Full Text for What Does It Mean Today To Be The Church? (Text)

This Issue A FTI 11 THE VARIOUS articles began to comc ill For publication in ,I somewhat jndiscrinl- inate \\a)., a very clear pattern nekertheless devel- oped. Professor Regin Prenter, a former chaii-in~n of thc I \\IF'S thvological commission, has con tri bu tcd an article clarifying the Lutheran cloctrine of the church especiallv for the present day. Pastor Hans-Lutz ~octsch., the regular speaker on thc German Lutheran Hour, describes the struggles of confessional Lu thcran- is111 011 the continent. Only the future nlill tell nrhcthcr these are the last sparks of a dying church or the seeds of a new birth. Dr. Ralph ;lloellering lays do\v11 scbcral principles for the church in a tiille of rc\ olution. Tn o articles on thc practice of liturgics in the church take differing slants. Pastor Rcinhart Trairtmann questions the sanctity of the forms 1110st frequently used. Pastor Reinhard hlunlrn, also a German pastor, gives a vcrv favor- able re~~icn of the H~orshil~ Sz~pylert~erlt. Father Harvey J. AlcSorle), a Luther scholar in the Church of l1omc, intcrprets Luther's concept of the church in such a nay as to make it compatible to current Konlan Catholic theolog! . IYillianl h1eyc.r of our facult1 has some 1)erti11~11t rcmarks 011 ~vhether original languaocs are reall! guarnn- h tees in understanding the B~blc. )lost contempo- rary articles 011 th~ cllirrch are 11egativc. For- tui~ately all of these contributions are positi~ e and arc. tl~ereforc also c~ninc.ntl> practical. What Does It Mean Today To Be The Church? REGIK VRENTER, Universit,. of Aarhus, Denmark Tmnslntio~r by ~rofcsior Otto Stahlbc HE PURELY I)OGX.IATIC QUESTION, what the church is, T appears to be answered with conlparnti\~c ease within the Refor- mation framcrvorh. The Reformers gave a thoroughly rcsearch~d answer to this question in their dialog with the ppal church. One ?? is rcinindcd for instance of Luther's "Von den Konziliis und Kirchcn. Also the confessional ti, espi:cinllr the Augsburg Confession. have their specific articles.on the church, which clearlv describe the esscncc and the functions of the church iscorciing to evangelical doctrine. But is the question, what the church is, at all to be posed as a purcl~ dogmatic elitestion? The doctrine of the church distinguishes itsclf in its content froin other dogmatic articlcs in that the teach- ing churcli has itsclf as the object in ecclesiolog),. \2:hcn the evangelical church defines a pure doctrine of the cllitrch, it puts itself to the test. It must ask itself, as soon as the pure tloctrine of !hv churcll is put into practice, "To what extent clots shc 3s the i~\.angclical cl~urcll correspond in fact to its own tc1iiching l.cg:lsding thc churct~?" It is indeed entirely possible that a c.llurch which calls itself e\.:lngelical openlv contradicts ill practice its c\anuclical doctrine regarding the ch11;ch. Therefore the true iloctrinc. conc'crni~ig tllc cll~lrch, iyhicll is simply a part of the es- sence ~f i~cclc~iolo~~, can nc\er be a so-called "pu;e dogmatics". The tloctrinc of the cl~urcIi ;~I\\.a\-s ill\.olvps at the same time church c1hics r111tl uhurch la\\-. \\'hc.n \ye c\e\:clop our evangelical doctrine concesni~l: this uI1~1rch \LC ;\re askcel nl]lPthcr we are today ethically i~ntl Ic~;llI\. "cIILI~c~~" in t11:lt scnsC, or \\,hcther \ve can and \tlant to be 111:rt. \\ c lnirst ri.rnclllhcr that thc \\.or]il in which the evangelical chill-c.11 is ;1110 ii1~1st b~' CIIII~CII tad;,!. is a cliffcrcnt world fro111 that Ii~ti, ~~lc.clics\;~l cogll izable in tlic l~orld as the holy people of God. As a holy people it is inclcbcd 1litldc.n bcfore the jyorld, for its holiness is llot of its own cloing I)ut I)\ tI1c holincss of Jcsus Christ n.hicl~ she receives through hitli in 111~ Gospcl as her 0~11. Thos the church's holiness by faith Jilli~ t hitltlcn under the remaining sin of all the individual 11ic~11bc.r~ of thc people of God. Precisclv as thc holv church of sinncrs is this proplc of God constantl!. exposed to the mockery of thc world. I~LI t t lit. hol\ ch UJY~ is iie\~crthclcss recognizable bv the confession of its faith lrchrrc tllc n.orld. It should bc so rcco~nirablc that the \j.orltl ciin ~~crst.cutc it \vlicre and when it ~i~ishes. For thc confession of the church in \~rord rind cIccd puts it, so to say, within the reach of the enemics. It cannot flcc from the grasp of the persecutors into the safe unsei-tahility of the so-called ecclesin invisibilis. The audible \vord and the visiblc n~ortl of thc confession of its faith nlakes it unfail- ingly recogni/ahlc in ancl beforc the world. The existence of the church, which belie\.cs and teschcs that it is the hidden, holy church, is one of such an ilnmistakablc character by virtuc. OF its obligation to confess its faith. 'Through this obligation its catholocit\, coines into evitlcnce. It is this obligation of the church to its own nature through the unmistahablc cl~~irai'ter of its confcssion in \vord and deed which is expressetl in thc tloctrine of thc marks of the church, the Flotae ecclesiae. This did not appear with sufficient clarity in thc early ecclesio- logical expressions of 1~ ther in, for instance, "\7011 den1 Papstturn LU Kom." In this book Luther says: "The signs, by which one can externally observe, where the church itself is in the world, are bap- tism, holy communion, and the Gospel, and not Rome, or this or that place." To this corresponds Article VIJ of the Augsburg Con- fession: ". . . one holy Christian church . . ., nrhich is the gathering of all believers, among whom thc Gospel is purely preached and the holv sacraments are administered in accordance with the Gospel." Here the marks of the church can be interpreted purely institutionally. \Vhercver a pastor actually f~ulctions in the proclamation of the Gospel and the adnlinistration of the sacraments, there a believing congregation must also be found. This means that one can ascribe invisibilit\, to the believing people of God and visibilit!' to the insti- tution of-the office. Such an institutionalized interpretation of thc cloctrine of the rlotac ccclcsiac is in conforn~ity with a national church and its corresponding national-church ideology. The statc which is eminentl\. visible provirlcs for the institution of the church to which also -the office of the nlinistn- belongs. Then the truth or result of thc function of the institution of the spiritual office, thc real, truc church of the believers, disappears into spiritual invisibility behind tht. imposing visibilit\1 of the institutionalized state church. The fellowship of the belicvcrs does not come into view. It has no share in the external recognizabilitv of thc church, which enlerges through the llotac ecclesiae. Later cxpressions of Luther are different regarding the marks of the church. In his "Von den Konziliis und Kirchen" the marks of the church are not ascribed to the office as such but to the entire congre- gation and arc interpreted as its confession. This is true also of those marks which arc most intimately bound with the function of the office : thc Gospel, baptism, holv comn~union, the absolution, and the calling of the servants of the IVord. This becomes especially clear and dutifully evident in his work, "Von den Konziliis und Kirchen". "IVhere you hear such \Vord or see it preached, believed, confessed, and acted according to, there have no doubt, that a truc ecclesia snfzctn catl~alicn, a Christian, holy people 111ust surely be there, even if their nulllber is vcrv slnall." Hcre one sees honl the institutionalized interpretation of ihc ,rota of the Gos1)cl begins to expand. The verb predigeir -which clcsignntcs thc function of the office is explained by the three verbs: glnzihen, bekeirnor, and dn?~ach turr. This places the entire of God uncler the Gospel. This is also well expressed in the following scnteocc of Luther: "For God's Word callnot be without God's people, again God's cannot be without Gocl's \Vord; who mould want to preach or hear it peached, if none of the pcoplc of God were present? and what could or would God's people bclicve, if God's iVorcl were not there?" (Miirrcheller Azlsgrrbe, pp. 1 14). Again on baptism: "Secondly, one recognkes God's pcoplc or the Christian, holy people by the holy sacrament of baptism, \\here it is rightly taught according to Christ's command, hclie~~cd, and osetl" (p. 11 5). Br usr of the verbs, geglazrbt und gebrnztcht, to cxplrlin the function of the Gospel, the people are included in the action of baptisill as wotae ecclesine. For, as me rend further, " . . . baptism does not bclong to thc baptizer, nor is given to him, hut tu the one \rho is baptizer\, for wllonl God has instituted and gi\,c.n it, just ns the ji'ord of God is not the preacher's (except that he also ~vil~its to hear and bclic\~c), but to the disciple, who hears it anti bclic\.c~s. to him it is gi\.cn." The same shift of cmpllasis from the1 institution of the office ("in \\~hjch thc hol!. sacraments are admin- istcrctl in accorrlancc with the Gospel", fztllctioll of the office!) to the fcllon.sl~ii> of the people again becomes clear when holy communion is tliscussctl: "Thirtll\., one recognizes the pcoplc of God for a Chris- tim. holy ~)c>oplc b, the 11011, sacrament of the altar, ivherc it is rig11 tl!. ;~tlniinisterctl accordine to Christ's jllstitution, believed, and rc.cci\,ctl; for it is ;~lso a public sip1 and a precious means of salvation, gi\ c.n h\ ('hrist as ;I I~cclucst, b\. n-hich His pcoplc arc hallo\vecl that the\ S~(,LI~CI ~)rilctirl~ :lncl publicly confess, that the\. are Christians, as lllcb) (lo i 11 tllc cilsc of the \i,ord and i,aptism" (ll:l). 1 15 f). Here it Ilccomcs r\c~ibrclilipl! clear t11;lt i\'(;rd and Sacrament arc not c~clu- si\cl! functiolr, ot ilic ufficc ;IS ;I lncrc or a mere ;~dlniliistc.l-cd sacr:llncnt but arc the marks of tile church as the \Vord fll;lt is I>'.C;ICI~C'~I ant1 bclicvc.d anti \vitnesseC\ in the collfcssion and in cIc~'cl. ;11al thc s;~cr;~liicnt ;IS ;l socramcnt adlllinistercd, belie\red, prac- ticccl, i~llcl thrrcb!: \\-it ncsscd. The \\'ord ;lllcl SacraInent are thus ]lot 1"-i111;iril! I)o~ll~tl up with tlic officc \vl~ich administers them, but ii \\ ith this pCol)Ic \\I10 rcc~i\-~ ilnd give trstimolly to them. '' rhc 0 of God is 110t tllr prcachcr's (except that lie llimself \\ ihllus 10 hrilr i111d I)rli~\c\), bLlt it belongs to the c]isciple, \\rho hears :III(I l)~,lic\ k~." It 15 110 \\()n(lcl. that the fourth ;~nd fifth signs, the hvs and the clcctic)~l ot c,lillnsli ofhccrs. intcrprcted in the manner. "- . . for \ll~rrr God's pcoplc arc not. thrrc the kcvS :\re not, anti \fllc~.c' 111~' Ii<'\* not. thcrr God's people for C,Mst has IVhrrt Ilocs it .llcon 7'olfny To Bc Thc Chr~rclzi 103 p~ --~~~- ~ . ~-~-~p ~~ --- left tlici~i as a hecl~icst, that tlicrc shoulcl be a public mark nncl meails of salvation, hy ~.llicli the Hal! Spirit (through the iiicrit of Christ's death) again l~allon-s the fal1c.n sinners, ant1 that the Christians shoultl thcrcby confcss, that tlic!. are a llol!. pcoplc ~~ndcr Christ in this worltl . . ." (1). 1 1 7). "\\'hcrcvcr ~OLI scc therefore such offices or office holders, thcrc vou 111av know, that surclp a holy, Christian people must be for the church c;innot be without such bishops, pastors, prcachcrs, priests, ant1 again, it cannot bc \vithout the church, tlicy must be sitlc by side" (p. 12 5 ) . The last t\vo rzoicle prayer and the Holy Cross, arc very yar- titularly signs of the confcssioil of the people who recei\lc the Gospel in faith. "Scvcnthlv, onc recognixes the holy C,l~ristian pcoplc out- r11 b this mean's of lienling, thc Holy Cross, undcr which it ~~1st suffer ever\, misfortune and pcrsccution, all manner of tribulation and evil (as the I_ortl's Pravcr prays) at. the hands of the devil, the world, ant1 the flesh, must mourn il;n.artlly, be cmbarrassecl, be frightened, be out\vardIv poor, despisccl, sick, and weak, in ordcr tliat it might be like unto its Hcxd Christ, ant1 tlic cause of aH ni~~st be this alone, that it lioltls fast to Christ and C;od's \\'ord 311d thus suffers for thc sake of Christ, hlattlien- 5 : 'IZlcssctl arc thcv \\.lie arc pcrsecutctl for 111!' sake' 'I (P. 1 2 5 j. Thus all sc\~ii llotac ccclcsincr ,in ''\ion den Kon~iliis untl Kir- chen" arc interpreted as necessary outward fornis of the confession of the faith in the Gospcl wliicli are offered in \Vord and S;icrament. The one-sided, institutionalized emphasis 1113011 thc \\'ord \~:itliout faith, tlic officc without the co~lgrcgation, tlic 'being-prcachctl-at' without the confcssion of the faith in the \\lord, in deed, and in suffcriii~, is ~x~lutlccl here from tlie start. It is in this spirit that \re must attcnipt totlay to make the tloctrinc of tlic marks of tlic cli~~rcli concrete and ilctual in ethics anti cliurcli la\\-. But lion is it possiblc today to be tlie cli~~rch of the Gos1)cI in this sense? Hcrc our concern is not cxclusi\-ely regarding the pure c!octrinc of the pastors in thc pulpits but also regards thc' confcssion of the faith of the entire congregation in \\.ord and tlcctl. \\'hat clocs this in~ply? This means that thc pul-it!' of cloctrinc, the Gospcl to bc l~rcachctl to the in the service can ne\.c'r be assured by legislation over doctrine. Self-evidently I am not main- taininc~ that no order, thus no law, ciln bc brought to bear in thcl 9 area ot proclamation. There is in tlic church trul!. a ''la\\. of grace". Tlic pastor must makc a at his ordination. There must be some kincl of ecclcsiastical boartl before which he nlakes this vow. The boartl 011 its part through the acceptance of the vow likewise takes up- 011 itself the co-responsibilitv for its fulfillment. Let us call this board or authorit!. by the tradition;~ name "bishop." The co-responsibility of tlic bishol3 for thc conduct in officc of those ordained under hill1 does not niean, certainly not in the first instance, that hc is to be iilterestetl as a spiritual police chief only in the eventual transgressions of the vow and to correct ;ind punish them in sonic nlnnncr. Doctrinal discipline is then not the primary methocl by vhich the bishop acti17e- ly assumes the above named co-responsibility. His co-responsibility is prinlarily a positive one. He is the helper, teacher, counsellor, pastor, and brother in relation to thosc ordaincd under him. And only in the measure that he has been ablc to excrcisc this positive co-responsibility actively will he be ablc to apply tlie right discipline in the case of a doctrinal conflict. \Vherc order ant1 law are valid, it must also be possible to exercise discipline. But since the Gospel is not a law, and the pure proclamation of the Gospcl accordingly not an obcdiencc under the Ian. but a gift of grace-as it i17~st become evident in the ordination pray-this discipline cannot be carried out in a legalistic manner. But what does it mcan to carry out an evangelical disciljline? This means that the bishop-or the ecclesiastical court eventually called together by him-will not seek to decide the matter exclusi\?ely with the aid of soine church law, i.e. the confessional writings inter- preted legalistically. Indeed, the confession of the church is the norm according to which churchly proclamation 111ust be evaluated. But in the word confession one must not understaild primarily a Tan- of doctrinc put into writing but the cvangelical collfession orall! dcli\,crccl by thc congregation in its act of worship. In its content this li\ ing confession is self-clidentlv identical with the confessional writing because both express the tiuth of the one Gospel as it is cxprcsscd in I-Ioly Scripture, But in their forill they are different. Thc living confession is the confession of the church in actu while the confessional writings are the record and the explication of the content of the living confession. To apply doctrinal discipline cwn- gelically then ~vould mcan, to lct the matter be decicieci in the local congrCgatiol~ through the nlutual \rorshipful confession of the bishop ;lnd the local church. This is then in co11tr;ist to all legalistic pro- cc.~l~rre in \\hicl~ tlie mattcr is left to a standing court outside the loc,ll coi~grcgation which judgcs according to a valid Ian- of doctrine. 7-hc hcrCtic, shoulcl he truly be '1 heretic and not nlerely an opponeilt cl.it~c of somc traditional thelogy, lllust be so con\rillccd that he hiimclf unrlcrst;~nds th'it hc no longer shares, ]lor can share the con- fC'ssio11 of tllc cl~urch, and tl~~rcfore must take leave from the p~llpit of 11 ik on n accord. Of course man!. will cry out, "That is a Utopia! \\'e do not 113\.c such 1)islloln and such congregatioxls. The bishops are not t-hcologic;lll!. triistn.ortlly, alid the congregations are not at all mature enough for such responsibility." So be it! If \re are not sufficiently ~natiirc to cirrr!. out such cva~lgelical doctrirlal discipline neither are tlic bisllops nor the larnlen in tlle congregation. Is it the11 evident that \\c must nrccssarily apply such clisciplinc legalistically? Dare r1.c ;lctil;lll! cvcr do tliis? And if IVC assert this, are then actually ~r.illili~ to IIC hic cli~irch ill accord with our o\bTn doctrine of the Wlt~it Docs If .\I~~‘111 'f-'o(f(~y To 13t: TIIC (:lzzrrch? 105 -- - -- - . .- .- . - -- . - --. - - . - -- -- - . - --- ~ church? I'crhaps 11c dcsirc it, but unfortunatcl!- \\c cannot attain it. Lct us sav that nc ,Ire members of a Volkskirc7le sul>portctl by the state. M'ill tile st;;te give further support to a church which in this manner manifests its character as church? l17iIl it be able to tolerate an cvang~licall~ al>plic(l doctrinal disciplincl The pastors in such a church are officers of the state, who cannot or ma!f not be deposed in this "pri~atc" m;,ttcr. AS ;in officer of tllc state an c~angelical pastor practic;tll! cannot be dcl2oscd for false doctrinc. Scither does it occur an!. 1ongt.r In practice, although the solemn ordination vow i~ still maintainccl-as ;i beautiful, traditional fiction. Is it possible to be an cvangclical chiirch in such a church-stntc relationship, if the important matter is to spread the Gospcl, thc first mark of the church, in the \\,orlaptisnl is the propcrtv of the office bearer since they ha1 e heen gir-en to all the people, the office is ncvcrthcless responsible for the l>roclamation of the Gospel ancI for the administratioil of the sacraments. II'ithout the office the Gospcl ancl the sacrainents cannot becornc evident as divine institutions, as the gifts which havc been offered by Christ Himself through His messengers. \Vc are here then concerned with the apostolic character of thc. ccclc~siasticnl office. The ordination of women to the apostolic office, consiclered by itself, may appcnr as something wholly ins@- nific.ant. "\\'hy can a woman not proclaiill the pure Gospel and atllninistcr thc. sacranlents accordiilg to Christ's institution? Excgeti- c;11I! tlic clucstion scc~ns not n.hollv clear. Is there any point in raising protests ag'linst it? \11d can one -truly find theologically sound bases for such a prott.st?" Ilis matter offers questions enough which haw to Iw cousitlertd. Uut one thing seems clear to nlc. Thc justification oC the. depnrturc from the common church tradition is hcre usually 1~~1ncl 1113 \\it11 a disregard of the apostolic character of the office and thc Gospel ant1 rvith a corrcsponciing avoidance of public opinion and thc wish of thc political majority. At least this was the case in my cllurch. lllercforc this innoration places us before the qucstion as to n~1~cthc.r 11.c 3s thc church are still prepared to assert the apostolic character of the office todar. For bv yielding to the pressure of public opj~lion and thc political majority in a point, be it as insignificant as ~ossihlr. nc rc~ eal ;I new attitude regarding the authority and the rcsponsibilit\ of the office. The adherence to the traditions which Luthcr forn;ulates in "yon den Konsiliis und KirchenV in this man- ner: "Rut it is true, that in this nlattcr the Holy Ghost has cxcluded women, children, and incompetent people and has chosen only com- petent male persons for this (exctpt in case of nced)", can perhaps be the required testimonv for thc apostolic character of tile officc in this situation. Thus the observations ivhich n-c havc made as we have triccl to concretize i~nd actualize the cvangclical doctrine of the marks of the church in ethics and church law all point in thc same direction. They are all directed to the local worshipping congregation in \vhich the apostolic officc and the baptized, believing. people arc united in the procIaination and in thc response of the distribution and in the receiving of the sacrament. Only in the new experience of the spiritual unit!; of office and congregation in every individual worship- ping congregation sl~oulcl the source of a rene\val of the church bc sought, by which \ve might be pcrinittcd to learn in an unexpected manner how to be a church today, as an undeserved gift of God. And here emerges the illark which we have not so far mentioned, holy communion. The unit!; between cleroy and laity- and the orig- a, 4 inal meaning must be given to the 11-ord laity": royal and priestly nlember of the peoplc of God!-is indeed manifested in holy com- illr~nion as nowhere else. h,lartin Luther fought a hard battle in the area of doctrine for the proper understanding of the gift of the sacrament. But in worship practice his followers succeedcd only in a very incoinplctc manner to safeguard thc proper position for Ilolp communion. 1,utIler himself always emphasized that the preaching of the Gospel ancl the celebration of holy communion arc inseparably related to each other. But the Lutheran churches first bccamc preaching churches and celebration of holy communion dcclincd. So was the case also to iln even higher degrecZin the Rcformed churches. rls a conscquencc of this in clergy centereel churches, the laity of the church were more or less condcmncd to silencc and passi\.ity. But the Holv Supper finds its proper place anel\--precisely as coinmunion table, not as "private mass"!-there pastors anel laity will ;~lso ~lcccl to finel their relation to each other in a new mai1nc.r. In order to sum up briefly what I hatre saicl, "to be ;I church" Illcans to be a \.itallj- worshipping congregation. 'There, in the stkrvic.e whcre thc Gospel is purely proclainled ancl the yeoplc gather every Sunday about the table of the Lord, there the people of God come into view. Thcrc thc church becomes ~isiblc to the ~vorld. Thcre it also takes the strength to live as the church in the n-orld rind for the world. In the course of time this ob\.iousl!: cannot happen without all kinds of conflict. There are una~oidable powers in the world which resist the Gospel. Thcse can even hide behind public opinion ancl behind political majorities. But precisely when thc church rcceives the power to resist such \yorld powers, it lives for the nlorlcl, it serves the world. Conversely, it betrays thc world if it yields to such powers without resistance. This is the temptation of tile evangelical church in the modern world in which it has entirely lost every external power and all official influence. The church today then has fallen into the fortunate and promising situatioil of being thrown back solely upon the promises of its Lord. This is the confident, brave, joyful "solely" in which the church today, as always, can and wants to be church. Indeed, then it always and actually continues to be the church through the grace of its Lorcl.