregation, where he would regularly serve as a minister of the liturgy in cooperation with the parish pastor, and, as time permits, regularly preach and teach, visit the homebound and hospitalized, and administer the holy Sacraments. In such a case, his income would be covered, in whole or in large part, by the synodical fellowship, so as not to be a burden but a benefit to the local congregation. It would not need to be a large congregation. The point is that an overseer of brother pastors should remain actively engaged in parish life and pastoral practice. The same thing is true of seminary professors. It wouldn't be necessary for the parish service of these men to be extensive, nor should it be excessive, but only regular and consistent, a genuine service and a real participation in the life of the Church. A fine example is provided in the case of my dear friend and colleague, Pastor Grobien, who serves as an assistant pastor of Emmaus in South Bend while pursuing his full-time doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame. Such arrangements can be made to the mutual benefit of both the pastor and the congregation, without unduly burdening either.

The most important "oversight" within this sort of synodical polity would not be that which requires "full-time" attention at a district or national level, but that of the circuit overseer. His "political" function, so to speak, would be to foster collegial fellowship with and among the circuit pastors and to facilitate the discernment of their conciliar wisdom pertaining to pastoral practice and the Church's confession of the catholic faith. Every other level of synodical oversight would build upon this pastoral foundation.

The role of the laity in this polity would be exercised, first and foremost, in the relationship they actually have, by divine arrangement, with their own pastors. For it is precisely in that relationship of the faithful with their own pastors that the Church catholic is embodied and lives in the form of the local congregation. Pastors do not constitute the Church by themselves; preachers and hearers belong together in Christ, as the Gospel belongs to faith and faith to the Gospel. (That is why every man ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry should be attached to a particular pulpit and altar.) This relationship of pastors with the people of God is not a competition, nor should it be contentious, but is the very concord of Christ and His Church.

As pastors are called to serve the Church within their divine vocation as Ministers of the Gospel, so are the laity called to serve within their own respective vocations. This works well in the life of a healthy parish, and there's no reason it can't work on the larger scale of synodical politics. The members of sister congregations within a circuit, for example, ought to cooperate in planning and putting into practice the common efforts of the "synod in that place." That should be happening more than it does. Especially with respect to legal and financial considerations, and in the Church's work of mercy in the world, the laity are often much better positioned and equipped than most pastors to carry out the responsibilities of the Church's earthly life. That is true at every level of a synodical fellowship. As they are fully members of the Church, the laity ought to be fully involved in developing, authorizing, and undertaking such enterprises, whether in part-time or full-time capacities. Not in competition with the pastors of the Church, nor as a "balance of powers," but as a stewardship in cooperation with the pastors.

In sum, the polity of our synodical fellowship ought to be congregationally structured and pastorally governed. That is simply to say that our polity, however it may be formed in the freedom of faith, ought to grow out of the preaching and hearing, the giving and receiving of the Gospel. It ought to concern itself chiefly with that Ministry of the Gospel. It ought to be always returning us (and calling others) to that life of the Church in the pure fountain which flows from the riven side of Christ, our Lord.

34 comments:

Pr. H. R. said...

Thanks, Rick, for yet another considered, lucid, and thought-provoking piece.

What you have described is essentially a turning back the clock. . . to say the third century. For what you have described is a crystalization of a moment in the historical development of the monarchical episcopate. It started as one pastor serving a parish gaining the trust of his colleagues and being asked by them to oversee and execute the decisions of local councils.

So a good question to ask might be: why did that keep on developing? What was found lacking in this arrangement by the church of that era? How can we avoid the pitfalls that led to the abuses of the medieval episcopate?

[As a side note: Here is a fascinating article describing the rise of the medieval episcopate from the parish pastor with wider authority to the non-parish serving official chosen by the local clergy and people (the Chapter) to the church-hopping official appointed by the pope alone: http://faculty.cua.edu/Pennington/BishopsDioceses.htm]

But the larger question that your essay leaves unanswered is the great bugaboo of discipline. How would this work? In the historical example of the sort of polity you recommend, local councils gave guidelines for how the local bishop should deal with various cases: if a parish pastor does this, then the overseer does that - with "that" usually being defrocking or excommunicating.

Is that the sort of authority you envision for these local bishops? For example, should a pastor of the circuit refuse to come to meetings or adapt his administration of the Sacrament of the Altar to the conciliar wisdom of the circuit with the overseer at its head - what can the overseer do? Warn and rebuke - of course. But if there is no change in behavior - can the overseer remove him from office or excommunicate him?

If, no - well, then, I think that will leave us where we are. I love and respect my overseers (both circuits and DP) - but there are those in my circuit and district who don't. . . for them, these men do not even have moral authority. To put it another way: there is no universally respected man in my circuit. Waiting for a national or regional polity to coalesce around a score of instances of personal moral authority and character will be a long wait, indeed.

If, yes - if the local overseer can excommunicate and defrock - well, then that changes our current polity quite a bit indeed. . .

Now, saying "yes" to the above does not answer the question of process and method. We need not make petty dictators to have order and discipline. I think a good long look should be had at how the Presbyterians organize themselves. Their presbyteries seek both to keep discipline and to protect themselves from the arbitrary use of the authority of one member of the clergy. They have both enforcement of their conciliar decisions by the officer of the presbytery, and due process (which provides collegial oversight of the overseer) for those he seeks to discipline.

Add an answer to that constellations of questions that is as lucid and persuasive as what you have already written and I think you will be well on your way to making a viable proposal for an improvement of our current ecclesiastical order.

+HRC

Carl Vehse said...

"That is why every man ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry should be attached to a particular pulpit and altar."

One advantage of this is that such a pastor will have to devote time to the care of his congregation and have less time to devote to increasing the synodical corporate bureaucracy.

One disadvantage is that such a move makes it easier for the synod to slide into an episcopist structure. With ordained men serving as fulltime corporate executive officers, they cannot rightfully claim the title of (arch)bishops, or some episcopist title.

Another concern is whether the congregational association of the synod executives would end up similar to an emeritus pastor status, with all of the apparent authority, but little or no real congregational responsibilities.

I prefer maintaining the corporate synod structure (because the synod is not a church) with fulltime synodical and district executive offices filled by qualified pastors elected for 1 to 2 terms, who then returns to a congregational call and another pastor is elected to serve in such a position for a similar limited number of terms.

Carl Vehse said...

How does the term “catholicity” relate to the Lutheran doctrinal understanding of the invisible or visible church?

Chris Jones said...

How does the term “catholicity” relate to the Lutheran doctrinal understanding of the invisible or visible church?

First of all, there is no "Lutheran doctrinal understanding of the invisible or visible church." Where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered, there -- and nowhere else -- is the Church. These notes of the Church are, by their very nature, visible; and therefore the Church which they denote is likewise visible. There is, in the Lutheran understanding, no such thing as an invisible Church.

There is, on the other hand, the understanding that conformance to the outward polity of the Church is not sufficient to indicate a given individual's genuine membership in the Church. But the fact that any given individual's true membership in the Church is hidden does not make the Church herself invisible: she is visible precisely in the right preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments.

The term "catholicity" refers to that mark of the Church which we confess in the Nicene Creed (and which is, therefore, part of the Lutheran Confessions) when we confess "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." Catholicity means precisely what Fr Stuckwisch says it means in this excellent post: the Catholic Church is the manifestation in a congregation in a particular time and place of the unity of teaching and practice with the Church of all times and places, and of the fullness of the Church in that congregation's particular time and place.

A congregation is "catholic" if and only if it is the local manifestation of the universal Church; and if the Church is manifest, then it is visible. There is no invisible Church.

The ecumenical Creeds are the foundation of the Lutheran Confessions, and any reading of the Confessions which is contrary to the Creed is un-Lutheran and heterodox. To read the Lutheran Confessions as teaching an invisible Church is a denial of the Nicene Creed's confession of the doctrine of the Church.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Curtis,

... the monarchical episcopate ... started as one pastor serving a parish gaining the trust of his colleagues and being asked by them to oversee and execute the decisions of local councils.

This is a convenient theory (for us Lutherans), but I do not believe that it is supported by the available historical evidence.

In the "monarchical" episcopate envisaged in the Ignatian epistles, there is one bishop in one city because there is one congregation in the one city. As the Church grew, and it was no longer possible for all Christians in a given polis to worship as a single congregation, there was nevertheless still the conviction that the "local Church" was the Church of the polis, even though it could no longer consist of only a single congregation. The solution was not for the pastors of multiple Churches to select one of their number to serve as "bishop" (as if "bishop" were a new office devised by the Church), but for the bishop of the one Church of the polis to delegate the ministry of the (newly multiple) congregations to his presbyteral council.

Thus it is not the "monarchic bishop" that is the innovative institution, but the division of the local Church (still, as before, defined as the Church "sojourning" in a particular polis) into multiple congregations, each with its own "parish pastor." "Monarchic" in this context means, of course, not "regal" but "one principle" (monos arche) of unity in the local Church. Both before and after the change to multiple congregations in a city, that "one principle" of unity was the one bishop. In that sense there was never a "development" or "crystallization" of the monarchic episcopate.

Carl Vehse said...

First of all, there is no "Lutheran doctrinal understanding of the invisible or visible church."... There is, in the Lutheran understanding, no such thing as an invisible Church.

Oops! Wrong answer, Chris! Sometimes that comes from wading into the Tiber or Bosporus, or reading too much Loehe.

Try again!

Pr. H. R. said...

Mr. Vehse,

I'd encourage you to read the article I linked to above - it's a scholarly, though efficiently short, summary of the history of the development of the office of bishop from parish pastor to the strange beast that was the late-medieval episcopate - and still largely exists in the Roman church.

I think my characterization of that development is as accurate as a short characterization can be - seen Pennington for the details.

+HRC

Chris Jones said...

Dear Fr Curtis,

I suspect your last comment, though addressed to Mr Vehse, was intended for me (since it addresses points that I, not Mr Vehse, raised).

... the article I linked to above [is] a summary of the history of the development of the office of bishop from parish pastor to the strange beast that was the late-medieval episcopate

I did read Dr Pennington's article, which I found interesting and informative. It does not, however, address the divergent historical models of the development of the so-called "monarchic episcopate" that I discussed in my comment -- because it does not cover the historical period during which the critical transition from "bishop as congregational pastor" to "bishop as overseer of multiple congregations" took place. This period may be described (roughly) as that between St Ignatius of Antioch (early 2d century) and St Augustine of Hippo (early 5th century). Dr Pennington's article is concerned, on the other hand, with much later developments, in the Western Church only,in the eleventh century onwards.

In particular, nowhere in his article does Dr Pennington assert (as you did) that the monarchic episcopate arose as the result of the elevation, by a group of co-equal pastors, of one of their own to a position of oversight. Indeed, the period during which the Church changed from the model of "one bishop -- one city -- one congregation" to the model of "one bishop -- one city -- many congregations (each pastored by a presbyter)" is passed over in silence in Dr Pennington's article.

Dr Pennington does note (quite rightly) the close association of the bishop with the civitas and surrounding pagus in the "primitive Church" (though he tellingly leaves vague exactly what period of Church history is denoted by the phrase "primitive Church"). But the bulk of his article is devoted to the development of the role of bishops in the early second millennium, centuries after the emergence of the so-called "monarchic episcopate."

I think my characterization of that development is as accurate as a short characterization can be - see Pennington for the details.

I respectfully disagree, because your characterization of [the] development, with its portrayal of the bishop as one "raised up by his fellows," is (in my opinion) fundamentally wrong and historically insupportable. And we cannot see Pennington for the details, because Pennington provides no details for the period in question -- instead focusing on quite different developments a millennium later.

Chris Jones said...

Mr Vehse,

Wrong answer, Chris!

That is your opinion, Mr Vehse. My views may be the result of "wading into the Bosporus" (which would come as no surprise to those who know my personal history) but that does not make them wrong.

Your views, on the other hand, seem to be the result of using the early history of the Missouri Synod and the conflicts between the partisans of Walther and Loehe as the lens through which all of Church history is read, and through which our Creeds and Confessions are interpreted. This idiosyncratic reading of Church history does not, in my view, lead to correct results.

But that, of course, is only my opinion.

Carl Vehse said...

Chris Jones: My views may be the result of "wading into the Bosporus" (which would come as no surprise to those who know my personal history) but that does not make them wrong.

Chris, you need to cleanse yourself of the Bosphorus stench.

Your views, on the other hand, seem to be the result of using the early history of the Missouri Synod and the conflicts between the partisans of Walther and Loehe

In the meantime, your heretical views are thoroughly refuted by that great Waltherian, Martin Luther, who noted somewhere:

"We do not concede to the papists that they are the church for they are not. Nor shall we pay any attention to what they command or forbid in the name of the church, for, thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd. So children pray, 'I believe in the one holy Christian church.' Its holiness does not consist of surplices, tonsures, albs, or other ceremonies of theirs which they have invented over and above the Holy Scriptures, but it consists of the Word of God and true faith."

... or you can learn from a seven-year-old Lutheran.

Robert said...

Mr. Vehse,

You should show better manners in dealing with your spiritual elders! Or else, you may be confused with that other Vehse, Carl Eduard, who was amiss both in theology and manners.

Btw, the Luther quote is sadly abused by the use that you want to put it. Luther is speaking about the papacy as not being the Church, not that anything and everything that isn't a congregation is, as you put it, in no way the church. You are just plain mistaken in this conclusion of yours (and, sadly, of others).

Cordially,

Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP
Falcon, Colorado
reformationalist@gmail.com

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Schaibley,

1. To which “spiritual elder” are you referring?

2. In your unsubstantiated and denigrating remark about Dr. Vehse, in what way, particularly with respect to the doctrine of the invisible church for which the Protestation document presented Statement 7 (“The church is not bound by locality, time, personage or anything external, but only to confession of Christ and faith in him.”) and Statement 8 (“The true church, which we confess as the invisible church, is not to be superstitiously identified with the visible church.”), do you feel Dr. Vehse was amiss both in theology and manners?

3. In providing Luther’s quote from the SA, I did not state, imply, or conclude that “anything and everything that isn't a congregation is, as you put it, in no way the church.” By such an accusation you publicly distort, pervert, and bear false witness to what I did say. Is such an accusation an example of the “better manners” which you cordially encouraged me to show?

Pr. H. R. said...

Mr. Jones,

Sorry for the confusion on whose comments I was addressing!

The argument between us seems to be this. Did the office of one bishop with almost total authority over many clergy arise from one clergyman delegating his unitary authority to many (your position) or from many clergymen raising up one of their fellows to have oversight over the college (my position).

Your view of history hinges on the assumption that one church in one city meant one pastor with supreme authority who later had to appoint delegates as the church grew.

I do not believe this is borne out by the earliest evidence we have: see Acts 20 and the Ephesians elders - note the plural. And note that they are, in accord with the universal practice of the NT - also said to be overseers.

So we have the one office of the presbyter-episcopus exercised collegially at the beginning: that is, there is more than one elder/bishop in the small church in Ephesus right from the beginning.

I think this evidence fits my theory better than yours. Your theory would seem to expect one head elder-bishop at Ephesus who later needed to appoint others to carry on ministry. However, this early evidence shows that at least in Ephesus there were many clergymen all with the same title, and from what we can ascertain from Paul's comments to them, all with the same duties exercised collegially right from the start as well.

And this same pattern is certainly borne out by Pennington's evaluation of the later history (concerning which we have much more evidence) where clearly the power of the bishop was centralized away from the chapter. Again, the diffused authority of the many was centralized: I believe this was history repeating itself as the church once again grew in complexity.

As for Ignatius, he's tough to hang one's hat on. The perennial discussion of the authenticity and date of the long and short recensions is not about to go away and has only heated up again in the last decade of early Christian studies(for example see here: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=75&pid=8873).

But if the seven letters are authentically from the second century, they still do not prove that the central authority of the one bishop came first, as per your theory.

An alternative evaluation of the evidence would run as follows. In Magnesians 9-10 Ignatius
mentions the fact that there are all kinds of folks who have a
"bishop" and call him such but they don't treat him like one. This is evidence from a hostile source that the term "bishop" was in fact widely used for the clergy as a whole and that not every church was by any means following the pattern advocated by Ignatius.
Rather than being an innovation - this was probably the norm. It is Ignatius who is vociferously arguing for an innovation: the centralizing of all clerical authority ("let nothing be done without the bishop's notice") under one man.

In any event, however each one of us decides upon these historical questions we are now quite far afield from Fr. Stuckwisch's original post - and I'm eager to get back to looking forward to solutions to our own problems. . .
Where are you, Rick?

+HRC

Pr. H. R. said...

That should be Magnesians 4, not 9-10. . .

+HRC

Robert said...

Rev. Schaibley,

1. To which “spiritual elder” are you referring?

Mr. Vehse, or whoever you really are -- I am referring to your sarcastic treatment of pastors. Is that clear? [Side bar: Nothing grinds me more than the refusal of professional Democrats to call George Bush "Pres. Bush." I find Obama a horrid choice, but, come 20 Jan 09, I will call him "Pres. Obama," for the sake of his office. Get my point? End Side Bar]

The pastors on Four and Twenty Blackbirds all participate here as part of their exercise of the pastoral office. That calls for regarding them for the sake of their office -- and sarcasm is not how one does that. Btw, Dr. Vehse, the one born in 1802, exhibited the same lack of regard for the nature of the office.


2. In your unsubstantiated and denigrating remark about Dr. Vehse, in what way, particularly with respect to the doctrine of the invisible church for which the Protestation document presented Statement 7 (“The church is not bound by locality, time, personage or anything external, but only to confession of Christ and faith in him.”) and Statement 8 (“The true church, which we confess as the invisible church, is not to be superstitiously identified with the visible church.”), do you feel Dr. Vehse was amiss both in theology and manners?


Even heretics are correct some of the time (not particularly calling Dr. Vehse a heretic, here). As for Dr. Vehse, he was wrong on issues that continue to plague us to these very day as a Synod, and I would not have been shedding a tear, were I part of the Saxon migration when Vehse went back to Europe.


3. In providing Luther’s quote from the SA, I did not state, imply, or conclude that “anything and everything that isn't a congregation is, as you put it, in no way the church.” By such an accusation you publicly distort, pervert, and bear false witness to what I did say. Is such an accusation an example of the “better manners” which you cordially encouraged me to show?f


I shouldn't have used the quotation marks, for that was not an exact quote, but it was the thrust of your comment. So noted, I will stand by what I wrote. If it has harmed you, Synod gives you a process to deal with that harm. Go for it!

Cordially (and btw, Mr. Vehse, I never use "cordially" in a disingenuous way, nor do I hide behind pseudonyms -- sadly, it shows: you do!),

Robert.

Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP
Falcon, Colorado
reformationalist@gmail.com

Steven A. Hein said...

Perhaps, our Lutheran confession concerning the oneness (unity) of the Church, can get at this issue of its revealed catholicity. Conceptions of a “visible” as opposed to an “invisible” Church as articulated by several American Lutheran fathers has not very helpful in understanding the true character of the Church as confessed in the Lutheran Symbols. The division between “visible church” as distinct from “invisible church” creates a false notion that there are two churches, but only the invisible one is genuine. This conception falsely denies the revealed character of the One true Church of Christ. Rick and Chris have eloquently identified the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments as the particular locus where the One Church of Christ is both catholic and revealed. These are very visible aspects (marks) OF the true Church. They are not to be understood as mere symbols or signs that just point to the presence of the Church. That is, they are of the essence of the true Church’s catholicity, unity (oneness), and apostolicity. The Church’s catholicity and unity recognize that the Church is an assembly or association in the sense of a fellowship or communion of faith, but faith understood in a dual sense - the faith by which we believe (fides qua, internal unity, and catholicity which is hidden in the heart), and the faith which we believe (fides quae, the pure Gospel as proclaimed and administered in the sacraments). The former is hidden, but the later is quite revealed.

Ap VII, VIII intertwines a discussion of both aspects of the Church and its unity. It is "an association of outward ties and rites" and (mainly) "an association of faith and of the Holy Spirit in men's hearts." (Ap VII 5) The reference to "ties and rites" is specifically equated with the visible marks of the Church, "the pure teaching (doctrina) of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments in harmony with the Gospel of Christ." (Ap VII 5) Notice the dual character of this assembly/fellowship/communion in the language of CA and the Apology VII and VIII. CA VII calls the Church “the assembly (congregatio) of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely (pure) and the sacraments are administered rightly (rechte). Notice in this description, the Church is an assembly defined according to what goes on in its midst. It is understood as an assembly that fellowships in the pure Gospel and rightly administered sacraments. This definition then follows with a statement about the Church’s unity which again references the Gospel and sacraments. Excluded are ceremonies instituted by men. The Church is an assembly that fellowships in its one Faith (fides quae), that is the Gospel as it is proclaimed and administered in the sacraments (pure and rechte). Note the language of CA VIII and the Apology. “Properly speaking, the Church is the assembly of saints and true believers.” The Church is “mainly an association of faith and of the Holy Spirit in men’s hearts.” (AP VII, 5) Here the Church is again being spoken of as an assembly of saints, but now they are equated with true believers who mainly make up an association of faith (fides qua) and of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Thus AC and Ap describe the Church as an assembly/association in the Gospel and Sacraments (fides quae) and an association of faith (fides qua) in the heart. This is One Church - hidden and revealed - not two churches, invisible and visible.

Steven Hein

Carl Vehse said...

”I am referring to your sarcastic treatment of pastors.”

Rev. Schaibley, would you be a little more specific? In my discussions above on the doctrine of the invisible church, what are the names of the pastors I have treated sarcastically?

”Dr. Vehse, the one born in 1802, exhibited the same lack of regard for the nature of the office.”

In addition to your previous unsubstantiated (and false) accusation, you now make another unsubstantiated accusation, which is also demonstrably false. In his Protestation document, Dr. Vehse writes under Statement 39, About the call and office of the preachers in general:

Since we have been reproached for having in view only the rights of the congregation and not of the clergy in our six theses, we shall here profess ourselves for that which Walch has to say in his Christian Ethics, p. 639ff about rights of teachers. The rights and duties of teachers are (1) to teach (and this function includes advising, professing, admonishing, reproving, comforting); (2) power to administer the sacraments; (3) to forgive and to retain sins (where there is no controversy).

The authority of teachers then is not temporal but spiritual, --and this is the entire scope of the rights of teachers, as given to them by God.

All authority given to the clergy is for edification and not for destruction (2 Cor. 10:8 and 13:10). The clergy are not to boast and to rule over others, but to administer divine gifts and favors to sinners for their need and welfare, their comfort and salvation. Hereof Luther writes very well in his tractate on the Keys, Jena ed. VIII, 251b "Est beneficium, non dominium"


A few years later, in his first presidential address to the Missouri Synod in 1848, C.F.W. Walther stated essentially the same position:

Accordingly there can be no doubt, venerable brethren in office and respected delegates, that we are not renouncing any right belonging to us if we as servants of the church and as members of an ecclesiastical synod claim no other power than the power of the Word….

Can we, therefore, my brethren, be depressed because we in our American pastorates are endowed with no other power than the power of the Word and especially because no other power has been granted to this assembly? Most assuredly not. This very fact must arouse us to perform the duties of our office and to carry on our present labors with great joy… How could we lust for a power which Christ has denied us, which no apostle has claimed, and which would deprive our congregations of the character of a true church and of the true apostolic form?


Rev. Schaibley: "I shouldn't have used the quotation marks, for that was not an exact quote, but it was the thrust of your comment."

You didn’t use quotation marks; nor was your false accusation the thrust of my earlier comment.

"So noted, I will stand by what I wrote. If it has harmed you, Synod gives you a process to deal with that harm. Go for it!"

Rev. Schaibley, the deception and ill manners expressed in your responses above do not harm me; but they do serve to display your character to the internet world. As for issues that continue to plague us to this very day as a Synod, there is evidently one for which Dr. Vehse was correct in opposing – Stephanism.

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Hein wrote: ”Conceptions of a ‘visible’ as opposed to an 'invisible' Church as articulated by several American Lutheran fathers has not very helpful in understanding the true character of the Church as confessed in the Lutheran Symbols.”

To the contrary, the use of “visible” and “invisible” are indeed helpful in the Lutheran (including the Missouri Synod) understanding the true character of the Church.

Scripture makes it clear that the true holy, Christian Church is made up of all true believers and is hidden, or invisible, to all but known by God (e.g., Luke 17: 20,21; John 10:14; Rom.10:9,10; 1 Cor. 4:5; Col. 3:3,4; 2 Tim. 2:19).

As for Ap VII 5, it should not be taken out of context of the entire Article, which clearly distinguishes between membership in the true Church, the body of Christ, and membership according to outward rites:

12] Although, therefore, hypocrites and wicked men are members of this true Church according to outward rites [titles and offices], yet when the Church is defined, it is necessary to define that which is the living body of Christ, and which is in name and in fact the Church [which is called the body of Christ, and has fellowship not alone in outward signs, but has gifts in the heart, namely, the Holy Ghost and faith].

16] Besides, the Church is the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of the devil… 17] If the Church, which is truly the kingdom of Christ, is distinguished from the kingdom of the devil, it follows necessarily that the wicked, since they are in the kingdom of the devil, are not the Church; although in this life, because the kingdom of Christ has not yet been revealed; they are mingled with the Church, and hold offices [as teachers, and other offices] in the Church.

19]… Christ also speaks of the outward appearance of the Church… He teaches that these godless men, although they have the fellowship of outward signs, are nevertheless not the true kingdom of Christ and members of Christ; 20] for they are members of the kingdom of the devil.

22]… Just as Lyra also testifies, when he says:
The Church does not consist of men with respect to power, or ecclesiastical or secular dignity, because many princes and archbishops and others of lower rank have been found to have apostatized from the faith. Therefore, the Church consists of those persons in whom there is a true knowledge and confession of faith and truth. What else have we said in our Confession than what Lyra here says [in terms so clear that he could not have spoken more clearly]?

For the Lutheran Confessions, Bjarne W. Teigen, in “The Church in the New Testament, Luther, and the Lutheran Confessions” (Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 42:4, Oct. 1978, p.389) states: “[I]t may be quickly discerned that the terms "invisible" and "visible" are not used in the Book of Concord, but they are found among the later dogmaticians. It is the position of this paper that the dogmaticians, the Book of Concord, and the Luther are in doctrinal agreement on this point despite differing terminology.

From early in its beginning (if not all the way back to Dr. Carl Eduard Vehse's 1839 Protestation document, or C.F.W. Walther's 1841 Altenburg Debate), the Missouri Synod has made its doctrinal understanding of the "invisible Church" known in Theses III - VII, IX, concerning the Church (C.F.W. Walther, Church and Ministry, trans. by J.T. Mueller, CPH, St. Louis, 1987, pp. 38-158).

For example, Walther quotes Luther (Comment on Galatians 5:19, Halle Edition, 8:2745): "Therefore we rightly confess in the Creed and say: 'I believe a holy Christian Church.' For it is invisible and lives in the Spirit at a place to which no one can come." [p.41], and Chemnitz (Loci theologici, part 3, p.117): "The true and holy church of the elect nevertheless remains invisible" [p.43], and John Gerhard (Loci thologici, 'De ecclesi", par. 151): "When we say: 'I believe one holy Christian church,' the word 'believe' shows clearly that we speak of the invisible church, which is proved also by the added adjective 'holy' [p.43], and many other Lutheran theologians (Meisner, Mentzer, Huelsemann, Dannhauer, Calov, and Quenstedt) are quoted similarly.

John Theodore Mueller also discussed the "invisible Church" in his Christian Dogmatics (CPH, St. Louis, 1934), in the chapter on "The Doctrine of the Christian Church": A. The Church Universal (pp. 541-562), including Section 2, Erroneous Doctrines Concerning the Church, (pp.543-546) and Section 3. The Properties of the Christian Church (pp. 547-549). Mueller states:

“It is obvious that all who err with regard to the distinctive doctrines of the Christian religion must err also with respect to the doctrine of the Church. Of all the errors concerning the Church the foremost is that the Church is an “outward polity” (externa politica, “aeusserliche Polizei,” “Heilsanstadt”) “of the good and wicked” (Apology, VII [VIII], 13ff.), to which persons are joined by their external membership.

“Closely related to this error, which pertains to the essence (forma) of the Church, is that regarding its purpose, namely that the Church is a “society for the sanctification of its members” or that it is an organization whose object is to save souls by means of good works. These basic errors are not incidental, but rather the result of the rejection of the fundamental Christian article of justification by grace, through faith.” [pp. 543-4]

Later, Mueller re-emphasized:

"All who affirm that the Church is either wholly (papists) or partly (modern Lutheran theologians) visible destroy the Scriptural concept of the Church and change it from a communion of believers to an 'outward polity of the good and the wicked'”. [p.547]

In their "Chapter IX: Four Decades of Expansion 1920 - 1060" (Moving Frontiers, edited by Carl S. Meyer, CPH, 1964), Thomas Coates and Erwin L Lueker also point out that in 1929, the Missouri Synod rejected as a basis for union with the Ohio, Iowa, and Buffalo Synods theses whose language "enables the opponents to retain their old doctrine of a visible side of the Church." [p.417]

From 1851 through 2001, the Missouri Synod in convention has passed fifteen doctrinal resolutions that specifically refer to the Church as invisible, deny that the Church is visible, or adopted theses or statements that make the same statements about the Church. In the 2001 resolution C.F.W. Walther's book, The Voice of Our Church on the Question of Church and Ministry was re-affirmed as the definitive statement under Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions of the Synod’s understanding on the subject of church and ministry and as the official position of the LCMS, including Thesis III - “The church in the proper sense of the word is invisible.”

The continuing angst and objection by some in the Missouri Synod over the term, "invisible Church", is in no small degree related to the continuing infatuation with the heterodox views of Wilhelm Loehe, a German theologian who erroneously held that the Church was primarily a visible institution. (A Century of Grace, Walter A. Baepler, CPH, St. Louis, 1947, p.144).

Pr. H. R. said...

Mr. Vehse,

I wonder if you agree or disagree with this statement from Pr. Hein:
"Rick and Chris have eloquently identified the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments as the particular locus where the One Church of Christ is both catholic and revealed. These are very visible aspects (marks) OF the true Church. They are not to be understood as mere symbols or signs that just point to the presence of the Church. That is, they are of the essence of the true Church’s catholicity, unity (oneness), and apostolicity. The Church’s catholicity and unity recognize that the Church is an assembly or association in the sense of a fellowship or communion of faith, but faith understood in a dual sense - the faith by which we believe (fides qua, internal unity, and catholicity which is hidden in the heart), and the faith which we believe (fides quae, the pure Gospel as proclaimed and administered in the sacraments). The former is hidden, but the later is quite revealed."

That looks pretty good to me - and I don't see it contradicting any of the quotations your produced from Gerhard et al.

If you don't like it merely because you insist on the term "invisible" and are offended that Pr. Hein prefers to use "hidden" and "revealed" - well, then, that seems to me to be the very definition of logomachy.

+HRC

Steven A. Hein said...

Carl Vehse Wrote:

“To the contrary, the use of “visible” and “invisible” are indeed helpful in the Lutheran (including the Missouri Synod) understanding the true character of the Church.

Scripture makes it clear that the true holy, Christian Church is made up of all true believers and is hidden, or invisible, to all but known by God (e.g., Luke 17: 20,21; John 10:14; Rom.10:9,10; 1 Cor. 4:5; Col. 3:3,4; 2 Tim. 2:19).

Let me try one more time, and let’s begin with your citation: For the Lutheran Confessions, Bjarne W. Teigen, in “The Church in the New Testament, Luther, and the Lutheran Confessions” (Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 42:4, Oct. 1978, p.389) states: “[I]t may be quickly discerned that the terms "invisible" and "visible" are not used in the Book of Concord, but they are found among the later dogmaticians. It is the position of this paper that the dogmaticians, the Book of Concord, and the Luther are in doctrinal agreement on this point despite differing terminology.”

In response:

I am certainly not disputing Teigen’s observation. It is my contention, however, that when the tradition in American Lutheranism followed some of the terminology of the 17th century dogmaticians, it tended to restrict the discussion about the essence of the Church - its unity and catholicity - to the issue of “who” are its members, and whether or not (and it is “not”), Rome’s ecclesiastical polity should be included. Missouri Fathers with the experience of Stephan also were able to see that an Episcopal polity is also not of its essence. More difficult for some was understanding that all forms of church government and polity are jure humano – even congregational and synodical forms. When the Church in any particular time or place happens to find itself under an ecclesiastical polity that is not serving, but rather is hindering the free course and advancement of the Gospel (even should the polity be synodical or congregational), it has, by divine right, the authority to make whatever changes are necessary to preserve and promote the free course of the Holy Ministry of the Sacred Things. (see Tr)

We all agree that, strictly speaking, the Church is only made up of those who have true saving faith in the heart (fides qua) and we agree that true faith in the heart is not manifest to the Church Militant (hidden, invisible). To make sure that their students got the point, Walther and the Missouri tradition decided to contrast the one, true Church (in terms of its members), with the external membership rosters of the external ecclesiastical organizations and employed the term “visible churches” by contrast to describe them – hence the notions invisible/visible attached to discussions about what the Church is, and is not. And yes, Walther was certainly correct to oppose the idea, as does the Lutheran Confessions, that matters of church government and polity are not of the essence of the Church’s unity or catholicity.

But, it is my contention, along with several contributors of this thread, that the question about “who” strictly speaking are members of the Church does not exhaust the subject of its unity and catholicity. The adjectives in the Nicene Creed – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic describe elements of the essence of the Church that require us to consider “what” it is, not just “who”. Rome charged the Lutherans with doing violence and sundering the unity (oneness) and catholicity of the Church when it rejected Roman polity and government as divinely established (jure divino), and when it deviated from Roman ecclesiastical dictates in Canon Law for the sake of the faithful discharge of Holy Gospel Ministry. The Lutherans countered Rome in CA VII, VIII and Ap VII, confessing that the Church’s unity (what the Church is) and catholicity (how the Church is whole and complete) should be understood as essentially a fellowship (yes, just of true believers) of faith in the dual sense that I outlined in my last post. I have not taken Ap VII 5 out of context. When it confesses that the Church is “mainly an association of faith and the Holy Spirit” in the heart, the word “mainly” does not mean “only”. Ap VII 5 confesses that it is also “an association of outward ties and rites.” This is also an essential aspect of the Church’s unity and refers to the fides quae – the pure teaching of the Gospel and the Administration of the Sacraments. This external, revealed aspect of the Church’s unity is explicitly explained (as opposed to faith in the heart) in Ap 31: “We are talking about true spiritual unity, without which there can be no faith in the heart nor righteousness in the heart before God.” Ap 33 clarifies: “. . . so we believe that the true unity of the Church is not harmed by differences in rites instituted by men . . .” And we might add, it is not harmed by differences in Church polity either. Therefore, when the “what” of the Church is confessed as a fellowship, assembly, association (communio, congregatio, societas) of true believers, it is confessing that the association is constituted by a oneness of faith understood as the hidden faith in the heart (mainly), and the revealed and manifested Gospel faith that is purely proclaimed, taught, and administered in the sacraments (the outward ties and writs). Hence once again, it has a hidden (OK invisible) element, and a revealed aspect to this singular fellowship. I have hesitated to use the Word “visible” because of its limitations. The pure Gospel and right use of the Sacraments are not limited to the sense of sight: they are also revealed, in part, to hearing and the other senses of touch, taste, and even smell.

It is my conviction that the reason that the Confessions give the fellowship of faith in the heart the greater import (they use the term “mainly”) over against the revealed faith in the Ministry of the pure Gospel in Word and Sacraments is that the latter will be no more in the Church Triumphant. The Ministry of the Gospel is only a constitutive element of the Church’s unity in the soon-to-be-over Church Militant. But in the Church militant, as Melanchthon indicates and AC V and in Ap 31, there can be no true believers without the Ministry of the Gospel. And, “no”- true believers are not necessary for there to be a faithful discharge of the Gospel and sacraments. Hypocrites and false believers will be OK. And as Jesus indicated about proclamation on one occasion . . . stones will do just fine as well.

Please, if you would like to take issue with what I am saying about what the Church and her unity ARE, please indicate where I am mistaken. But, please do not simply repeat and string quotes from our Lutheran fathers about WHO belongs to the Church and the fact that it has been popular to use the term “invisible” to indicate our inability to distinguish them from hypocrites and false believers who also gather around her marks. Those here who are trying to expand our awareness and appreciation of the Church’s unity and catholicity understand these things already.

Thank you.

Steven Hein

Steven A. Hein said...

Correction of:

"And yes, Walther was certainly correct to oppose the idea, as does the Lutheran Confessions, that matters of church government and polity are not of the essence of the Church’s unity or catholicity."

I got caught up with a double negative: It should read:

"And yes, Walther was certainly correct to oppose the idea, as does the Lutheran Confessions, that matters of church government and polity are of the essence of the Church’s unity or catholicity."

SAH

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks to everyone who has commented thus far. I've enjoyed and appreciated the input, and the give and take, despite the fact that I've not had opportunity to respond to any of the conversation. As things now stand, there's more to address than I'll be able to cover in a single comment at this point. I beg your patience, and I welcome your further feedback, comments, questions, constructive criticism, and even witty repartee, if it is offered in a friendly fashion.

On the matter of discipline, Pastor Curtis, you are correct that this is fundamental to the point and purpose of Church polity and oversight. It seems to me that it would be carried out as close to the circumstances as possible. Differences between pastors and/or congregations within a circuit, for example, would best be dealt with on the circuit level, whereas disagreements between pastors and/or congregations of different circuits would presumably be dealt with on a broader level. Discipline within the synodical fellowship would entail a severing of fellowship; which is really a matter of excommunication with respect to the remaining members of the fellowship. "Defrocking" would occur in cases where the congregation remains faithful to the same outward confession of the faith, but it's pastor does not.

The problem you describe, that it may be difficult in many cases to find an overseer agreeable to the mutual consensus of brother pastors in a given region, betrays the fact that our present political fellowship is out of sync with a true fellowship in the catholic faith. That is to say, pastors and congregations within our synodical fellowship are now divided by disagreements in their outward confession of the catholic faith in their teaching and practice. What that indicates is that discipline should be happening but isn't. It isn't a challenge to the sort of polity I have proposed, so much as it is an indictment of our present polity.

This already begins to touch upon a point I want to take up, but which will have to wait until I have a little more time: namely, what "the Missouri Synod" is, or ought to be, in relation to the Church catholic. Part of the argument in my original post is that our synodical polity is an ordering of our Church fellowship; which would suggest that a "synod" embraces both what is fundamental to the Church's life on earth and what is free and incidental to that life. If that is not the case, then our sharing of pulpits and altars should not be aligned with our synodical membership.

More later, as my time permits.

Pastor Olson said...

"A fine example is provided in the case of my dear friend and colleague, Pastor Grobien, who serves as an assistant pastor of Emmaus in South Bend while pursuing his full-time doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame. Such arrangements can be made to the mutual benefit of both the pastor and the congregation, without unduly burdening either."

I don't know all the details of the arrangement with Rev. Grobien so please do not take this question personally.

I have seen this done before and the question that arose had to do with whether or not it is proper for a congregation to extend a call to a man who will be splitting time between university studies and a Divine Call to feed Christ's sheep. Problems also arise in terms of what will happen once Rev. Grobien receives his degree. Will he continue on as an assistant pastor? This then raises the question of the creation of a temporary call.

I believe this creates confusion wrt the OHM and the connections you so eloquently make to altar and pulpit.

My .02

Pr. Jon C. Olson

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Although I'm still not in a position to respond to other comments, I want to answer Pastor Olson's questions concerning my colleague, Pastor Grobien.

I'm not sure what the question or concern is regarding the splitting of his time between university studies and the congregation. He certainly is not slacking in either respect, but he was called, specifically, to the position of Assistant Pastor, with more limited duties, by design, than a full-time "Senior" Pastor has. Perhaps I am missing the point to the question, but my perspective is that this has not only worked agreeably and well on all sides, but that it presents an ideal model for the way that ordained men who are stationed in full-time activities other than preaching and administrating the Gospel may yet be "ordered" to a particular pulpit and altar.

As far as what will happen when Pastor Grobien completes his studies, he will continue to serve as the Assistant Pastor at Emmaus until such time as he is called to another station of service in the Church. We have not played fast and loose with the Divine Call or the Office of the Holy Ministry. We are trusting that the Lord will provide for both His Church and His servants and their families.

In my own case, I was called and ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry in 1996, as the full-time and only pastor of Emmaus, while I was still in the process of my doctoral studies. Serving the parish was my first priority, and that significantly slowed down my academic progress. I wouldn't necessarily recommend that "gig," because it was a lot to manage, and it was a sacrifice on my family's part, especially toward the end of my dissertation. But, on the other hand, being rooted in a parish prevented my academic studies from detaching me from the life of the Church; and, by the same token, I believe that my continued theological studies have assisted me in being a faithful pastor of Christ's Church.

What I'm suggesting, and what my colleague beautifully exemplifies, is not a "token" Call, nor an arrangement of strategic "convenience," but a genuine Call to a particular pulpit and altar. In my opinion, an ordained man should be so attached to a particular parish, even if his preaching and administration of the Gospel is limited by the demands of other offices given to him by human arrangement. Even regular assistance with the liturgy is a significant way of participating in the actual life of the Church.

Pastor Olson said...

Thank you Rick for your explanation of how to understand Rev. Grobien's situation.

As I said, I am not casting aspersions on anyone(you, Emmaus or Gifford) I only am trying to understand more fully these sorts of unique situations.

What are your thoughts concerning sem profs and a Call to a particular altar/pulpit?

Say hello to Pr. Grobien for me.

In Christ,

+JCO

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

Hi, Pr. Olson.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

No problem here, Pastor Olson. Your questions are appropriate and helpful.

You'll have noticed that Pastor Grobien received and returned your greetings.

Regarding seminary professors, I don't intend to be presumptuous with my suggestions. I understand the need for and the benefit of full-time theological study, and I have always maintained that the preparation of future pastors also belongs to the Office of the Holy Ministry. I do believe, however, that it would be feasible and highly beneficial for each of the professors to be attached to a particular pulpit and altar, to the life of a particular parish, where he would serve regularly, even if his preaching and other parish duties were quite limited. I think it would be good for the professor, good for the congregation and the synodical fellowship, and good for the seminary students, as well.

What I am envisioning is, perhaps, something like the flipside of what occurs when a full-time parish pastor serves the synodical fellowship in some "part-time" capacity. For example, many of us who served on the Lutheran Hymnal Project (no small endeavor) are full-time parish pastors. Pastors also serve various offices within the polity of the Synod, in some cases rather extensively. A conscientious circuit counselor or a district vice president typically serves his own parish while contributing a fair amount of time to his synodical office and its duties. What I am suggesting is that a full-time seminary professor of synodical official could similarly assist in a part-time capacity within a parish. Some of those men already do so, I realize, but I believe it should be the regular norm. Serving a congregation shapes a man in the means of the Gospel, in a way that almost nothing else can.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Mr. Vehse (?), you've offered quite a lot for all of us to think about, and I appreciate your interest, your comments and questions. I'm afraid I am not yet able to respond as fully and completely as I would like, and as I intend, but for now some preliminary remarks.

Having pastors serve only a term or two in synodical office, and then returning them to parish life, would be a "next-best-option," in my opinion. We have ended up with too many "career politicians," which is not healthy, neither for those men nor for the Church they serve. I don't say that maliciously, but I do think it is a shame. A pastor should be regularly engaged in preaching and administering the Gospel.

I question and challenge this frequent assertion that "synod is not the Church." I understand that the political structures and governance of "The LCMS, Inc." are not the Church, nor of its essence. However, the members of the Missouri Synod, that is to say, the pastors and congregations, are the Church; and I would maintain that the fellowship of those pastors and congregations with one another in the outward confession and practice of the catholic faith is also an embodiment of the Church catholic, properly speaking. The way in which that fellowship is ordered and arranged is free and incidental to the actual identity and life of the Church. Yet, even the way in which that freedom is engaged and exercised is not inconsequential. There are forms of polity that are more or less helpful to the fellowship of the Church. I have tried to suggest that the most appropriate form of polity would be one in harmony with the true fellowship and catholicity of the Church in the administration of the means of grace. That's the sort of model I was aiming at in my initial post.

What I've suggested does not simply tend toward an episcopal polity; it is an episcopal form of Church government, by intention. I'm not at all opposed to such a form, so long as it is churchly and rooted in the pastoral office, rather than bureaucratic and rooted in temporal authority. So on that point I disagree with you.

Any form of polity is subject to abuse, and I believe we have seen that in our current LCMS circumstances. The answers are not ultimately political; polity is not the heart and soul of the Church. But Church politics ought to serve and support the Ministry of the Gospel and the life of the Church in the means of grace, rather than competing and conflicting with that true catholicity of the Church on earth.

I'll have to take up your questions concerning "visibility" and "invisibility" in a subsequent comment.

wmc said...

As Hermann Sasse notes, church polity is a genuine adiaphoron over which Walther and Loehe should never have divided. What is written in the original post is quite sound. Our historic aversion to a pastoral (ie episcopal) form of government is without Scriptural or Confessional warrant.

"On this matter we have given frequent testimony in the assembly to our deep desire to maintain the church polity and various ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, although they were created by human authority" (Apology XIV.1; Tappert, 214).

I shall forward to the discussion of "invisible" and "visible." Please try to keep the OP under 500 words.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Snatching a few minutes betwixt and between to offer some initial thoughts and comments on the "visibility" and "invisibility" of the Church.

I prefer to follow Dr. Luther and the Holy Scriptures in speaking of the Church's hiddenness, rather than "invisibility," though I do not believe these terms are precisely synonymous or interchangeable (notwithstanding the way in which they are used). That which is invisible does not need to be hidden; but God hides Himself in Christ the Crucified, and in the means of the Gospel, for the sake of revealing Himself; that we might be drawn by those things that are seen to the love of those things which are not seen.

The hiddenness of the Church is the hiddenness of Christ, her Head. The truth of Christ and His Church is revealed by the Word of the Gospel (as St. Paul and St. John in particular declare), and it is recognized by faith in the Gospel. It is the Word, the voice or sound of Christ and His Spirit, which manifests His presence in the external means of grace. The world sees the same thing on the outside which the Christian sees, but where the world is blinded by sin and unbelief, the Christian is able to see by faith the mystery of the Kingdom of God. Christmas and Epiphany revel in this revelation of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, who has brough life and immortality to light through the Gospel.

I agree that one can speak correctly of a distinction between the Church's "visibility" and "invisibility." I acknowledge that the later Lutheran dogmaticians did so. Interestingly, Wilhelm Loehe also works with these categories in his Three Books About the Church; so an aversion to the terminology cannot be fairly laid at his feet. Nevertheless, while this distinction can be made correctly, I am not convinced that it has been so helpful. I share Prof. Teigen's concerns that the terms have too often been used, whether consciously or unwittingly, to identify two different churches. For that reason, among others, I prefer to speak of the Church with different terms and distinctions.

In any case, the "invisibility" of the Church describes not so much the Church herself as it denotes the invisibility of faith in the heart, by which alone an individual belongs to the body of Christ. Thus, we cannot discern the true members of the Church from the hypocrites who dwell in the temple of God on earth. The weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest; the good and bad fish are both caught up in the net until the final sorting at the end of the age. Yet, the field and the net are not invisible. We know what and where the Church is. Because the Church depends upon the Word of Christ, not upon the faith of any number of individuals.

The distinction here belongs to the fact that the Gospel-Word and Sacrament remain the work of God and the gift of Christ, even when preached and administered by wicked and hypocritical ministers. The heart of the man cannot be perceived with certainty, but the office and work of the Ministry of Christ can be identified, and so also the Church, where and when that office and work are found. Where Christ Jesus is, there is the Church, which is His Body and His Bride. Where His Gospel is preached and His means of grace administered in His Name, in accordance with His Word, there is the Church; even if not a single person in a given place, or at a given time, were to hear and receive these gifts in faith.

This is why the catholicity of the Church -- with respect to the life of the Church in each congregation, and with respect to the fellowship of congregations in the means of grace -- is marked and measured by the outward confession of the catholic faith. There is, indeed, an "invisible" fellowship of faith, even across confessional lines; but we are not given to deal with faith or the Church on the basis of what is invisible to us in the secrets of man's heart. Rather, we relate to one another in the Church -- as individual Christians, as pastors, and as congregations -- on the basis of outward confession, the external teaching and preaching of the catholic faith. In doing so, we are dealing with the Church in truth, even if the individuals we encounter are untrue.

With respect to matters of polity, by which the fellowship of the Church on earth is ordered and arranged in the freedom of faith, that can only be dealt with on the basis of outward confession of the faith. Or, if one desires to speak in these terms, polity pertains to the "visible" Church. But that is a very different thing than declaring that "synod is not the Church." To take that position is, I fear, to fall into the very trap that Prof. Teigen warns against. We should be able to distinguish between what is free and what is fundamental, without dividing the Church herself between her outward life in the external means of grace and her "invisible" membership roster.

This is already more than 500 words, and I'm out of time for now, anyway. Perhaps there will be comments and questions from others, which may help to clarify my thinking and expression, and assist in moving the conversation forward.

William Weedon said...

I think the hiddenness of the Church is because chiefly in Scripture she is viewed from an eschatological perspective - and this appears also in our Symbols. Not enough attention is paid to the singular of "congregatio sanctorum." She is ONE gathering of "aller Gläubigen" and thus not in pieces. That's why Dr. Hein was so right on with the "marks" not being incidental. They mark the presence of that VISIBLE assembly as partaking of the ONE invisible/hidden assembly that will be the Church revealed at the end of all things.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Stuckwisch,

In any case, the "invisibility" of the Church describes not so much the Church herself as it denotes the invisibility of faith in the heart, by which alone an individual belongs to the body of Christ.

My point exactly.

The heart of the man cannot be perceived with certainty, but the office and work of the Ministry of Christ can be identified, and so also the Church, where and when that office and work are found ... This is why the catholicity of the Church ... is marked and measured by the outward confession of the catholic faith.

Very well put indeed, Father. If the terms "visible" and "invisible" were always used with such clarity, and with such respect for concrete and objective ecclesial realities, then I should never feel the need to object to those terms.

Rem acu tetegisti.

wmc said...

Well said, thou good and faithful servant!

Visible and invisible (better - hidden and revealed) are two sides of the same Una Sancta. The Church in its essence, that is, our union with Christ through faith, is a hidden mystery (as in mysterion, not as in riddle). Hence we confess, "we believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church." What is revealed (visible) of the Church are the divine marks of recognition (Kennzeichen) by which the Triune God denotes this or that gathering (even as few as two or three) as His Church in her fulness.

There is no such thing as an "invisible church" over an against "visible churches." That notion is pure Augustinianism - the visible "church of the called" vs the invisible "church of the elect" running in the way of signum/res signata, an error into which many a Lutheran has unwittingly slipped.

William Weedon said...

I should also have added my commendation to Rick for such a well-thought through piece. Thank you for sharing those insights, my brother.