Thursday, 6th July, 2000

I didn’t see P. yesterday, because he was at a camp, but I did go round to Peter Holmes’. Susie was at home too, and I had lunch with them. Peter debriefed a little about the Church Planting Conference he had been too (I had some sympathy, because I had been to the first one that was held last year—it played no small part in preparing me for my current direction), and then we talked about the matter at hand.

I asked Peter (who is seeing our District President today) if he could join me in a “in statu confessionis” move. He was reluctant, not because he did not believe it was the correct thing to do, but because to do so would be to lose the confidence of his congregation—at least at this point. He has built up a reputation for being confessional, and of that which is “catholic” which he has managed to achieve he has done so on the basis of the Lutheran Confessions. To now take a position that is contrary to the clear statement of the Confessions seems to him to be undermining our position, rather than strengthening it.

Oddly, this is the same comment that Fr D. made when I met with him for coffee before the Victorian Council of Churches Executive meeting yesterday evening. He was interested in the direction I had chosen, glad that I was not “acting precipitously”, interested also to hear how the marriage tribunal meeting went (I think he expected the interviewer to be a little more empathic—but I assured him that this was probably not what I needed), and then we talked about the current state of the Lutheran Church of Australia. He wanted to know if there was a way I could base my current position on the confessional statements of our church.

So that is what I am now thinking. While I have recognised that the big problem with being pro-papal is the clear statements in the Smalcald Articles and The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope that the papacy can only have authority de iure humano, probably not much is going to be gained by simply taking a position that denies this. We have to find a way forward, and we have to show that the way forward is not in conflict with the confession of faith contained in the Book of Concord.

Indeed, it will require a bit of a “John Henry Newman/39articles” job. But surely it can be done. After all, the three of us, P., Peter and I, and our supporters, are all among the most confessional of the Lutheran Pastors in the LCA. If the confessions have led us to this position, then there must be a thread within the confessions that can lead the church that way—if they are willing to go. It seems to me that if we can do this (and it will require much more than a simple statement of belief, but pages of carefully thought out and logically worded argument) we will be leading off on the right foot.

For instance, since the CTICR [Commission on Theology and Interchurch Relations] could revisit The Treatise on the question of “Is the Pope the Antichrist?”, and come to an opposite conclusion to that which The Treatise itself came to, and since this was accepted by the LCA, surely a similar thing can be done with the de iure terminology.

For instance, we could point out that this language is that of the medieval law courts—it is jurdicial, rather than pastoral language. We could point out that The Treatise viewed the pope as primarily a magistrate rather than as a pastor, and because of this they were able to follow the sixteenth century doctrine of “the resistance of magistrates”, which was particularly relevant to the political situation of the Smalcald War (Nb. I did a study of this at University—it is very, very relevant). We could point out that the same documents support the authority of kings and princes as being established in scripture, and therefore of divine right, although the passage of scripture on which this is based is very tenuous.

So much for The Treatise. The rest of the Confessions, especially the Augsburg Confession, will be a mine of support for the point of view that the intention of the Reformers, at least before the Smalcald War, was for reunion with Rome. If we are true to the very nature of the Confessions themselves, we must hold this up for all to see.

On matters like that of bishops, we need to show how the teaching that apostolic succession lies only in faithfulness to the teaching of the apostles is just a Lutheran opinion, and is nowhere clearly supported in the Confessions, since the question of apostolic succession (defined as it has been by the Anglican church) had not arisen at that point. Much has been made of the point that the confessions regard the office of pastor as equal to the office of bishop. The opposite therefore must also be true—the office of bishop is as important to the church as the office of pastor.

Other issues, such as the essential nature of the liturgy and of authority in the church, can also be argued on the basis of the Confessions. Perhaps, therefore, this is the way to go, even though it will not be an opinion or interpretation shared by all, yet it will have the maximum swaying power. Simply getting up and saying: “I believe in the Pope” will not, in the end, be very helpful.

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