Rejoinder to a Response

Thanks to Mr. Kimel for his response at Pontifications.

The substance of his claim as to why Rome has it better than Wittenberg seems to be that Rome has “the guarantee that these dogmas [the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s Assumption] faithfully state divine revelation and are protected from error.” I assume this refers to the fact that Christ promises Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. For Roman Catholics “Church” equals “Rome,” while Lutherans, naturally, do not and cannot understand it that way.

Later, he writes,

But Timotheus here overlooks the critical difference. The Catholic reads the Scriptures through a divinely authorized and infallible hermeneutical lens. The Lutheran reads the Scriptures through a humanly authorized and fallible hermeneutical lens. The Catholic receives his spectacles from God, mediated by the divinely inspired Magisterium of the Church. The Lutheran selects his spectacles from a Protestant shelf full of different kinds of glasses, choosing the one that best accords with his personal preferences and his private reading of Scripture.

I do not believe that this difference in understanding can be overcome by appeal to Scripture or any other argument. Because Roman Catholics believe the Magisterium to be divinely inspired, they necessarily cannot accept the Lutheran’s (or other Protestant’s) contention that neither the Lutheran Confessions nor the Magisterium are promised divine preservation from error. The heart of this disagreement is differing definitions of the Church. Whereas we (Lutherans) would define the Church as all believers in Christ, Roman Catholics explicitly identify the Church with its visible embodiment in the Roman Church. Other believers are then defined as incompletely connected to the Body of Christ, correct? For us, the Church is not coextensive with any visible “denomination.”

I argue that Lutherans find their “divinely authorized and infallible hermeneutical lens”–where else?–the Gospel of Justification by God’s grace in Christ through faith, as witnessed by the Scriptures. Since we hold that the Roman Magisterium is of human origin and not divine, our hermeneutic is found in the single infallible Person, Jesus Christ. Now obviously Rome will say that the origin of the Magisterium is Christ, thereby also making Him the authority. We deny it, and therein lies the difference.


If Lutherans were to determine that their formularies contradicted the Scriptures, would they not also be admitting that their formularies are in error. But Timotheus doesn’t think this will happen. After all, the Book of Concord has survived five hundred years, and no one has yet demonstrated that they contrary to Scripture. And here’s the quia catch! Ordained Lutheran pastors of the Missouri Synod have each taken a solemn oath to interpret and preach the Scriptures by the doctrinal norms of the Book of Concord. Hence the only way they could ever challenge these doctrinal norms—in the name of Scripture—is by ceasing to be Lutherans or at least Lutheran pastors. It is understandable, therefore, why non-Missouri Lutheran synods only require a quatenus subscription to the Lutheran confessions. Quatenus subscription respects conscience and leaves open the possibility that the fallible, historically-conditioned formularies of the 16th centuries might be re-evaluated in light of fresh biblical exegesis and reflection.

It does seem like a nice little catch, doesn’t it? I admit that anyone who felt that the Confessions fundamentally contradicted the Scriptures at a particular point would have an uphill battle. I also grant that to the Roman Christian, 500 years is a relatively short period of time. The answer to the latter point is that Lutherans do not, of course, think that their position is only 500 years old. As stated repeatedly in the Confessions, the positions taken are believed to be those of the true catholic faith of all ages. To the previous point, the person who believed that the Confessions contradicted the Scriptures would either have to convince other Lutheran Christians of the rightness of his/her position, or, for the sake of his/her integrity, leave the Lutheran church. (This does not mean that questions or misunderstandings automatically exclude one from the Lutheran fold; it applies only after long discussion and ultimately being convinced that the Confessions and the Scriptures are irreconcilable.)

The emphasis on “in the name of Scripture” does not carry the intended weight; all sorts of (wrong) things are advanced “in the name of Scripture.”

The Lutheran position is necessarily circular, but not in the way it might seem (Confessions and Scripture constituting the circle). The circle begins and ends with the Christ, and the particular Christ as He is testified to in the Scriptures and as the Confessions accurately sum up that Scriptural testimony. The Roman position, as I understand it, is circular as well, but it begins and ends with the Magisterium (I know, as it was supposedly instituted by Christ), which accurately and authoritatively interprets both Scripture and Tradition–the two parts of the single divine revelation. If that is correct, I do not know any way around the impasse, except simple surrender to one position or the other.

Regarding this:

The fact that neither doctrine is clearly and explicitly found in the Scriptures is irrelevant. The Catholic Church doesn’t teach sola scriptura—and of course, neither does the Bible. The deposit of faith is deeper than Holy Writ. Hence the declaration of the Second Vatican Council: “Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.”

See, I’m with this up until the “Hence.” Lutherans do not believe in sola scriptura in the same way as other Protestants. Scripture is the sole norm and judge of all doctrine, but it is never bare or alone. I agree that the deposit of faith is deeper (or broader?) than the Scriptures, however I do not believe that the Roman Magisterium has sole authority over it. Christ alone forms the regula fide of the Church catholic, and He testifies to Himself in the Scriptures. My Roman friends and I can agree on a large portion of the Faith, but I cannot agree that the Magisterium is divinely authorized or instituted to be the guardian of it. In the end, I think we would also agree that all doctrine is of a single piece, so one cannot take parts of doctrine to construct “my” own church. It’s all or nothing, both for Rome and Wittenberg.

Finally, Mr. Kimel writes, “If [the Lutheran] wants irreformable dogma, then he’ll just have to come over to the Catholic playground.” Perhaps if I wanted irreformable dogma, I would indeed have to swim to Rome; the problem, from this side of the river, is when that irreformable dogma is wrong.



5 thoughts on “Rejoinder to a Response

  1. Another one of my hot buttons topics, Tim. And we again find agreement.

    Like you said, Tim; “If that is correct, I do not know any way around the impasse, except simple surrender to one position or the other.”

    In the face of the Lutheran position, the RC position must postulate an explanation for why Lutherans are right or wrong.

    The paradox is that Roman Catholics MUST argue that Lutherans are wrong. If they accept in any small measure that Lutherans may be right on this issue, it then requires them to re-evaluate possible imperfections in their own position.

    Our modern “progressive” views lead us as Protestants (and Lutherans) to WANT to believe that all our fellow Christians really do embrace the same doctrine. But when we see that we all do not actually profess the same, we have to start making judgment calls between who is right and wrong. And we do not like being judgmental (actually our human nature does like it) just that we do not like to make our judgment calls public.

    And it isn’t just about Protestant vs. Catholic. This paradox exists for any doctrine or denomination that disagrees with the Lutheran position.

    My point:

    We must purge the idea that we can ascribe to doctrine (or swear oaths of confessions) that we do not specifically accept as true, without consequence.

    What we are doing is ascribing to the notion of Laws without Consequence, and/or personal decision making responsibility without Consequence. This leads directly to the idea of Sin without Consequence. And this ain’t right.

    Yes, Grace overcomes the consequence of sin. But Grace does not eliminate the consequence of sin. And because the consequence of sin is a constant issue, embracing Grace on a constant basis is a constant necessity. This dictates an absolute understanding and acceptance of Christ, no exceptions, and the doctrines that flow from Him.


    Now, we may confess at times to something we believe is true. Then decide later on that it is not true. Changing one’s confession is not dishonest or hypocritical.

    What is dishonest is Lutheran seminarians’ publicly confessing faith in the Lutheran confessions while privately (or publicly) believing them to be in some small measure wrong. And this is one of the major speed-bumps in the heart of the current LC-MS discontinuities.

  2. So where does Fr. Kimel get the “divinely authorized and infallible hermeneutical lens”? And why is it that St. Paul was moved to write all those letters to correct the beliefs and practices of the “church”(es), if the “church” had an “infallible hermeneutical lens”?

  3. I don’t think he’s a “Father.”

    But I’m guessing he would say that the Roman Church gets its lens from Christ, who, according to Rome, guaranteed that the gates of hell would not prevail against the (Roman) Church. You’d have to ask him the second question.


  4. The way my RC friends view it, St. Peter and his papal lineage had the “infallible hermeneutical lens”. St. Paul was simply assisting St. Peter lead the church. I could be wrong, but that is how it was explained to me.

  5. In the second to the fourth centuries, it was always the argument of the heretics that they were drawing on the unwritten apostolic traditions. The orthodox Fathers invariably responded “if anyone says anything and does not support it from Scripture, do not believe him.” (Augustine; similar statements were made by Jerome and Chrysostom)

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