Saturday, 22nd July, 2000

I arrived at John Fleming’s home just before P. and Peter. John welcomed me by saying “It’s been a long time”, and later asked after “that other Lutheran who used come with you” (namely R.). So he had not forgotten me.

We sat down, and Peter led off the discussion, asking about the doctrine of vocation, especially citing those who said that since we were in the Lutheran Church and called to the Lutheran Church, that is where God wanted us to be. John replied that he was told much the same thing, but that it doesn’t follow either logically or theologically. Otherwise he said, no one would ever come to faith (being called from unbelief to belief) or be called to the priesthood (since this also means leaving a vocation for another one).

When we raised the issue of our vows, I refered to my suspicions of what he said on the tape [see earlier blog] that because his call to Rome was the call the truth, then his vows were null and void. I asked if this was not like a man who comes to me saying that God is calling him to leave his wife and marry someone else. John answered that the analogy does not follow, because in the former case, God’s call was based on objective, demonstrable truth, and in the latter case the “call” was no more than an undemonstrable feeling. Fair enough.

I asked whether Newman was not right when he said that one should only convert to another church when one feels that one can no longer be saved in the church to which you belong. John said that this was only an opinion of Newman’s, whereas the Vat II council declared it to be the ultimate duty of every human being to seek the truth and to follow its dictates when they have found it.

Peter Holmes asked how would know that this is truly the calling of the Spirit. John replied that with people such as ourselves, logic and intellect would play a great part in that calling.

We talked about our seminary mentor's assertion that the Catholic church was where the orthodox liturgy was celebrated. John concurred with this to a certain extent, as long as it included a validly ordained priest as the celebrant of the liturgy. Ipso facto, a Roman priest.

We talked about many other things, but somehow we got onto the topic of the fact that we were all married. John seemed confident that once we converted to the Church there would be little impediment to us being cleared for ordination to the priesthood. He said that George Pell was instrumental in clearing the way for his own ordination with the authorities in Rome, and that we could expect, as ordained ministers converting to the church, to be treated the same way.

At first I was going to say nothing about my own marital status, but in the end, my heart was sinking as I listened to him (as one does when a great possibility is held before one, but not the possibility of grasping it). So I told him about my divorce and remarriage. He concurred with Fr Tony Kieran that the fact that my former partner did not desire to have children with me, compounded by the early age of our marriage, was very good grounds for anullment. But then I said, having gone through the anulment process and been remarried, it was unlikely that I would then be okayed for ordination. He asked “Why not? The Roman Catholic Church is very consistent. If it declares that your first marriage was null and void, and if it blesses your current marriage, what is there to find fault with?”

I must say that this was very, very good news for me. More than I could have hoped for. I had to leave early to go to lunch with my first wife's parents (who are still good friends although I have not seen them for a long time), but John closed by saying to us: “Give immeadiate attention to process. Think through what you will do if you will do it. This is perhaps more important at this stage than making the decision to convert.”

I agree with him. From what I was hearing from P. and Peter, they were hearing and lapping up what John was saying. I think the three of us need to give some serious consideration to this question.

As I was listening to John, I knew that what he was saying was right. I have to become a Roman Catholic. I will not be able to continue ad infinitum as a Lutheran with a good conscience. I do not think that I will follow David Stolz’s advice after all--I do not think that I can--given what happened at Pastors’ Conference--and take the line of “in statu confessionis”. Rather, I will hold my cards to my chest and proceed with the anulment application, and with the application to declare Cathy’s marriage to her former husband as non-sacramental. When I have a result from this, I believe then I will be able to move forward with a clearer vision.

Deus in adjutorium meum intende!

Friday, 21st July, 2000

[The publication of this post at this time is very ironic, as the very same discussion has just taken place at the 2006 LCA Pastors’ Conference. See my post on Sentire Cum Ecclesia.]

General Pastors’ Conference ended today. The vote on the ordination of women was taken this morning: 115 for, 118 against, 14 abstaining. That leaves everyone in a quandary. But more worrying is what transpired soon after the vote. My Seminary lecturer and mentor raised the question: What would happen should the Synod vote for this resolution when the Pastors’ Conference has rejected it (however narrowly). This was not really answered, but in the debate that followed, it became clear that the majority of the members of the conference do not regard themselves as being anything like the “teaching magisterium” that my mentor has claimed that it is. DB rightly got up and pointed out that the CA includes teaching doctrine as part of the office of the keys, but this was not persuasive. What happens then, when the “teaching magisterium” of the church does not recognise itself as such?

Back-peddling a little, Tuesday night, P., Peter Holmes and I met with our seminary mentor. Actually we had tea at the his place first, and this meant that his brother was there too. Given that his brother is Vice-President of the District, and that it would have been difficult to exclude him, we invited him to join us (although he is now being less than discreet about the matter). The discussion with our mentor was, of course, all over the place. I found it hard to see where he was coming from or going to in his argumentation. He was vigorously defending being “evangelical catholic” over being “Roman Catholic”, and followed the Pelikan line that as a result of the Reformation, both the Lutheran and Roman churches are less than catholic. After the others had left (at about 11pm), and I was putting on my motorcycle gear getting ready to leave, I was still talking to our mentor and his brother. It was then, and only then, that I realised where he was at. I made the comment: “Be it ever so catholic, the LCA can never be the catholic church.” He agreed, but added “Neither can the Roman church.” Something sounded familiar here, so I went on and asked: “But that is to say then that the true catholic church is an article of faith, and cannot be identified with any one institution?” He agreed, and replied: “But that does not mean that it is invisible--it is visible wherever the orthodox liturgy is celebrated.”

I realised then that, with the addition of this closing liturgical argument, our mentor’s current position is not unlike that which I had held for the last 15 years. Talking to P. the next day, I asked if our mentor had made sense to him. “Yes and no”, was the answer. I told him what he had said about being catholic, namely that “Be it ever so catholic, the LCA cannot be The Catholic Church; and be it ever so catholic, the Roman Church cannot be The Catholic Church”. He and I agreed that we could agree with the former proposition, but were not so sure about the second proposition.

Wednesday saw the finalisation of nominations for General President: it has come down to the current SA president and the current NZ president. The latter would be an utter disaster if he were elected. If he was, I would leave the LCA immediately. I could not submit to his authority. The SA candidate on the other hand would be great, but electing him will leave a hole in the SA presidency, that could all to easily be filled by another church-growther. Another terrible possibility. This is very, very dangerous, and I pray that God would lead both synods in the right direction. Best would be if that we could abolish the GP position as well as the Vice Presidents, and simply have a District President act as primate.

Thursday saw a very long and lengthy discussion of the ordination of women question. Some 40 speakers spoke on the subject. At the end of the day, it was decided that we would vote first thing in the morning. Then, because I was going out to Grandma Schutz’s for the evening, and had no place to have tea, I asked my Victorian District President (who was also on his own) if we should have tea together. This was good. He asked me how I thought the vote would go, and I said “It will be close”. I didn’t realise how close.

Also today, without much thought, the Conference okayed Eucharistic hospitality with Anglicans and Uniting. Wrong direction entirely.

Someone today, can’t think who it was--probably Pastor DB--raised the question in connection with the discussion of the Joint Declaration on Justification: “What do protestants do when they have nothing left to protest about?” Good question.

In all, the Conference has not been the encouraging thing that it could have been. Although on Tuesday, the Seminary Principal clearly enunciated the choice that the church has to make, that is, between being “evangelical catholic or evangelical protestant”, yet I do not think there has been any clear decision or direction of decision making indicated by the last few days. Worse than ever, our pastorate is divided. More than ever it has shown that it is completely unable to discern the will of God, let alone able to direct the church in the application of his will. Moreover, there is a complete abdication of responsibility for doing this, in favour of a more egalitarian democratic model of “letting the people decide”.

The Synod is yet to come, but my enthusiasm is not high.

Tomorrow morning (Saturday), I am returning to the point at which it all began: I, together with P. and Peter Holmes, am meeting with Father John Fleming--once Anglican, now Catholic. P. contacted him during the week, mentioned my name as well (John Fleming did remember me), and then found himself invited enthusiastically to come around with us to John’s home. So we will do that. I am afraid that John Fleming will make more sense than our Seminary mentor on this, simply because he will tell me what I want to hear.

Yet do I want to hear that I must become a Roman Catholic after all? How can I in my current marital and occupational status?

I am being faced with two very, very real temptations at the moment. One to which I could give in, the other in which I am continually invoking the name of Jesus to strengthen me and at the same time cursing the devil who puts such ideas into my head. The first is the temptation to flee from the fellowship of pastors in which I have found myself. As I looked over the crowd of 200+ pastors today, I saw how very few of them stand on common ground with me. I felt very alone, to tell the truth. None more than when we stood to vote, and I discovered myself standing when three of my close pastor friends were sitting and vice versa. Then an older pastor (who had been in team ministry with my Vicar Father during my vicarage before ordination) attacked me over afternoon tea concerning my rejection of the priesthood of all believers as a central tenant of the Lutheran Church. I was getting really angry at that point—and then on of my close friends, who had voted in favour of WO, came up to me saying that he had reflected on what he had done and was both ashamed and sorry of his decision to vote in that way. He had now decided (after a talk with our mentor) that he wanted to be counted as a conservative! It was a little embarrassing for me—a bit as if he was coming to me as a penitent wanting to be received back into fellowship—but also because I had thought myself abandoned, and yet here was one who was yet again standing with me—or, more to the point, together with whom I was called to stand. My friend is afraid of appearing fundamentalistic if he takes a conservative stand on the Word of God—I need to encourage him that the only way to take such a stand without becoming a fundie is to do it as a catholic. In any case, this was a sobering experience. My brothers need me and I need them. But am I strong enough to strengthen them?

The other temptation is worse still—it is that I will come to devalue my marriage to Cathy. This is a terrible, terrible temptation. The “what if” questions, such as “What if I were single again”... or some such unmentionable thing... come into my mind utterly and totally unbidden like the seductions of Satan himself. I cannot let myself think like this. The worst of it is that it has led me to question whether I truly love Cathy or not! Yet tonight, when I switched on my laptop computer, and saw the picture of Cathy on my background looking back at me, there was no doubt, no doubt at all, but only a strong passionate longing for her. No, my marriage to Cathy is a gift from God, and nothing will shake this. Let me be a married Catholic layman who can never receive the sacrament, but let our marriage last till we die!

Two other things that I must say. I have been reading P.’s copy of Braaten and Jenson’s “The Catholicity of the Reformation”. Not everything in this book impressed me, but two things did. First of all, Braaten says at one point:

Churches of the Reformation have retained some structures of authority—the authority of the Word, the Holy Scriptures, the ecumenical creeds, and their respective confessional writings. But they do not possess any effective official and public locus of authority whose task is to interpret and implement the normative sources of faith and doctrine. Leaving it all up to a voters’ assembly based on representative principles is a formula for disaster. Where does the buck stop when it comes to matters of interpretation and discipline? The church must have not only normative sources written down on paper but also authoritative office-holders ordained to teach the whole church. Protestants do not know who these officeholders are. They seem to have vanished. (pages 64-65)

Braaten is a clear advocate for the restoration of a teaching magisterium in the church. Only we can’t do it. As I said to my District President last night, the teaching magisterium cannot be created by the church—it must be received by the church as a gift from the Lord. And it seems that Jenson takes it a little further than Braaten:

...the bishop/pastor is first and foremost the shepherd of the flock that belongs together but tends to stray. And the place where this unity becomes actual and therefore tended is the Eucharist. The centre of the pastoral office and so of the ordained ministry is presidency at the Eucharist. The same is true of the communion of local communions. Whether we call those who tend churchly communion “pastors” or “bishops”, they are the ministers also of this unity. It is exactly their communion with one another, their mutual recognition of one another’s local communities, that constitutes the communion of communions. Two mandates surely have force at this point, both of which would be satisfied by a right churchly polity, but which historically have been in some conflict with each other. First, what is often called the collegiality simply of pastors or bishops with each other is what establishes churchly unity. Second, the communion thus constituted needs it own pastor, its own minister of unity. So in a standard episcopal polity, every parish has two pastors: its priest and its bishop. The priest serves as the parish’s own pastor and the bishop as the pastor of the larger though still local communion within which the parish has its place. Moreover, these mandates repeat themselves at however many further levels of churchly communion there are or should be. (page 9-10)

I added the emphasis in the last sentence because this is the point that Braaten leaves out—and it is precisely the hierarchical argument for the papacy as the ministry of unity. Peter Holmes—and our Seminary mentor—may ask: Yes, but why this ministry—why the Roman pontiff? The answer is: because this is the gift of unity and authority that the church has been given, and because the church cannot create its own teaching magisterium.