Monday, September 7, 2009

Does the ECLA Collapse Herald the Collapse of the Reformation?

This is an uncomfortable question for Protestants. What does it mean historically for the Lutheran Church to sink into apostasy and heresy? Was the Reformation decision to separate from Rome and remain separate a mistake from the beginning? If there is less adherance to the gospel in Protestant Churches than in the Roman Catholic Church, how can one justify being a Protestant?

Carl Bratten, an orthodox Lutheran who is obviously in pain over recent events in the ELCA, writes poignantly on these quesitons.
"I will leave it to smarter historians than I to explain how it happened
that the ELCA could slide so quickly down the slippery slope of liberal
Protestantism. Meanwhile, I would hazard two suggestions. First, Lutheranism may
contain within its origins the seeds of its own instability. When the first
Lutherans lost the magisterial authority of the Roman Catholic Church, it had no
sure authority to put in its place. The solas sounded good in theory, but it
finally comes down to who who has the authority to interpret and apply them in
changing times. In the history of Lutheranism the locus of official authority
has been wandering all over the place. In the ELCA final authority lies in the
hands of a quota-selected majority of lay members who could, if they chose,
decide to merge with the Moonies or Mormons, just as they have decided in favor
of altar and pulpit fellowship with Methodists and Moravians. Far-fetched? Not
any more than the decisions taken at the 2009 Assembly in Minneapolis. In the
church the leaders are supposed to be successors of the apostles and not echoes
of majority opinion.

My second suggestion is that the ELCA has succumbed to the same ailment
as liberal Protestantism. What is that? Modern Protestantism is an amalgamation
of historic Christianity and the principles of the Enlightenment, its
rationalism, subjectivism, and anthropocentrism. The underlying assumption is
the neo-gnostic belief in the inner-dwelling of God, such that everyone is
endowed with the inner light that only needs to be uncovered. The light of truth
does not shine through the Scriptures and the Christian tradition as much as
through scientific reason and individual experience. This is what happened in
Minneapolis: appeals to reason and experience trumped Scripture and tradition,
punctuated with pious injunctions of Lutheran slogans and clichés. The majority
won. And they said it was the work of the Spirit, forgetting that the Holy
Spirit had already spoken volumes through the millennia of Scriptural
interpretation, the councils of the church, and its creeds and

When a life-long, major Lutheran theologian of the stature of Carl Bratten starts musing aloud about whether or not Lutheranism contained within itself from its beginning the seeds of its own instability, you know that the situation is critical. And when he makes the point that the locus of authority in Lutheranism has been (in a wonderfully evocative phrase) "wandering all over the place," you know that the very essence of Protestantism is being questioned. What a clear and concise definition of modern Protestantism: "an amalgamation of historic Christianity and the principles of the Enlightenment, its rationalism, its subjectivism, and anthropocentrism," which makes it neo-gnostic.

What is going on here is that liberal Protestantism as a whole, liberal Protestant as a world historical phenomenon is being weighed in the balance and being found wanting. It is on a path to destruction, having abandoned the biblical gospel for neo-gnosticism and social justice. The question is "What now?" "Where do confessionally orthodox Christians now look for leadership?" "What is the future for orthodox Christian refugees from the sinking liberal Protestant ship?"

The Anglican Communion is in the process of reforming into two distinct entities and the only real question in play is which side gets the prize of Canterbury as its head, with all the historic prestiege that implies. But regardless, the majority of the Communion is in the process of reforming into an orthodox communion and will be the ecumenical conversation partner with the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. The minority, centered in The Episcopal Church, will likely become a component of the emerging Liberal Protestant religion, which will be cut off from the Great Tradition.

Where does this leave orthodox believers in the Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and other Protestant denominations? Perhaps the Anglican Church in North America, which has already shown itself to be a big tent kind of entity, will provide a home for refugees from various Protestant, as well as Anglican traditions that have left the Great Tradition. The smaller, continuing Reformed and Lutheran traditions will likely carry on and the Southern Baptists will likely do so as well. It would be wonderful if the Anglican Church in North America could serve as a bridge between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions and the remnants of Protestantism in the West. In this way, the Anglican tradition could fulfill what many have thought was its historic, ecumenical mission.

No comments: