Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Augsburg Confession (Part 7)

Article XIV—Of Ecclesiastical Orders
Concerning ecclesiastical orders [church government], they teach that no man should publicly in the church teach, or administer the sacraments, except he be rightly called.

Article 14 touches on a crucial issue of the Reformation - the issue of legitimacy. The Lutherans wanted to demonstrate that they were not forming a new church. They were instead responding to the falling away of the existing church hierarchy. Their movement, they insisted, was not a politically motivated schism. This is proven by the fact that they continued to insist on a "regular call" for all ministers of the church. No man could take it upon himself to be a recognized minister of Christ. This position enabled the Lutherans to show that they were not radical populists who thought that God worked apart from all ecclesiastical channels. They believed in maintaining ecclesiastical continuity; therefore, they were legitimate. In effect, they put the whole burden for the break up of the church at the time of the Reformation on the backs of the popes and bishops.

This article says nothing about another important plank of Martin Luther's teaching which could be perceived to be in tension with ecclesiastical orders. Luther taught the priesthood of all believers, the idea that the congregation itself, because of its status as a royal priesthood, has the right to seek and discern God's will for the church. Thus it is not dependent upon bishops in order for there to be a regular call. Luther used the example of a group of Christians who found themselves in the middle of a desert with no "priest" (Luther continued to use this designation) ordained by bishops. By virtue of the priesthood of the believers, they could rightly choose one from themselves to serve as a priest, and he would then be just as much a priest as if he had been ordained by bishops.

However, Luther did not reject ordination by bishops, nor did he teach that election by the congregation was the only way to have a regular call. Because the bishops were to work on behalf of the congregation, at least in theory, bishops could ordain ministers. The congregations must approve the choice, and they retained the ability to depose a minister, but the bishops could still do the job. This was how Luther resolved the tension between a regular call and the priesthood of all believers.

I mention this here because this was an important issue in the Reformation which has great ramifications for Baptist history and for the contemporary church scene of our day.

Article XV—Of Ecclesiastical Rites
Concerning ecclesiastical rites, they teach that those rites are to be observed which may be observed without sin, and are profitable for tranquility and good order in the church; such as are set holidays, feasts, and such like. Yet concerning such things, men are to be admonished that consciences are not to be burdened as if such service were necessary to salvation.
They are also to be admonished that human traditions, instituted to propitiate God, to merit grace, and make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the gospel and the doctrine of faith. Wherefore vows and traditions concerning foods and days, and such like, instituted to merit grace and make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the gospel.

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