Monday, October 30, 2006

The Foundation of Orthodoxy

Recently a considerable amount of attention has been generated by the action of a former brother of mine who decided that Orthodoxy is the possession of the "Orthodox Church." He has enjoyed a considerable amount of celebrity because of the scholarly nature of his devotion to the "historic liturgy." He truly is a very scholarly individual, who wholeheartedly devoted himself to his scholarship. In my observation this led to both much blessing and his ultimate downfall. It led him to denounce his own church body, for entirely valid reasons, and yet simultaneously to denounce leaving his church body. The latter was based upon a belief that standing as the Church apart from a formal church body is somehow invalid. (This is my condensed paraphrase from one of his very scholarly papers: "What Options Do the Confessions Give Us?".) Finally, being unable to reconcile these two diametric positions, being unable to live with this hypocrisy, he turned to liturgy and tradition for his salvation, where things seem to be more stable.

Please understand that this is not in any way meant to be an attack on this dear man. However, since his recent resignation from the office of Pastor in the congregation that he served and his accompanying departure from the Evangelical Lutheran Church has brought much attention to this "movement," it seems appropriate to mention him.

I believe that this "movement" is symptomatic of a bigger issue. The bigger issue is how people define the Church and the Faith.

As one who left the same church body more than four years ago, and as one who briefly examined the "Orthodox Church" in the hope of finding a church to call "home," perhaps my observations will be of some benefit to others finding themselves in a similar dilemma.

For me, however, the dilemma was not one of seeking an alternative to the Faith testified to by the Lutheran Confessions, but was one of seeking to find a church that truly abided in the Faith testified to by the Lutheran Confessions. As those who "go East" ultimately must and do admit, the "Orthodox Church" does not embrace the same faith exposed in the Lutheran Confessions.

At this point I need to explain the purpose of this post. My purpose and focus is not to counter the move toward the "east." My focus is not to oppose the Orthodox Church. My purpose is to explain what I believe is the dilemma for those who strongly desire to be faithful to the Faith of the Scriptures as it is embraced and explained in the Lutheran Confessions.

I am setting before you an understanding of the Lutheran Confessions that at first will very likely seem quite foreign to you, especially if you are a proponent of "Lutheranism." I myself am no longer a proponent of Lutheranism. I am a proponent of the faith that is witnessed by the Lutheran Confessions.

This may seem like strange language to those who count themselves to be "confessional" Lutherans. I propose to you that if this sounds strange that the reason for the strangeness is due to the view towards understanding what it means to confess. In my observation, nearly all who commonly count themselves as confessional Lutherans today understand this to mean that they confess the Confessions of the Book of Concord. This is the basis of the confusion that is being experienced today among Lutherans. The Confessions are not meant to be confessed. They are meant to be expositions of that which is confessed, namely the doctrine taught in the Scriptures. So, the Confessions are witnesses to the witness given to the Church by the Holy Spirit.

This brings into question just what confession really is. St. Paul explains this.

But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."
(Romans 10:8-11 NKJ)

By this we behold what confession truly is. It is not confession of a creed. It is not confession of a body of doctrine. It is not confession of anything that is of man. It is confession of the Lord Jesus.
Jesus Himself makes this very plain in His statement to the apostles in Matthew 16:15-18:

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (NKJ)

Here the Lord Jesus proclaims the basis upon which His Church shall be built so as to stand forever. Upon what shall His Church be built and stand, upon the ROCK. The Lutheran Confessions define this as the ministry of the Gospel. In the Smalcald Articles Luther explains:

As to the statement, "On this rock I will build my church"(Matt. 16:18), it is certain that the church is not built on the authority of a man but on the ministry of the confession which Peter made when he declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. Therefore Christ addresses Peter as a minister and says, "On this rock,"that is, on this ministry.

Whose ministry is this ministry? It is Christ’s ministry. Jesus defines the rock as the revelation (apocalypse) given to Peter by the Father. He makes it painfully clear that the confession on which the Church is built is not the confession of a man, but the confession of the Father, that is, God. This is God’s confession or revelation. The confession of the Church is the ministry of Christ, by which He speaks through His ordained spokesmen the confession of the Father. This is the confession of God, which means it is the confession of the Holy Spirit.

But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27 NKJ)

So the confession that flows to the lips from the heart of the believer and is spoken before men is God’s own confession of salvation, revealed in the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is why we can trust the ministry to be effective for us, not because of the faithfulness of the men who administer the mysteries of God, not because of the faithfulness of our feeble confessions, but because of the confession of God, who speaks through our pastors and our confessions. God is the faithful one. God is the one in whom we trust. God is the focus of our devotion.

In response to this another question arises. Often the term Christocentric is used. What does this really mean? Does it mean what Billy Graham and D. James Kennedy advise people? Does it mean to make Christ the center of your life? Does it mean to make Christ the center of your thinking and doctrine and practice? Does it mean that pastors and congregations should strive to keep Christ as the center of the ministry of the Church?

Understood correctly, yes. However, this is not the language of the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not proclaim Christ as the center of our lives. The Scriptures proclaim Christ as our life. He is not the center of the Church’s doctrine and practice, He is the Church’s doctrine and practice. The Church is not centered in Christ but is the body of Christ with Christ as the head. The Church is built upon the Rock, which is Christ. The Church does not feed upon doctrine and practice but upon Christ, through His blood sprinkled with the water and through His body and blood distributed in communion with the bread and the wine.

This leads to another matter of confusion in "Lutheranism": the definition of communion or fellowship. Is communion ever a partial relationship or is it a true conjoining of two or more into one? The Scriptures always speak of the true conjoining of more than one into one true communion. It is a true sharing in or participation of the parts in one another.

This is perhaps the biggest factor in the confusion and struggle among those confessing to be Lutherans today. Most who call themselves Lutherans do not really believe that communion is real. Most today consider communion to be limited in various ways. The Scriptures teach that communion is 100%. To be in communion with something or someone is to be joined in complete union with that thing or person or body. This is what St. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 10. There is no such thing as a partial communion. Whatever we join ourselves to is what we are in communion with in reality. Either we are in communion with the Lord or with someone else, namely, the devil. Those are the two choices. Joshua presented this reality to the Israelites when he led them into the land of rest.

Within modern Lutheranism, however, "Confessional Lutherans" pretend that this reality can somehow be ignored. They persuade themselves that they can coexist in a true communion and a partial communion simultaneously. They pretend that they can confess to be in a church body that mingles itself with the world and with mixed confession, and simultaneously be in true communion with the Lord by practicing certain things at the local communion (congregation). They pretend that they can be in the communion of the church body at some limited level.

Thus they find themselves in a never ending conflict. Their hearts lead them to the same point of the dear man who wrote the fatal paper: "What Options Do the Confessions Give Us?" The answer to the question posed by this paper is that the Confessions don’t give us ANY options, or better stated, excuses. The Confessions testify to the Rock and the communion of the Rock, the Church. There is only one option. Either one is in the communion of Christ, or the person opts for the other communion. No levels of fellowship exist. Either a person is in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, or the fellowship of the world and the prince of this world.

St. James addresses this very powerfully and adamantly:

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NKJ)

When people remain committed to two masters, they find that the Lord Jesus was not kidding about what happens. They eventually choose to love one rather than the other, though they continue to pretend to love both. But there is no middle ground. Either a person stands upon the Rock, or on the confessions and communions of man.

As a former member of the LC-MS, I faced this dilemma. As I examined every other body of "Lutheranism" that I could find, I continued to face the same dilemma.

I determined that I could not be conjoined with the bodies that are in communion with that which I denounce. I determined that I am far better to stand alone upon the Rock, than to stand with many in a fellowship of multiple foundations.

The Church does not exist by the confessions of men, but by the confession of God. This is why AC VII is so important to remember. Is the Gospel taught purely in a congregation that confesses communion with those who teach impurely? Are the Sacraments administered in accordance with the divine Word in a congregation that confesses communion with members of a church body who do not administer in accordance with the divine Word? Can a congregation honestly say that they are members of a communion, but only part way?

I believe that the Scriptures teach that this is impossible. I believe that the Lutheran Confessions teach this as well. Thus I found it impossible to remain in a church body that declares that what God says cannot be can be. I am a follower of Christ, not a follower of the Church. I believe that Christ is my sufficiency, not membership in a church body. I believe that the confession of the Church is the product of the confession of Christ, not the other way around. I believe that standing upon the Rock that I shall remain steadfast and unmoved. I know no other Rock than Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I have never been disappointed while trusting in Him. The Scriptures promise that I never shall be disappointed or ashamed while trusting in Him.

That’s good enough for me. Nothing else comes close.

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