Taking Every Fluid Ounce Captive

Churches have specific associations with bodies of water. This Lutheran Church Missouri Synod writer claims the Mississippi (but I wonder if Mark Twain would let him not to mention what Lutherans in Germany might think about rivers in the United States):

A lot of evangelicals are swimming these days. They’re slipping on their metaphorical fins and masks and churning their way across bodies of water to emerge on the other shore as members of a different faith community. Those that move from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism are said to swim the Tiber; those that become Orthodox swim the Bosporus.

Reasons for their aquatic activities vary. Some like the art and architecture associated with the ancient faiths. Some like the ceremonial aspects–the liturgies, the veneration of icons, the Eucharist. Some like the history that oozes from Catholicism and Orthodoxy, a history that travels through great saints of yesteryear–through Augustine, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Gregory of Nazianzus–but goes largely forgotten in contemporary evangelicalism. . . .

But evangelicals interested in “swimming” to a different tradition should consider traversing a body of water much closer to home: the Mississippi River, on which is located St. Louis, Missouri, and the headquarters of the premier conservative Lutheran church body in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

This raises at least one question: what body of water should Presbyterians identify with for their denominational affiliation?

American Presbyterians would likely claim the Delaware River since the first presbytery and General Assembly met in Philadelphia. But the Chesapeake might also apply since some of the earliest congregations settled by Ulster Presbyterians were in Maryland.

European Presbyterians, if the look to Geneva, probably invoke Lake Geneva.

The Scots likely think about the Firth of Forth (I was thinking it was a Fifth) given the estuary’s proximity to Edinburgh.

The Irish? They may have the hardest time attracting converts if crossing the North Sea is necessary for being a Presbyterian in Northern Ireland. I’m not sure swimming the Belfast Lough is any less challenging.

The Original Evangelicals aren’t Evangelical?!?

Just noticed this in John Fea’s odds making for the evangelical vote this November:

Some evangelicals continue to oppose Trump and have not made it clear what they will do in November. I am thinking here of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse (if you can call a Missouri-Synod Lutheran an “evangelical”) and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. Perhaps some of these folks are praying that something might happen in Cleveland next week that leads the GOP to pick another candidate. Others might be praying that an independent candidate will arise at this late date. These are long shots, but let’s remember that evangelicals believe in miracles.

Now, regulars at Old Life know that Ben Sasse, despite having grown up in the Missouri Synod, is actually a Reformed Protestant — even an elder in the United Reformed Churches I believe. That may be too much insider 2k baseball for John Fea. But there it is.

The main point pertains to John’s parenthetical remark about whether we can call Lutherans “evangelical.” For starters, the original Protestants, the followers of Martin Luther, were and still are known as evangelical. So don’t Lutherans have the copyright on being evangelical?

A related concern is if a good historian has enough sense to wonder about classifying a Lutheran as evangelical, why are the same historians so ready to put put Presbyterians in the same round hole as Pentecostals and Wesleyans? I mean, if you have the slightest hesitation about Lutherans, shouldn’t you also wonder about Protestants who didn’t like Billy Graham (for his pro-choice theology)?

Lutherans Did Not Spook Machen

Thanks to Gene Veith for the reminder:

Moreover, even among those who, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, hold that the Bible is not only an infallible rule of faith and practice but the only infallible rule of faith and practice, there have been great differences of opinion as to what the Bible teaches.

These differences do not concern merely one or two small details, but they are so extensive that they have led to the establishment of various systems of doctrine, each of which, be it remembered, claims to be the system taught in the Bible.

The Lutheran system is one system; the Arminian system, widely held in the Methodist churches until it gave place to the completely destructive Modernism which generally holds sway there now, is another; the Reformed system (often called, chiefly by its opponents, the Calvinistic system) is still another.

Which of these systems of doctrine, which of these ways of interpreting the Bible, does the ordination pledge require ministers and elders and deacons in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to hold?

There can really be no doubt about the answer to that question. The ordination pledge requires the candidates to hold distinctly the Reformed or Calvinistic system. That is the system which is set forth with a clearness which surely leaves nothing to be desired in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, which are the Standards of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Be it noticed that the candidates do not subscribe to the Reformed system of doctrine merely as one allowable system among many allowable systems. They do not even merely subscribe to it as the best system. But they subscribe to it as the system that is true.

Being true, it is true for everyone. It is true for Methodists and Lutherans just as much as Presbyterians, and we cannot treat as of no moment the differences which separate us from Methodists and Lutherans without being unfaithful to the Word of God.

Does that mean that we cannot have Christian fellowship with our Methodist or our Lutheran brethren? It means nothing of the kind. On the contrary, we can have very precious Christian fellowship with them.

At that point I want to utter a word of personal testimony. I just want to say that in these struggles of the last few years against blatant unbelief in the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., one of the most precious gifts that God has given me––and I have no doubt but that many of those with whom I have been associated would say the same thing- has been the Christian fellowship that I have enjoyed with many of my Lutheran brethren, especially those of the “Missouri Synod.” How often, when I have felt tempted to be discouraged, has some message come to me from them bidding me be of good courage and remember that the battle is the Lord’s! How often have I in turn rejoiced when I have thought of the way in which that noble Church [I mean the Missouri Synod] cultivating Christian learning at its great Concordia Seminary and bringing up its people truly in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, has stood firmly against the unbelief and indifferentism of the day!

Will those brethren be offended if they read what I have written regarding my devotion to the Reformed Faith and my belief that it is the system of doctrine taught in God’s Word?

I feel rather sure that they will not. You see, one of the things that unite me so closely to them is that they are not indifferentists or interdenominationalists, but are profoundly convinced that it is necessary to hold with all our souls to whatever system of doctrine God’s Word teaches.

I wish indeed that they were adherents of the Reformed Faith, as they no doubt wish that I were a Lutheran. But I stand far closer to them than I should stand if they held the differences between the Reformed and the Lutheran system to be matters of no moment, so that we could proceed at once to form an “organic union” based upon some vague common measure between the two great historic branches of the Protestant Church.

Winding Up Confessional Lutherans

A post about Protestants and American conservatism provoked one young, saber rattling, Missouri Synod Lutheran to produce the quote of the day. Aside from its punch, it also shows how hard the “hermeneutic of continuity” is to buy for anyone outside Rome and why that hermeneutic looks so self-serving.

By the way, the videos are priceless.

“Rome is the last large and strong bastion against modernity (philosophically understood) in the West.”

This and other comments purport that “Rome” (our metonym of choice for the RCC) is a monolith. It’s very important — an article of faith, in fact — for the Roman Christian to affirm that it is. But the so-called “hermeneutic of continuity” which (it is claimed) gives univocity to the lone Latin see’s pronouncements over the course of two millenia, wedding the “spirit” of Unam Sanctam, Exsurge Domine, and the Tridentine Canons and Decrees with that of Vatican II, is a philosophical and epistemological unicorn. It isn’t apparent to anyone who isn’t required to believe it. Moreover, it would make Ruth Bader Ginsburg blush.

Also implicit . . . is the thesis that it is the mission of the Church to transform the world. While this is a thesis that could be argued (though not one that I agree with), it is not one that I should be assumed. So, too, with the assertion that one can “make a somewhat similar claim about Rome”, i.e., a claim comparable to that of the Old South being the “last non-materialist civilization in the Western World.” If one can make that claim, I, for one, would like to see it made and developed. For now, I’ll just say that I’m not sure an institution which came up with the idea of the “parvity of matter” as a way of grading sins can ever be in that contest.

The Lutheran critique of Rome is that it got to the point where it was not a faithful conservator of the tradition that was entrusted to the Church, and that there was no exclusive promise from Christ to all of Rome’s bishops for all of time that Rome a) was infallible and supreme among the apostolic sees, or b) would necessarily remain a faithful conservator simply by dint of being Rome. So far, that’s also the Eastern critique. But this critique has only to do with theology, and I’m trying not to go too far down that path.

That having been said, the foregoing presumption on the part of RCs with respect to theology seems to breed similar presumptions with respect to politics, culture, &c. Since Rome claims to have ever been the Church itself which other ecclesial bodies can only separate from or rejoin, it likes to claim that every culturally sanative influence which the Church has ever had on the world (the “culture,” if you wish) has been its influence. Benedict of Nursia? Surely he was not just a Western Christian — no, he must have been a Roman Catholic and a devoted papalist. Augustine of Hippo? Boniface of Mainz? Patrick of Ireland? The same claim is made. Were you a Christian in the West before 1517? Then you must have been a Roman Catholic. Were you a Christian in the first century? Roman Catholic. Yet it make just as much sense (and just as little) for me to claim that all of these men were “Lutherans.” But Rome continues to do this all the time today — with all of the abovementioned saints (and many more), as well as with any number of luminaries ranging from C.S. Lewis to Shakespeare. “That person is just too wonderful to have not been a Roman Catholic!” But you can’t take the historical developments of one era and then use it as your heuristic guide for cherry-picking all of your favorite dead people for your team. I call shenanigans.

Conservative? It all depends on what you’re conserving. As a Lutheran, I see it as the duty (yea, the Great Commission) of the Church to conserve the deposit of faith and carry it to the ends of the earth. Rome, on the other hand, says that doctrine is “developing.” Hmmm. Yet Rome’s faithful become indignant right along with the best of them when liberal jurists claim that the US Constitution is a “living document” whose doctrines are developing.

There’s a reason God Himself wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets and instructed His prophets to follow suit. Man’s purportedly sacred “living traditions” become perverse without fail. As with politics, so, too, with theology. Rome is not conservative; they’ve just reserved for themselves the singular right to be liberal. As far as I’m concerned, the Roman Catholic Church is simply a denomination that started in 1563 with the close of the Council of Trent. A very rich denomination with a very mixed past, but just a denomination. RCC =/= CC.

What this means for individual Roman Catholics is another thing. I’m not impugning any individual’s bona fides as a Christian or a conservative. That’s none of my concern here. But neither can anyone simply assert carte blanche that the Church of Rome is the world’s arch-conservative institution, or even the oldest . . . . And I won’t lie, I think it’s important to take a pin to Rome’s balloon on some matters. The spirit of the Borgias still lives, and it must be kept at bay. The Lutheran quarrel with Rome is actually quite friendly, all things considered…

Again, Rome is no monolith. Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Remember that next time you hear Gregorian chant and feel either jealous or smug.

Two-Kingdom Theology and Professional Sports Fans

Protestant athletes are in the news — Tim Tebow, of Bible-verse eyeblack fame, and David Freese of World Series heroism (thanks to our D.C. correspondent). The reasons for the attention to these athletes say a lot about the differences between evangelicalism and confessional Protestantism. Practically anyone who watches sports knows that Tebow is a Christian and for good reason since he exhibits the typical born-again wear-it-on-your-sleeve (or in this case cheek) piety. Practically no one knew that Freese is a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and again this is fitting since confessionalists prefer not to draw attention to themselves.

Brian Phillips at Grantland (thanks to one of Reformed Forum’s listeners) has a very funny and poignant essay about Tebow. He is particularly interested in the way that the Denver quarterback is carrying the weight — likely intentionally — of the culture wars on his strong back. People either love or hate Tebow and it seems to depend on whether one is a Christian or one is anti-Christian. But Phillips points out astutely how stupid rooting against Tebow is:

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the universe is radically meaningless. If that’s the case, then when Tebow wins, it’s a fluke that doesn’t prove anything. When he loses, it’s also a fluke that doesn’t prove anything. For his losing to mean anything, it has to tie into some larger cosmic order, and if it does, then it can’t prove that there isn’t one. Since no one really knows whether the universe is meaningless or not, things rapidly grow confusing. Tebow scoring a two-point conversion on an off-tackle power play could prove that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, or it could, well, not. Tebow’s getting picked off after telegraphing a pass could doom us to a state of terrifying metaphysical uncertainty, especially if we are the Broncos’ quarterbacks coach. But if you’re against Tebow, you can’t read too much into Tebow’s failures, or else Tebow has already won.

I myself have no dog in this fight, partly because the National Football League holds less and less interest, and also because the Tebow story hasn’t grabbed any part of me.

At the same time, I have plenty of reason to root against Freese (though it is too late for that) since he is part of a team that took down my beloved Phillies (and he had some hand in doing that). If I were an evangelical and my faith went “all the way down,” then I’d have to root for another confessional Protestant (better if he were Reformed — and didn’t play on the Lord’s Day). But two-kingdom theology is remarkably handy in allowing me to separate my ecclesial convictions from rooting interests. So while I appreciate Freese’s church affiliation as a confessional Protestant, as a native of Philadelphia I hope the Cardinals recognize his value and trade him to Major League Baseball’s equivalent of hell — the Houston Astros.