The Spirituality of the Church Means No Need for a White Paper on Israel

If you wonder why Roman Catholics in the public eye are a little sensitive about the review of the Edgardo Mortara memoir, it may have something do with the Vatican’s not-so-great history with European Jews or the state of Israel. Massimo Faggioli reminded readers of Commonweal of that vexed past:

Rome looks at the anniversary of the State of Israel with a complex perspective very different from that of Evangelical Protestants in the United States. In less than fifty years, the Vatican has moved from opposing the Zionist movement, to a de facto recognition of the State of Israel, to a de iure recognition. In 1947, the Vatican supported UN Resolution 181, which called for the “internationalization” of Jerusalem. In the encyclicals In multiplicibus curis (1948) and Redemptoris nostra (1949), Pius XII expressed his wish that the holy places have “an international character” and appealed for justice for the Palestinian refugees. In its May 15, 1948 issue, the official newspaper of the Holy See, L’Osservatore Romano, wrote that “modern Zionism is not the true heir to the Israel of the Bible, but a secular state…. Therefore the Holy Land and its sacred places belong to Christianity, which is the true Israel.” The description of Christianity as the “true Israel” (verus Israel) is a reminder that it wasn’t until decades after the Shoah that the church fully recognized the connections between supersessionism, theological anti-Judaism, and anti-Semitism.

Vatican II helped reconcile Catholicism and Judaism. But the relationship between the Vatican and the State of Israel remained complicated. During his trip to the Holy Land in Jordan and Israel in January 1964, Paul VI was very careful never to utter the word “Israel,” thus avoiding even the suggestion of recognition. The questions of who should control the Holy Land and whether to recognize the State of Israel were not addressed by Vatican II’s Nostra aetate, whose drafting was closely scrutinized not only by bishops, theologians, and the Vatican Secretariat of State, but also by diplomats, spies, and Arab and Jewish observers. Vatican II ended before the Six Day War of 1967 and the subsequent occupation of Palestinian territories, which permanently changed the geo-political situation in the Middle East. From then on, Israel was in firm possession of the whole of the Holy Land west of the Jordan River, including all the Christian holy places. This led the Vatican to modify its position in a pragmatic way. In an address to cardinals in December 1967, Paul VI called for a “special statute, internationally guaranteed” for Jerusalem and the Holy Places (rather than internationalization). We cannot know what Vatican II would have said if the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the capture of Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem (and the Old City) had taken place before or during the council. But we do know that Arab states and Arab Catholic bishops and patriarchs at Vatican II were strongly opposed to anything that sounded like a recognition of the State of Israel.

Yowza!

But that is the sort of corner into which you can paint yourself when you are a church with temporal power (that is, the Papal States) and with assumptions that you should be at the “running things” table.

A spiritual as opposed to a political church doesn’t have such worries. Add some amillennialism and you can even free yourself from the evangelical Protestant habit of trying to determine the date of the Lord’s return by monitoring developments in the Middle East. Like the Confession of Faith says (chapter seven):

5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.

6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

Now that the coming of the kingdom of grace is no longer bound up with a Jewish state, people are free to support Israel as an outpost of democracy without a whiff of immanentizing the eschaton.

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Why Convert? Stability

Ross Douthat reproduced Damon Linker’s reasons for converting to Roman Catholicism. Since Jesus has little appeal, this seems like one of the better expressions of cultural or philosophical Christianity (neo-Calvinists beware):

I became a Catholic (from secular Judaism) in the midst of a personal crisis. I longed to find an absolute moral Truth and craved a sense of belonging with others who recognized and ordered their lives according to that Truth. Catholicism is perfect for people with such yearnings. It tells them that the Roman Catholic Church is the church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time. Its magisterial authority can be traced back to St. Peter and the rest of Christ’s original apostles. It publishes a 900-page Catechism filled with elaborate, absolute rules laying out in minute detail how God wants us to live. It governs itself according to an intricate code of Canon Law that first began to be formulated nearly two millennia ago.

For someone who feels troubled by a culture in a constant state of instability and change, the Catholic Church can feel like a rock in a stormy, windswept sea. Finally, something is steady, permanent, unchangeable, fixed, immobile. The church’s very stability can end up looking like the strongest sign and confirmation of its divinity. Everything changes! But not God and his church.

For someone drawn to Catholicism by the promise of order and stability, any sign of change in the church will be unwelcome, threatening. The fact that social and cultural mores shift and develop around it is an argument for retrenchment and improved outreach to a world tempted by sin in new ways. It certainly isn’t a sign that the church should adjust its teachings on faith and morals, accommodating them to the latest trends. Any such adjustment would risk diluting the Truth, and (perhaps just as bad) serve as a potentially fatal concession that the church’s teachings can be fallible. Once that door has been opened, there may be no way to close it. Remove even a single brick from the foundation, and the whole edifice could come crashing down.

Douthat responds by describing the way conservative Roman Catholics acknowledge change without admitting discontinuity:

Let’s make a partial list of the changes that most conservative Catholics have accepted — sometimes grudgingly, sometimes enthusiastically — in their church since the 1960s. A transformation in the church’s attitude toward liberal democracy and religious freedom. A transformation in the church’s attitude toward other Christian churches and non-Christian religions. A total renovation of the church’s liturgy, one with inevitable implications for sacramental life, theology, biblical interpretation, the works, that was staggering in hindsight but accepted at the time by everyone except a tiny minority. A revolution in sacred architecture, albeit one that stalled out once it became apparent that it was, you know, kind of terrible. Massive shifts in church rhetoric around issues of personal morality (sexual morality very much included) even where the formal teaching remained intact. Stark changes in the way the church talks about sin, hell and damnation, and openings (again, including among conservative Catholics) to theological perspectives once considered flatly heterodox. Clear changes, slow-moving or swift, in the Vatican’s public stance on hot-button issues like the death penalty and torture (and perhaps soon just war theory as well). The purging or diminution of a host of Catholic distinctives, from meatless Fridays to communion on the tongue to the ban on cremation to … well, like I said, it’s a partial list, so I’ll stop there.

So whatever the conservative religious psychology, however strong the conservative craving for certainty and stability, nobody looking at the changes wrought in the church over the last fifty years could possibly describe conservative Catholicism as actually committed, in any kind of rigorous or non-negotiable sense, to defending a changeless, timeless church against serious alteration. (Indeed, this is a point that traditionalist Catholics make about the mainstream Catholic right at every opportunity!)

Rather, conservative Catholicism has been on a kind of quest, ever since the crisis atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, to define certain essentials of the faith in a time of sweeping flux and change, while effectively conceding (to borrow Linker’s architectural image) that reformers can rearrange and remove the bricks of Catholicism so long as they don’t touch those crucial foundations.

What I don’t understand is how a change like the one on religious liberty at Vatican II is not crucial. It was clearly a big deal to Pius IX who abducted Edgardo Mortara, wrote a Syllabus of Errors to condemn most aspects of the modern world as then understood, and how eventually responded to the crisis of losing the papal states by doubling down with papal infallibility as infallible dogma.

In light of Pius’ conservatism compared to Vatican II, the idea that the pope might have been correct about Mortara led one elite Roman Catholic historian to write:

it was a fallible papal decision, and a pope’s stiff-necked refusal to honor the natural law, not God’s decrees, that are at stake here. No divine command decrees that a child be circumcised or baptized against the will of the child’s parents. Aquinas recognized this; too bad Reno [ed. the editor of First Things] does not. Moreover, no thoughtful Christian doubts that our natural moral affections might, in certain circumstances, be in tension with the revealed will of God; it should not have taken Cessario’s [ed. the author of a review of Mortara’s memoirs] mistaken reasoning to awaken this possibility in the veteran Catholic theologian Reno’s mind.

Is it just I, or is the Roman hierarchy really set up for lay Roman Catholics to challenge popes and bishops? It sure looks to me like something pretty crucial is at stake if a Council embraces teachings that then give Roman Catholics the power to condemn popes, and especially one that declared an infallible dogma.

Interpreting Vatican II in continuity with the church may be reassuring to conservative Roman Catholics (trads apparently understand how difficult that interpretive feat is and opt for discontinuity. But looking for matters essential (kernel) compared to ones ephemeral (husk) is right out of not the conservatives but the modernists playbook.

To Douthat’s credit, he did acknowledge that conservatives are confused.

If Gospel Coalitions Can’t Unite, What about Social Gospels?

Paul Carter is worried about factionalism dividing the unity of young Calvinists (largely identified with the Gospel Coalition). He’s also worried that the young Calvinists are in over the heads on politics:

The YRR movement has been fueled by some very admirable concerns: the desire to trust in Scripture, the desire to worship God as he is and not as culture dictates, the desire to reach the nations with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ – these are noble and appropriate motivations. But mixed in with these there were no doubt some motivations of lesser quality.

There was a desire, for example, to be different than the generation that went before.

The Baby Boomers were indifferent to doctrine – by and large – and in bed with the Republican Party – metaphorically speaking. The YRR crowd wanted to make it clear that they were different. For the first 10 years or so of the movement this meant largely avoiding the political implications of the Gospel.

At T4G 18 that all began to change.

Politics was back on the table.

To a certain extent this was inevitable – the Gospel has social and political consequences. But the YRR movement does not appear prepared to facilitate that conversation. The movement appears poised to fracture under the pressure posed by long neglected issues and implications.

If Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek, what need has a Christian to own a handgun?

If the Gospel has broken down the wall of hostility and made of us one new people – then why are we still talking about black and white?

If the mission of the church is to take the Gospel to the nations, then why are so many Christians opposed to immigration?

I’m not telling you what the answers are I’m just telling you what the questions are. Questions are being asked that for over a decade were not being asked and the weight of those questions threatens to derail the movement.

Here’s why the young Calvinists can’t avoid talking about race, immigration, and guns. Not only does The Gospel Coalition feed a steady diet of gospelly reflections about the latest headlines at Fox or MSNBC, but these people actually believe that the Bible speaks to government policies on race, immigration, and guns. They have a comprehensive w-w that requires the Bible to speak – period – totally – period – to all of life – period (thanks Aaron Sorkin). The spirituality of the church is not an option.

As much as critics might want to accuse defenders of the spirituality of the church of racism, they should actually consider that a reduced scope for Scripture and the church is much like classical liberalism. Government is supposed to be limited in its operations; in the case of the United States the Constitution was supposed to inform that limitation. But for Fascists, Communists, and some aspects of Progressivism, a limited government won’t get done all you want government to do. Plus, a government that provides mere basic services won’t generate the aspirations that people need to make a nation great or exceptional.

The same goes for the transformationalizationalists. A reduced footprint for Christianity is not good enough. The church needs to do more than proclaim the gospel, conduct faithful worship, provide discipline, and care for widows and orphans (with 1 Tim. 5 scrutiny). How could Christianity ever make people go “wow” if the church restricted what it did to word, sacrament, and discipline (and let all the other agencies of a civil society pitch in on the aspirational stuff)?

In the heart of most people beats the pulse of a Yankee fan, which helps to explain Kuyperianism, Youthful Calvinism, and Roman Catholicism. Comprehensivalists all.

Wasn’t Pius IX Speaking for the Church?

R. J. Snell responds to a piece a while ago about the flap over Edgardo Mortara at First Things:

When the Church is speaking for itself, its teachings do not lead to anti-liberalism.

This handy distinction seems to be a way to avoid Augustine’s views on religious liberty:

As Augustinians, Shields elaborates, Catholics define liberty not as “freedom from constraint” but as acting in conformity with the good. Once defined in that way, liberty cannot primarily mean (as it meant to Locke, Mill, and other founders of modern liberalism) “freedom to choose, freedom from constraint, freedom from coercion.” Instead, in the Augustinian view as described by Shields, the purpose of the state is not to secure a morally neutral freedom in consonance with whatever vision of the good life citizens happen to hold. Rather, it is to “orient citizens” toward the genuine liberty that leads to collective salvation. While “Catholic integralism,” as this position is sometimes termed, “may not be a necessary consequence” of the Augustinian vision of liberty, anti-liberal Catholics are disposed in its direction.

Snell goes on to say that this is not what John Paul II taught:

In 1993, for instance, John Paul II, quoting among other things the Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) issued in the mid-1960s at Vatican II, taught that humans have a duty to follow their own conscience, since “God willed to leave man in the power of his own counsel,” with individuals “free and self-governed, swayed autonomously by [their] own will.” Of course, the Church also continues to insist that human conscience lacks the right to create moral value, and that persons attain genuine liberty when freely choosing the good. Yet mark the word “freely”: no one is to be, or coherently can be, coerced into either faith or liberty—such coercion is wrong and contradictory.

John Paul II similarly insists that individuals and political communities alike have a “rightful autonomy”: the “autonomy of earthly realities” in which “created things have their own laws and values . . . discovered, utilized, and ordered by man”—not by the Church. To the contrary, in recognizing the freedom of the individual, the Church also recognizes the autonomy of disciplines of knowledge, society, and legitimate political authority.

But the problem of Pius IX remains. When he was speaking — the Syllabus of Errors (which condemned political liberalism, for starters), for instance — apparently someone pretty high up in the church was the voice of the Vatican. Now, Snell might argue that John Paul II came later than Pius IX, and so the most recent teaching of the papacy matters, sort of the way you can see the development of an author and differentiate the early Wendell Berry from the late Wendell Berry.

That only increases the problem for Snell, however. The church is not supposed to have recent and early voices. Rome is not supposed to change. It is the rock in the history of West which resists modernity, the church Jesus founded in 30 AD and all.

Except that the Second Vatican Council broke widely with Pius IX (among many other popes). That means that something comparable was happening in Roman Catholicism to what was going on in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. when the latter adopted the Confession of 1967.

Doh!

The Greatest of them All

From the red-letter part of Scripture:

“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28)

Unless Mary was not born of a woman — a whole new meaning to immaculate conception — Jesus’ words would seem to rank John the Baptist higher than the Virgin Mary.

Calvin comments:

Accordingly, Christ extols and places him above the rank of the prophets, and gives the people to understand that he had received a special and more excellent commission. When he elsewhere says respecting himself that he was not a Prophet, (John 1:21,) this is not inconsistent with the designation here bestowed upon him by Christ. He was, no doubt, a Prophet, like others whom God had appointed in his Church to be expounders of the Law, and messengers of his will; but he was more excellent than the Prophets in this respect, that he did not, like them, make known redemption at a distance and obscurely under shadows, but proclaimed that the time of redemption was now manifest and at hand. Such too is the import of Malachi’s prediction, (Malachi 3:1,) which is immediately added, that the pre-eminence of John consisted in his being the herald and forerunner of Christ; for although the ancient Prophets spoke of his kingdom, they were not, like John, placed before his face, to point him out as present. As to the other parts of the passage, the reader may consult what has been said on the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

Had Jesus forgotten his mother?

Anabaptist Roman Catholics

Roman Catholic apologists are currently leaving a lot out of their presentation of Christianity. Here’s another where the author seems to imagine a Roman Catholicism that transcends the fall of Rome, the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, and Christendom. Is Roman Catholicism just simple Christians trying to follow Jesus?

Why are self-described “trad” Catholics prone to nostalgia? The typical mistake is to conflate the traditions of the Church with the traditions of the broader society. These are very different things; the Church is an ark afloat on a dangerous sea, which preserves its own internal traditions in part with walls that prevent it from being deluged by secular practices and mores. 1 Peter thus connects Catholic rootlessness and homelessness with a rejection of human political traditions, enjoining Catholics to “live out the time of your exile here in reverent awe, for you know that the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood …” Catholicism is not Burkeanism. Because Catholics are exiled in the world, they can ultimately have no attachment to man’s places and traditions, including political traditions. They can have no final affection for the misty English landscape that always stands just behind Scruton’s prose, for Reno’s polite distinction of liberal tradition and liberal creed, for the bipartisan fedora-hatted governance of Douthat’s postwar golden age, or even for Ahmari’s era of the triumph (albeit short-lived) of liberal democratic freedom after 1989.

Ahmari acidly mocks a certain strand of Catholic integralism as “hobbit village” nostalgia. In this Ahmari is partly unfair (the rural village and the integral City are very different ideals) but partly correct. After the collapse of the postwar rapprochement with liberalism, integral Catholicism can only go forward, with the hope of translating the old principles into new settings and institutional forms, creating an altogether new order. But Ahmari, like Douthat, Reno, Scruton and the authors of the Paris Statement, ought to apply that same acid-wash to his own nostalgic views as well.

Roman Catholics in exile with all that stuff in Rome (and all those museums)?

Wow!

I’ll See Your World Order and Raise You One Principality and Two Powers

Isn’t this what caused mainline Protestantism to go south, namely, identifying the church with the work of building human civilization? George Weigel explains:

If there’s anything Catholics in the United States should have learned over the past two decades, it’s that order—in the world, the republic, and the Church—is a fragile thing. And by “order,” I don’t mean the same old same old. Rather, I mean the dynamic development of world politics, our national life, and the Church within stable reference points that guide us into the future.

Didn’t the apostle Paul (saint if you will) think the church had/has bigger fish to fry?

11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6)

Russia, neo-liberalism, social justice warriors have nothing on sin, the flesh, and the Devil.

Of course, political order is a good thing, so good that churches need it to function — it may actually be that political order precedes church order rather than the other way around. But if the church sees its mission as supporting political order, it may seriously underestimate the amazing work God called ministers of the word to do. And that perspective might prevent a reviewer from writing this about a book on the nineteenth-century papacy:

Whatever misgivings one may have about the First Vatican Council, one does not need to squint to see a providential hand in Pastor Aeternus. As secular governments continue to chip away at different forms of civil society, especially religious forms, a strong papacy can serve as a powerful counterweight.

Counter-weights to secular governments chipping away at civil society? Isn’t that why we have The New York Times?

If God So Loved the World, Why is The West So Special?

In his review of Ross Douthat’s new book, Rod Dreher makes his bracing claim:

any Christian or secular conservative who cares about the stability of Western civilization cannot be indifferent to the fate of the institution that, more than any other, created it. The Orthodox Church is alien to the West, and Protestantism has become far too fragmented and rootless to hold things together.

That is a big burden for Rome to bear. But it also represents a much bigger problem. For a church that ministers a gospel based on a person (and God) who never set foot in the West, your identification with the West may be the hugest (thanks Bernie!!) version of cultural Christianity eh-veh. (Imagine Mormonism without upstate New York and you have a speck of Rome’s burden.) I understand that many Protestants envy Rome’s cultural and historical footprint. Some even become Roman Catholic for the wide swath the communion appears to give.

But, non-Western lives matter too.

On the flip side, when you have your religious identity so bound up with a culture or civilization, you set yourself up for the kind of inevitable cultural adaptation that Protestant modernists created and embraced. You need to do this to keep up with the culture of which you are part since civilizations have never been one-way, top-down endeavors. Today it’s emperors, tomorrow it will be senates and republics. Today it’s Thomism, tomorrow its Kantianism. Today it’s Baroque, tomorrow it’s Bauhaus.

Even more of a problem: today it’s hell, tomorrow its annihilationism. So when Pope Francis flirts with denying the existence of hell, Michael Brendan Dougherty notices about today’s Vatican what fundamentalists used to observe about Protestant modernists:

Because, as I write on Maundy Thursday, his favorite Italian journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, is reporting his latest conversation with Francis. In his reconstruction of their conversation, Scalfari has the pope saying that souls who have not repented and therefore have not received God’s pardon simply scomparire — disappear, in English. In other words, there is no hell. The souls of the damned aren’t damned, they just are no more.

The Vatican promptly put out a statement that the interview is a reconstruction of their conversation, not a series of direct quotes. But the Vatican also pointedly issued no specific denial of any of the pope’s words. Amazing to say it, but that’s typical. In essence this constitutes an invitation to disbelieve whatever you want. Predictably, Catholic media who rely on the pope’s star power and the appearance of impeccability put out stories noting that the pope has often talked about hell in the past and that, by the way, Scalfari is an atheist and unreliable narrator. Frankly, I find the Vatican’s position revoltingly underhanded. It refuses to tell us whether the pope said these things, and encourages us to believe what we want. It incentivizes the pope’s defenders to defame Scalfari as a fraud and an underhanded atheist. What kind of game is this? It shouldn’t be hard to just tell the truth about this, yet it is.

This is the fifth interview the pope has done with Scalfari, and far from the first scandal to come out of it. It is impossible to believe that someone as earthy as Francis is still innocent of what’s happening here. Yes, he’s talked about hell as a reality before. But the whole intellectual culture of Catholic seminaries and formation is filled with doublespeak. Doctrines are proclaimed in creedal statements, and then their contents are emptied in theological essays, or given a completely opposite interpretation in “practical” application. I can’t possibly pretend any longer that Francis is immune from this culture of deception, including self-deception.

You Gotta Exegete Someone

Reformed Protestants may be a tad hung up on Scripture, though it is supposed to be the very word of God. But if you begin to waffle on that canon notice how you begin to add to the authoritative texts.

For Roman Catholics, the doctrine of development has a hard time nurturing content with the Bible (even including the Apocrypha):

The deepest reason for the identity of Revelation in its ecclesial continuity is given in the hypostatic union, i.e., in the unity of the human and divine natures in the one divine person of Jesus Christ. The many words he spoke, revealing God’s plan to us through the medium of human language (cf. Joh 3:34; 6:68), are united in the hypostasis or person of the one Word that is God and has become flesh (cf. Joh 1:1, 14). The Word of God comes to us through the preaching of human beings (cf. 1 Thess 2:13); it is made present through human words, with their grammar and vocabulary. Therefore, it is possible and necessary to grow individually and communally in our understanding of the revelation that has been given to us once and for all in Christ. It is clear, then, that Catholic theology has always recognized the fact and necessity of the development of dogma. It is part of Christianity’s essence as the religion of the incarnate Word—the religion of God’s self-revelation in history—to affirm the identity of the doctrine of the faith along a continuous process by which the Church comes to an ever more differentiated conceptual comprehension of faith’s mysteries.

Make of that what you will about the potential problems of development but here you see an affirmation of continuity between the incarnation, divine revelation, and the ongoing revelation of divine truth in the doctrines of the church. Finding a distinction there between the prophets and apostles, and the teachings of the bishops and councils becomes fairly murky when the word incarnate, the word inscripturated, and the mystical body of Christ (the church) are all pieces of ongoing understanding of truth.

Unfortunately, it seems that Lutherans have a similar problem distinguishing between the apostles and the church’s theologians or pastors:

From a very practical standpoint, we have, as Lutheran pastors sworn to uphold the theology of the Book of Concord of 1580, also consequently, committed ourselves to the hermeneutic of reading the confessions we find in the Formula of Concord, and that is, if ever a question arises within the Lutheran church, the writings of Luther are to be consulted for the answer. In other words, the confessions understand themselves not to be so much a theology in and of themselves, but a summation of Luther’s theology:

“Since Dr. Luther is rightly to be regarded as the most eminent teacher of the churches which adhere to the Augsburg Confession and as the person whose entire doctrine in sum and content was comprehended in the articles of the aforementioned Augsburg Confession and delivered to Emperor Charles V, therefore the true meaning and intention of the Augsburg Confession cannot be derived more correctly or better from any other source than from Dr. Luther’s doctrinal and polemical writings.”[1]

Thus the confessions are not the bottom of a theological well from which Lutheran theologians thereafter would draw, but instead the confessions are the peak of the mountain, the mountain which is the theology of Martin Luther. But if that mountain remains unknown to us, how then are we to understand our task as pastors today in view of the Lutheran confessions?” (Paul Strawn, “Rediscovering the Theology of the Small Catechism, i.e. Martin Luther”)

Luther was great and is always edifying to read. But he did not approach salvation by following a great theologian, unless you consider (as some do) Paul the church’s first great theologian. Here, though, Paul had an advantage over Luther. He was infallible.

Words that Only Some Western Christians May Sing

1 A debtor to mercy alone,
of covenant mercy I sing;
nor fear, with Your righteousness on,
my person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
with me can have nothing to do;
my Savior’s obedience and blood
hide all my transgressions from view.

2 The work which His goodness began,
the arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is yea and amen,
and never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
nor all things below or above,
can make Him His purpose forgo,
or sever my soul from His love.

3 My name from the palms of His hands
eternity will not erase;
impressed on His heart it remains,
in marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
as sure as the earnest is giv’n;
more happy, but not more secure,
the glorified spirits in heav’n. (Augustus Toplady, 1771)