Friday, February 06, 2009

On the comparative situations of the Catholic and Lutheran Churches in the US and Australia

I wrote this for Christine, but thought I would share the observation with all of you. Catholics and Lutherans welcome to comment.

The comparative situations of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church in the US and in Australia are close but not identical. There are more than enough similarities for me to understand what is happening there, but there are still important differences.

For instance, the existence of one major liberal (ELCA) and one major conservative (LCMS) Lutheran synod in the US has sort of guarenteed that the one will continue to stay liberal and the other will continue to stay conservative. Imagine if something like that happened to the Catholic Church in the US - a split, I mean - the one would scuttle the vernacular mass overnight, and the other would be ordaining women in a blink of an eye.

When you try to keep a Church of 1.2 Billion people together all over the world, that Church does end up looking like a series of endless compromises with "The Truth" (whether seen from a liberal or conservative point of view). The Holy Father is getting his butt kicked for exactly that problem at the moment.

Here in Australia, the Lutheran Church is much the same. There is only one Lutheran Church (of any significance), and it has endless battles trying to keep the peace and unity it gained back in 1966 with the merger of the two pre-exisiting synods. There are pastors and congregations on all ends of the spectrum - fundamentalist, catholic, traditional, confessional, conservative, charasmatic, contemporary, evangelical, liberal, social gospel, protesant, church growth, ethnic, you name it. Somehow, they have kept all these people in the one Church - but it is a battle.

The Synodical system of democratic government in the Lutheran Church encourages this battle, and does not ensure that confessional Lutheranism (or any other type) will prevail. Actually, it probably favours liberalism, because once liberal ideas get a grip in a democracy, they tend to be very difficult to overturn.

This is the battle out of which I emerged in 2001, and I was quite happy to lay down my arms. The Catholic Church is like the Lutheran Church of Australia in trying to keep a great variety of theologies together in one communion, but unlike the Lutheran Church, the Catholic Church does not allow democratic government. In other words, it really doesn't matter what Sister So-and-So RSM or Fr So-and-So SJ thinks, because they don't get a vote.

That doesn't make the job of maintaining unity any easier, but it does make the task of promoting authentic teaching within the Church - if not "easier" - then at least little more "hopeful" of eventually achieving its goal.

18 Comments:

At Friday, February 06, 2009 12:11:00 pm , Anonymous matthias said...

I was a member of the LCA when women's ordination was being discussed at the Synod and the reaction i saw in the congregation I attended ( your mate AB was pastor)seemed to be mute,.
Interesting Schutz that the Confessional Lutherans Australia website has not had anything new on it since May 2008

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 1:33:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

In defence of my good friend, whom you mention Matthias, I must point out that at the time of that original debate (in 2000) he was having a not-hard-to-understand difficulty in sorting out the many different messages he was receiving on this issue from his fellow pastors, and, to the credit of his great faithfulness and intellect, decisively came down on the right side!

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 1:45:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

David, in all sincerety that 1.2 billion figure no longer impresses me. The fact that the Catholic Church relies on baptismal statistics tells me very little about the "unity" of the church.

As far as the lack of democracy in the church goes, the sad reality is that many of the Catholic laity don't let that bother them in the least. They just happily go ahead and do what they are going to do and believe what they are going to believe.

I have a brother and sister in law who should have gotten an annulment before returning to the church. They haven't bothered to do so and probably never will but show up for Communion at every family function I've seen them at. They aren't alone in their indpendent thinking.

The lack of uniformity in teaching among the bishops in the U.S. is downright scandalous.

It seems to me that the Orthodox Church has at times been willing to compromise jurisdictional unity in order to preserve doctrinal integrity and Rome has taken a completely opposite approach. Unity has been preserved at all costs, no matter how much doctrinal confusion has arisen.

I did a bit of personal research on St. John's University and its attached Benedictine monastery here in the U.S. What I found is shocking, not entirely on the moral front as that is a problem in all churches but the decidedly heavy shift from Catholic orthodoxy. Now I realize that this is a monastic environment but the fruits of Vatican II are very much in evidence there.

I wish you only the best in your life as a Catholic, the church needs people like you to keep the faith. But I can no longer travel that road. The ELCA is out of the question, but the LCMS is a road I once traveled and still feels like home.

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 2:12:00 pm , Anonymous matthias said...

I was not criticising your good friend-who also played a major part in the justification agreement between RCC AND LCA-as I fully empathised with his position,and I think he was in his first year at the church. i found him to be of great value an help when I was needing to address an issue with a school

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 4:54:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

David, in all sincerety that 1.2 billion figure no longer impresses me. The fact that the Catholic Church relies on baptismal statistics tells me very little about the "unity" of the church.

What should impress you, Christine, beyond statistics, is simply the universality of the Catholic Church. Universality is, after all, a mark of the Church.

As far as the lack of democracy in the church goes, the sad reality is that many of the Catholic laity don't let that bother them in the least. They just happily go ahead and do what they are going to do and believe what they are going to believe.

Well, as I have said before, we don't have any Church police in the Catholic Church...as desirable as that may be at times.

The lack of uniformity in teaching among the bishops in the U.S. is downright scandalous.

Indeed it is - but I don't think there has ever been a time in the Church when all the bishops have thought with one mind on anything. Proof, perhaps, that the decrees of the ecumenical councils are indeed the fruit of the Holy Spirit! And you won't find anything better among the presidents of the districts of the LCMS!

It seems to me that the Orthodox Church has at times been willing to compromise jurisdictional unity in order to preserve doctrinal integrity and Rome has taken a completely opposite approach. Unity has been preserved at all costs, no matter how much doctrinal confusion has arisen.

It is very interesting that in the Fathers, schism and heresy are accorded a degree of horror that is practically equal. It is a matter of "Truth" and "Love"; and getting the balance between those two has been a problem since the very beginning. Compare the letter to the Church in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7) with the letter to the Church at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29). Which one do the Lutherans favour?

I wish you only the best in your life as a Catholic, the church needs people like you to keep the faith. But I can no longer travel that road. The ELCA is out of the question, but the LCMS is a road I once traveled and still feels like home.

And I sincerely pray that it stays that way for you, Christine. It probably will - for the reasons I have outlined in this post. But tell me, have you found a congregation with a good confessional and liturgical pastor? If so, what happens when that pastor goes and the next one comes in and decides that what the parish needs is a good dose of Church Growth pragmatism?

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 6:24:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

"what happens when that pastor goes and the next one comes in and decides that what the parish needs is a good dose of Church Growth pragmatism?"

Oh, about the same as when the bishop you don't know and rarely see assigns a complete lunnkhead to be your new pastor, thinking he's just what you need, or alternatively, that he'll do less damage there than where he is.

But not as bad as happened in the parish where I grew up, when the bishop sends the lunnkhead an official diocesan liturgist to remodel the whole place, already Vatican II'd over, into total unrecognisability.

 
At Friday, February 06, 2009 9:24:00 pm , Blogger Vicci said...

What a disappointing post this is -at several levels. I suspect there's something else apart from scholarship going on here.
Excuse the presumptuousness, but it reads to me as if Mr Schutz's 'journey' is righteous, pious (etc, etc) but somehow Christine's is tainted? This is not respectful.

This:
That doesn't make the job of maintaining unity any easier, but it does make the task of promoting authentic teaching within the Church - if not "easier" - then at least little more "hopeful" of eventually achieving its goal.

May I say (nicely!): what rot!
A 'system' without the moderation of several 'voices' is always more likely to extremes.
Granted, a 'perfect' Pope and office of Cardinals could lead the way in promoting "authentic teaching". Unfortunately, that 'perfection' has never existed -Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist..whichever.
The infalibility line loses a lot of credibility when successive administrations modify, or substantially alter the desisions of previous encumbants.

I don't wish offence to anyone. I expect that the Censor will pass this way quickly. But, it needs to be said.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 1:41:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Good morning from my part of the globe. Some important issues being raised here:

What should impress you, Christine, beyond statistics, is simply the universality of the Catholic Church. Universality is, after all, a mark of the Church.

Yes, universality is a mark of the Church. The Orthodox and Lutherans have it too. Smaller in numbers but present on every continent.

Since the schism with the East and the Reformation the RC can't claim full universality either.

Well, as I have said before, we don't have any Church police in the Catholic Church...as desirable as that may be at times.

Church police to do what? Compel outward conformance? We've all been there and done that. What is needed is living faith -- note I am not saying "perfect" faith, we all have moments of weakness in our spiritual lives.

Again, it doesn't mean a hill of beans if official Catholic teaching is "on the books" but not implemented at the parish level. The Catechism has not been universally accepted. Some parish priests won't use it. That's just as scandalous as the fact that so few Catholic institutions of higher learning accepted Ex Corde Ecclesiae. They merrily go on their way teaching what they see fit, sacrificing the Catholic identity that they no longer subscribe to.

I don't expect all the bishops to be of "one mind" on all issues, but they'd better take their responsibility to teach the faith seriously. When they don't we see the results that are playing out today.

The reality in the U.S. is that social justice predominates the agenda of the Catholic bishops. They are lately scratching their heads and wondering what's wrong, as mass attendance continues to plummet. The latest initiative from the Vatican will be to conduct an examination of religious orders to figure out why THEIR numbers have plummeted so much. They just don't get it.

It also affects what happens at the parish level. At the parish where I was received at one RCIA session a candidate asked the pastor why the RC doesn't ordain women. Instead of giving a clear answer in the name of the church he yammered something about "historical" reasons. I'm afraid PE is right, there's a lot of lunkheads out there. This paster had a reputation as a terrifically nice guy. Did Jesus die to make us nice??

And church growth? I recently visted this parish again, my last attendance at an RC mass. They now have appended to their Oregon Catholic missal (no wonder Catholics don't sing) a selection of evangelical "praise" music. The RC is not immune from the "church growth" and consumer mentality. Give me the rich hymns of Paul Gerhardt any day.

Do I expect perfection of LCMS district presidents? Of course not. But I'm no stranger to Lutheran theology and life. I've been there and my resources are firmly in place.

One of the images that I love about the Lutheran pastor is that of "seelsorger", the shepherd appointed to care for souls. The Lutheran pastor wants to know that his congregants understand the faith, especially as regards the Lutheran belief on Word and Sacrament. Is this always uniformly applied? No, but in my experience it is to a high degree. That was once true of the preconciliar church, especially in the ethnic churches. Now, in today's RC megaparishes if a parishioner doesn't show up for mass for months, no one will call. The responsibility for one's spiritual life is squarely one's own. A far cry from the early Christians of whom it was said "see how they love one another."

When I first told my mom I was going to become Catholic she sadly commented that I'd better go to mass every Sunday or the priest would come calling. That was "back in the day" when the RC defined herself much more stringently.

Of course, my mom's experience with her Catholic mother-in-law, who had little use for mom's Lutheran beliefs, also informed her view.

I can't subscribe to purgatory and so many of the other doctrinal and devotional appendages that Rome has attached over the centuries. It dishonors the sacrificial love of Christ who invited all who are burdened to come to him to find rest.

Yes, I have found a Confessional Lutheran congregation where both pastor and people value the historic liturgy where I will be attending. There are some wonderful Confessional resources coming out of Concordia Publishing House and the LCMS is blessed with a number of young, traditionally-minded pastors whose excellent sermons and meditiations are out there for all to see. Lutherans know how to preach.

And so it goes.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 9:45:00 am , Blogger Tony said...

I too baulked at That doesn't make the job of maintaining unity any easier, but it does make the task of promoting authentic teaching within the Church - if not "easier" - then at least little more "hopeful" of eventually achieving its goal.

There seems to be a very presumptuous association between 'authentic' teaching (whatever that is) with a non-democratic leadership model. I'm not sure why you expect the reader to take that for granted.

On the question of unity, there's no greater illustration than the contraception issue. It's decimated the ranks, but even if you think that's no so important, look around you. You reckon all those one, two and three child families are using the Billings Method?

It's a 'don't ask, don't tell' unity that is poisonous IMO. Most Catholics who stick around find way's around what they consider unnacceptable. That's a symptom of an organisation where the members have no effective power.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 10:04:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Indeed. And it could be an endless discussion.

Christine, I am sure you know this, but I am pointing it out for Vicci's sake since she is new to these discussions, that I fully respect your decisions and your spiritual journey. That goes for everyone who visits this blog. Including PE. (I just can't understand him - but that, I guess, is my problem).

I ask my questions for two reasons:

1) Christine is my sister in Christ (whatever church she attends) and my care and concern is fraternal.

2) This is my blog, and it is largely here to satisfy my curiousity about whether there is some congruence between what goes on in my head and what goes on in the heads of others!

Vicci also says that "it reads to me as if Mr Schutz's 'journey' is righteous, pious (etc, etc) but somehow Christine's is tainted? This is not respectful."

That is a complete misreading, Vicci. But I think that there can only ever be one really good reason for changing your religious community: the conviction that you cannot be saved if you remain in the one to which you currently belong.

I reached that conviction with regard to my life as a Lutheran. That it not to say that people cannot be saved in the Lutheran Church - of course they can - Baptism and the Word of God and the Name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are there as well as in the Catholic Church. The point is that I could not be saved if I were to remain a Lutheran because I had come to know that "God, through Jesus Christ, founded the Catholic Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it." (LG 14, AG 7).

Now it concerns me that Christine has come to know the Catholic Church as "something necessary", has entered it, and is not persevering in it. That concerns me as a brother in Christ.

However, at the same time, I fully respect the fact that from Christine's point of view she is certainly NOT leaving the "catholic church", which she certainly DOES believe is necessary, but which she has become convinced she can find better in her local Lutheran congregation than in the universal and visible society that people everywhere call "the Catholic Church".

So, she is acting according to her conscience - which I respect - BUT, what I question, is whether she has allowed her conscience to be properly formed by clear revealed doctrine - which she knows as well as I do - on this matter.

This blog is a place where, I hope, it is possible to ask such questions without being considered "disrespectful" or "presumptuous".

And the only thing that I censure on this blog is actual abusive rudeness, Vicci, so feel free to speak your mind.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 10:15:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Tony,

Oddly enough, if you asked Christine, I don't think she would say that she is leaving the Catholic Church because there isn't enough democracy in it.

The Contraception issue just proves the case. If democratic pressure ruled the Church, there would have been no Humanae Vitae.

You simply assume that if Pope Paul VI had granted the wishes of the Theological Committee, then our Church would be pumping full of people fired up by the Gospel today.

That is true presumption.

It is false to presume - as do the proponents of democratic government in the Church - that the authentic teaching of the Church will always be what is most popular. It is often precisely the opposite.

Democratic government will never be able to guarentee the "prophetic" voice of the Church, because such a Church will never be able to reform or critique its own message.

Only the charism of infallibility, given by God through the Spirit to the college of bishops in unity with the Successor of Peter, can ultimately guarentee the preservation and guardianship of the Catholic faith.

Again, I doubt very much if Christine would agree with your critique, Tony. I rather think that she would cite it as the main problem. She at least knows, as do I and many other readers of this blog, that the woes of the Catholic Church today are due entirely to a lack of faithfulness to the gospel.

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 11:54:00 am , Blogger Louise said...

Or, David, as the beloved Chesterton said, "We don't need a Church where we go right, we need a Church where we go wrong."

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 12:50:00 pm , Anonymous matthias said...

I believe Schutz that we can extend your comments about the woes of the RCC and alack of faithfulness to the Gospel to other denominations.
The declining membership of the UCA is linked not only to an ageing demographic but also to the fact that except for some congregations-Confessing and Evangelical-,the UCA has been faithless to the Gospel.More prepared to speak out about politics than preach the Good News

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 4:17:00 pm , Blogger Tony said...

You're amazing David, within days you lament about the state of journalism and then you come out with this:

You simply assume that if Pope Paul VI had granted the wishes of the Theological Committee, then our Church would be pumping full of people fired up by the Gospel today.

That is true presumption.


It would be if I said it, but in the true tradition of tabloid journalists you just did the 'straw man' thing.

Then more of what I didn't say:

It is false to presume - as do the proponents of democratic government in the Church - that the authentic teaching of the Church will always be what is most popular. It is often precisely the opposite.

Let's flip it:

It is false to presume - as do the proponents of the current government in the Church - that the authentic teaching of the Church will always be what is least popular. It is often precisely the opposite.

How did I extract that from what you've written? The same way you did it for me.

Democratic government will never be able to guarentee the "prophetic" voice of the Church, because such a Church will never be able to reform or critique its own message.

Why? How does that follow? Democracies go through 'processes of reform' all the time; they're called elections, constitutional conventions, enquiries, royal commissions ...

If that's true about democracies, what does that say about the conclave?

Only the charism of infallibility, given by God through the Spirit to the college of bishops in unity with the Successor of Peter, can ultimately guarentee the preservation and guardianship of the Catholic faith.


Only? How do you explain the 'preservation' up until 1870?

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 4:36:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

I assume you're not falling into the trap of thinking that no one believed in infallibility till 1870, and suddenly we were all duped!

 
At Saturday, February 07, 2009 10:12:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Joshua is quite right, the doctrine was defined in 1870. That definition said that this was the way it was from the beginning.

 
At Monday, February 09, 2009 12:35:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Christine, I am sure you know this, but I am pointing it out for Vicci's sake since she is new to these discussions, that I fully respect your decisions and your spiritual journey.

I absolutely know that you are expressing fraternal concern, David, and I sincerely appreciate and respect that. I take no offense whatsoever at anything you have posted and would expect no less than that you defend your views. Hi Vicci, nice to meet you here!

Oddly enough, if you asked Christine, I don't think she would say that she is leaving the Catholic Church because there isn't enough democracy in it.

I couldn't agree with David more here. Although the congregational polity of the LCMS is more "democractic" that that of Rome, had Paul VI gone as far as some would have liked at the Council I have no doubt that Catholc churches would be fairly empty today. Yet taking her stand on the Confessions and Scripture has kept the LCMS firmly on the traditional side as regards issues such as the Inspiration of Scripture, family and marriage, etc. The historical-critical method has wrought enormous damage in the Christian mainstream.

 
At Monday, February 09, 2009 3:11:00 pm , Blogger Tony said...

Joshua is quite right, the doctrine was defined in 1870. That definition said that this was the way it was from the beginning.

It is really hard to imagine anyone swallowing a statement like this unless it is about the 'dear leader' in a place like N Korea.

But it's only one example of the kind of mental yoga that infallibility requires.

For example, why did it take 1870 years for the church to realise that something that 'existed from day one' needed to be defined? If it 'persevered' for that long without such a definition, what changed to make it necessary? Was this the work of the Spirit or power politics? Did it improve the church's capacity to persevere or lessen it?

How is it that a body, that is not defined as infallible in 1869, can define itself as infallible in 1870 then then backdate it?

More importantly for me however is the kind of mentality that this generates in the church. This is a church that can't fess up to stuff ups. Even Obama said 'I screwed up' 3 days into his administration and just about every one thought the better of him for it or, at worst, it didn't make the situation worse.

The Vatican stuffs up all mightily re SPXX and it's does backward somersaults to avoid admitting it got it wrong, culminating in a most feeble 'he didn't know'.

Church leaders are dragged kicking a screaming mostly by secular bodies like the press into admitting and paying compensation for abuse partly because of this culture of 'we don't stuff up' and the 'infallible church' is to be defended almost at all costs.

 

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