Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 1 - Religious Body (Video)

***ROUGHLY EDITED TRANSCRIPT*** CONCORIDA UNIVERSITY EDUCATION NETWORK AMERICAN RELIGIOUS SCENE DR. THOMAS E. MANTEUFEL NOS. 1 THROUGH 10 No. 1. >> Hello, Dr. Manteufel. My name is Nick. And I am very interested in this course because of the diversity of religious backgrounds which I encounter on a daily basis. Almost every conceivable faith is expressed here in Los Angeles. Even within the same city block one will find surprising variation of belief and practice. When I speak with people, I'm frequently asked: Does it really matter to which church or religious body a person belongs? I always say yes. But I would be most interested in hearing your comments. >>DR. THOMAS E. MANTEUFEL: Well, as you know, there's a seemingly end number of different religious bodies with new ones arriving all the time. What's the difference between them many people ask. That question may be a simple request for information. But often it expresses an attitude of indifference about denominational teachings. For example, that it makes no difference what you believe as long as you are sincere. Or that one church is as good as another. But to the confessional, convinced Lutheran, beliefs do make a difference. He or she is aware of the importance of knowing the truth. The Lord Jesus said: If you continue in my Word, then you will truly be my disciples and you will know the truth. And the truth shall make you free. That's in John 8:31-32. Saint Paul called for a firm conviction saying we shouldn't be babies any longer, tossed and driven by every windy thing that's taught, by the trickery of men and their clever scheming and error. Let us speak the truth in love. That's Ephesians 4:14-15. Saint Peter, too, wants Christians to be able to talk intelligently and helpfully about the truth. Be ready always to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope that you have. But be gentle and respectful. I Peter 3:15. In the work of the church, in pulpit and altar, fellowship matters, in coping with the problems of life. In mixed marriages. And in seeking hope at the grave, beliefs do make a difference. Some years ago I wrote an article on this subject in the "Lutheran Witness." And the letters of response to that article showed that people are disagreed about it. For example, one took me to task saying: If the same kind of time and energy were spent acknowledging what we have in common with other Christian churches and working together to spread the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ, it would do a lot more good. But others were very appreciative commenting, for example, that people who are thinking about joining the church of some denomination need to consider what it teaches. A Lutheran scholar named ***Casper Nervick once wrote a book about religious bodies called "Christian Truth and Religious Delusion" in which he used categories which refer to the mix of truth and error in their traditional teachings. These were the following: The church of truth. And here he put the Lutheran Church. Then bodies with much truth and much error. Here the Catholic churches, that is to say the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Bodies with much truth and some error. Here the Reformed churches. Also there are the bodies who have some truth and much error. Here he put Pentecostalism and Seventh Day Adventism. And then you have the bodies with a shell of truth or the terminology of truth but are almost all error. And here he put the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons. Probably all of the religious denominations in this country, though there are thousands of them, could be divided up into these categories which ***Dr. Nervick uses. As ***Dr. Curt Marcwitt has put it, people argue officially about which is the car or beer or political party. But when it comes to churches, one is supposed to be as good or as bad as is another. So either cars and beers and parties are some things that matter more than churches or else they've done a better job of convincing their followers. But what churches teach and what church one belongs to is important. For one thing, these differences are real. They have to do not with trifles and not only with trifles like customs and the vestments that are worn by the clergymen or whether the Lord's Prayer is said one way or another but rather they have to do most importantly with actual basics of New Testament teaching. Is the Bible or the Pope or human reason and science the supreme authority in the church? Or are we saved strictly and only by the merits of Christ or also partly by our own merits or other peoples' merits? Are the sacraments real gifts of grace or just empty pictures which people may or may not use as they please? To say that such differences don't matter is to say that Christ and his Word don't matter. The main differences are really not too complicated for the average person to understand. The basic choices really are few in number. And somewhat simple. First one must make a basic choice between Roman Catholicism and eastern Orthodoxy on one hand and the reformation on the other hand. One can make this decision by making a thorough study of the teachings of the Reformation. Especially in the Lutheran Book of Concord and the Augsburg Confession and other such books. And then there's another basic choice between the Lutheran and the Reformed. That is to say the Calvinists and the Armenian churches. The Lutherans affirm the Bible teaching of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the altar. And the Reformed deny it. That's a very important question that certainly must be decided by a person in dealing with these matters. But note this, also. The Lutheran Church does not say like the Roman church does: Believe what we say because our organization has God's authority behind it. We say believe what we say not because we say so but because the Bible clearly teaches it. And there's no way of deciding in advance which church will be right. As if any church was to be regarded from the beginning as infallible. No, that kind of decision can be made only after a church's teachings have been checked against God's Word. And if the average Christian knew as much about his church as he knows about his favorite sports team or pop group, everything would be crystal clear. The trouble is not with the Bible nor is it a matter of interpreting this or that little text a bit differently. The problem lies in the attitude towards Scripture. There are liberals who say that the Bible makes mistakes and is not really God's Word and all that it says. Roman Catholics say that it isn't clear or complete and must be subjected to a spiritual higher court. That is to say to the Pope's rulings and interpretations. Those who deny that the words, "This is my body" means what it says, they force the text to fit into a preconceived human idea. Namely, that a limited thing like a body can't become unlimited so that it is present in more than one place at one time. Christ only founded one church, which consists of all real Christian believers everywhere. But only God can look into a person's heart to see whether he believes or does not believe. And for us, therefore, the church is really invisible. We can only know about our own faith. We cannot look into the hearts of others to know for sure. To find that invisible church, we look for its God-given marks or signs. That is to say the words and the sacraments which Christ has given to his church. And by these signs the church is created. Because Christ works through these signs with his mighty power to create faith and to bring about new life. And Christ wants these signs and marks to be kept not just anyhow or in just any way. But to be kept purely. As he says in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And he says in Matthew 15:9 about teachers of his day: In vain do they worship me. Teaching for doctrines the precepts of men. And we've already heard the passage in John 8:31 and 32, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed on him: If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth and the truth shall make you free. Saint Paul said in Romans 16:17: I appeal to you brethren to take note of those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which we have learned. Avoid them. And Paul also said in Galatians 1:8 and 9: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach unto you any Gospel contrary to what we have taught, let him be accursed. As we have said before also I say again, if anyone is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to what you received, let him be accursed. So all outward church bodies must be judged according to those principles. That does not mean that the right teaching church by which we mean the Orthodox church is the only saving church as a visible organization or that Orthodox Christians may hate others who don't teach as they do. Christians certainly owe love and justice to all. But Christ and his Word must always come first. That's the important point. We recognize that all Christians, if they really are Christians, stand upon the Word of Christ. The Word of God. Some, it is true, stand more firmly on the Word than others. Some stand more completely on the Word than others. And we also recognize that. Long ago Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the father of our Synod, made this statement. He said: The name church, and in a certain sense true church, also belongs to those visible groups of men who have united under the confession of a falsified faith. And have, therefore, incurred the guilt of a partial departure from the truth. But they still may be rightly called churches provided that they still possess so much of God's Word and holy sacraments and purity that children of God may still be born thereby. And so what he was saying was that these groups can certainly be called churches in the sense that the Christian church, believers in Christ, can be found in them. And each of these traditions taken as a whole is impure. But it has pure parts in it, though they are mixed with impurities. And so they can be said to contain the marks of the church. And these are what we call the Christian denominations. CS Lewis was a very different kind of thinker and they'll low January from C.F.W. Walther. But he made a similar kind of statement. And we can also agree with him in what he said. He said this: When all is said and truly said about the divisions of Christendom, there remains by God's mercy an enormous common ground. He's referring to the common ground that Christians have and what they agree in with one another. And there certainly is such a common ground. Many things that Christians affirm whatever denominations that they belong to, if they truly are Christians. Now, we of course have good reason for examining and warning against the teachings of other denominations with which we disagree and for declining to unite with them or to commune with them. Nevertheless, the perspective that's stated here by Walther and by C.S. Lewis is very useful with regard to this common ground. Those who are standing on it can learn from each other's words and writings. And can encourage and support one another in fighting common enemies and dangers. It's possible to have a profitable and edifying conversation with a traditional and yet friendly Roman Catholic like Professor James Hitchcock of St. Louis University who has written this. It says: There are the negative factors of liberal theology which threaten the common core of Christian faith and cause both Orthodox Catholics and Orthodox Evangelicals to discover between themselves much greater unity even across denominational lines than either group is likely to find with liberal members of their own churches, who either reject tenets of their own churches or interpret them in a way that undermine their traditional meaning. And we could argue, he says, that the real age of ecumenism is just beginning and that the real ecumenical frontier lies not between liberal Protestantism and liberal Catholicism whose adherence has often reached agreement with each other by proclaiming the equal irrelevance of both of their religious traditions. But rather the real ecumenical frontier lies between Orthodox Catholics and Orthodox Protestants who may differ from each other in many details. But who do take their faith seriously. That is each of them do. The same kind of thing was said by another Roman Catholic writer, James Fitzpatrick, who said this: The essential point to keep in mind is that Catholics and Protestants of a traditional bent have a common ground that's broader than the breach that divides us even though there are many things that divide us. And they have a common enemy. We share the belief that Christ is the Son of God and in a quite literal way. Thank you. We share the conviction that the gospels record Christ's words accurately and that those words provide the normative wisdom for guiding and living our lives. We stand together against the moderns who tell us that they have found something better.