Almost ten years ago, on the 9th of March, 2001, I and two other pastors of the Lutheran Church of Australia were summoned to St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Box Hill by the President of the Victoria District to give an account of our Roman ideas to 18 other specially invited pastors.
Two of us had in fact already given notice of our resignation from the ministry and our intention to seek communion with the Bishop of Rome. So in fact, whatever purpose the Summit was supposed to serve, it was hardly going to change our own decisions. Rather, I think it was to serve to help our brother pastors understand our decision.
The format was that each of the three of us were to put our concerns onto one side of an A4 piece of paper. These papers were submitted ahead of time to three other specially appointed “respondants”, whose task it was to reply to our questions. You will find my complete submission here, on my Year of Grace Blog, along with the reply that was given by Pastor Peter Kriewaldt, a senior and well-respected pastor. I believe that Peter did a valiant job of replying to my concerns – in so far as he gave the standard Lutheran answers to my questions. The problem was that my questions were NOT Lutheran questions, and were inadequately served with mere restatements of the classical Lutheran doctrines. My ten questions were, as Peter demonstrated, technically invalid within the framework of confessional Lutheran theology. Nevertheless, the questions made sense in and of themselves, and, I think, deserved an answer.
I was reminded of the Summit recently by a comment that Pastor Mark Henderson left on that particular post on my Year of Grace blog. He wrote:
I remember my impression at the time was that Peter Kriewaldt nailed you on each of your points, David, and reading it again ten years later I still think the same. His was the best response of all of them, I think. …But I still don’t see why you became a Catholic!
So, I thought, why not revisit both my own questions and Pastor Kriewaldt’s responses now, and see if my experience and understanding gained in the last ten years might through some more light on the puzzle that was the movement of God’s Spirit in my heart during that “year of grace”.
TEN KEY QUESITONS THAT HAVE LED ME TO WHERE I AM TODAY.
David Schütz for the Summit at St Paul’s, Box Hill on 9th March, 2001
In ecumenical theology, two ecclesiologies are possible: 1) The true Church of Christ on earth is a visible reality which is manifested and recognised by certain “marks” and is to be identified with a particular denomination to the extent that it preserves these “marks” in their fullness/purity; or 2) the true Church of Christ is an invisible reality that consists of the spiritual communion of true believers who are known only to God, and who may be found in any denomination, or indeed, even beyond the bounds of organised Christianity.
I do not believe the second option to be valid: the church is the body of Christ, and Christ is incarnate (he is not “the invisible man”). It is my understanding that historically the Lutheran Church (and even more specifically, the LCA) has held the former definition, and has regarded itself to be the true church because it alone has perfectly preserved the true Word and Sacraments. For this reason, we have been wary of entering into communion other churches, because of a perceived lack of purity in the preservation of these marks.
If so, is the Lutheran Church not claiming to be the one holy catholic church, and, if so, how is this claim to be justified?
In his reply, Peter Kriewaldt refers to something called “The Theses of Agreement”. These theses were the agreed doctrinal statement upon which Lutheran ecclesial unity was achieved in Australia in 1966. They may be viewed here. Here then, is Peter’s reply to my question:
A Response to: ‘Ten Key Questions That Have Led Me To Where I Am Today’. for the Summit on March 9, 2001
This paper has raised some important issues for discussion. Interestingly, I believe that most of them are well covered and answered by the Theses of Agreement (TA). Here, too, we find the scriptural and confessional references that enable us to grapple with the ten key questions.
Reply to Question One:
TA-V demonstrates that we do not hold to the first ecclesiology mentiond in the paper: ‘The Church, essentially or properly so called, the One Holy Christian Church, the Una Sancta, the Church Universal, is the people of God (1 Peter 2:9), the communion or congregation of saints, which Christ has called, enlightened and gathered through the Holy Spirit by the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, which he has thus created to be his Spiritual Body’ V.1. Many scriptural references follow. No denomination can claim exclusive title to the one, holy and catholic church. The LCA has never made this claim of exclusivity. The RCC, however, makes this claim in ‘Dominus Jesus’ when it says that ‘the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church’. Non catholic churches ‘derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church’ (para. 16). It admits that ‘the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church’ (para. 17). But then it says that if they have not ‘preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery’, they ‘are not Churches in the proper sense’ (para. 17). Although the TA use the term ‘invisible’ to describe the true church, it also uses the term ‘hidden’, a much better description. The body of Christ is known only to Christ, who himself is hidden from our eyes, albeit ‘revealed’ in word and sacraments. The LCA has been wary of entering into communion with other churches not because it believes it is the only true church, but because it believes that true unity is centered in the pure preaching of the gospel and the right institution of the sacraments (CA 7).
In re-reading this, and in re-reading the relevant passages from the Fifth Article of the Theses of Agreement, I see that in fact, I was wrong to say in my original question to state that “the LCA has held the former definition, and has regarded itself to be the true church because it alone has perfectly preserved the true Word and Sacraments.” To be completely fair, the Lutheran Church of Australia rejects both the idea of the Church as strictly “visible” and the idea of the Church as strictly “invisible”. The LCA teaches that it is, rather (as Peter says), a “hidden reality” whose presence can be identified from visible “marks” but even then only seen with the eyes of faith.
This is in fact my second go at writing this post. Between my first and second draft, I have decided to change what I originally wrote from this point onwards. Because, in fact, I believe that I have been able to see that I have moved on from my understanding of “ecumenical theology” in 2001. Upon revisiting the Theses of Agreement, I think we can actually find a point of agreement, albeit with a strong central disagreement, which would have been very helpful to have identified back at the original Summit.
It is worth quoting the relevant passages of the Theses of Agreement in full and actually directly dialoguing with these.
I. The Church, essentially or properly so called, the One Holy Christian Church, the Una Sancta, the Church Universal, is the people of God (1 Peter 2:9), the communion or congregation of saints, which Christ has called, enlightened and gathered through the Holy Spirit by the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, and which He has thus created to be His Spiritual Body. Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 1:2; 12:12f; Eph. 1:22f; 1 Tim. 3:15; Acts 2:41; 5:14; John 11:52; Eph.5:25-27. Cat. Minor, Art. III; Cat. Maior, II, 47-51; Augsburg Confession VII-VIII; Apology VII-VIII, 11-15; Smalc. Art. III, 12.
Basically there is nothing in this statement to which I cannot say “Amen”. I point out, however, the characteristic reluctance of Lutherans to speak of (and note the use of capitals in the original) “the One Holy CatholicChurch”. For Catholics, to speak of the “One Holy Catholic Church” is to speak of the “One Holy Christian Church” – no distinction. Note that in his reply to me, Peter uses the abbreviation “the RCC”, by which he means “the particular confessional denomination” which he calls “the Roman Catholic Church”. Dominus Iesus (from which he quotes, and which was a very fresh document then) however does not speak about a denomination called “the Catholic Church” (let alone “the Roman Catholic Church”) for which it claims identity with “the One Holy Christian Church”. Such a claim would be perposterous. Rather, it recognises a real identity between the universal communion of true particular Churcheswhich is called “the Catholic Church” and the spiritual reality called “the One Holy Catholic Church”.
The TA goes on to discuss the visible and spiritual dimensions of the One Holy Christian Church in Lutheran ecclesiology:
5. Since the kingdom of God comes not with observation (Rom. 14:17; Luke 17:20f ), and since no man can unfailingly identify those who have become and still are true believers and therefore truly members of the Church, the communion of saints, and since the Church cannot be identified with any visible, eternal church body, the Church is an article of faith. In this sense the Church has rightly been called invisible by Luther and Lutheran theologians. To the Lord, however, the Church is always visible. 2 Tim. 2:19.
Note the adamant assertion that “the Church cannot be identified with any visible, eternal church body”, and that “the Church is an article of faith”. The only problem with this doctrine is that it cannot actually be found in the Scriptural or Patristic Tradition. The two texts cited to support the doctrine of the invisible Church both refer to “the Kingdom of God”, which is not the same thing as “the Church” (although note in the next paragraph below the straight out identification of “The Church” with “The Kingdom of Christ” – an identification which Catholic ecclesiology does not make). The evidence is that the ancient Christians, while recognising that it was impossible by outward appearance alone to tell would and would not be among the elect on the day of judgement, nevertheless regarded “the Church” as a clear and concrete social reality both in terms of the particular local Churches (after all, Paul was able to “visit” and to “write” to these Churches) and in a universal sense, since the whole communion of these particular Churches could be represented by the bishops (the pastors) of these particular Churches in communion with one another. And this is precisely where we can find both the agreement and the disagreement on ecclesiology between Lutherans and Catholics. This fact is demonstrated in the next paragraph of the Fifth Article of the TA:
6. Nevertheless the Church is not a Platonic or an imaginary state, not a geographic division or political organization, not an external polity bound to any land, kingdom, or nation (Apology VII-VIII, 10) or to any particular form of church government, but it is the kingdom of Christ, the mystic Spiritual Body of Christ, an essentially spiritual communion or fellowship of saints, which yet has real, concrete existence, and is both hidden and manifest, not of the world and yet in the world. Apology VII-VIII, 15, 18, 20.
The first sentence of this paragraph is not very well edited. The authors clearly wanted to say that although the Church is NOT “a geographic division or political organization,…an external polity bound to any land, kingdom, or nation, or to any particular form of church government”, and although it IS “the kingdom of Christ, the mystic Spiritual Body of Christ, an essentially spiritual communion or fellowship of saints”, NEVERTHELESS “the Church is NOT a Platonic or an imaginary state”. It “has REAL, CONCRETE existence”, which can be seen by particular “MARKS”. Note too the statement that the one of these “marks” is most definitely NOT “any particular form of church government”. THAT’s where we part company, of course. Most of the rest of the stuff in the Theses of Agreement we can, in fact, “agree” with (with the exception of the identification of the “Una Sancta” with the “Kingdom of God”)! . Here is the next paragraph:
8. ‘The pure doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ’ (Apology VII.VIII, 5, 20; XIV, 27), through which the Church is created and preserved, are also the outward marks (notae) by which the existence of the Church at any time or place can be recognized… But the means of grace are the only and essential notae infallibly indicating the existence of the Church on earth, for these are the essential, the only, and the unfailing means by which Christ through the Holy Spirit creates and preserves faith in the hearts of men, and by which the true Church, though ‘hidden among the great mass of the godless’, becomes manifest on earth. 1 Peter 1:23,25, Eph.5:26; Rom. 10:17; Mark 16:15f; Luke 22:19f. Faith knows and trusts that wherever the essential marks of the Church are present, there the true Church is [my emphasis], inasmuch as God has promised that His Word shall not return unto Him void. Isa. 55:10,11.
In fact, Catholics can, I think, entirely agree with this last statement. It is, in fact, nothing other than what Catholics themselves say concerning the way in which we can affirm that the Church of Christ (the “Una Sancta”, the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”) “subsists” within “the Catholic Church”. It is precisely because we affirm that ALL “the essential marks of the Church are present” in the Catholic Church, that we assert that “there the true Church is”! The point of disagreement is on what actually entails “the essential marks of the Church”.
A simple question for revealing the difference is to ask: What is the Catholic Church? The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium §2, gave the answer: “This Church [ie. “the sole Church of Christ” – what the LCA’s “Theses of Agreement” call “the Una Sancta”], constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him”. At one point, this contradicts what the Lutherans say – after all, it identifies the “Una Sancta” with a particular form of Church Governance – but on the other hand it affirms what they say: The Church is NOT “a geographic division or political organization, not an external polity bound to any land, kingdom, or nation…but it is …the mystic Spiritual Body of Christ, an essentially spiritual communion or fellowship of saints, which yet has real, concrete existence, and is both hidden and manifest, not of the world and yet in the world.” The only difference between Lutheran and Catholic ecclesiology is the question of what the “essential marks” of the Church actually are. Catholics say that the communion of bishops in apostolic succession in communion with the successor of the chief of the apostles IS an essential mark, which in fact makes “visible” the “invisible”. Lutherans say not.
And yet, to go back to my original question in 2001, I stated that the Lutheran Church “regarded itself to be the true church because it alone has perfectly preserved the true Word and Sacraments”. Why did I think this? Because, in the next paragraph of the Theses of Agreement, the LCA had declared in 1966:
‘The pure doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ’ (Apology VII.VIII, 5, 20; XIV, 27), through which the Church is created and preserved, are also the outward marks (notae) by which the existence of the Church at any time or place can be recognized.
What they don’t say, but what they want you to understand and what every Lutheran is not in any doubt of, is that the Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church ALONE has indeed preserved “the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ”! Of course, other congregations and other people in other denominations may also have preserved (more or less) these “marks of the Church”, and thus are part of the true Church insofar as these “marks” are present – but this is hardly to say anything else than the Catholic Church herself teaches, when she says:
“Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth” [LG 8# 2] are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements” [UR 3# 2; cf. LG 15]. (Catechism §819).
In the end, therefore, I think, after almost ten years, I can be a little less dogmatic than I was way back then. I can recognise, and I hope my readers can also, that Catholic and Lutheran ecclesiology is not all that different in basic shape and approach.
Both agree that the Church is a spiritual communion of saints that has a “real, concrete existence” in the world, and which may be recognised by certain “essential marks”. Both assert of themselves that these “essential marks” are fully present in their own communion, and yet may also be found beyond the borders of that communion, and – in so far as these marks ARE found elsewhere – the true church is there too. Nevertheless, we part company on the matter of what those “essential marks” are. The Catholic Church includes a particular form of governance – bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome – in the list of “essential marks”; Lutherans expressly exclude this. And it is that “communion” of bishops which makes the Catholic Church a “visible society” upon the earth in the way that perhaps the Lutheran Church is not.