Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Speaking of Children

I am with great regularity amazed at how timely the Evangelical Confessions of the Lutheran Church are. There are enough rascals in the Ministry who for who-knows-what kind of selfish reasons claim reading old books is a waste of time. But they couldn't be more irrelevant in their search for relevance. Only arrogance could be so bold.

The passage which struck my fancy this morning is from the Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession – a marvelous, if long-winded, document. In it, Art. XXIII, Lutheran layman Phillip Melancthon takes time to defend the Evangelicals against Romes' charge that the marriage of priests is a heresy worthy of execution.

Most Lutherans today may be little interested in either the condemnation or the rebuttal. Should they read it, they would no doubt skim it lightly, especially, I would guess, the parts which particularly condemn our more modern practices as well.

WHAT!? The Lutheran Confessions condemn our modern Lutheran marriage practices? In a manner of speaking, indeed they do. ... How so?

To begin, let me recount a conversation I had a few years ago with a fellow seminarian – a good man: caring, earnest, clever. We were discussing the matter of having children. Recently married, he was at pains to convince his wife that they should put off having children, perhaps permanently. In time, they could adopt instead.

“Wonderful!” I said. “Adoption is a gracious thing! But,” I continued, “there is no reason to refrain from procreation. You can surely do both, for both are a good thing.”

From thence ensued a rather long debate – good natured, if not without passion – in which his chief argument upon waiting to have/not having children rested upon this one, universal FACT: "Yes, God said to be fruitful and fill the earth, but now the earth is full. Shouldn't we see that there is a population crisis and, in the name of good stewardship, refrain from overpopulating the earth?"

Did he know that he had leapt over the alps and allied himself with those who forbid the marriage of priests to make his stand for pseudo-chastity? Probably not. But without question he was making an argument that the Scripture saturated Evangelicals in Wittenberg perceived to be horridly misinformed:

"Genesis teaches that human beings were created to be fruitful and that one sex should desire the other sex in a proper way. ... This love of one sex for the other is truly a divine ordinance. However, since this order of God cannot be suspended without an extraordinary act of God, it follows that the right to contract marriages cannot be removed.... Our opponents trivialize these arguments. They say that in the beginning there was a command to fill the earth, but now that the earth has been filled, marriage is not commanded.

"Look at their clever argument! [But] The Word of God formed human nature in such a way that it may be fruitful not only at the beginning of creation but as long as this physical nature of ours exists."

Wait a minute. Are you saying that procreation is the only reason for marriage?!

(sigh) That response is the sure sign of a guilty conscience. But, “No, of course not.”

"The natural desire of one sex for the other is an ordinance of God in nature....Concupiscence inflames it so that now it rather needs an antidote. Marriage is necessary not only for the sake of procreation, but also as a remedy. These things are so clear and well established that they can in no way be refuted."

Well...at least until we modern peoples, so much wiser than our fathers, discovered the great boon of storing up treasures on earth. Liberating woman from the connection between “conjugal intercourse...childbirth, and ... her domestic duties...the particular works of her calling” (Ap. XXIII 32, to be specific), has made it so much easier to keep up with the Jones'. And that abundant life, is, after all, what Christianity is all about.

See how the mighty have fallen. Within this tickle of an argument hide the seeds not merely for the homosexual lobby and their anti-humanity agenda, but also for a form of the prosperity Gospel (“God surely wants us to be happy, doesn't he?”) I would also go so nuclear as to suggest that herein lies the primary reason for the mass exodus of 20-30 year olds from the American churches, Evangelical L's and otherwise.

Can I really draw a line from mommy finding her career as a teacher more important than her six week old infant to that infant eventually believing that mommy isn't so trustworthy, and then striking a chord with the decision to consider mommy's part-time hobby-religion of ChristMEanity as a bit naïve, unpostmodern and useless, at least compared to the many more ancient and hallowed practices on the world stage?

Yes, I think I can.

Abraham Lincoln, by no means my favorite president, but a genius of politics and wisdom nonetheless, advocated the true form of FEMININism best: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

At least, so seemed to think the Lutheran confessors. With great joy, I defer to them.


Adam said...

I just read that section last week and was shocked to learn that the "population bomb" had already exploded, according to some, in the sixteenth century. We need to keep reading in order to learn all we're signing up for when we call the Confessions a "faithful and true exposition of Scripture." We might get more than we moderns bargained for, but we might also end up Lutheran.

RevFisk said...

The easy way out is to claim that one is "confessional" when one holds to the doctrinal articles as confessed. This is what led to the more commonly termed "quataenus [sic?] subscription." So.."I believe the creed and that marriage of priests is ok, but the rest just isn't relevant to today."

Coming up in arms against this is Walther and the "quia subscription," which, in some forms of practice, runs dangerously close to "The Book of Concord: Another Testament of Jesus Christ." Thankfully, there ARE clear historic errors in teh confessions (like quoting "ChurchFather" when its reall "Psuedo-ChurchFather."

While I certainly reject the quataenus "in so far as" view of the confessions as, well, ignorant. I've come to resist to narrow a quia subscription as well, in the same way that I reject reading the Bible as a "fundamentalist" "handbook for life."

What is captured magnificently in the Book of Concord, as is nowhere else in all of Christian history, is a truly CATHOLIC approach to discussin and confessing the faith. That is, the catholic (Lutheran) *mind* is on display for all to see. Here are men writing from an authentically ancient Christian *worldview.*

So, they misquote Iraneaus? So what? We don't subscribe to their archeology. We subscribe to their theology.

So, Phil M. uses Daniel in fascinating ways? So what? We don't subscribe to their exegesis of any one passage. We subscribe to their sades doctrinae, their "rule of faith" which informs and interprets every passage.

But does even this meager attempt give fair voice to the very clear catholic positions the confessions take up on manhood/womanhood, the use of tradition, the desire for bishops and hiearchy, etc?

I guess another way to say it is this: Those guys were smart, and I'm pretty dumb. I'm just going to assume their right until Scripture convinces me they're wrong.

When you take THAT approach, a funny thing happens. Its becomes very, very difficult to argue with the confessors about ANYTHING, except for, say, the actual idenity of Ft. Ambrosiaster.

But please, feel free to rebuke me! I wouldn't want to be wrong on this.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

I rebuke thee...

It is "sedes" doctrinae, not sades. Unless you're talking about the Marquis de Sades. :P

Otherwise you are on the mark. Though there is some merit in recognizing that simply because a statement is "doctrinal in content" does not necessarily make it a part of the doctrinal confession of the article in play. As such, context is important. The clauso utero clause, for example, in the Solid Declaration would be an example. It is a statement that is termed, by some, to be a "doctrinal" statement, but is not necessarily part and parcel of the doctrinal confession of that very article in the light of the status controversiae being addressed.

RevFisk said...

Thanks for the comment, Ryan.

The "clowso eutarow," as the American spelling goes, is good point for this discussion in several ways:

1st - it demonstrates what should rightly be understood as as the catholic interpretation of a particular text (one I happen to hold reservations on.) It is perfectly Lutheran to consider the "sempre virgo" a valid bit of "doctrine."

2nd - the "Ever-virgin," however, is never referred to as "dogma." It is not an "article of the faith." It is not even revealed in Scripture - that I can tell. *Why is that?* Because it is not about Jesus, frankly. And all sedes doctrinae (even "gender roles") is ultimately about Jesus.

3rd - it demonstrates the catholic importance of reverencing the lives of the saints, and holding Mary up, as Scripture says, as blessed among women.

4th - one does not need to subscribe fundamentalistically to the "sempre virgo" as historic fact to be able to subscribe to the "sempre virgo" as expressive of the Lutheran approach and attitude towards all catholic thought and practice "confessed" in the Confessions.

Or, to put it in my actual pratice: I do not believe Jesus transported himself outside of Mary without being "born of woman" in the nasty, bloodly, normal, human way. But she will always be remembered as "the Virgin Mary," symbolic expression of the Church in her purity, awaiting her bridegroom, mother of all the faithful, bearer of the Seed, etc. Her womb WAS closed when Christ was conceived. Etc.

But the confessions don't care to elaborate on these ideas when they reference this admittedly scholastic technical language. Or, in other words, it does not seem to be a matter of the confession itself. However, the catholic approach to rites and practices, the belief in the order of creation, and other such "side dogmas" regularly expressed in the confessions do appear to be a matter of the Confession.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm taking a tact Walther would not have. You tell me. What I know is this: the hard left of rejecting all but the most base point of dogma in each article is hardly to be commended as faithful to the confessions, (Ie - we reject the Roman Mass of the day, but who gives a hoot about whether or not we keep it with more reverence than they...); AND the hard right of insisting on an inerrancy of the confessions in its every bit of exegesis (ie. Daniel was talking about THE Pope dissolving marriages when he spoke of those who hate women...): BOTH seem to me entirely UNconfessional ways to read the confessions.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Well when Walther writes on confessional subscription, we should keep in mind that he is writing in contrast to the "Schmuckerization" of the Lutheran Confessions, and the willy-nilly approaches by those out there on your East coast during his time :P

He really wasn't addressing the issue of these side "doctrinal" statements that were not central to the status controversiae at hand. I'm gleaning my insight largely from the visitation documents/reports when the signatories were initially affixed to the Formula -- which were later put into the BoC. It seems to me, that our manner of confessing the "doctrinal content" within the Confessions is along the same lines as they had done. The issue at question, when they signed the Formula, was whether or not they agreed with the conclusions, the affirmations and condemnations, of the Formula in the light of the more recent controversies among the churches of the Augsburg Confession.

Now -- because clauso utero is affirmed in the Formula (not so much semper virgo... or in your French spelling.. "sempre") it can be affirmed among Lutherans as an acceptable catholic teaching within the pale of orthodoxy. Confessional subscription, however, does not mean one MUST affirm it. That is the distinction I would make. Pax!

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