I have been, since 1977 – when I abandoned Rome for Wittenburg, amazed at the ability of the RCC and self-deprecating Lutherans to ultimately coalesce around the Papacy. It is intriguing, to say the least. A friend online, despite his protestations to the contrary, is not a “Confessional” Lutheran. Just saying he is doesn’t cut it. He has put out a piece describing his own personal doubts about “authority” with the Holy Church. Since a right-thinking man is going to immediately point to the Formal and Material Principles of a given denomination or communion, it would seem his argument presented would be ended early.
It was not. And the comments were worse, frankly.
Confessional Lutherans, despite being shuttled to the sideline in modern discussions, have nonetheless retained the simplest and most understandable expressions of both Principles. They end discussion on authority, how or what to teach, and the well-being of the believer. They prevent usurpation of the topic, by anyone, because anyone differing must first counter the Lutheran Formal and Material Principles, and must also do so in light of the same from the “competition.” It is interesting to note that hose confessions which do not adhere to Confessional Lutherans do indeed feel the necessity of Scriptural terms and applications to their particular view, they do not delve to the heart of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith. Hence, they are, by definition, secondary applications.
The Formal Principal of that Faith is Holy Scripture. It is, as we confess, the sole source and norm of the faith. How could it possibly be otherwise? How can outside authorities of any kind even pretend to be the Formal Principal? And yet, they are advanced, as with those who advance lesser Biblical principles.
For instance – the Scripture, traditions, and (still sinful after Holy Baptism) human will, as well as the Papacy speaking “ex cathedra” as Rome teaches, are their Formal Principle? Since in their system the Formal Principal is specifically stated or taught, how can they arrive at any possible and reasonable Material Principal? They do not, in essence. It is dropped into the lap of a believer who falsely tries to reason from a sinful will, not “free” as so many like to say or teach, and thus leaves the believer right back where he was under Judaism – trying to please God in what they, and not God, do. The Orthodox did something Rome did not do – they essentially sacramentalized “what we do” as a cause of salvation. They are tempting in that they make their argument in a nebulous, mystery-like fashion, and of all confessions, but have retain the original Liturgical worship patterns of the people in Christ! Odd, that.
Or the Calvinists, who agree with Confessional Lutherans that the Formal Principal is Divine Writ, yet through Calvin’s convoluted reasoning, have accepted and proclaimed “God’s Sovereign Will” as their Material Principle? It is, using their “TULIP” formulation essentially telling everyone “Lay back and chill. If you believe AND are predestined to salvation by God’s Sovereign Will, then nothing you do can destroy your salvation (that despite Paul’s clear warning that one can make “ship-wreck of one’s faith).”
The Fundamentalists, who make up the third corner of the triangle, are quite open and succinct from the outset. Their Formal Principal is the ability of a non-believer, on their sinful own, is suddenly able to make a personal decision for God! Their Material Principal, of a necessity, follows close behind – the Scripture. Grace and salvation are secondary, despite their protestations to the contrary. There is nothing of any certainty in that schematic!
Those are the big three, but if you dissect every other communion, they will follow one of the above three, or a bastardization and mixing of the three. This chart shows just that.
Which kinda sorta dovetails with my favorite read every morning. Fr. Peters rightly deplores the inaccuracies of “labeling” – but seems to be looking within politics for a solution (I started to respond there, but the usual fragility of Blogspot’s comments system intervened, it being one of the several Blogspot issues that led me here to WordPress).
Anyway, the Church has always had its own definitions of matters, so proper labels should not be a worry. It was once understood among us that we were Confessional Lutheran Evangelical Catholics. Unfortunately, Lutheranism permitted the intrusion of first the Pietists, and more recently and in great abundance, both the Pietists but especially the Calvinists, that now, we have to question just who the heck we really are! And happens in such cases, what once defined and outlines our very worship of God in Christ, the Divine Liturgy, has been so intentionally bastardized that few safe havens remain. One must grant the Orthodox their point on that one!
The term “Liberal” as a label is now so nebulous it is useless. and what Missouri once called itself – “Conservative” – clearly understood as retaining all that was good, right and proper of the past, has likewise, for the most part, become a nebulous term. The Church needs to use its own terms. One is either a Confessional Lutheran, or one is not a Lutheran. Yet again – political terms rush to the scene, and such a clear statement becomes subject to open debate, where it is clear it has been lost.
Given the very close linguistic correlation of the two words, it is safe to say that I am at once amused, yet amazed at such discussions. Matters once clear and unassailable, have become mere fodder for discussion. If Lutherans truly desire to be “conservatives” – then let them return to the terms and definitions that define one as conservative. The very act of doing so would be conservative!
If not, then let us admit we are not Lutheran, and be done with the silly semantics. I, for one, have listened to every argument for every “middle ground. None of them wash.
It has become “Is you is, or is you isn’t?”