Full Text for Dogmatics 4- Volume 47 - What do the Lutheran Confessions say about the Church? (Video)

No. 47. >> What else should we note about the teachings of the church? We subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions. What do they mention about the church? >>DR. KLAUS DETLEV SCHULZ: Yes, David, that is a very important question. And I believe that you cannot avoid the Augsburg Confession and the Apology in terms of what's being said about the church and we as Christians, as Lutheran Christians confess about it. And I wanted to draw your attention in particular to two articles of the Augsburg Confession. I hope you have your text in front of you. It is the Augsburg Confession Article VII and Article VIII. Let me read to you Article VII, if you will. Because as I read it, I would like for you to keep and mark a few words and terms and phrases that are being used in that article. Concerning the church: Likewise, they teach that only that one holy church will remain forever. The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely. And the sacraments are administered rightly. And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere. As Paul says: One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Well, that is quite a long statement that is being made here. The first point that I would like to make is that this article speaks like the Nicene Creed and also the Apostles' Creed of saints existing in the church. It says there the church is the Assembly of Saints. We could say the Congregation of Saints. The Nicene Creed calls it the Communion of Saints. That is the church exists of true believers. Those believers in Jesus Christ who have been worked at faith through the proclamation of the Gospel and have now come unto Jesus Christ and believe in him. That church exists throughout all other denominations in this world, as I have already said before. This church exists everywhere so that when we as Lutherans define this church here as it is spoken of in the Augsburg Confession, we have to be mindful of the one holy church as we have spoken of in the Nicene Creed. This article here then moves on then, also, to a further sentence, which I then need to also explain. Because it says there in a relative clause: In which. In other words, an Assembly of Saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. As we look at this relative clause here, we need to add to the church a visible character. You may know that I spoke about the visibility of the church already before. And visibility in our sense here would be speaking about the signs of the church. In Latin it is called ***noiti ekklesia, that means the signs of the church, must be there in order to define it. So on the one side when we speak about the Assembly of Saints, we speak of the essence. Those that truly exist as believers. And then on the other side, we speak about the signs of the church. Namely, there where when we see them occurring in activity, we will know that there are people gathered and the church is present. What are these signs? Well, the signs are quite simple and we've referred to them repeatedly already. Namely, where the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. These are the activities that we are looking for when we speak about the church. They are the outward activities. Now, I am saying a certain -- giving you here a certain caution. That the Lutheran Church had always tried to point out when it looked to the one side. Namely, to the Roman Catholic context in which this Augsburg Confession came to birth. That was in 1530. It understood itself to an extent to be greater visible than just merely the signs of preaching the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. The visibility, as I've said before, was understood to be something related to the external polity. The hierarchy of the church and so forth. That had to be rejected. On the other hand, there emerged also during the time of the Reformation a kind of spiritualism. We used to call them the Anabaptists and the Confessions call them also enthusiasts. Well, these, as the word enthusiasm means, were those that believe that the church is totally spiritual. That is, it is almost invisible in its entire essence. That, too, has to be corrected. And we can see here that the signs of the church tell us that there is a certain visible reality to the existence of the church. If you read Melanchthon in the Apology Article VII, it's a long article on the church, therein he says this: The church is not to be associated with Plato's understanding of the transcendent. Namely, of devising a platonic reality and apply that to the church. The church is not out there just floating about. It is actually there where the signs are present. So you can see that the Lutheran Church as it confesses its faith on the church is trying to posit a median position, one between the two here. On the one side the Roman Catholicism. And on the other one that is called the spiritualism that tries to deny the entire visibility of the church. That is an important point to make here. The relative clause here in which the Gospel is taught and the sacraments are administered also includes two adverbs that I would like to point out to you. These adverbs refer to the Gospel being taught purely. And the sacraments administered rightly. This is not something that we need to dismiss easily. Our entire existence as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is built on these two adverbs. For as I've said before, our existence as a Synod and all of these churches that come, congregations that join our Synod, are showing an interest in doctrinal purity. They commit themselves to a certain way the Gospel is preached. And our preach of Missouri Synod being an evangelical Lutheran Church says clearly here what the Augsburg Confession is saying. That we have an interest that the Gospel is taught purely. And the sacraments are administered rightly. What does that exactly mean? Well, we need to take care that we preach the proper law and Gospel distinctions. We talk about Jesus Christ as being our only salvation. And that we are not saved by works but through faith alone. And we need to emphasize all other articles that relate to the Gospel. So that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod says that we, also, affirm the other doctrines that relate to the Gospel. And we affirm these in such a way that other churches wish to come and need to agree with us on these very doctrines. So the sentence here that the Gospel may be taught purely is one that we take very seriously. And the sacraments need to be administered rightly. What does that mean? Well, you might recall that Luther fought against certain positions during his time that spoke about the presence of Christ differently as we do today. And as he did. Some would say Jesus Christ is not bodily present at the Lord's Supper. While we have to affirm that he is. That his presence next to the right hand of God is one not understood locally in the sense that Jesus can't be bodily present anywhere else. But in fact, he comes to us in his bodily form through the elements of bread and wine, which we then receive. And through these we also receive Jesus Christ. I think that is what it means to say rightly. And it also implies that all baptisms that we perform need to be done in the name of the triune God. And we cannot accept anybody who does not perform those baptisms accordingly. One thing, also, I need to add in terms of speaking about the signs of the church is that this relative clause must be connected to the Communion of Saints. To the fellowship of people gathered there. A pastor cannot just go to church on a Saturday evening and say: Well, I don't have members here. But I will just celebrate the Lord's Supper with myself. That is not what this passage here intends to say. What it says: Where people are gathered, where the community is present, there the means need to be administered. There the Word needs to be preached. If such a community is not there, then you cannot administer the sacraments. I think that is a crucial understanding today. So that whenever we administer the Lord's Supper and we want to do so rightly, it would imply that the Lord's Supper is instituted, in other words, that the word consecrates the elements in front of the community gathered there, that they would also distribute it to the community gathered there. And that they, too, there would receive it then. That's what I also understand in terms of what it means to administer the sacraments rightly. One very important and crucial statement in this passage here on the church in Augsburg Article VII is the next one. And I would like to refer to it again. It says therein: And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel. We sometimes call this the phrase: It is enough. In Latin: Satis est, it is enough. What is enough for the true unity of the church? It says there that we all agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. I've spoken about that already. Saying that we are interested that the Gospel is properly taught. I might remind you that as a professor and all those who teach in the schools and the universities and colleges of the Missouri Synod all in some ways have to affirm their allegiance to the book of Concord and to Scriptures. Thereby, we do want to make sure that the teaching of the Gospel is safeguarded in our midst. This sentence here, however, also draws attention to the fact that within the church, there are various practices that we need to accept next to one another. Rather than excluding them. Once we have said that it is enough that we agree on the teaching of the Gospel and the sacraments being administered, we can also say that we are willing to accept various human traditions, rites and ceremonies instituted in our congregations. It speaks here about the liturgical practices in the churches in the over 6,000 congregations of our Synod. We know for a fact that not every congregation practices the same liturgy as the neighboring one. Why is this? It's partly based on the statement here in Article VII. Namely, that it's not necessary for the unity of Christian churches that they have to all agree on the same human tradition, rites or ceremonies that we as Christians together practice and agree upon. I would like to caution us all, however, here. Because it is crucial to understand that as a church, also, we would like to affirm a certain Catholicity. We have spoken about the catholic word in the Nicene and Apostles' Creed. That term catholic also points to the rites and practices that are prevalent in the church. For we are interested as Christians, Lutheran Christians, that what we do and practice and confess not only is contemporary to society today. But it also agrees with the practices of the past. I think that is also one point one needs to make. There is a past, a long past and history of the Christian Church that have fought over the creeds and the Confession and over certain rites that we would like to affirm today, as well, and pass on from one generation to the next. So what I'm saying here is that this article probably does not want to promote chaos in our Missouri Synod. It wants to encourage that we see that we need to affirm a certain unity as we come together on worship. That if I as a Lutheran member visit another church of the Missouri Synod, we'll find certain elements there that are in agreeable with the church -- agreement with the church from which I have come the previous Sunday. We as Lutherans of the Missouri Synod also have the Lutheran Service Book and an agenda, a hymnal and an agenda, providing us a basis on what we should do every Sunday. The founding fathers of our Missouri Synod in 1847 have spoken clearly to us by saying that it would be necessary for the church to find some agreement also on its rites and practices. So that there would be a general harmony and agreement and unity on what we do beyond preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments. At the time of 1530 when this article was written, we saw already Martin Luther sending out John Bugenhagen, a close friend of his and also a pastor at the church in Wittenberg, sending him out to provinces such as Pomerania. Giving him the instruction to clearly provide an agenda for territorial churches. These agendas Johannes Bugenhagen handed over to the territorial leaders of these churches and said to them that they should be abiding to them clearly. That concern I think should also be ours today. Article VII in a way provides a perspective on the church that highlights its invisibility, the Communion or Assembly of Saints. And at the same time also its outward visibility, if you will. The preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments. I have read in his -- books on history about Ecclesiology that in the early church there were times where the Communion of Saints somehow was explained to be a Communion of sacred things. I caution about those that want to promote that understanding. I think the church needs to ensue fist in its definition from the community of believers. And then move onto those elements and those signs that are part of the visibility of the church. I think that is a better way to go rather than illuminating the concept of the Communion of Saints. And merely starting off with its visibility. Namely by saying that we are talking here of the Communion of sacred things. Of those things that are being done in the church. Rather than pointing to the Communion of believers in the Assembly of Saints. This article here as we speak of then is one that we could call the Magna Charter. The fundamental statement of how we as Lutherans understand ourselves. And it is crucial that as we study Ecclesiology, that we always return back to it and try to understand it in its clearest form. The other article that we have in front of us is that Article VIII of what is the church? This article also needs to be read carefully. And I would like to read it to you. And I hope you can follow it as I read it. Although the church is, properly speaking, the Assembly of Saints and those who truly believe, nevertheless, because in this life many hypocrites and evil people are mixed in with them, a person may use the sacraments even when they are administered by evil people. And then it goes on to quote text. Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ even when offered by evil people. They condemn the Donatists and others like them who have denied the ministry of evil people, maybe used in the church and who have thought that the ministry of evil people is useless and ineffective. I think this article clarifies a number of important issues. If we speak about the church today, we need to say that this church is one that is only in the improper sense to be defined as one that contains both Christians and hypocrites. The true church, as we have said in Article VII, is the Assembly of Saints. But as we look at our existence today, this article says there are also those who live in the church who may be considered evil people. And exploit the benevolent activities of the church and enjoy them for the wrong reasons. One point that this makes, this article, is that it says that these people who are mixed within the community of true believers are those that could at times perhaps also administer the sacraments and preach from the pulpit. The question then that needs to be asked here is what about these acts performed by people who are evil and unbelievers? Is it, perhaps, inefficacious, the Word as it is being preached. And is the sacrament not efficacious when administered by such people? This article refers us to a heresy that was claimed in the early church. Namely, by a person called Donatist and those people that called him -- the movement was called Donatism. And this claimed that any person who has fallen away from the church, either through persecution and has denied the church verbally may not return to the church and administer the sacraments. Also, all those who are considered evil and of prostate and who try in some way to administer God's Word to the people, God's Word in itself is inefficacious. That is has not and cannot bring anything to the people in terms of forgiveness of sins. We have to dismiss that heresy. And our article does so clearly. By saying they condemn, that is the people who affirm this article, they condemn the Donatists and others like them who have denied that the ministry of evil people may be used in the church and who have thought that the ministry of evil people is useless and ineffective. It is helpful to be reminded of this fact. Because it might come into our midst, as well, where we consider pastors who live out maybe an adulterous life and we had not known about this but found out later. Who have baptized members in our church. And have preached the Gospel. And we ask ourselves. Does the baptism that he has performed during the time that he lived in such a relationship, is it inefficacious? Is it ineffective? The answer clearly is no. And the answer to this question also lies in the Word of God itself. For the Word of God, we have to understand, is efficacious in and of itself where it is administered. In fact, I believe Luther even said a donkey, an ass, if he could speak could be efficacious in what he says. And so we have to understand that that article here clarifies a few important issues in our understanding of the church. We can see that Article VIII draws attention to an important aspect of the church's life. Namely, that as long as the Word of God is being administered, despite and irrespective as to which people officiate in that context, it is still going to survive and continue to live. Article VII, in fact, makes this statement: Likewise, they teach that one holy church will remain forever. This idea then is here expressed. Namely, that the church, despite all of its bad connotations associated with it during this life in this world here, despite it being the militant church of fighting and struggling, it will survive. It will remain forever it says here. Namely, that as long as a teaching of the Gospel continues and as long as the Word is visibly administered, it will continue to survive. And there need be no fear of people saying that this or that church will die. That might be so at a specific geographic locality. And we need to be concerned about such things happening. Nonetheless, where the Gospel is being preached and where the Word is being administered, we can strongly believe that the words -- that the church will continue in its life. We may ask ourselves now as we look at the setting of these two articles whether Melanchthon, who is the author of these two articles and of the Augsburg Confession, tried to devise or connive a new definition of the church that didn't exist before 1530. I think that we need to understand that the Augsburg Confession, Melanchthon and Luther included and all those that supported the Reformation, didn't intend to see themselves dividing from the Roman Catholic Church. They wanted, rather, to reform it. And that's why they probably said directly to the context in which they were working and which they live that they want the Gospel to taught purely and the sacraments administered rightly. So these were concerns not just spoken out in the abstract. They were real concerns that they voiced in the context of their time. And it also needs to be said that in these articles of the Augsburg Confession, if you look at various articles, you will notice that Melanchthon repeatedly draws attention to statements being made previously in the early church. To authors that have already said some things about this or that topic. In other words, what Melanchthon wants to show is that he wants to bring the church back to its original form. That is, the way it was confessed and understood prior, before certain things occurred in it that brought the church down as he would see it. I think this is what the confessional concern of the Augsburg Confession is. It is a concern that they all be brought back, all those that are present at 1530, at the Augsburg Diets, that they all be brought back to Scripture, all be brought back to the simple definition of what a church is. And thereby change certain things and elements. And get rid of them. So that they, again, will have a Gospel purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered. Was it a realistic hope? Well, from the events that ensued after 1530, we can say maybe it was very idealistic. But nonetheless, we should appreciate the effort. And we should say that today we have a church that exists still to this day in the evangelical Lutheran Church. We as a Missouri Synod do not understand ourselves identical with a church that exists here in Article VII. This is an ideal statement. That's how a church should look like. And we try to the best of our abilities to affirm that church by living according to its principles of teaching the Gospel purely, administering it rightly, the sacraments. But we, too, fall short of that expectation at times. But that does not mean that we are, therefore, falling away from what the church wants to be. We want to ensure that we, to the best of our abilities, bring salvation to our members. And as we return to this article, we need to be mindful of the basic elements on which a church exists and from which it lives. These two articles, as I've said before, also address the Radical Reformation. The one that we call associated with the Anabaptists. And to a degree, such communities still exist in the United States, as well, and all over the world. Such communities believe that the mediation of the Holy Spirit occurs differently as we believe. Namely, through the means of grace which we call the Word being preached and the sacraments administered. So if you look at the definition of the church, you should always draw attention to the previous articles. Namely, Article V, which speaks there of the ministry of the church. Namely, where the ministry of teaching the Gospel and of administering the sacraments, where that occurs, that is where the Holy Spirit will be efficacious. That is where his work will be found. I think that is an important and crucial statement that we affirm the external work. We don't go to church just to affirm the Holy Spirit in us. We don't go to the church just merely to find something that we already have. It is important to note that we go through to be given something. A gift. The gift of faith. And so we cannot find that anywhere else. Not in the forest. Or in a club. Or somewhere elsewhere you might choose to go on a Sunday. It can only be given there. And this mediation of the Holy Spirit, this through the visible signs of the church, is one that the Augsburg Confession posits and that Luther does, as well. We might expand the signs of the church. Luther actually does so on the "Church, and the Counsels" in 1544, a document that he wrote then. As Luther progressed in time, he increasingly became aware of people minimalizing the life of the church. Of maybe pushing it aside like I've indicated before. Maybe this overt individualism that sees a unification between believer and Christ apart from the church. We see in 1544 that Luther draws attention to a number of signs beyond the preaching of the Word and also of the sacraments. In fact, he draws attention to prayer. To singing. And also to good works. So that he can say that where all these things occur, that is where the Christian community exists. However, I would like to point out, also, that we need to see the signs, the nota ekklesia, as I've spoken of, and limit these to what we might say the Word and the sacrament. We know Melanchthon in Article XIII of the Apology also says that he's willing to call absolution of sins a sacrament. I would agree with that because through the absolution as the Gospel is being applied to those who are stricken by remorse, want to receive the forgiveness, will receive it as their sins are being absolved. So we need to confine ourselves in terms of signs and apply those to the church where the Word is being preached and the sacraments administered. Now, we may ask: What about prayer? Does the Holy Spirit work through that then? Can we as a church unite around prayer and consider that a sign? I would say yes and no. Yes, we Christians need to pray to the Lord since we are commanded to do so. However, it would not qualify the same as the external means of grace that we have in the church. Prayer is something that beseeches a gift, a grant from God. But the presence of God is promised and fixed to the external means of his Word being preached. And there we will find him. And so in prayer, we ask for his coming. We ask for his gifts. But we know where we have to go in order to receive them. An important aspect then is also to ask then: With whom and where may we pray? Prayer is also an expression of fellowship. That is people come together to pray in Jesus Christ's name. So the standard rule would be wherever we can pray together in the name of Jesus Christ, we would accept such a fellowship being possible. It is not of the same standard and quality as the signs of the church. We need to add this because some people might say we cannot pray together with the Methodists as a table when we eat dinner. Or with the Roman Catholic. That is not true. Our Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has always said that it is possible wherever we can invoke the name of Jesus Christ together to pray with one another. And in this regard then, I would say that prayer is not of the same standard in terms of defining fellowship as is -- as are the signs of the church. Namely, where the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. In a later question I will come back to that when we speak about the ecumenical ramifications or church fellowship later on. So we can see here, also, that the Article VII speaks to us about the one church. And the holy church, the ***uni sancta as we call it. We might want to be mindful of the term ***uni sancta. We have read in the Apostles' and Nicene Creed the classical attributes of the church. Namely, one holy catholic or Christian apostolic church. Well, here we talk in the Augsburg Confession of the ***uni sancta, the one holy church. These two attributes are just the same as those confessed in the classical creeds. But it is one term that we always use when we talk about Ecclesiology. As we move on and look at the Lutheran Confessions and ask ourselves: Where else could we look when we speak about the church? I would like you in your own time, spare time, to go, also, to the Apology Article VII and VIII, these two articles are combined. And read for a while in that article, as well. Melanchthon makes beautiful statements about the church. He dismisses the hierarchal understanding. He dismisses a number of statements that try to identify the church with good works or activities other than those that are based on -- not based on faith. And it being an Assembly of Saints. Also, beyond the Apology 7 and 8 of Melanchthon's -- what he wrote there, we also want to affirm again Martin Luther's statement in the Smalcald Articles, the third chief part, Paragraph 12. Because there he also asks: What is the church? And let me just briefly repeat that to you. I've already said that on one occasion. But let me state it once more. There Luther writes -- it is in the new Book of Concord, Page 324, Article XII: We do not concede to them that they are the church. And frankly, they are not the church. We do not want to hear what they command or forbid in the name of the church because God be praised a seven-year-old child knows what the church is. Holy believers and the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd. This is why children pray in this way: I believe in one holy Christian Church. This holiness does not consist of surpluses, tonsures, long albs or other ceremonies of theirs that they have invented over and above the Holy Scriptures. Its holiness consists in the Word of God and true faith. Again, Luther tries to draw attention to the essence, to what the church really is. And dismisses things that have been added onto the church such as ceremonies and other various practices. Luther here wants to make the point how simple it is to speak of the church. It is really quite a minimalism, if you will, that he applies to it. By saying a seven-year-old child knows what the church is implies that a child is able to understand it once it has learned the Apostles' Creed. Because therein a child will know what the church is as we have seen. Once it is able to confess it. And the age of seven used to be the time when it was given the opportunity to discern those elements of faith. So Luther draws attention, as I've said, also, to Luke 10 where we speak about Jesus Christ as being the good shepherd and we, the flock who follow him. Now that we have looked at the Augsburg Confession and the other documents in the Lutheran Confessions, I would like to provide you with a definition of the Christian Church. I will read it to you. The church in the proper sense is the gathering of the true believers on earth. Who the Holy Spirit, through Word and sacrament, calls out from all nations in this world. And gathers them around the visible signs under the one head Jesus Christ.