03 October 2009

I am not the Church

I am well aware that I can annoy, if not cause worry to some, with my constant push towards individual freedom as regards many individual practices in a person's private life. On many personal issues I will take a "broader" tact - what Scripture does not forbid cannot be forbidden of the individual. I hold this stance without shame or fear for I believe it is Scriptural - just as I will also say that I cannot command you to show love within your own life in a certain way of my choosing. As Christians we may advise, counsel, and suggest - but we cannot bind another when Christ has not bound, we cannot exhort what Christ has not exhorted. I would argue that to do so violates the 4th commandment even, for it does not respect the personal authority that the individual has in managing his own affairs -- a respect for authority isn't just a respect for those in authority over you, but also those who are in other "chains of command", as it were.

However, I know this "libertine" approach causes great frustration to so many solid men and women, and I think I understand why it does so, especially in today's climate within the Church. I saw the same language used as a defense of tomfoolery in the Church. The contemporary worship crowd will cry freedom, the emerging crowd will cry freedom; on and on the call for freedom goes as regards mucking around with the Church. "I'm going to do ______ because it's all for the 'sake of the gospel', and I am free to do so." I have no desire to focus on the whole "sake of the Gospel" idea right now - that deals with whether or not something is wise (which is where the debate ought to be before anything is done) - but rather I will focus on one simple fact that people miss when they abuse the gift of freedom this way.

Yes, Christ as set me free, but I am not the Church.

In my sphere, where my actions are my actions and are dealing with me and mine, I am free. If Scripture does not bind, let no one bind me as regards my life, what I eat or drink. If God does not forbid, let no one forbid me as regards my headship over my family. If Scripture does not say "Thou shall not", let no one tell me "Thou shall not" as regards my affairs. And likewise, if I assert such false authority upon my own neighbor, "anathema sim"!

But it's not "my Church" in the sense that I have ownership over it or control over it - its the Church to which I belong.

The Church is much larger than the individual member, individual pastor, or individual congregation. As such, we (as members, pastors, or congregations) do not have personal freedom in the Church. The Church is a corporate entity, not a personal freedom and as such, we cannot act outside of what the whole has established as proper practice.

Again, consider the parts of Scripture where our Lord or Paul speak to freedom - Freedom is never spoken of corporately. Freedom does not mean one can ignore the government (which you are under - rather obey it, even if it kills you), it does not mean you are free to do whatever you wish in the Church (Paul instructs quite often on Church behavior, which should demonstrate that). Rather, freedom is always focused on the individual.

The Church is a Body, not an individual. What I do in my house is one thing - and to a certain extent it does impact other families so I should exercise care and caution. . . however, just because "Jenny's parent let her do _________" doesn't mean that I will have to let my daughter do the same. My actions do not bind another. But this does not hold true in the Church. What you do at your congregation affects me, because in reality your congregation is MY congregation, and my congregation is your congregation. The Church is One. Therefore, what you do directly impacts me and everyone else, and your freedom individual is no excuse to foist tom foolish tyranny upon me and everybody else.

So let us bear the distinction between personal freedom and membership in a body. Membership in a body always curtails individual freedom (indeed, now that I am married, I do not have the freedom I once did... which means I should probably wrap this up and get some chores done) and you have no right or freedom to willy nilly impact the body to which you belong on your own whims and thoughts and desires.

Let the individual, as regards himself, enjoy the freedom God has given him, without others trying to run his life for him; however, let the Body do what the Body as a whole confesses to be in accordance with Christ's Word and to be meet, right, and salutary.

A Christian must act to show love within the bounds of freedom that Christ has established. A catholic Church must do catholic practices. Let not the topic of freedom be so confused that it is denied to the former or foisted upon the later!


Kathy said...

Where in the Bible does it say that everything you need to know is in the Bible?

Did Jesus give the 12 apostles a book and say, "Now, go and preach This. Everything you ever need to know is in this Book."

Don't think I recall ever reading that.

But I have read, "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter."

Also, "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written."

You won't be able to read those passages the way the true Catholic Church reads them b/c you're wearing your Protestant lenses. Remove them sometime and really open your heart and you'll start seeing the Truth.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Did Jesus give the 12 apostles a book and say, "Now, go and preach This. Everything you ever need to know is in this Book."

He didn't do it in that way, but a simple biblegateway search on "scripture" will show you that Christ and his apostles held scripture had the authority of God. In fact, the Bereans were complimented for having searched the Scriptures to make sure what Paul was saying jived with them (Acts 17:10-11). See also 2 Tim 3:10-17.

Thus whatever comes out of your open heart (get a surgeon! :) ) must fall in line with the inspired testimony of God. In fact we must be doubly careful not to say what God has not said, ex cathedra or not. This would be the equivalent of Jeremiah 28:8-9.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Jesus did not tell us to preach the Bible. However, as Paul notes, we are to preach Christ and Him Crucified. And as John, whom you cite, points out, while Jesus did many other things (so many things they cannot be written down), these things that are written down so that we may see that Jesus is the Christ, and believing in Him have life in His name.

You can't run with the ending of John 20 and 21 as an appeal to extra-biblical tradition as John is saying, "This here is good enough for what you need."

Kathy said...

Rev. Brown said: "You can't run with the ending of John 20 and 21 as an appeal to extra-biblical tradition as John is saying, "This here is good enough for what you need."

Not to be too argumentative, but who says I can't think that? I thought the Bible was open for interpretation.

I read that John is saying, "There's so much more to what Jesus taught than can fit in this book."

Which one of us is right? Who's to decide? We can't all run free with God's Holy Word; we need an AUTHORITY to tell us what God meant.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


When there are two competing interpretations, first there needs to be a matter of which one is truer to the words presented. I would contend that the emphasis from John is not on how much more wonderful stuff there is that you should seek out to find, but rather that his Gospel has what is needed. An interpretation which does violence to the text is a faulty interpretation.

Also, one should consider how the rest of scriptures teach on the matter. Repeatedly you have the Apostles appealing to that which is clear, public knowledge contained in their writings. First, consider John himself. He authors 4 more books of Scripture, yet in these he teaches and explains either about Christian living, or he shares the revelation given to him at the end of his life from Christ in Revelation. At no time does he try to speak to these extra "things" which you cite, even though he had ample opportunity. Hence, I do not think we can say that these extra things to which John refers are things which we ought to seek out.

If John himself is not enough, let us consider the founders of the Church at Rome. Paul says that anyone who goes beyond the Gospel he taught be accursed (even if an angel from "heaven" should do so!). He describes those who leave the Gospel to follow what others teach as being "bewitched". While Paul may wish to expand teaching and explanation, there is no point where he intimates that there is more that a Christian needs to know beyond the things that are written. If he does not wish one to be ignorant of something, he writes it (1 Thess 4:13).

Likewise, Peter in his first epistle treats the things of the faith as that which has been revealed (1:10-12) and which has been preached to you (1:25). More over, there is not an attitude of more which needs to be revealed, but an attitude that the end is near (1 Peter 4:7).

This nearness comes forth even more in 2 Peter. Consider 1:12-16, which reads:

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Again, note how Peter, even facing his own death and the fact that soon he would not be able to physically share with them knowledge not already written down makes no appeal to other sources. He does not say, "Don't worry, Linus has the lowdown." He says - this is what you need.

Hence, I will say that your usage of John contradicts John's intent, yet if that does not sway you, it also runs contrary to the words given us by the dual-founders of the Church of Rome. I would hope that this is authority enough.

If I have erred in my usage of Scripture - if you can convince me that my interpretation does violence to what God is saying through the text, by all means, correct and instruct me. We are not "free" to say Scripture means whatever we wish it to mean. Rather we must speak in accordance with the memoirs of the prophets and apostles which they themselves left for us to guide those of us who would remain past their time in these last days until the return of our Lord.

Kathy said...

Okay, the Bible as we know it was not around for first couple hundred years of the Church. They were going by tradition, no?

Then the Bible was compiled (by the Catholic Church, for the Catholic Church) and was read to the people for another century or so.

Then along comes a priest with his own issues. Instead of dealing with the hierarchy, as screwed up as they were (shoot, look at some of the Bishops today. that alone is testament to the fact that the Holy Spirit runs the Church, not the men) and trying to make changes the right way, Luther goes off on a tangent and starts his own church.

Now, another 500 years later, here you are arguing for Solo Scriptura which is completely silly since no where in Scripture does it say that the Bible alone is all you need.

I can't argue Scripture with you. You've had tons more schooling then I have, but what I do have is the knowledge that I'm not smarter than St. Polycarp, St. Justin Martyr, St. Ignatius, etc., etc. They were Catholic and by the grace of God I was lucky to be born into a Catholic family.

You all have so much more to get over then I did and when you do see the error that is Lutheranism, I'm sure your reward will be that much greater in Heaven.

I'm really not trying to irritate you. I'm only Catholic b/c my parents gave that to me. But I hate to see really smart, God loving men like you be starved from the Sacraments simply because you've missed out and have been taught some false ideas.

I'm off for Mass in a little bit. I will remember all the Blackbirds while I'm there.

God bless you guys.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

We are sadly close to agreement - I will agree that Ignatius and Polycarp and Justin were indeed catholic -- it's just that I would argue for the past 800 years or so the Church of Rome has not in fact been catholic anymore, for they now teach as truth that which neither Ignatius or Polycarp or Justin or Ireneaus had received. Which is the utter shame of it all.

Chad Myers said...

@Rev. Brown: I'd like you to back up some of your comments about Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, etc.

They describe a practice of the faith that is far closer to the current practice of the Roman Catholic tradition and the Orthodox traditions than any Protestant tradition including Lutheranism (though Lutheranism is certainly closer than the Evangelical/Baptist/Presbyterian/etc).

From veneration of Mary to the belief in the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary (which IIRC, Luther believed in) not to mention the ever-virginity of Mary (which I do recall Luther asserted), to the Eucharist being a TRUE Sacrifice and the full, real bodily presence of Christ in the properly-consecrated Eucharist, etc.

It's clear that the early Church fathers were very Catholic and that the practice of the Christian faith is largely unchanged in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Masses. St. Polycarp would feel very at home in an Orthodox, Easter Roman Catholic or Latin Trinidentine Mass and would denounce Protestant worship services as heretical or as merely prayer services devoid of the proper worship involving a sacrifice (which has throughout human history always involved a sacrifice of some kind).

I suggest you listen to a podcast called "Were the Church Faters Catholic?" as these topics are addressed far better than I could ever do:


Also or instead I suggest you read "The Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words" by Rod Bennett:

If you're willing to read it, I would be happy to buy this book for you and have it shipped to any address you tell me. You can email me directly at [first].[last]@gmail.com where [first] and [last] are Chad Myers

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The Father do speak of the supper being a sacrifice - in the same way that prayer and thanksgiving are a sacrifice - a matter of offering up thanks.

Rome now claims that the Eucharist is propitiatory - which goes beyond the way in which the term is used in the Early Church (or else Rome ought say that our thanksgiving is a propitiatory sacrifice as well).

As such, I will say that Rome, by at least 1215 and the 4th Lateran Council, attached a foreign and uncatholic meaning to this topic and the usage of the word "sacrifice" which I am rightfully horrified by, as would the Fathers.

+ + + + + + + + + + + +

And can I ask a question? What in my post brought the Romans out with avengeance? What in the post would bring forth a firm defense of the "Roman" faith on a post that was not:

a. Attacking a Roman position.
b. Directed towards a Roman audience.
c. On a blog full of Lutheran pastors.

I was thinking there might be some discussion on this - I hoped to generate thought - but not along the "you are just dirty protestant" lines. It just strikes me as somewhat odd. Ah well.

Kathy said...

No one called anyone a dirty Protestant. Maybe ill-informed, but not dirty :)

As for this "Roman" (I prefer Papist), the title alone got me. When I hear "the Church", I hear Catholic Church. Then you went right into "what Scripture does not forbid cannot be forbidden ". Solo Scriptura frustrates the heck out of me.

As for the blog being full of Lutheran pastors, you're right. I have no reason to read this blog, but I found it somehow and enjoy reading the posts. Some however fire me up as I am forever baffled how Protestants can not see that they are off course. The Catholic Church is THE Church. That's not pride saying that either, it's just fact.

I may pop in to read this blog from time to time. If you don't like my comments, block me or just ignore me.

Oh, and Chad's right about the Sacrifice of the Mass. What was one of the huge themes of the Old Testament? Sacrifice. God taught us how He wants to be worshiped from the beginning--Cain and Able. A Sacrifice needs a priest and the Lutheran religion doesn't have a valid priesthood.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Brown,

With respect to the original point you were making:

You make a strong distinction between the individual and the Church. And yet within the Church there are no "individuals," but only "members." Unfortunately even the word "member" has been emptied of its meaning in our modern individualist culture; it has come to mean only an individual who has an accidental affiliation with an organization (where that affiliation is an arms-length relationship rather than an organic connection). But (as I am sure you know) in the New Testament a "member" is an organic part of a living body. It is anything but an arms-length connection, but is an ontological, essential bond that cannot be broken. Apart from that organic connection, the member ceases to be what it is.

In short, being "in communion" with the Church is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. Given that, I am not sure what sense it makes even to speak of the "freedom of the individual."

The power of binding and loosing was given to the Apostolic ministry. And that power is given not so that the Church may "interfere" with the life of the individual, but for the salvation of the members and the building-up of the body. The Apostle tells us that while all things are lawful, not all things are profitable; and the cure of souls given to the Apostolic ministry includes helping the members of the body to discern what is profitable and what is not, to guard their salvation and prevent damage to the body.

For our part as lay faithful, we are to obey those who have been given the care of our souls, and the requirement of obedience makes no sense if our pastors do not have real authority. In my experience (at least while I have been Lutheran), so far from any danger of binding what must not be bound, pastors have been unwilling and unavailable to act as genuine spiritual fathers to the faithful.

At best I think your concerns are misplaced.

Chris Jones said...


The Catholic Church is THE Church. That's not pride saying that either, it's just fact.

With respect, I do not think that it is as simple as that. The Catholic Church does have a tradition and an historical continuity going back to the Apostles' time, and that gives you a powerful historical argument. But other Churches besides yours have the same historical continuity and the same tradition; but only one can be THE Church. Tradition and historical continuity are not, by themselves, enough to establish which Church is THE Church.

To show that yours is THE Church, you not only have to show the history and the tradition, you also have to show that, over all of those centuries, your Church really has maintained the same teaching and the same practice that the Apostles handed down. We Lutherans are hardly the first Christians to say that the Catholic Church has not, in fact, done that.

Your comments on this blog demonstrate that your understanding of what Lutherans believe and teach is not very accurate. In fact, I think Fr Brown's knowledge of the teachings of your Church is much better than your understanding of the teachings of our Church. In particular, Lutherans do NOT claim that "the Bible is all you need." We already understand that the Church existed before the New Testament was compiled; we understand that it was the Church that recognized the sacred writings for what they were and put the New Testament together; and we know that the teachings of the Church were handed down by oral tradition before the New Testament was published (and after that as well).

But knowing all of that does not change the fact that the New Testament is a concrete connection with the Apostles themselves that can never be broken nor superseded. And it certainly does not change the fact that the Holy Scriptures are inspired in a way that no other writings are, and that they therefore have a higher authority than any other expression of the Church's faith.

"Scripture Alone" for Lutherans does not mean ignoring the history of the Church, the testimony of the Fathers, or the authority of the Creeds and councils. All of these testify to the faith given to us in the Scriptures, and we read the Scriptures in the light of all of that tradition and history. There are Protestants who would throw all of that away and try to create Christianity "from scratch" using only the Bible; but you will not find that sort of Protestant in the Lutheran Church. You must look elsewhere for those.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Thank you for your time in commenting - and I will agree with you that many pastors do not exercise the oversight that they ought. However, the failure of some to correct and instruct as they ought doesn't mean that a pastor who does wish to instruct should move beyond Scripture in his instructions.

Binding and loosing is to deal with sin. If something is not a sin, it cannot be rightfully bound -- so if a pastor binds that which is not sin, it does a much violence to the pastoral office as one who binds nothing.

And part of my point is that there is precisely a difference saying something isn't lawful and something isn't necessarily profitable. It's one thing to say, "This isn't wise" - it's another to say, "You cannot."

"You cannot" can always be responded to with a "show me". Show me where Scripture says I can't. "This isn't wise" forces the person to think, on the basis of Scripture, what the best use of action is.

And part of the reason why my concerns are "misplaced" is that we live in a day and age of wretched laxity. . . we need to tighten things up a bit. My concerns run counter to that. . .but simply because I fear an over-reaction. I do not want us be so disgusted by folks ignoring Scripture in terms of morals that we go beyond - I don't want us to be so disgusted with Contemp. Worship that we try to say "You cannot" with the liturgy instead of "don't you see what good you abandon for so little when you abandon the liturgy?" The latter is harder to counter or write off.

I wonder if in a generation I will be warning against over-reaction in the opposite direction.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


You write: Oh, and Chad's right about the Sacrifice of the Mass. What was one of the huge themes of the Old Testament? Sacrifice. God taught us how He wants to be worshiped from the beginning--Cain and Able. A Sacrifice needs a priest and the Lutheran religion doesn't have a valid priesthood.

You are right in saying that I am not an old testament priest. That is because Christ Jesus has brought the Old Testament to its fulfillment in His death, in His totally complete sacrifice for sin. The former priests have passed away - He alone remains, and He alone is sufficient for all. (Hebrews 8-9)

Now, I am a Minister who distributes the New Testament in His Blood, I am a Steward of His Mysteries, I am one who forgives sin (and can because He has been Sacrificed already, and no more sacrifice remains to be made for sin in these last days).

In this, I follow in the line of Peter himself, for I do as Peter was instructed by our Lord. I loose and bind, just as Peter was instructed. I feed the Lord's Sheep, just as Peter was instructed.

And I do not try to sacrifice for sins, for neither I nor Peter were instructed to do so - for the old has passed, the New has come. The Bridegroom has been revealed and we rejoice in His salvific presence for us.

William Weedon said...

After the heat of the Reformation struggles cooled a bit, Lutheran dogmaticians reapproached the matter of sacrifice and spoke in a more tempered way than in the first generation. I would commend their words, especially those of Gerhard and Hollaz:


In the celebration of the Eucharist ‘we proclaim the Lord’s death’ (1 Cor. 11:26) and pray that God would be merciful to us on account of that holy and immaculate sacrifice completed on the cross and on account of that holy Victim which is certainly present in the Eucharist…. That he would in kindness receive and grant a place to the rational and spiritual oblation of our prayer. (Confessio Catholica, vol II, par II, arti xiv, cap. I, ekthesis 6, 1200-1201)

It is clear that the sacrifice takes place in heaven, not on earth, inasmuch as the death and passion of God’s beloved Son is offered to God the Father by way of commemoration… In the Christian sacrifice there is no victim except the real and substantial body of Christ, and in the same way there is no true priest except Christ Himself. Hence, this sacrifice once offered on the cross takes place continually in an unseen fashion in heaven by way of commemoration, when Christ offers to His Father on our behalf His sufferings of the past, especially when we are applying ourselves to the sacred mysteries, and this is the ‘unbloody sacrifice’ which is carried out in heaven. (1204)


If we view the matter from the material standpoint, the sacrifice in the Eucharist is numerically the same as the sacrifice that took place on the cross; put otherwise, one can say that the things itself and the substance is the same in each case, the victim or oblation is the same. If we view the matter formally, from the standpoint of the act of sacrifice, then even though the victim is numerically the same, the action is not; that is, the immolation in the Eucharist is different from the immolation carried out on the cross. For on the cross an offering was made by means of the passion and death of an immolated living thing, without which there can be no sacrifice in the narrow sense, but in the Eucharist the oblation takes place through the prayers and through the commemoration of the death or sacrifice offered on the cross. (Examen theologicum acroamaticum, II, 620)

As dear Dr. Stuckwisch pointed out so aptly, Lutherans should have zero problem with sacrifice as noun in the Eucharist; it's when it is introduced as verb that the difficulty arises. I've written a little piece on this for any who are interested in the topic:


Chad Myers said...


I read your other post and it seems that most of the reformers were arguing against something that no one ever claimed.

Perhaps they were referring to the Catholic Mass, but their assertions of the Catholic Mass were incorrect. So it's unclear what they're "Reforming" unless it's a misunderstood Catholic Mass.

The Catholic Mass does not re-crucify or re-sacrifice Christ.

You have a quote: "In point of fact there has been only one atoning sacrifice in the world," -- this is exactly what Catholics believe, so it seems we are in agreement here.

"Worship" as God has taught the Jews and later Christians through Christ is properly offered with Sacrifice.

Unlike the Jews, however, we do not offer a new sacrifice every time, we offer the ONE Sacrifice to God over and over again, every Sunday. We RE-present the ORIGINAL Sacrifice to him. Christ said "this is my body". He said it BEFORE he was crucified, so we see that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not dependent upon temporal law. It was, is, and always will be present in the Eucharist -- the ONE body of Christ sacrificed ONCE for our sins as Paul says and as you quote the Reformers in your article.

The more I read about the Reformers and their teachings, and the more I read (especially) modern-day Lutherans, it seems they have reformed a non-existent Church and argue against a misunderstood shadow of the real teaching of the Catholic Church.

William Weedon said...


You leave out of your calculations that the Reformers reacted to how they were themselves taught about the Mass. Benedict XVI underscores this in his *Spirit of the Liturgy* - "It was the tragedy of Luther's efforts at reform that they occurred at a time when the essential form of the liturgy was not understood and had to a large extent been obscured." (p. 167) Luther reacts to precisely the exposition of the liturgy he learned as a priest! The interpretation he received alone explains why he treats the canon as he does.

It is a mistake to imagine that the Roman Church has always taught as she now does about the Eucharist and the sacrifice. Benedict admits as much.

Chad Myers said...


Be careful when you say "The Roman Catholic Church taught" or "the Church taught" or "the Church said".

This Bishop or even this Pope may say things off-hand or even in an official capacity but that does not bind the Church and it is not (in the Pope's case) necessarily infallible.

Many Popes have been wrong about many things, but these things were never the "teachings of the Church" (proper).

The Magesterium is what speaks the Truth of the Church, not the Pope, not the Cardinals, not the Bishops.

Benedict is saying that the truth which the Church has always taught since the very beginning (many of these teachings you can find expressed by St. Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, etc in the first century) where simply obscured and muddled by corrupt individuals (the human part of the church).

Indeed Luther had many reasons for redress here as the people Church Hierarchy had largely failed the faithful both in teaching and in action.

The true teaching of the Church, however suppressed it was at the time, was never confused or inconsistent. It re-emerged in the Councils of Trent when the leadership finally got back to being pious and serving people instead of themselves. The people/leadership in the Church and the teachings of the Church have largely been aligned since then (there were a few bumps along the way and there will be in the future).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


You write The true teaching of the Church, however suppressed it was at the time, was never confused or inconsistent.

You are speaking to Lutherans, to those who railed against the truth that was suppressed.

Trust me, if you look at someone who speaks against treating the Eucharist as a re-sacrificing of Christ and then say, "let him be cast out of the church, an outlaw, indeed, anathema sit". . . that really is a matter of confusion and inconsistency with the truth.

If Rome has improved on this regard (and I would think that to some extent they have - the discussions of the sacrifice of the mass are certainly not as coarse as they were at the time of the Reformation) - excellent.

However - the middle ages were pretty lousy. Rome needed reform, even Rome admits that. And in Luther, Rome crucified the messenger. And the fact that the anthemas still stand and I am under them. . . colors my approach.