Last month we opened a bit of a “can of worms” as we considered the nature and essence of The Church. As promised, we’re going to continue answering the question posed in March’s, i.e., “What do you mean by ‘the Church?’” This topic is important enough that it actually gets TWO articles – VII and VIII. We started with an introduction to Article VII last month – and we’ll stick with this for now, with Article VIII to come next month. To remind you what is says, here it is again:
Article VII: Of the Church.
Also they (our Churches) teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. (Eph. 4:5-6).
The two important questions that were raised last month were:
- If the pope is not the seat of authority, what is it?
- What constitutes the Gospel? Isn’t it just one thing?
And the “ticklers” that I gave you to get you started thinking about these were:
- This from the Formula of Concord Rule and Norm: “First then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged.” (http://bookofconcord.org/sd-ruleandnorm.php) (FC SD SR&N 3)
- “The Gospel” takes on many different and divergent meanings in different religious organizations and movements – especially during and following the Enlightenment in the middle of the 18th Century. What the Gospel promises us can then be quite different, though the one term is used. We’ll look at some of the different views next month.
And now, once again, here we go!
We’ll take the first question first. At the end of the quotation above, there is a link to the source of that “tickler.” If you would go there, right after calling the Holy Scriptures “the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged” you’d find a nice list of secondary “standards” on which our faith is founded. These include first and foremost, the Ecumenical Creeds, i.e., the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. These were prepared in the early days of the Church because the truth of Scripture had been corrupted or distorted by heretics, and so the “true Christian doctrine, in a pure, sound sense, was collected from God’s Word into (these) brief articles or chapters against the corruption of heretics.”
Listed after the creeds you will find the remaining content of the Book of Concord, as well as an accommodation of “other good, useful, pure books, expositions of the Holy Scriptures, refutations of errors, and explanations of doctrinal articles that are not rejected at this point.” (FC SD SR&N 10) These are always, however, subject to “this distinction: God’s Word alone should be and remain the only standard and rule of doctrine, to which the writings of no man should be regarded as equal. Everything should be subjected to God’s Word.” (FC SD SR&N 9)
Rome, however, both then and now, holds that “The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church.” (CCC 84) “Tradition” is the name given to the “living transmission.” (CCC 78) Again from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: “God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son.’” (CCC 79)
The Lutheran Confessions consistently hold to the primacy of the Word that was revealed through the prophets and the apostles for our salvation. It is this Word alone that is decisive. So while Tradition can be helpful, it is not the pope, or the Magisterium, or the Church, or current revelation to the “New Apostolic Reformation” that shows what is needed for salvation. There are no additions pertaining to salvation. And all of these must take their place beneath the authority of God’s Word.