Full Text for A Response to the Leuenberg Concord (Text)

A Response To The Leuenberg Concord Produced by thc Clzul-chly Gathering for the Bible and Confession of the Faith In the Evangelical-Lutheran Stnte Chzrrch of Tlcrnnove~. Translated by JOHN DRICKAMER T HE DltAF?' of a "Concord of the Reformation Churches in Europe" I:translator's note: see "The Leuenberg Concord," The Springfielder, Val. XXXV, No. 4, Xlarch, 1972, pp. 241-2491 has been submittecl to the respective churches so that they may react to it by March 1, 1973. Such a short time can result in hasty decisions ivi th unforseeable consequenccs. Though this is our first critical reaction to the 'Concord,' it is not our intention merely to point out isolated inconsistencies. The intended ecclesiastical communion is really an attempt at unification. This it does with the Law and not the Gospel. Therc is a danger that this procedure might have fanatical /~sch~.uuevmerischl and legalistic results. According to the unanimous testimony of the Lutheran Reformation, the confusion and mixture of Law and Gospel with the substitution of one for the other is an apocalytic phenonlenon, signifying the apostasy of the last days. The confession of the church may not bc replaced with an ecclesiological scheme concerned chiefly with the institutional church and lacking in his- torical perspective. It is not just a mattcr of details. Rather, the Gospel itself is at stake. Luther's constant reminder that the Antichrist does not sit in front of but rather in the temple is the "handwriting on the wall" (Daniel 6: 25-27) of a "progressive churchJ' which listens ultimately to all kinds of voices but no longer to her Lord's. The draft of the 'ConcorclJ is a misdirected undertaking with respect to the preserva- tion of the heritage of the Reformation. We fear that it is nothing illore than an official recognition of a Law theology, dictated by liberal tlleology, and intended to be a third confession. The text of the 'Concord' indicates the serious crises which the ecumenical movement has encountered for some time. Ecumenism, involving the Protestant, the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches, needs even more the Lutheran voice. For the sake of the truth of tllc Gospel, this voice dare not be silent. Ratifying the 'Con- cord' can be the first, irreversible step, to a union based on consensus, spelling the end not only of Lutheranism but also of a genuine ecu- menism. We would like to point out also that the Churchly Gathering for the Bible and Confession has requested from the Lutheran Church of Ilannover a definitive clarification on two points: How the neces- sary nzagnus consensus [great consensus] of the 'Concord' is to be determined? What is the status of thc Hannoverian State Church pastor who is boulld to the T_uthe~.an Confessiolls but who personally rejects the 'Concortl'i The draft of tllc 'Concoril' presents many difficulties which nlalre the doc~unlent as a whole even more cluestionable. Little justice is done either to the large and long established churches or to the slllaller denominatiot~s in Europe. If it has reference essentially to the Lutheran-Ref3ri~el dialogue, that should be more clearly ex- pressed, eslxciallp if the draft 1s to be a sort of pattern for the future. Thc objections to the draft ma)1 be considered more precisely under six heac1ii:gs : 1. In spite of the short and secilli~lgly positive reference nt the coizclusion of Thesis 4 to Catholic Christianity and the sigilificance of the three ancient creeds, it remains questionable whether the draft does justice to the concept of thc u7za snrzctn cccEcsin 17erpetzlo wnlzsurn [the one holy church, which endures forever, A. C. VII, 11. Perhaps reference to the creeds is a formality. 'Thc 'Concorcl' treats the facts of church history in a rclativcly careless manncl-. Thesis 4, n7hich states that the I,utherans ailcl the Reformed together opposed thc "ecclesiastical traclitioil of that tir~le," overlooks the fact that the I~uthcrans uitderstood themselves as the true ad- llcrents of thc ecclesin cntholicn. This is attested by the Augsburg Confession and by the understand in^ of lioinnn Catholics and 1,uther- ans of their legal status in the Entplre up to the tinle of the I'cace of Westphalia in 164 8. The historical position of the Kefornled should also have bee11 inore esactly presented. The coinmon protest of the Lutherans and Hefol-n~ecl against the liornan Church of the 16th century is hardly grounds for a coi~corcl in he 20th. The Gospel must be defined over against: an esternal legalism and fanaticism ~vhose. chief character is protest. It has to be asked whether in Thesis 4 the intra-l'rotestant disagreements !lave been ovcrlooked in any case, 1,uther includect Z~vingll anlong the fanatics. The significance of the transition of leadership froill ZwingIi to Calvin should ]lave been discussed. 2. Concerning the hazy concept of ecclesiastical commui~ion, there is alreacly a great deal expressed in saying that the concept of the uua salzcta ecclesin pcrpetwo malzszlra [the one holy church, which is to endure forever] contains in itself elements of ecclesiastical conlillunion which have never been questioned. That is just os true for thc church in relationship to the Third Article of the Nicene Creect as it is for the cllurch with respect to Baptism as the one ecunlenical sacrament. 3. While tlle Lutherans certainly do not want to back do11711 from the satis est [the statement that agreement in the doctrine of the gospel and in the administratio11 of the sacranlents is sufficient for ecclesiastical conllllunion:] of A.C. VII, the question still remains, in view of Thesis 6, whether the 'Concord' uses an unclear definition of the Gospel which nlalces coi~sensus easy. Precisely for this reason the satis est dare not be interpreted to al1o.v~ relativisin. 1. hilisgiviilgs al~out the 'Conco~:tl's' concept of the church is further confirmed in tllc disc~~ssion of' the debatable conctpt of an ecclesiastical communion. The prinlary goal is noi: LI union but an acconlntodation in which the old co~lfessions will retain their validity as a fornlality. Still a closer ccclesii3stical comlnuniotl of tile Reforma- tion churches is desire(1. 2. fn view of the 'l'hird Article of the Nicc~~e C:recd it must be aslted rvlietber one can really say that: tl~ere has been ~bsolutelv no ecclesiastical comn~union till the prcscnt. Ecclesiastjcal coinr.lluni;n in the 'Concord' is cilidently understooil in an institilt:ional scusc. This is a collsidcrable shift of accent right at the stiirt. Surreptit:iouslg involved l~erc might be the notion that practicitl considcratjons talcc precedence over doctrinal ones, a notion that does not come from tltc Iteforrnation. 3. From the 17ersl1cctivc of ilogniatic theology, it secins tll;lt: such a concept of the church is cierivcd from Sckleiern-ucher's idea of the co~zgregatio smzctorurn j the congrc~ation of saints'] .in Section '1 15 of The Christia~z Faith,. "The Christian church 'talces shape thro~igh the conling together of regenerate i~~divictuals to forin a system of mutual interaction an(? co-operation." The 'Concord's' con- cept of clenominational conurnunion as thc co~ning together of the confessiorlal groups for cornmon action is similar to Schleiern-tacher's ideas on the con~regation. Ecclesiastical conununion ~vui~ld than be something inanuiactured by thc application of thc Law. Thus the COIIEII/.Z.IIIZ~ S~PLC~.OYZLII~. 1)ecomes meani~~gless. At the same time denominational communion LKirche7zgernei?z- rchnft] is not guided by :iltnr fellowship ~Abe~zd~~~aklsgeirzeiIlschaft] . In this connectlo11 it must be pointect o~~t that the Arnoldshain Theses 011 tlie Lord's Supper have notbeen officially acceptcti by the c~hurclles. Silence on this hue dare not bc interpreted as acceptance. Attaiiliilg agreement on the individual theological points is obeiousl~ becoming increzsingly Inore difficult,. ns the Isork of the Committee on Baptism of the Evangelical Church in Germany shows. Tl~ereforc the 'Concord's' attempt 1s questionable to settlc all the disagreenlents with one stroke and so extensivc:ly as to iulakc: inter- de~lo~ulinntional coituniunioil possible. If the minute points are beconi- ing increasingly difficuit, this will be even Inore so for the entire issuc, unless the parts are rclativizecl for the saltc o.f the ~vhole. 111. THE RELATIVIZING VIEW OF HISTORY 1. This relntivizing tendency is quite clear in Thesis 5: 'The "questions of the new era, historico-critical Scripture research, and the ecclesiastical rcncival movement" are said to have brought about an advance in the chrrrch's thought and life. As superficially true as this is, this statement shows a tendency to relativizc, especially wit11 respect to the "challenges of the new era." The church should be guided by the truth of the Gospel, not by current problems. This rcsults in such meaningless statements as: "It was simply no longcr possible to illeet the intellectual and social demands in the new era wit11 the thought forms of the 16th and 17th centuries." On the contrary, 1.utjlt:l:'s cioci~:inc of the two ltingdolns still seems relecant totla!.. i!. concord can, not: achieve its purposes if it simply clismisses as anticluatetl tllc doctrirlcs of government rind of the ~:oynl loritship of Ch1-ist-. '.fo this very (la): t'lley arc the subject of tlieological tliscussion. 2. TIlc 'Cotlcoril's' claim to sec: :z distii~ction bctween the funciamental .rvitness of the confessions of the Refo~:mation and their "historicallly conditioned thought fol-111s'' is unclear, unless a more csnct csl)lal~aticil of what is i~~tet~cled is given. The historic confes- sions arc obviously rc1;itivizetl rvllen tllc '(loncurd' speaks of tlic ";~c~u;I~~zcc~ confession." .Any col~fcssion;tl str-ltemcnt can be ne~iti-ali~,crld by "historisizing" anci "actualizing" it. 3. IIow rcaliy valid is the asse1:tion that the tl~ougllt. f01-111s are out~noded': Fol: csample the old ffc.fo~.lnccl form~rla that thc fi7zit:rlliz. lzolz L.,apnx i~zfi~~iti :the finite callnot contain the infinitel, call be fo~u~ci as I-ecenily 3s in the 12ri1olclsl1ain 'I'bcses and in Karl Barth's Co~r211ze~ztrr~y on Hovznns with its theology of the: dirrstc~sis, the final forin of his cioc?.rinc of reconciliatioxl, and his cioctl-ine of l3nptism with its itistinction between spirit and water haptisln. I'rarth's work shows that the old formulas, fi7tit71~1z C;~ILZX i~~fi1zii.i and fi~lit~~~qz I~O~L ca/.:nx i.nfi~ziti., arc not outrlloded for contelnporary tl~colog)~. On t:op of ;l'i! this, thc concl~lding sentence of this sectioll ~vitl~ I. 1 its call to "frcl'edom of faith.," can only cause skeyticism. I here ;%re no r:ontrols jv-ercnting a relativistic a11tl. suhjecti\7istic misintcrprcta- tion. IV. Is T'HERC A CONIMON C~'NI)EI~~'~-I:.I;KI~IN~; 01~: .]-HI: GOSTWI,? 1. This corninon untlerstanitjng of thc Gospel must be dou~~t.e~l right from the start jf the 'Concorcl' does liot cven malci: an attempt to distinguish the Law from the Gospel, so basic for Luthcranisnt. 'This shoivs how little real progress has taken place. Tl~c definition of just-ification as "the message of thc free gracc of God" ('i'hescs 7- 12) covers only the antitheses discussed there. The1:efore it renlains uilclear what illcaning justification has for the Reformed. 2. Tllc thcology of the cross also remains vague (Thesis 9). Tlie sntisfactio ~:icnrin is hinted at, at least, but tllc understanding of the cross in the sense of the revelation of the love of God is open for all the rnisunderstanclings, fro111 the Socinians' to Ritschl's and to that of current liberal theology. Luther's theology of the cross is so ivealc- erled that justification can no longer be understood as the "happ!7 exchange of placcs." A logical consequence in Thesis 10 is a tendency to depersonalize Christ. Tt is unclear whether the expression of the righteousness in Christ also contains his pr-aese~.ztin [efficacious pres- ence], a ~veal~ in "ccclesiastical" youth work. The impetus to Christian service can be supplied by other fellowship experiences. Further, the confession of the 'presence of the risen OneJ is evidently intcncled to replace the 'Ileal Presence' (Thesis 16). 011 the other hand, the celebration, the action, the execution receives the heavy en~pEiasis. The Lord's Suppcr is ullderstood as a confessional act, resenlbling the Refornled position. In the entire discussion the statements on the sacranlcnts in no \yay do justice to the 3;utheran position. Traditiollally this ~vo~tld have to be the decisive nor111 in 3 conco~:d of this type. 111. C~NSEQUENCES FOR ECCLESI~ISTICXI, COMMUNION 1. 111 the light of these positions it is only logical that the censures of the churches against each other no longer apply (Theses 17-28). The olcl ailtitheses have already been so cxtensi-ciely neutral- ized and harmonized that it is o~llji a fornxility to declare that they tlo not exist. Therefore a concord procluced in this manner ~vould be held together not: by the bond of unity and peace but rather by rela- tivism. Both parties coulcl then be gircn new clefinitions of what was 111e:jnt: by their disapproval and couId replace the conclenlnations in the Augsburg Confession with these new dei-initions. 2: i\ few discrepancies in Thesis 1S should he pointed out. 'I?le fori~~ulation "without reservationJ' sta~lcls i.11 tcnsion .c:vith the idea of judgment. In ~onne~tion wit11 the lrrnesciitin [efficacious presence] of- Christ in the Lord's Supper only the reception of bread and .trrine is mentioned. 'I'he reception of the body and blooc2 of Cllrist is omitted. Could it be that the doctrine of the ~~~n~~ducntio ii7xpiorzllz (unbelievers also cat the body and blood of CIlrist in the Lord's Supper) is being rcvo1;ed wit11 respect to its content, even though the ~vords arc used? 3. In accord wit'h the thoroughgoing antisupernaturalisn~, the eating ancl drinlting take prececlei~ce over thc est [the essence]. i\grcement on the actions invol~~ed (Thesis 19) can also be misuncler- stood as an agreement on the objective reality so that an esclusively an ti-lioman unit)^ is produced without a sufficient definition over against antisupernaturalismt~ra1isn which relativizes the est. 4. The forinuIatiol1 "he [God] makes Jesus as the crucified and risen One present for us" (Thesis 21) should be scrutinized. The true divinity is not included with respect to the cross and resurrection so that only the humanity remains. This does not agree with the Council of Chalcedon [A.D. 45 11. At this juncture the intensity of the struggle between Luther and Zwingli threatens to brcak out again. The verc Deus /:the divinity of Jesus] is conspicuously avoided. (Cf. also especially Thesis 9). 5. In the 'Concord,' Christology is handled separately froill the doctrine of the Trinity. Here again the background of the non capnx [the teaching that the finite cannot contain the infinite, cf. 111, 3 1 is seen. 6. Tllc self-disclosure of God (Thesis 22) remains uncon- nected with. the trinitarian framework. If thcy refuse to 111al;e state- nlents about the supcrnaturr-11, only antisupernatrrralis~n, i.c., 'a closed universe,' is left. Thus the olc1 tl~cological argull~ents ('Thesis 23) are artificially resolvecl. The old Lutheran-Reformed points of con- tention are dissolvecl in favor of a non-supernatural "self-disclosure." 7. 111 relation to Theses 24-26, whcre has the Reformed party retractecl its olci position on double predestination? Here tElc llcfornled shoul(1 bc Illore prccise. Xn 'Thesis 24 the phrasc "unconditional acceptance of the sinful 11~x1" might suggest that there is no nccc? for rcpenteilce, l'reclestination, as an eternal call to salvation, is inncle- qu ately handled. 8. In coi~ncction with the worship forms (Thesis 2S), the Iegal- istic tendency of the lzleforlned with respect to ofices anct orclixlances ilnre not be overloolrecl. The total failure to consider the distinc- ti.on between Law and Gospel is seen in a trifling with cj~iestions of orc'ler and congregatiollal structrrre. This does not (10 justicc! to the l~cformecl. Tlzerc is no mention of the fact that the prnese~stin \.the efficacious prescncej of Christ in the ~vorsl~ip scrvice c;~nirot be accepted by thc Kefortlled in the saxne TTQ).T Lutherans do. :Zt the same time there is a trifling with tl.1~ concerns of the T,utheran divine service in the sense of Luther's 'German .klnss.' \ 9. All of thc eailicr ~ilisgivings sl-c concentrated in 'Tlicsis 33. U navoidable is the false impression that the nlu tunl recognition of . churches as churches depends on pulpit and altar fclloi\~ship, an im- pression that is in direct contr:adiction to the Lutheran nssessp~ent of the catllolic trntlifion. It appears cxtremcly questionable to undcr- stand ccclesinstical cornillunion entirely from the perspective of ordination and intercelebration. I'rof:. Dr. Irnst Sominerl:~th, editor of t11c 'I'hcologisc,hc .I,iicl-a- tuj..zeif-l~ug, togcther \\-it11 Dr. August Kinlnle and othcr .tr:ell knoixrn theologians l~avc 1-csl>onded to the '.Lcucnberg Concord' in a docn- merit cn tit.lcd "t3esponsc of thc Luthcl.an L'nitv GI-QLI~ to t.hc llrriff. of the "Concortl of Rcforlnation Churches -111 Furopc." Ac-cording to this document the 'Concord' is not: precise enough in defi~ling the Gospel. The administration of the sacraments js 1ln1:dly dealt with at all. In addition, this documetlt expresses coxlcerll over the lack of time for consideration befol-e the 'Concord' is expccted to be finalizccl. Finally, the Lutheran L'nit): Group is concerned that denlinp ii~tcrde~lo~~rinationally hut on e regional level is ruliliinfi the risk ot offending the churc21cs in the rest of the world and hindering more far-reaching ccunienical attempts.