29 April 2013

The Catholic Consensus of the Church

I've recently made passing reference to the "catholic consensus of the Church," but without offering any specific definition of what I mean by that, and without indicating what the "content" of that "catholic consensus" might include.  A brother in Christ has helpfully prompted me to give some further thought to this, and to comment on it.

In part, I have not been more specific regarding the "catholic consensus of the Church," because it seems to me that the contours of what that comprises continue to grow and develop in the actual life of the Church.  Even so, what I do have in mind, especially, is that we (pastors and congregations of the Church catholic) ought to begin with what we have received from the saints who have gone before us, and that we should then proceed to live and to pray, to serve and assist one another, in continuity with both the past and the present communion of the Church.  Some aspects of that catholic tradition would be more obvious than others, at least in my view, such as following the Church Year, adhering to the basic Ordo of the Mass, using a Chalice for the Holy Communion, confessing the ecumenical Creeds, using clerical vestments in the celebration of the Liturgy, and so forth.  Although such things are, in one sense, "adiaphora," forsaking them for some novel alternatives would not be without significance to the confession and life of the Church.

The "catholic consensus" becomes more "narrow," if that isn't a self-contradiction in terms, within the particular "families" and "jurisdictions" of the Church on earth.  Here what I have in mind are such things as our Lutheran heritage and identity, which would include the Catechisms and hymns of Luther, for example; and then also the particular "synods" or territories of the Lutheran communion (albeit that "Lutheran" has become a more ambiguous and amorphous term in the course of generations; I use it positively here).

I don't believe that it contradicts catholicity for there to be different "local customs, traditions, and practices," from one place to another; but I would assert and maintain that the defining locus for those differences belongs, not to each individual congregation or parish (although each place, as each pastor, will have its own personality), but to the larger fellowship of congregations within a geographical proximity to one another.  This is where I struggle for a greater clarity in my own perspective and thinking, and yearn for clarity and consistency, as well, in the life of the Church at large.  In contrast to the past, modern transportation and communication have, on the one hand, given us a global community, while, on the other hand, they often separate us from those who are, in fact, our real "neighbors" (those whom God has placed right next to us).

Within our Synod, our Districts, and our Circuits, for example, my sense is that many, if not most, of our congregations tend to live as islands unto themselves, and that our pastors (myself included) have as much or more interaction with our self-determined online circles of like minds and kindred spirits, than active fraternal conversation, camaraderie, and consensus with those who are closest to us in the particular "loci" where God has actually stationed us.  So, I would offer that the current pattern of doing things, and the current "status quo," is certainly not "the catholic consensus of the Church."

No comments: