Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Theology in the ELCA

Carl Braaten is a friend of mine. I lament that I did not have the opportunity to study with him while he taught at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Now, however, it is an honor to work with him in the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology which he co-founded with my teacher Robert Jenson and their spouses), and I have the opportunity to learn from in an atmosphere that is much less stressful than it would be if I were his student. Carl is brilliant, insightful, witty (although his wit is drier than the martinis I used to love), and deeply committed to the integrity and well-being of the Christian Church. He really has given himself, heart and soul and mind and strength, to the service of Christ's Church.

I was honored, therefore, to receive from him a copy of an "open letter" he sent to the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the denomination in which he and I reside. He raises some serious questions about the status of theology within our Church by focussing on the flight of numerous important Lutheran scholars into other faith traditions. I think his comments are bang on and deserve wide distribution. Therefore, I am taking him at his word and interpreting it broadly: I have permissioni to share this letter with anyone I want, so I am posting it, in its entirety, to this blog. Had I any standing within the Church, I would ask to co-sign this letter. So, as I promised in my very first post, I shall aggrandize myself by effectively co-signing it by posting it to my blog.

What follows is Carl Braaten:

An Open Letter to Bishop Mark Hanson
From Carl E. Braaten

The Reverend Dr. Mark Hanson
Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 West Higgins Road
Chicago, Illinois 60631

Dear Bishop Mark Hanson:

Greetings! I am writing out of a concern I share with others about the
theological state of affairs within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.The situation might be described as one of “brain drain.” Theologians who have served Lutheranism for many years in various capacities have recently left the ELCA and have entered the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church in America. Why?

When Jaroslav Pelikan left the ELCA and became a member of the OCA, I felt it was not terribly surprising. After all, he had been reading and writing about the Fathers of Eastern Orthodoxy for so many years, he could quite naturually find himself at home in that tradition, without much explanation. A short time before that Robert Wilken, a leading patristics scholar teaching at the University of Virginia, left the ELCA to become a Roman Catholic. Then other Lutheran theological colleagues began to follow suit. Jay Rochelle, who for many years was my colleague and the chaplain at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago joined the Orthodox Church. Why? Leonard Klein, pastor of a large Lutheran parish in York, Pennsylvania, and former editor of Lutheran Forum and Forum Letter, last year left the ELCA to study for the Roman Catholic priesthood. Why? This year Bruce Marshall, who taught theology for about fifteen years at St. Olaf College and was a long-standing member of the International Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue, has left the ELCA to enter the Roman Catholic Church. Why? David Fagerberg, formerly professor of religion at Concordia College, although coming from a strong Norwegian Lutheran family, left the ELCA for the Roman Catholic Church, and now teaches at the University of Notre Dame. Reinhard Huetter, a German Lutheran from Erlangen University, came to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago fifteen years ago to teach theology and ethics, now teaches at Duke Divinity School, and this year became a Roman Catholic. Why? Mickey Mattox, a theologian who recently served at the Lutheran Ecumenical Institute in Strasbourg and now teaches at Marquette University, has recently begun the process of becoming a Roman Catholic. In all these cases the transition involves spouses and children, making it incredibly more difficult. Why are they doing this? Is there a message in these decisions for those who have ears to hear?

All of these colleagues have given candid explanations of their decisions to their families, colleagues, and friends. While the individuals involved have provided a variety of reasons, there is one thread that runs throughout the stories they tell. It is not merely the pull of Orthodoxy or Catholicism that enchants them, but also the push from the ELCA, as they witness with alarm the drift of their church into the morass of what some have called Liberal Protestantism. They are convinced that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has become just another liberal protestant denomination. Hence, they have decided that they can no longer be a part of that. Especially, they say, they are not willing to raise their children in a church that they believe has lost its moorings in the great tradition of evangelical (small e) and catholic (small c) orthodoxy (small o), which was at the heart of Luther’s reformatory teaching and the Lutheran Confessional Writings. They are saying that the Roman Catholic Church is now more hospitable to confessional Lutheran teaching than the church in which they were baptized and confirmed. Can this possibly be true?

I have decided, without any doubt about it, that I could not re-invent myself to become something else than I was raised to be by my Magadascar missionary parents – an heir of the Lutheran confessing movement. Through theological study and ecumenical engagement I thought I had learned something about what it means to be Lutheran. I have written many books and articles, preached and published many sermons – leaving a long paper trail – over a period of five decades, explaining what it means to be Lutheran. There is nothing in all of those communications that accommodates liberal prostestantism, which Karl Barth called a “heresy,” an assessment with which I fully agree. If it is true that the ELCA has become just another liberal protestant denomination, that is a condition tantamount to heresy. The most damning thing in my view that can be charged against the ELCA is that it is just another liberal protestant denomination. Are all these theologians wrong in their assessment of the ELCA? I wish I could deny it. I have been looking for some convincing evidence to the contrary, because I am not about to cut and run. There is no place I know of where to go. I do know, however, that the kind of Lutheranism that I learned – from Nygren, Aulen, Bring, Pinomaa, Schlink, P. Brunner, Bonhoeffer, Pannenberg, Piepkorn, Quanbeck, Preus, and Lindbeck, not to mention the pious missionary teachers from whom I learned the Bible, the Catechism, and the Christian faith -- and taught in a Lutheran parish and seminary for many years is now marginalized to the point of near extinction. In looking for evidence that could convincingly contradict the charge that the ELCA has become just another liberal protestant denomination, it would seem reasonable to examine what is produced by its publishing house, theological schools, magazines, publications, church council resolutions, commission statements, task force recommendations, statements and actions by its bishops. The end result is an embarrassment; there is not much there to refute the charge. As Erik Petersen said about 19h century German Protestantism, all that is left of the Reformation heritage is the aroma from an empty bottle. A lot of the pious piffle remains, but then, so was Adolf von Harnack a pious man. All the heretics of the ancient church were pious men. Our pastors and laity are being deceived by a lot of pietistic aroma, but the bottle is empty. Just ask these fine theologians – all friends and colleagues of mine – who have left the ELCA. They are not stupid people; they don’t tell lies; they don’t make rash decisions. They are all serious Christians. What is happening is nothing less than a tragedy. The ELCA is driving out the best and the brightest theologians of our day, not because it is too Lutheran, but because it has become putatively just another liberal protestant denomination. I would think that this is a situation that ought to concern you immensely as well as all the leadership cadres of the ELCA. But might it also be the case that the very persons who ought to be troubled by this phenomenon will say to themselves (perhaps not out loud), “good riddance, we won’t be bothered by those dissenting voices anymore? We wish more of their ilk would leave.”

I must tell you that I read all your episcopal letters that come across my desk. But I must also tell you that your stated convictions, punctuated by many pious sentiments, are not significantly distinguishable from those that come from the liberal protestant leaders of other American denominations. I do not disagree with your political leaning to the left. I am a life-long political liberal, unlike many of my friends. My wife and I opposed the unjust war against Vietnam in the 60’s and 70’s, and we have with equal conviction opposed the foolhardy invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration. We also supported the ELCA in its ecumenical actions to re-institute the episcopal office by means of passing the CCM as well as to adopt the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Vatican. But none of that equates with transforming Lutheranism into a liberal protestant denomination, in terms of doctrine, worship, and morality.

When I finished my graduate studies at Harvard and Heidelberg, I was ordained by the ELC and served a parish in North Minneapolis, simultaneously teaching at Luther Seminary. At that time I was instrumental in founding Dialog, a journal of theology, together with Robert Jenson, Roy Harrisville, Kent Knutson, James Burtness, and others, in order to draw midwest Lutheranism into the world-wide orbit of Lutheran theology. We were not ecumenically oriented at the start. At that time no Luther Seminary professors were dealing with the issues posed by Bultmann, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Barth, Brunner, Aulen, Nygren and many others. Dialog got the reputation of being a journal edited by young upstarts who thought they knew better. It seemed to us then that most of our professors were not very well informed. But they were good Lutherans, not a single heretic among them. Heresy was not the problem at that time. The journal that our group founded in 1961 has now become the voice of a liberal protestant version of Lutheranism. Robert Jenson and I resigned from the journal as its editors in1991 to found a new journal, Pro Ecclesia, a Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology. In the last fourteen years we have published the articles of theologians of all traditions – Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox – exhibiting the truth that we all share common ground in the Great Tradition. The same cannot be said of Dialog anymore. It has become a function of the California ethos of religion and morality, nothing seriously Lutheran about it anymore, except the aroma of an empty bottle. Too bad. I was its editor for twenty years and Jenson for ten years, but now in our judgment it has become, perhaps even unwittingly, the very opposite of what we intended. The journal now expresses its belief that to be prophetic is to become the mouthpiece of the denominational bureaucracy, that is, to attack the few dissenting voices in the ELCA.

One day a church historian will write the history of Lutheranism in America. There will be a few paragraphs trying to explain how the self-destruction of confessional orthodox Lutheranism came about around the turn of the millennium and how it underwent a metamorphosis into a liberal protestant denomination. Recently in an issue of the Lutheran Magazine you expressed your hope that Lutherans could some day soon celebrate Holy Communion with Roman Catholics. My instant reaction was: it is becoming less and less likely, as the ELCA is being taken hostage by forces alien to the solid traditions Lutherans share with Roman Catholics. The confessional chasm is actually becoming wider. So much for the JDDJ! The agreement becomes meaningless when Lutheranism embarks on a trajectory that leads to rank antinomianism.

Where do we go from here? I am going nowhere. Meanwhile, I am hearing rumors about a possible schism or something about the formation of a dissenting synod. None of that will redound to the benefit of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church we confess in the Creed. Each person and congregation will do what they deem fitting and appropriate in view of the apostasy that looms on the horizon of our beloved Lutheran Church. My friend Wolfhart Pannenberg has stated that a church that cannot take the Scriptures seriously is no longer a church that belongs to Jesus Christ. That is not an original statement of his or mine, but one said by every orthodox theologian in the Great Tradition, including Athanasius and Augustine, as well as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Does the ELCA take the Scriptures seriously? We will soon find out. Whoever passes the issue off as simply a hermeneutical squabble is not being honest – “we have our interpretation and you have yours.” Who is to judge who is right? The upshot is ecclesiastical anarchy, sometimes called pluralism. To each his own. Chacun son gout!

I am extremely sorry it has come to this doctrinally unstable situation in the church I was ordained to serve almost half a century ago. My father and two of his brothers served this church in Madagascar and China. My brother and sister served this church in the Camaroons and Madagascar. My cousins have served this church as ordained ministers in this country and abroad for decades. Knowing them as well as I do, I am confident in stating their belief that this church in some of its expressions is not remaining truly faithful to the kind of promises they made upon their ordination to the Christian ministry.

Can the situation which I have described in stark terms be remedied? Have we reached the point of no return? Are we now hopelessly mired in what Karl Barth identified as “Kulturprotestantismus?” I know of about half a dozen Lutheran renewal groups desperately trying to call the ELCA back to its foundational texts and traditions. Would they exist if there were no problem that needs to be addressed? How many congregations and pastors have left or are leaving the ELCA for other associations?

One day we will have to answer before the judgment seat of God as to what we have done for and against the Church of Jesus Christ. There will be no one by our side to help us find the words to use in response. All of us will have many things for which to repent and to implore God’s forgiveness. And we will all cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”

Sincerely in Christ our Lord,
Carl E. Braaten


Lee said...

Thanks for posting this, Dwight!

I admit to being a bit confused by this - I take it that Prof. Braaten is referring, at least in part, to homosexuality. Thus the somewhat oblique references to the dissenting synod and the question of whether the ELCA still takes the Scriptures seriously. But "liberal Protestantism" presumably means something wider and deeper than just one's stance on this one issue. Can you offer any insight into what exactly he means by "liberal protestantism" here? I'm assuming he means something like a version of protestantism that downplays the creeds, any supernatural elements in the faith, etc. but that wasn't entirely clear to me from this piece.

Camassia said...

While we're at it, what exactly is a "California ethos of religion and morality"? People from elsewhere seem to imagine all kinds of things about us...

Anonymous said...

I don't get it, either, except that I decided Braaten was not talking about homosexuality, and indeed, even deliberately ignoring the issue.

But that's just me.

LutheranChik said...

I'm sorry, but I can't help but read the Issue That Dare Not Speak Its Name subtextually running not only through this letter, but through the exodus of these individuals.

And the real irony here is...I'm on Braaten's side. I strongly believe that we in the ELCA need to embrace our catholic and Lutheran roots, instead of chasing after every movement du jour of pop Christianity. I've been in churches where "there's no 'there' there," theologically, and my spiritual life was the poorer for it...in fact, it was in one of those congregations where I decided, many years ago, to ditch Christianity altogether. (Christ having other plans for me...but I did not know that at the time.)

I have tears in my eyes as I'm typing this. I feel hated...really hated. And I don't know why. After leaving the Church, I came back, and came back to Lutheranism specifically because our Lutheran theology. We have, in our theology of sola gratia, sola fide, something that the wider Church, and the world, needs to hear. But now I feel as if my presence in the ELCA is making other people flee.

Well...too bad. I'm not going anywhere. This is my church too. And if Braaten et al want to say something to me, then say it, dammit, instead of hiding behind encoded language.

LutheranChik said...

...or running away.

Anonymous said...

Okay, well that's Lee and LutheranChik who think Braaten's talking about homosexuality. And I'm sure not "getting" it. What exactly is he saying about homosexuality?

I thought he was talking about a shallowness in theology, the current trendy-trend of watering down Christ's call to us from to the cross into something happy-clappy, easy answers, whatever is popular. That's what I thought he was talking about. How does that get translated into a discussion of theology with regard to homosexuality? Or again, have I missed the point entirely?

I just got an e-mail this afternoon from Bag Lady, who wasn't able to make Braaten's letter out, either. She said he was speaking "in code." Insider language.

Brother Dwight, may I ask for a translation, please? Or should I follow you down to B&N for my own copy of Theology for Dummies?

Bob said...

I agree with the complaints about the encoded language here. This is an "insiders" letter, and apparently I'm not an insider in the ELCA, because I don't have a clue.

When I first read it, I didn't know what to think. Now I'm just getting angry that Braaten broadcasts this out there without providing a secret decoder ring. I'm feeling a bit left out...

Maurice Frontz said...

Before reading these comments, I posted on Lee's blog, Verbum Ipsum, that I wished Braaten had provided more specific instances of what he means by "liberal Protestantism." Now I am even more wishful that he had, because the lack of detail seems to undercut the value of his letter for the wider community.
So I am going to take the liberty of this very long post-length comment in the hope of articulating my own description where I think this letter comes from.

1. Braaten drops the name of Karl Barth a lot and refers to
"liberal Protestantism" or "Kulturprotestantismus." (Caveat: "liberal" does not mean "21st-century Democrat:" in the letter, Braaten mentions that he is against the Iraq war.) "Culture-Protestantism," obviously a put-down term rather than a school of thought, might be generically described as a Christianity that gives lip-service to creeds and confessions while in actual doctrine and practice taking its cue from the contemporary culture. Barth specifically disagreed with the experience he had with "cultural Protestant" German theologians who said that the will of God could be discerned in several places, i.e. in nation and culture. The term can also illuminate those Christians who live uncritically to the culture and are not formed by the culture of Christ. His turning point came when these theologians supported World War I on the basis that God also spoke through the will of the nation, and his defining moment came when many of that same school later supported Hitler on the grounds that Volk and nation was an instrument of God's will independent of the church's proclamation and witness. Barth was the primary author of the 1934 Barmen Declaration which famously stated that "Jesus Christ is the one Word of God that we must obey in life and death," and to posit that there were other loci of authority that we could set alongside or in opposition to Christ was heretical.

2. In the contemporary "Protestant" culture, Braaten and others see a Kulturprotestantismus which differs in its assumptions about the culture but is one with the primary assumption that Barth critiques: the idea that one can know God and God's will through other means than through Christ. In our context, this means: there is no mediator - God or Christ primarily speaks to us through our experience of self and world and the experience of those who are oppressed, whatever their experience may be. Neither the Scriptures nor the Church are truly sources of authority - at best, they become the confirmation of God granting me my own authority as authentic self-interpreter. When they contradict my view or my culture's view of reality, they may be set aside because they do not define Christ for me: rather, my own understanding and experience defines Christ for me. This may best be summed up in our day by what is now the unofficial creed of our full communion partner, the United Church of Christ: "God is still speaking," and its unofficial symbol, the comma. How does God speak? Not through Bible, Sacrament, Creed, confession, or community, but through my own imaging of who God might be and my own unique experience of reality. This necessarily leads to a plurality of truths, which in effect is a negation of truth, for the notion that there can be more than one truthful answer to a specific question is logically bankrupt.

3. How is this played out in the contemporary situation? Obviously the homosexuality question for Braaten and those like him is a key issue, for it encapsulates the revolt against Bible and Church as sources of authority and sets against them the witness of the self that "God has authentically created me this way," which is a revelation granted in an inner sense to the self and which may not be disputed by Bible or Church. But it should be noted that the acceptance of homosexuality is only one and the most visible symptom of the main assumption which is simply this: The Scriptures and the Church formed by their teaching are not the primary or sole revelation of God. God must be experienced, known, and apprehended by myself above and beyond the witness of Scripture and the Church. The Scriptures may confirm the self's apprehension of God, but they may not correct it. Moreover, they are not the "final word." They are simply "a" word to be set in dialogue with other words, and interpreted according to the disposition and beliefs of the believer. "God is still speaking."

In the academy of the ELCA, including my alma mater, Gettysburg Seminary, and from its bishops and pastors, in its social statements, denominational materials, and materials published by its publishing house, the following assertions are made, perhaps not bold-facedly, but "between the lines," for those who are enlightened and would seek to be.

a. The Trinitarian doctrine and the Incarnation are not revelation, but are primarily products of religious imagination. When they are taught as authoritative, they displace the views of other religions and of feminist and womanist "revelations" of the identity of God.

b. Because of the above, the Christian faith is not in a privileged position as regarding visions of the divine.

c. Jesus encountered the reality of God, but was not God himself. We in fact have the same capacities as Jesus.

d. The Bible is only authentically read as a document that describes how people were touched by the experience of God. A reading which would attempt to define the nature of God, describe historical occurrences, or draw conclusions for life together is a "text of terror" which excludes those who read the text differently.

e. Sin is inauthenticity to self, not disobedience to God.

f. When considering ethical questions, the primary locus or reference is the self. A decision on abortion (to take one example) is to be judged upon whether "I" am able to bear a child without undue emotional, physical, or financial hardship. The same self-referential assumption is made in the case of physician-assisted suicide, stem-cell research, divorce and remarriage, etc.

Catholicism and Orthodoxy provide obvious antidotes in their structures to the doctrine of the authority (some would say "tyranny") of the self. The irony for Lutherans is that Luther insisted that he himself had the authority to interpret the Scriptures. However, his was not the freedom to add or detract to them according to his predispositions, but to read them as they actually were. Naturally none of us free ourselves from our "baggage" so thoroughly as to interpret the Scriptures free from bias. But to interpret them in a way that the clear texts are discarded or superseded by my own bias or by another principle is to fall into error.

One final personal word: the homosexuality debate is often seen as a debate about certain kind of people: who is in, who is out. I would posit that Braaten and those like him might say that it is about where God speaks: in the self or in the Scriptures (which are also "means of grace" with the Sacraments). When we listen, which we are exhorted to do, do we listen together to the teachings of the Scriptures and the witness of the tradition, or do we listen to the voices of our aspirations and desires, which Lutherans have traditionally believed are "curved in upon themselves" and do not tend to seek the will of God but rather to substitute their own wills? I do not wish to give glib answers to those who struggle with homosexuality or with the issues surrounding it. I am against bumpersticker theology in all its forms. But I hope it has become clear, at least, why this issue is the lightning rod for those who are concerned that the moral and religious discernment of the self has displaced the Scriptures as the "inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of our proclamation, faith, and life." (ELCA Constitution 2.04)

LutheranChik said...

Pastor Frontz: I am not a "symptom," and I am not "struggling" with homosexuality. I also affirm the creedal declarations of the catholic Church every day of my life (thrice), and not with my fingers crossed, and I am just as faithful a Lutheran as you are. I find your comments patronizing and insulting. How terribly sad that my presence in your church is so obviously troubling to you, and that you think that I am a tare among the wheat, whose unapologetic existence on the planet is somehow threatening the bedrock of Lutheran theology -- but I am not going anywhere. Learn to deal. And, in case you feel a pull toward Rome or toward the East to get away from people like me -- we're over there too.

P.S. You might want to let me where your church is, so I can avoid polluting it by accidently attending it some Sunday.

Maurice Frontz said...


I am dealing. Thus my post.

I am glad you and I can say the Creeds of the catholic Church together. That in itself puts us together in a different category than many in the Protestant mainline who, while paying lip-service to such, implicitly and in some cases explicitly deny such as witnesses to the revelation of God. To wit, at my alma mater, a required homiletics text for all students bald-facedly denies the doctrines of both the Incarnation and the Trinity and suggests that the ecumenical councils were simply making things up.

I had hoped my post would give what I think is some of the background behind Braaten's letter, and explain why in many people's minds the revision of teaching on Christian sexual morality is only one indicator of a departure from a model where Scripture, creed, and confession norm our life together and instead substitutes a model where there are other loci of revelation. I am not sure how my argument is ad hominem. I would appreciate any specific instances as to how I insulted or demeaned gay and lesbian people, implied that your sin is greater than mine, or that it is "my" church rather than yours or even ours.

In any case, if there were no personal attacks, I can only assume you deem the "demeaning and insulting" part to be the argument itself.

Dwight P. said...

I'm an Icelander, and we are not comfortable when emotions get high. But I'm going to break in here.

Chip, I am in awe of the summary you gave of what Carl is saying. Yes, I fear, the criticisms are just: His language is "insider" language -- much as one would expect when theologians address each other. (Carl is sincere in that his is a real letter, not a broadside.) Carl is also relying for language and background on an article published in Pro Ecclesia, which background would not be available to non-subscribers (of which there are one or two, yet).

But you have done a masterful job of setting out what the issue for Carl, many others, and me is: It is that of authority. (And of arrogance, which you didn't say, but I will -- the arrogance that I define God, rather than the other way around.)And I very much appreciate your articulating that the current controversy over what the Church should teach and practie regarding homosexuality is iconic of the larger issue of authority -- it is not a particular jab at homosexual persons (even though some might express themselves so as to suggest that).

Carl personally (for what it's worth) is on the "conservative" side of the homosexuality controversies, just as he has been on the "progressive" side of war and economic justice issues. He takes his stands because he finds those to be the actions mandated by Scripture and the Church's traditions.

His, however, is not a letter about homosexuality; it is his expression of concern that the ELCA is not seriously enough attending to its mandated business, which is to live in faithfulness to the Scriptures, the Creed, the Lutheran Confessions, and (I would add) the orthodox teachings concerning them. So, Dash, yes, he studiously avoids mentioning homosexuality. To my knowledge, none of the wonderful scholars who have swum the Tiber or the Bosporus did so over the issue of homosexuality; they went because they felt that the Lutheran Church had become unmoored from her firm foundation.

That's the point, Camassia, of Carl's reference to "California ethos of religion and morality." He means, I think, to reference the general impression (and I think out here it is the general impression) that from California spring all sorts of bizarre cults, mysticisms, "New Age" experiments, and heterodox institutes. He paints with a broad brush -- rendering California the Haight-Ashbury of religion. I'm afraid that we all have to bear stereotypes about the places where we live. (Dash and I must deal with a sense that Minnesota Lutherans are God's Frozen People, but deep down we know, from our experience of Luther Seminary, that many are Cold but few are Frozen.)

One note that may address a miscommunication between LutheranChik and Chip: I understood your reference to "those who struggle with homosexuality" to be those of us who are trying to come to terms with the Tradition's teaching about homosexuality and the modern situation in which homosexuality is assuming a different valance from the past. I did not understand you to refer to those who are homosexual.

LutheranChik, if you are in the former category (i.e., one of those who is trying to resolve the issue of how the Church deals with homosexual unions and gay clergy), then I frankly feel you ought to be struggling. For the Church catholic is being split over this issue -- not because gay people are hated, but because of the issue of Scriptural and Traditional authority. Any issue that arounses this kind of heat (without light) ought to be a matter of struggle for every Christian. For many on either side of the issue, the answers are too clear to be worthy of struggle. I'm not sure that either party, then, is being faithful or practicing Christian charity toward the other side.

I regret that you, LutheranChik, feel "hated." I can't address your particular situation, though I can pick up from both sides of the issue unseemly hyperbole that telegraphs hatred and disdain much more than a desire for discernment together. And that is a loathesome situation.

Carl has accomplished one major goal of his: People are talking about his letter. I will repeat that I think the issue he addresses is both very real and critical. If the ELCA fails to realize what the discontent is, we have no future aside from schism or death.


Jim said...

"... the notion that there can be more than one truthful answer to a specific question is logically bankrupt."

That's disingenuous, at best. We are all trying to answer the specific question "Who am I?" and there is no single truthful answer.

In fact, some of the views offered by Gettysburg -- not taken to the tautologies they appear -- are the bases for some outstanding questions about the Bible, for example.

I see the Hebrew Bible as Israel's attempt to define her relationship with YHWH, and therefore the basis on which Jesus defined himself and His relationship both with us and with YHWH. Given that all of scripture is likely to be one-off copies of things written by men, I am forced to use some interpretative skill that the Creator gave me to understand it and formulate my response.

It is precisely in the areas of dogma generated Ex Cathedra with limited or partial scriptural "authority" that I have the most trouble. In slogging through theology as merely a child of God, without a secret decoder ring, but with an intellect, the Gospels, including some of those that didn't make it into the Canon (another dogmatic decision) are my guides. Orthodoxy depends so heavily on the tradition of the fathers -- who, like me, were humans -- that it is suspect in its interpretation as much so as the Southern Baptists or the Presbyterians or us Episcopalians.

People who are in the church business get a lot more mileage out of talking about this stuff than I do; it's interesting, but I wonder how deeply, if at all, my faith and belief are changed by it.


Camassia said...

Hmmmm. It's true that "Who am I?" has as many different answers as there are people. But since humans are social beings, this question can't be fully answered without asking, "Who are we?" I gather the orthodox critique here is that the infallible authority of the Pope or the Bible has been displaced by the infallible authority of the individual as the sole expert on him- or herself. I can see why that would be a problem, because a) people are often wrong about themselves (I know I've been), and b) this also means only the individual can say how the Spirit indwells him- or herself, which threatens to turn the whole idea of a great unified Spirit into billions of little spirits.

At the same time, whenever I see these discussions of the "church catholic" I wonder if it's really possible, or even desirable, to put Humpty Dumpty back together again at this point. When folks like Braaten talk about the authority of "the church", they're obviously writing a lot of churches and even whole denominations out of that term. And to be honest, I can't help thinking that the pendulum wouldn't have swung this way if the other side did not, to some degree, deserve it. Lots of heresies sprang up and flamed out in the Roman and medieval eras, but the current fracture of Christendom is much bigger and more serious.

I don't mean to say it's OK, though. In fact, the fractured state of Christianity is a big hangup for me as an aspiring Christian.

Lee said...

I'm curious what Prof. Braaten's views on some of the other innovations in the teaching of the church are (e.g. birth control, women's ordination, divorce). The authority of the tradition once spoke with a single voice on these points as well. Does questioning the tradition necessarily lead to wholesale abandonment of our catholic heritage?

This isn't to deny that the theological problem is a real one. Pr. Frontz's comment was very helpful to me in seeing what's at stake in terms of opposing ways of doing theology. And yet, is "private judgment" going anywhere? Even if I decide to submit to the authority of Rome or Orthodoxy, it's still I who does the submitting. It's private judgment all the way down; or at least so it seems.

LutheranChik said...

What is Braaten's attitude toward gender equity in the Church and elsewhere?

Maurice Frontz said...

Jim, is there really not a truthful answer to the question: "Who am I?"

Maybe the question is wrongheaded to begin with. Maybe the first question to ask is not "Who am I?" but "Who is God?"

The definition of being a Christian is to point to Jesus Christ and saying, "This is God." Not only that, but to point at him and say, "Because God has become truly human, this is what it means to be human."

St. Paul said that he was put to death the day he was baptized and it was no longer he that lived, but Christ who lived in him. His sinful self, the self who would set himself up alongside God as an equal, to create God in his own image, was the one who was put to death. The one who lived in him was the Spirit of Christ, by God's grace and not by his accomplishment or finding the object of his search. Rather, God found him.

That is how I pray the Psalms. I don't look at myself as praying them, but Jesus, the true human, is praying them through me. That is how I can say the words, "O Lord, I love your law, all day long it is in my mind." If it were just me, the individual, saying those words, then it would either be a lie or just an aspiration. Because the Spirit of Christ has been given me by grace, because by faith "who I am" (the only real answer!) is a member of Christ's body, those words are true and truer than true.

"Who am I?" I am an adopted child of God and a brother of Jesus Christ, not by my own accomplishment, but by sheer gift. "Who are we?" The Church is the people of God, seeking to draw all people into this saving faith. "Who is God?" God is the God who revealed himself to Israel, who raised Jesus from the dead.

The canonical Gospels were judged to be canonical because they told the story of Jesus in a way faithful to the apostles' teaching about him. The New Testament univocally tells the story that Christ died to save sinners, "of which I am the foremost." In opposition to the other Gospels, which preach the "good news" that we are beings of untapped and unlimited potential, the canonical Scriptures tell us that Christ is the vine, we are the branches; that he is the head and we are the members.

The Gospel of Thomas says, "When you know yourselves, you shall be truly known...but if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty."
St. Paul says, "I see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face - then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

There is nothing suspect in this interpretation: There is a clear difference between these two sayings: for the one is a saying about what you must do, who you must become - the other is a saying about grace: who we are in Christ, who we shall be. One comes from a radical Gospel of potential, the other from a Gospel of gift. I am in no doubt about why the Church of Jesus Christ chose one and not the other to include in its canon of works which spoke God's Word.

"Who am I?" The problem is that when we ask the question in isolation from what God has done and revealed in Christ, which the Church testifies to in the Scriptures, in preaching and in Sacrament, we always get it wrong. When we decide that we must search the wisdom of the world for who we are, we always get what we came for: the wisdom of the world. To be a catholic and confessional Christian is to be rooted in the Word of God, which tells us who God is and what he has done.

LutheranChik said...

I'm still not hearing an answer to my question. How does Braaten square his comments with the ELCA's affirmation and (at least in theory) practice of gender equity, which would appear to run contrary to the witness of Scripture? Is he against female pastors?

And how about the remarriage of divorced persons, and the ordination of divorced persons? What's Braaten have to say about that?

Darel said...

I have to agree with Lutheranchik, although for quite different reasons. What indeed is Pr. Braaten's position on "gender equality" -- which appears nowhere in Scripture -- and remarriage -- specifically condemned by Christ? Why is the current ELCA position on these points faithful to both the Lutheran Confessions and the witness of the Church catholic?

If we (yes, I am in the ELCA) abandon our catholic doctrine for some, it is no surprise that we will eventually abandon it for all. Homosexuals simply want the same approval of sexual sin offered to heterosexuals for decades.

Andy said...

It strikes me that women's ordination is the issue that calls out those who are leaning on scriptural authority in the homosexuality issue. Which is clearer in scripture, that homosexuality is a sin or that women shouldn't teach in church?

But I do see Braaten's point (as exposited by Pastor Frontz). There is a major slipping of authority in the Church. The problem is that it isn't only the hyper-liberals who support full acceptance of homosexual Christians. LutheranChik and I are both fairly conservative theologically, but we are on the "liberal" side of the homosexuality issue.

It is most unfortunate that Braaten's letter avoids this issue because he undermines his own point by failing to address the fact that the supporters of homosexual Christians are not all in the camp that he is against.

Anonymous said...

Completely off topic...I just wish LTSG was an LCMS seminary. *Sigh* You guys wouldn't mind selling it to us, would you? Do you really need 2 seminaries in Pennsylvania?

Dwight P. said...

On the issue of "gender equality," I suspect -- and that's the operative word, "suspect" -- that Carl would say a couple of things. And here I'm going to say it my way, with the express understanding that I have no idea how Carl would actually respond.

First, the issue of "equality" is not a biblical notion. The scriptures do not speak of men and women's equality; the scriptures actually assert that in Christ "equality" is a meaningless term. "In Christ there is neither male nor female, ... ." So the imposition of a politcally charged, cultural term -- such as "equality" -- is foreign to the analysis. It is, in fact, unhelpful because of other attitudes it may carry -- e.g., that ordination is somehow a "right" of males that should be extended to females. In fact, no such "right" exisits in the Church's teaching.

This is an ecclesiological consideration: For it suggests -- indeed, insists -- that we must break our secular notions and considerations on the Church's gospel. And that's what Chip nicely described as the issue at stake in Carl's letter.

Now second, Carl has never expressed any concern or disapproval of the ordination of women. Indeed, he has trained many for precisely that service. You cannot, I think, teach in an ELCA seminary if you oppose women's ordination. But to assert that is not really to compromise the arguments that several of us have been advancing.

Carl would (I hope) and I do deny that the decision to ordain women was a deviation from Church teaching. (It, surely, represented a substantive departure from Church practice and discipline over virtually all the life of the Church, but as I try to explain, it was not really a violation or denial of the teaching of Scripture.)

I would point to the quite serious study of the issue by predecessor bodies of the ELCA, the LCA and the ALC (ah, the glories of Lutheran alphabet soup): Those studies looked at Scripture very carefully, along with quite serious -- though with not hearly enough exposition-- of the history of the issue. And both groups concluded that the Scriptures do not, at minimum, foreclose ordaining women. And given that it is not forbidden, it is a prudential matter for the Church's decisionmaking (i.e., for the structure of its life in time) whether to admit women to the ordered ministry. Also given that there is no reason to doubt women's talent and ability to fulfill the office of ministry (i.e., preaching and presiding at the sacraments), it seemed good "to the Holy Spirit and to us" to change the earlier practice and to accept eagerly and joyfully the service of women in orders.

The issue, you see, then, was not the "right" of anyone to ordination. It was discernment of what the Tradition of the Church had been and how that Tradition was to be treated -- incarnated, if you like -- faithfully today. And that's why very few of us who stand in sympathy with Carl's letter would turn back the clock to a males-only presbyterate.

It seems -- and here I feel that my lack of erudition will result in my talking about something that will unintentionally insult my Roman Catholic (and perhaps Eastern Orthodox) brethren and friends -- that Rome and the East actually are misperceiving the tradition and the Great Tradition by refusing orders to women. The argument about some sort of "in loco Christi" ontology of the "priesthood" misperceives the nature of presbyteral ministry and the importance of the "priesthood of all believers" (the latter of which we Lutherans so treasure -- even if we misunderstand it). The "pastor" does not "act Jesus" in the mass (or anywhere else); s/he does not portray Jesus at the Last Supper during the anaphora of the mass; s/he does not re-offer the sacrifice of the Cross. And it is irrelevant, frankly, that the Twelve comprised only men. The Twelve also comprised only Jews, and no one says that only Jewish men may be ordained. Chromosomes do not insinutate themselves into the doctrine of the Holy Ministry. And I think "protestants" are right to press that point.

(I am not so arrogant as to assume that Carl would have anything to do with these last paragraphs.)

What is so frustrating about this discussion -- I don't mean just on this blog, but rather throughout the Church -- is that it's like art: It is difficult to articulate a concrete aesthetic; what I consider art, many (most) would not. Yet judgments about art can't be purely a matter of "what I like" or what sells. Aesthetics becomes a very rarified discourse, as a consequence.

Well, so also it's hard to get a handle on a good discussion of authority in the Church, because much of the lingo we (who use it) use is something that we kind of understand and sense, but don't really have a hard and fast way of nailing down. Note: I don't like the use of "code" to discuss this problem. "Code" suggests some sinister or deliberately clandestine meaning that is withheld from the uninitiated. I acknowledge that theology is a kind of special language, but I think that every organization has its "terms of art," as we call them in law, which members use among themselves. Theological language can be hard and can be technical, but sometimes it is easier to use it in discussion theology than the language from some other culture. And I also think that if we are discussing churchly issues, we ought to use a language that has a long heritage of use in the Church (even though I am a good enough debater to insist on some definitions of problematic terms -- like "liberal protestantism").

Complicating the problem, as we've seen, is the difficulty of agreeing on what the "canons" are -- i.e., what are the foundation and the worldview that support and frame what we say.

But I think I'm getting in too deep. I AM NOT A PHILOSOPHER. Let the people say "Amen."

By the way, folks, I think this sets a record for the number of comments to a post on my blog. Thank you. Keep it coming. I'm slowing learning a lot from y'all. (See, Troy, I really do use "Y'all.")

Darel said...


Thank you for your considerate and considered response. Let me reply in turn.

The theology behind male-only ordination is secondary to the clear teachings of Scripture (1 Cor. 14; 1 Tim. 2; 1 Tim. 3) and the practice of the Church catholic from apostolic times. Consider infant baptism. The Church had good Scriptural cause to baptize infants and has the practice of the Church catholic from apostolic times to support the practice as well. Why we do so had to be worked out over time, but that we did so and that it was right and Godly so to do was always the case.

Those who are pressing for the normalization of homosexuality would contend that they, too, have as you say "looked at Scripture very carefully, along with quite serious -- though with not hearly enough exposition-- of the history of the issue." So how do we decide? How do we choose?

It is no coincidence that the ALC and LCA began blessing second/third/etc. marriages when divorce began to be normalized in American society. We began ordaining women when the womens' movement began pressing "equal rights". We are close to blessing gay "marriages" just at the same time that homosexuality, too, is becoming normalized in our surrounding culture. This is the very definition of Kulturprotestantismus which Dr. Braaten warns against!!

We Lutherans haven't been taking Scripture or our Lutheran Confessions seriously for many decades. Those people whom Dr. Braaten is lamenting today are the same ones pushing "liberal Protestantism" for years and years. Why the outrage now? Why the talk of schism now?

I think people involved in Solid Rock and WorldAlone are right, but for the wrong reasons. I fear that they oppose the normalization of homosexuality not because they are faithful to Scripture and to the central argument of the Augsburg Confession that "nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic". I fear they oppose the normalization of homosexuality only because they are bigots.

Andy said...


Your arguments in favor of women's ordination are very good, and I believe they are right. But surely you're aware that people make the same sorts of arguments in favor of the acceptance of homosexuality.

If we were to take the same hermenuetical rules that are commonly employed in the argument that homosexuality is a sin and apply them to women's ordination, your argument would never stand.

Darel's comments regarding the timing of progressive movements in the Lutheran churches are certainly something we should wrestle with. But I suggest that there is a distinction to be made between the Church being guided by the culture and the Church merely being awakened by a culture that has noticed something the Church hasn't.

Darel said...


In your discussion above on ordination, I wonder what your view is on AC XIV. Why must we have ordained pastors instead of laymen leading the service, distributing the sacraments, etc.? If the pastor does not "act Jesus" as you say, what is he doing? And why can't just anybody do it?

My suspicion is that your low view of ordination is part and parcel of your opinions regarding the "democratization" of ordination by incorporating women.


Daniel S. said...

Marvelous discussion going on, Dwight. I forwarded the letter on to a friend of mine from the Seminary I work at. He is going on to internship. His response to me is too good not to paste in here. He is one of those bright lights that gives one hope for clear thinking in the church. I forward his response to me here:
I think the letter from Carl Braaten is symptomatic of a bigger problem; namely, that the ELCA still doesn't know what it is. Lutherans ought not to fall into the trap of becoming Liberal Protestants/Calvinists. They are distinctly different. But, is this any surprise? How many students at LSTC, not to mention Luther Seminary, could tell you the difference between consubstantiation and symbolic presence? Or how many Lutheran seminary students would rather build "a city on a hill" than dicuss the theologia crucis? The point is, this "confessional crisis" shouldn't be a surprise to anyone - but, I don't think that's why these people leave. Yes, we have lost some significant minds to other churches, but Braaten insinuates that because this has happened, somehow Lutheranism is falling behind. It makes for a nice scrabble game, but doesn't work when it comes to Churches. We're not in a competition with the Catholics about who can have the most smart people in their ranks - whoever has the most wins. Perhaps Jaroslav Pelikan genuinely does feel a deeper spirituality in the Orthodox Church than in the Lutheran one, but that is not because Lutherans can't articulate their own confession; as if because the ELCA doesn't know what it is, these people leave. The grass is always greener on the other side, and it is important to remember that every Church - Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox - they all have problems. The state of the Church, regardless of its messiness, does not effect or change what the Church is in theory. The Church is only ever realized in a perfect state in heaven; the Church earthly must struggle through and do the best she can. There will always be gimpy pastors, and gimpy congregations, and gimpy bishops; there will always be bitchy ladies in Church who long for some golden age that never existed. The good news is that there have always been these things, and the Church catholic has done remarkably well considering the level of human stupidity that seems to reign supreme; proving in the end, that God is driving the car, not us.

Darel said...


I am sorry to see you haven't had a chance to respond yet regarding the Office of the Ministry. You said

The "pastor" does not "act Jesus" in the mass (or anywhere else); s/he does not portray Jesus at the Last Supper during the anaphora of the mass; s/he does not re-offer the sacrifice of the Cross.

In response I offer Ap. VII/VIII:

"on account of the call of the Church, [pastors] represent the person of Christ, and do not represent their own persons, as Christ testifies, Luke 10, 16: He that heareth you heareth Me. [Thus even Judas was sent to preach.] When they offer the Word of God, when they offer the Sacraments, they offer them in the stead and place of Christ."

Our Lutheran Confessions clearly state that the pastor does indeed "act Jesus".

It would be nice if we could start a new thread on this issue -- whether the ELCA has long been a "liberal protestant" church.


Dwight P. said...

My friends, I regret that a frantic schedule has prevented my staying involved in this really excellent discussion.

Darel, I think that you nearly got me with the quote in the Lutheran Confessions. But I think there are two levels to the "in persona Xi" stuff. Augustana (or "CA", as my friend Bjoern insists on calling it -- such a good German, he)does not address the second of the understandings. (I'd check with Melancthon, though; he wrote the blessed thing!)

The CA point, as I understand it, is to affirm the catholic, non-Donatist understanding of ministry as something that exists more than for the sake of convenience. It isn't a cult of personality that is at work in liturgy; it is the Gospel -- which does not depend on the particular character or characteristics of the presbyter. The authority of the pastor is not his/her personal charism or magnetism; it is the authority of Christ himself, conferred by the Holy Spirit, mediated by the Church and her ordered ministers. Ordination confers no special "ontological" change or character or stigma; it invests the ordinand with the authoriy of Christ himself. Just as the disciples were given authority to bind and loose, so pastors today (in apostolic succession -- i.e., as successors to the apostles) are en-Spirited with the same authority. When they proclaim Gospel, it's True.

That is different from saying that by acting "in loco Xi," the priest re-does the sacrifice that Jesus made. And that understanding is, I think, at work in much of Roman Catholic theology of ordination. (I have no idea how Orthodox understand ordination: Their system of married and not married, of get married on time or be forever celebate, or married presbyters and celibate bishops, of protopresbyters and hieromonks is way too complicated for me to have gotten a handle on yet.) Inherent to this theology is a different kind of authority, it seems to me, from what the CA confesses (and requires).

I have never before been accused of having a low doctrine of the Ordered/Ordained Ministry of the Church. I dispute such a charge. But I do acknowledge that I don't fall easily into "high church" misunderstandings of the nature of that ministry.

An ordained (i.e., ordered) ministry is and has virtually always been recognized as essential to the life of the Church. It's the way the Church's Lord set things up. It's the way the Church operated in her earliest life. Whether it "could" be different, I don't know (or care); that it is this way, I do know (and care). God has chosen to keep the Church kosher by sending his Spirit onto certain men and women whose loyalties can no longer be split, but who must breathe out what has been breathed into them. (That is true, at least in principle and doctrine. Practice is entirely another thing.) I don't think it's a low regard for the ministry -- or for ordination -- to see it this way.

But the mass is not a repristination of Calvary -- at least by Lutheran lights (and I read by those lights -- my comments on The Thinklings notwithstanding). And it is in that sense that I dispute the "in loco Xi" designation for the pastoral office.

I think that that misunderstanding allows for a lot of nonsense about the need for a male-gendered clergy. It simply doesn't hold up.

Melancthon (and how long I've wanted to talk to you, face-to-face), I don't think I agree with your assessment. We who support the ordered, spirit-filled ministry of women (without in any way denigrating the Spirit-filled ministry of laypeople) can look to long traditions of service and influence by women in the earliest church. In this case, there is

There is simply no similar record with respect to same-sex activity. (There is, of course, no real discussion of "homosexuality," because no such concept really existed before the 19th century, at the earliest. And that fact may be terrifically important, but I don't know quite how to integrate it, frankly). While Arland Hultgren, at Luther Sem (and a really sincere, orthodox, and pastoral scholar), has demonstrated that the Biblical record is not clear enough to give a definitive "yes" or "no" prooftext to the issues related to homosexuality, there is nothing to counter the weight of the scriptural record and early church teaching.

Interpreting scripture must be undertaken in a careful, nuanced way. So, too, relationship to secular or civic culture must be analyzed carefully. The experience (and here I risk causing even great offense, though I don't mean to) of the Volkskirche in Nazi Germany should alert us to the ease with which the ship of faith can be sunk thanks to the siren call of cultural influences and "hermeneutics."

The resources at hand cannot be limied to "scripture alone," as the Church has demonstrated time and again. We must look to the early Church teachers -- Fathers and Desert Mothers and Fathers, among them.

Frederica Mathewes-Green (an agnostic-turned Anglican-turned Orthodx) claims that there are no problems in Orthodoxy similar to the ones plaguing American protestant denominations because the Orthodox all agree to answer new questions with the question, "What has the Church always taught about this?" Well, while I think that she identifies the correct question, I think that interpreting the "past" to guide the present is more complicated than she suggests.

I wonder, finally, whether it's time for you, Darel, to begin a blog (assuming that you don't already have one -- and if you do, 'fess up and share the address). You seem to have a lot to say. Put it out there.

Andy said...


You make some good points. I must admit, Dr. Braaten's letter has caused me to consider deeply what my position on this question really is. His point that we can't just let a majority of lay representatives determine what the doctrine of the Church should be is a very good point. I can't in any way dispute it. That obviously gives me some problems with my approach to the sexuality questions. (I don't mean to make this all about the sexuality issues, but I don't see another way to make the question concrete enough to discuss.)

What I've come up with, for today at least, is that for me it isn't really a question of doctrine. It seems to me to be a clear case of doctrine getting in the way of the Gospel, and when that happens, doctrine must yield, at least in practice.

What I mean by this may not be clear because people who are on the opposite sides of these questions from me do not see the doctrine in any way obstructing the Gospel and they see those on my side as making a clear intrusion into something that is obviously in the realm of doctrine. To the extent that this last point is true, I think the people on "my" side are in error.

What I want to say is this, the way that gay and lesbians are actually treated in our Church is an obstruction to the Gospel. Some people (not all) hide behind "the traditional teaching of the Church" to justify their non-acceptance (rejection) of gay and lesbian Christians. This is a problem of practice, not of doctrine. Gay and lesbian Christians react to this by insisting (rightly) on full acceptance. This includes for them having the Church encourage their committed, loving relationships and full admittance into any activities going on in the Church. From there, right practice slips into the realm of doctrine.

Personally, I have absolutely no desire to change the doctrine of the Church. My only concern is to not allow the Church's doctrine to prevent me from obeying the command of Christ to love my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as he loves them.

If that means the Church must exist for a time in a state such that its doctrine does not properly explain its practice, so be it. I'm sure we'll eventually figure it out. In this regard, I would offer as precedent the Church's having offered worship to Christ before the doctrine of the Trinity was finally worked out. They knew it was the right thing to do even if they couldn't completely explain why.

Andy said...

One other thought, while there is something to commend the Orthodox approach of asking "What has the Church always taught about this?" it has the serious drawback, as I believe George Lindbeck observes in his book The Nature of Doctrine, of preventing the Church from ever addressing any new situations. It is precisely how to address a new situation that the Church is struggling with now.

Darel said...

I have continued this discussion with Dwight via email. As a final point, I do not have a blog but do have a website: The Orthodox Lutheran Web Page.

Lowazie said...

Dwight, thanks for letting us read this letter.
Reading the thread of posts, I think that while the human sexuality debate raging in lutheranism is one dimension of Braaten's dissatisfaction (and perhaps currently a major one )it is not the reason for it. He is clear about his real problem. Braaten fought for "evangelical catholicism" in lutheranism. He saw this vision largely vindicated in the 1970's with the publication of the Lutheran Book of Worship, and in ecumenical advances between Catholics and Lutherans. However the defeats for evangelical catholics in the formation of the ELCA in the late 1980's and the recent defeats regarding the restoration of the historic episcopate among american lutherans have shown how much tolerance the OTHER parts of Lutheranism are willing to show evangelical Catholics.
Carl Braaten blames an infiltration of some fifth column of liberal protestants, whereas in fact this "fifth column" has ALWAYS been there; it simply represents all those who do not agree with the evangelical Catholic agenda. And there were and are many of them. HOwever they are not dangerous defectors. They are the many pious, middle class Lutherans who are politically liberal (as Braaten claims to be) and thus logically religiously liberal (anathema to Braaten). Braaten was convinced that a Church both evangelical and Catholic was just so attractive that it would win the day. But the vast majority of Lutherans were not prepared for that. People used to democracy and personal decision-making in their public life are going to find it difficult to choose to embrace a theology and ultimately church polity based on heirarchy and authority, for example. When Evangelical catholicsism sought to BECOME Lutheranism in AMerica, it lost; and then it gave up. It is his sadness and his bitterness that I hear coming through most clearly; not his homophobia. He probably sees the growing acceptance of homosexuality in Christianity as well as the bureaucratic method employed in the Lutheran human sexuality study as capitulations to the "spirit of the age"; and thus a painful reminder that Evangelical Catholicism will always remain a wish within Lutheranism, rather than the ecclesial expression of it. Braaten might complain about it; he might be depressed about it; he might wish to charaterize everyone else as the destroyers of Lutheranism . . . but in fact, they were and ARE Lutheranism. And that is not a bad thing. It is just different from what Braaten wanted.
(PS.However,his experience of being a minority in Lutheranism should at least give him pause before he criticizes the efforts of other minorities seeking acceptance in Christianity; he knows what it feels like; He remembers the struggles for acceptance of Aftrican Americans in the 60's and of women in his own denomination in the 70's and 80's. ONe hopes he supported these struggles, and did not see THEM as capitulation to liberal protestantism.Moreover he is too good a theologian not to recognize the complexity of the biblical hermeneutical questions surrounding homosexuality. He should at least understand the need for restraint in pronouncements and judgements. But then what am I saying? His spiritual forefather Martin Luther was known for many things . . . restraint not being one of them!)

Jim said...

" ... let a bunch of lay people" set what doctrine is.

Not that the author might have an elitist streak.

"An ordained (i.e., ordered) ministry is and has virtually always been recognized as essential to the life of the Church. It's the way the Church's Lord set things up."

Where is the scriptural authority for that statement?

You must be one busy-busy guy, Dwight. Long time, no hear.

Dwight P. said...

Actually, Jim, I have been working offline on a way of getting at the issues raised here, and I keep getting flummoxed. As to biblical support my assertions: You must know that we evangelical catholics don't have to prove everything from the Bible; we have the Great Tradition! (That's a joke, folks.)

The short answer that I give to the demand for support for my assertion that the Church's life is determined by God lies in an ecclesiology and pneumatology that believes that God acts through the Church to effect his will -- just as he acted through Jesus (hence, the more-than-metaphor "Body of Christ"). It is how I read St. Paul when he excoriates various Christian congregations (Corinth and Rome among them) for not listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and doing all kinds of dastardly business contrary to the Way of Christ.

For the Church to be the Church, it needs prophets and preachers -- admittedly, inter alia. Paul makes that point. And critical to that understanding is that the Gospel comes to us from the outside. (Have I said this already in this thread, or is that from another line?)

We do not speak the Gospel to ourselves; it comes as a word from the outside. That's why we cannot understand preaching as mutual conversation. The preacher is not just one "delegated," for the sake of good order, to speak for the Lord. He is one who stands over against the congregation bringing that Word from outside the congregation. (I'm leaving open the question of where the preacher hears the Word from the outside. Many, lamentably, seem not to hear anything from outside their own intellectual world. For most, I suspect, who are loyal and faithful servants of the word, the source of the external word resides in or results from the ordination rite of laying on of hands. I am trying to get a handle on what the Romans and, I think, Easterners, mean by the "special charism" of the presbyteral office. But I'm not there yet.)

In much of this, I feel the influence of Reinhard Huetter, who is the new editor of Pro Ecclesia (journal of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology). In his book "Bound to Be Free: Evangelicsl CAtholic Engagements in Ecclesiology, Ethic, and Ecumenism," I understand him to be making some of these very points (although I have not read him to say anthing about ordination. (I heartily recommend the book. He writes very nicely -- and especially so for a theologian. I guess it helps that he is a German who writes English as a second -- or more -- language.)

I acknowledge that Reinhard has converted to Roman Catholicism. (See Carl's letter.) But his books ("Bound" and "Suffering Divine Things: Theology as Church Pracice") were written when he was still firmly in the Lutheran camp, so I don't think they can be accused of establishing an apologia for his swim across the Tiber.

Inherent in this discussion, of course, is the recurrent theme of authority in the Church. When the Church abrogates her authority in the world (which is one of Carl's points; he thinks that that is what is going on in the ELCA), then secular culture rushes in to fill the void. It is that void that virtually forces some of our best theologians out. (And while I approach this as a parochial ELCA-Lutheran issue, it is by no means limited to Lutherans. This is the major issue facing the mainstream protestant denominations. And I know Roman Catholics who think that that's what's behind much of the internal strife within Catholicism.)

Give me a couple of days, and I'll try to have something substantive (relatively speaking -- with apologies to Benedict XVI).

Pax et bonum, all.

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Red Toad said...

Pastor Frontz has provided us with a caricature of a certain theological perspective. Michael Moore seems to use the same technique in his "documentaries." When this happens, authentic dialogue and honest conversation breaks down. And that's too bad because, perhaps, both Moore and Frontz have important things to teach us. However, their strawman rhetorical style makes it difficult for many folks to take them seriously.

Anonymous said...

I should say i am glad to see the fallout of the liberal ways of the ELCA. When you call 'Missouri' the out of touch Lutherans remember we are still Lutheran because we hold to the Lutheran confessions. The walk-out might have happened years ago but they walked into your homes and church and now your foundations are no more. Rest in Peace

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