There’ve been a few articles sitting in my archives for a while on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) which might be worth a read, so let’s talk about them. The RCL is, of course, mostly what we use in the ELCA, almost all of the Anglican churches, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and churches from other denominations. And it is largely in sync with the Roman Catholic church, worldwide, as well. Yes, there are others, in the ELCA, there is the Narrative Lectionary, the LCMS has a Historic One Year Lectionary, and there are likely others. Still that’s pretty broad swath of Western Christianity, and one reason why Chalcedon’s Gospel lesson’s on Sunday here, work for most of us. It also has the benefit of getting us through most of the Bible in a three-year period.
Its story is interesting. The Benedictine Lutheran tells us:
As noted in my earlier article, the roots of the RCL are based on the three year lectionary developed in the Roman Catholic Church during the years following Vatican II. Following the conclusion of Vatican II, Biblical scholars came together to work on the three year lectionary, which resulted in the publication of Ordo Lectionum Missae in 1969. After over a decade of work by scholars from numerous Christian traditions, the Common Lectionary was published in 1983. Finally, after a trial period of the Common Lectionary, and revisions made by even more scholars, the Revised Common Lectionary was published in 1992. (For more information, go to this website: http://www.commontexts.org/).
So, the RCL is the fruit of the labor of multiple scholars from multiple Christian traditions over the course of several decades. It is not a perfect lectionary. But, it is a truly “catholic” (universal, not just Roman) lectionary.
And so it is one of those ecumenical efforts, across almost all of the mainline churches, to teach the same thing, at the same time, and to do it effectively. How is it effective? Because it is a worship lectionary, not a Bible study guide. Again from the Benedictine Lutheran.
Through the magic of Google, I found an article called “Explaining the lectionary for readers”, which contains a beautiful explanation of how and why the Catholic (and therefore, RCL) lectionary readings are put together. Although it is from a Catholic website, this language strikes me as being very much Lutheran as well, with its primary focus being on the proclamation of Christ:
• this recollection is given added dimensions by readings from the Old Testament: the Law (such as Genesis or Exodus), the prophets (such as Amos or Joel), the Psalms, and the Writings (such as the Book of Wisdom or the Books of the Maccabees);
• then there are the readings of the great early Christian teachers’ letters to churches, such as those of Paul.
• We are not reading these passages because many Christians consider reading the Bible a valuable activity in itself.
• This action is not part of a Bible Study, nor should it resemble the classroom atmosphere of a study group.
•The focus of all our reading is not an abstract understanding of the scriptural text – such as would be carried out by a biblical exegete in a theology course – but to see what each portion of text (whether from the gospel, the Old Testament, the psalm, or the epistle) reveals to us about the Paschal Mystery.
• Our reading is not book-focused; it is not text-focused; it is focused on Jesus as the Christ.
• The gospel is the primary focus on the mystery of the Christ in each celebration; the Old Testament and Psalm relate to it as background, example, context, or elaboration; the epistle is a separate attempt to focus on the mystery of the Christ through the help of early Christian teachers.
• The readings are to help us encounter the person of Jesus Christ in whose presence and name we have gathered.
He also notes that Professor Rolf Jacobson, one of the developers of the Narrative Lectionary, says, “We actually think that we do a better job of aligning the Biblical story with the major festivals of the Church year. In the Revised Common Lectionary, you get the adult John the Baptist in Advent saying ‘Jesus is coming’, but that’s not the Christmas story – it’s not the adult John the Baptist saying the adult Jesus is coming. So, what we have is the prophetic texts – the prophets longing with hope for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom and the coming of the Holy One, and then the Holy One is born at Christmas, and we tell, then, the Biblical story in order….”
But is that why we celebrate Advent, or is it as the linked article says?
Is Advent merely a season where we prepare for the birth of the baby Jesus at Christmas? If so, his claim might have merit. However, Advent is not just about recalling the story of the baby Jesus coming into the world. If it were, I’m not sure why we would even have a separate Advent season – we would just have one six week Christmas season. Instead, Advent is also a season where we prepare for the return of Christ at the eschaton (a word which essentially means, to borrow a phrase from the rock group REM: ‘the end of the world as we know it’). Therefore, contrary to Professor Jacobson’s opinion, the readings where “the adult John Baptist is saying the adult Jesus is coming” make sense given the historical purpose and meaning behind the season of Advent:
“The eschataological orientation that is found in some of these early sources continues to be a significant element in the proclamation of the season of Advent. Indeed, the very name Adventus, ‘coming,’ ‘approach,’ suggests not only the coming of God into the world in Jesus but the approaching return of the risen Lord in all his heavenly splendor. Indeed, the Advent season and its hope should not be regarded purely or even primarily in terms of Christmas. It should not even be seen as an introduction to the Incarnation but rather as the completion of the work of redemption.
Your mileage may vary, I suppose, but I was taught the latter, and still believe so.
Carl made a point in comments on his post The Family, that I think important, when he said.:
I suppose we can all participate in prayer that the Holy Spirit reigns. But then the question for Catholics is whether they obey the conclusions presented by the synod or follow personal conscience which I understand may be inappropriate for Catholics. As Protestant would appreciate comments helping me to me understand this apparent dilemma if indeed one exists. Who is the heretic-the one who accepts or the one dismissing possible distasteful policy of synod?
OK, granted I’m a Lutheran (and in fact, a conservative one, I don’t truck with much novelty). But I’m a member of the ELCA, which is about as liberal as Lutherans get. I’ll admit to shaking my head often in bewilderment and grief at what my bishops say.
But, you know, I don’t very often think they are simply heretics or trying to kill the family. I mostly think they are good men who have perhaps been misled, or perhaps I am (although that’s unlikely) 🙂
And in any case, I can always move to one of the more conservative Lutheran synods, and periodically consider it. One of the advantages of being a Protestant, I suppose.
But so often, my Roman brothers and sisters sound like conspiracy theorists in their treatment of their hierarchy, and yet most of those who claim all these evil things are being done by the hierarchy, are converts to that church, like me in Lutheranism, they saw something in Rome that appealed to their soul. That’s good, one should believe in their church.
For the most part I agree with Rome’s doctrines on the family, and I’m not going to have the arguments again here. We’ve done enough of that. In short, I think they may be wrong on pre-conception contraception, and I think they need to work on how they handle, administratively, divorce/annulment. Otherwise I think they pretty much have it right. I can only wish the ELCA was that good.
I know that in large measure this is driven because they care so very much about the church and its members but, the tone is very unhelpful. I think they would be wise to tone it down several notches and realize that, with very few possible exceptions nobody went into the priesthood/ministry with an overt goal to destroy the family or the Church.
Some, perhaps many, may well be misguided, I think so but, screaming at them is not going to accomplish anything. Sitting down prayerfully and considerately reasoning with them might. Because we all know that when people scream at us, we get angry in our turn, and we are not susceptible to reason or even the still small voice in us, when we are.
i know many of you are thinking that I’m sticking my oar in where it doesn’t belong. That’s not exactly true. Like me, you are Christians, and your Pope is the senior bishop for us all, and we all do (or at least should) pay attention to what he says. In a good many ways, he is still the “Patriarch of the West’ and speaks for (and to) us all.
I understand what is happening in your Church, to a point anyway, and in a sense, you have hoisted yourself on your own petard. It’s very difficult to be always right, on every single day ever since St. Peter first set foot in Rome. Your church hasn’t been, and neither has mine, or any other. The wider church was founded by Christ, but was built, and maintained by men, and men are sinful creatures, whether they are an atheist moocher or the Pope. Hopefully our churches are guided by the Holy Spirit but, that doesn’t come in the heat and tumult of battle, it comes as a still small voice, usually in the night.
So I would urge you to turn it down several decibels, you hurt yourselves (on both sides) by this unseemly conduct. the road you are travelling right now leads nowhere but still another schism, and that’s the one thing Christianity absolutely does not need, there have been far too many, already.
Our new commenter Ginnyfree asked if I would document my journey in faith. While I can’t imagine anything more boring than my journey, she did ask nicely. And so I’ll try. And as she noted, my verbose switch is stuck in on so this will be a multi-part post.
I think we are all, in large part, the sum of our yesterdays, and especially our youngest years. That doesn’t mean you can’t overcome them but, you will work fairly hard to, especially in your subconscious. In that way, I was extremely lucky. I was born in a town of 800 people, six churches, and only four bars. In other words a typical small town of the German type in northern Indiana, in fact I’m what we referred to when I was young as a Region Rat, from the northwest corner where the steel industry was a part of our lives, as well as agriculture. I was born in the early 50s, in what looking back looks like a perfect time to be an American, and a Christian.
My heritage is Norwegian and most of my family belonged to the American Lutheran Church, the American offshoot of the Church of Norway (and others). But that didn’t exist where I grew up and so my folks ended up in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, the American offshoot of the the Church of Prussia, now the Evangelical Kirche. Kind of Lutheran with a fairly large dose of Calvin mixed in.
Well, sort of anyway. Like many small towns in middle America, there were about three families and they were interrelated. My church was E&R because of a family feud in the Missouri Synod church, and a group split off. I’m not sure that anybody (including our preachers) really knew much about the theology. They had studied it in seminary and could look up answers but it rarely came up. It was the old days when we were all Christians of one variety or another and we didn’t pay too much attention to how many sacraments other guys did or didn’t have, or even if they believed in the Real Presence. That was business for the elders, not for us to question! I suspect it has always been thus for most people.
But the thing is, I always believed that Christ died and rose again for me personally, as did most everyone. Then as now, a lot of men would find any excuse not to go to church, didn’t mean they didn’t believe, they just didn’t want to put on a coat and tie and sit still an hour. My dad was one of them, his claim was that the church would fall down if he entered. That was women’s work, and we kids did Sunday school, Bible school, and church regularly. And in truth both of my sisters and I have been officer’s of our churches.
By the time I was confirmed the E&R had merged into the United Church of Christ which was (and is) a mess. It runs from the old Puritan Congregationalists to Rev. Wright in Chicago. In other words it’s an example of what false ecumenism can do. While I was confirmed out of the old Evangelical Catechism, as my much older sisters had been, it had become so easy that it was nearly a joke. The form was intact but not the substance.
And in truth in high school I lost interest. Until Mom died I just had better things to do, sometimes including getting over Saturday night. Young and invincible would describe me, and church was for little old ladies of both sexes. Like Dad, I believed completely in God just not the church. And after Dad passed (I spoke of him here), I ended up doing what in my business we call ‘booming’ which means I was working for a contractor and rarely any place longer than about six weeks. That’s not very conducive to going to church and I was lucky to make it on Christmas and Easter.
Until I got down here, in Husker land, on a long term job, and fell in love with a local girl (well woman would be more accurate). She was a practicing Lutheran, and I was ready (past ready by about ten years, actually) to finally get married and perhaps even have a family. And so I joined the ELCA, the successor to all the Scandinavian Lutheran Churches in America. In a generational way, it completed the circle.
Well the kids didn’t happen, and various problems like money, and job schedules, and other things, that I’ve mentioned, led to the breakup of the marriage, and with the way it went I got out of the habit of regular attendance, and the form of liturgy used these days here, is not something I care for (like so many of us) and so I make some mostly for the Eucharist, which I find essential. And that I thought was the end of the story. Just another complacent American Christian of the Lutheran variety.
I think the main lesson here is the old American (and Christian) belief in absolute personal responsibility for your thoughts and actions combined with an absolute belief in the Trinitarian God, as stated in the Nicene Creed.
We will continue soon.
Doesn’t seem like a natural pairing does it? But maybe it is. Let’s look around a bit.
One of the things that came out of Vatican II was the vernacular Mass (personally, I think that was overdue but, don’t shoot me yet). Part of that was that the Lectionary was revised after something like a thousand years. The reading from the Old Testament came in after being gone for a very long time. In addition, a three year system was adopted to let each Gospel be taught, St. John being used during Eastertide, and for some fill-in during St. Mark’s year, his Gospel is somewhat shorter, of course.
Why am I, a Lutheran writing about this? There are a couple of reasons, the first is that this echoed around our liturgical churches (we have always paid much attention to what our Catholic brothers and sisters do!) and this was adopted in the Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Methodist churches, and probably others as well. That is why so often, if more than one of us write on the lesson of the day, it is usually the same lesson.
The other reason is that I am basing this off a paper written and delivered as a workshop at the Liturgical Institute, at Valpo this spring. If you don’t happen to know, Valpo is short for Valparaiso University which is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Parenthetically, both of my sisters were Valpo Alumni, and one of them worked for many years in Church Relations at Valpo.
Many years ago, I read somewhere about how a preacher set up his sermons, in my recollection it was a pre-civil war American preacher, although that is unimportant. His design was a five point plan:
- Tell ’em what the subject is
- Tell ’em what you’re going to tell them
- Tell ’em.
- Tell ’em what you told them
- Tell ’em again what you told them.
That tracks pretty well for me in learning from a lecture. I need repetition in comprehending the spoken word, visual aids do help. But I, like many in my generation, do my best comprehension in reading, and that is still true for me. I doubt I’m the only one.
What does that have to do with the Lectionary? This, the old Catholic form, still used with the Tridentine Mass, now often called an Extraordinary Rite, was based on a one year cycle. (so were the historic Lutheran ones). So instead of hearing the same thing every year, now we get it every four years. One of the problems we all have is that basic Bible literacy is down, in all our churches. How’s that work?
Maybe this: Non multa sed multum. Not many, but much
Funny though, just when we thought it was dead and buried, the old lectionary makes something of a comeback, although many thought it far from perfect. It had deficiencies, of course.
Luther himself once complained that the epistles seemed to have been selected by a lover of works, and that all the good gospel sections in Paul’s writings had been given short shrift. It’s been famously noted that in the old series we never ever heard John 3:16, nor the account of the Prodigal Son.
There are voices, as we here all know that the Tridentine should be the standard again, and there are also those that want to go back to the experiments in the 50s on the Tridentine in the vernacular language.
The Anglicans have a continuing movement to return to earlier versions of The Book of Common Prayer. That version is very nearly a twin of the old Lutheran one.
The Orthodox have a Western Rite that is Liturgy of St. Gregory following the Tridentine mass with Orthodox adaptations, and using the one year lectionary.
And in the Lutheran church, especially the Missouri Synod, we are seeing a small movement to gently revise the one year Lectionary, which the lectionary committee has made fully equal to the three year.
Early in the process the Lectionary Committee said
[…] the decision was made to recover and retain the “historic” lectionary, as used by Luther and subsequent generations of Lutherans and as included in The Lutheran Hymnal.
For these, and perhaps other reasons
- We are an historic Church and acknowledge the value of what has been handed down to us.
- It is important to recognize the value of repetition. Given the increasing lack of biblical literacy within our society and even within the Church, there may be a need in the future for a one-year lectionary, with its annual repetition of key biblical texts.
- The one-year lectionary is unique in that there are a number of older resources that support it, including hymnody, sermons by Luther and others, etc.
The other thing that strikes me, is especially for Lutherans and Anglicans, it ties us back to our historic resources, both spoken, such as Luther’s sermons, but also musical, such as the Bach cantatas, and our great hymns which were written to fit that lectionary. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this back on the First Sunday of Advent, where it belongs
But I think the greatest part would be if our congregations Biblical literacy could be improved.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I suspect that most know that is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Like most of American government it is a compromise, designed by a bunch of brilliant men, to reconcile the various colonies (actually at the time they were federated sovereign States, thus the old usage “These United States”). The Bill of Rights (Amendments 1 through 10, plus a couple that were not ratified) were demanded by various states in order to ratify the Constitution itself.
At that time they applied only to the Federal Government, until after the Civil War, States were not bound by them. That is an important concept here because some of the States did have established Churches, those behemoths of the Revolution; Massachusetts and Virginia, among them. As the country grew, especially by immigration, the various churches were disestablished.
As this happened, something else did as well. It became sort of a free market of religions. The inhabitants had all brought their preferences (and their prejudices) with them, whether they were Congregationalist, Episcopal, Anabaptist, Catholic, Methodist, Jew, Lutheran, Orthodox, Agnostic, Deist, Atheist, or whatever else you can think of. Of course Mormons started here, and gave Unitarians a very bad name for a while.
Lutherans come in various flavors, of course, German ones came because of the forced merger in Prussia, and tend to the traditional and conservative, Scandinavians brought their variant as well, and it is much more liberal, and on and on and on. The Irish made Catholicism much more mainstream than it was.
But the point is that within a few generations these were all mainstream American churches, respected (although argued with vehemently) by all. If you don’t think so, watch any of the old westerns, you’ll find that the most respected man in town was usually the parson. And who can forget the interplay between John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn in Rooster Cogburn.
Seems an unlikely pair, doesn’t it? Never did here, one might be a drunken, quick shootin’ Marshal, but women and God were always respected, in the ‘Old West’, indeed as they were in all of America.
One does well to remember Abraham Lincoln said, when he met Harriett Beecher Stowe, “So, this is the little lady that started this big old war.” Referring of course to the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But she was a preachers’ daughter married to a preacher as well, nor was she very good at ‘knowing her place’, and that too is part of what Americans have always liked.
But what have we learned? Mostly not to step too hard on each other’s toes. Everybody has their beliefs, and they should be respected (or at least tolerated). Where we have gone wrong is that lately our atheist and Muslim citizens have attempted to shove our tolerance aside with their intolerance, and it’s making strains in our society that we haven’t seen in a couple of hundred years. Nor do most of us like it much, and when the government piles in on their side, it makes for a very rancid mess.
One of the other main takeaways here is that what I call “real” Christianity. The rock-ribbed fear of God Christianity of our fathers can succeed in this environment. As has been noted the conservative Catholic Archbishopric of Nebraska is doing very well. Of all the Lutheran synods the conservative Missouri synod is gaining membership better than any except maybe the Confessional Lutheran church (They overlap a good deal). Our liberal synods are not doing nearly as well, people are looking for something beyond cafeteria Christianity, it seems to me.
I think that part of that is that Christianity is a religion of the free individual, yes it involves groups but your congregation is not saved; you, one man or woman is, and there is no guarantee, you have to take it on faith.
The other thing is, Christianity is supremely the religion of the powerless, if you cannot control your life here, you still have a chance at glory. It’s rewards are not stated in worldly terms, I can easily remember thinking as a youngster that heaven sounded rather boring really, certainly not as exciting as 72 virgins. 🙂
And that brings us to the final point, Christianity does not stress the worldly aspects of being a Christian, it is not an alternate government like some religions are. It is entirely devoted to the worship of God, not man, and to attempting to help man be more Godlike. Is it really any wonder that a lot of men, who would like to have god-like power, hate and revile it? And that is its strength as well, the Pope does not have any divisions, but man has always wanted to be better than he is. And that is what Christianity has always offered. It is The Way (pun fully intended) to real self-improvement.
And for the first time in millennia we have seen , in America, that working under freedom, Christianity can easily hold its own. And it can do it with love, suicide bombers, lawsuits, compromise with the world, even The Holy Office are not required, only the Love of God. That is how it spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the Arctic to the Sahara before, and it is how it will again, in God’s good time.
I’m going to have to be careful here and not paint with too broad a brush but, I do want to address the subject from a couple of angles.
First, AATW works because, under the Chatelaine’s tutelage, we have learned to defend our various beliefs strongly, and yet to do so without making personal attacks, except for a couple of commenters. I suspect we, all, often bite our tongues. What we have found of course is that we have far more in common than divides us. I personally despise personal attacks (although I occasionally slip into them as well) as the last resort of the man that has no facts.
In mentioning her own position to try to make a point about law and mercy, it was probably inevitable that Jess would get some comments which emphasised the former; it is one of the eternal tensions in our faith. Jesus had some hard words for those who thought that man was made for the law; he had some hard words for those who thought he had abolished the law, too. Lutherans of my vintage tend not to ask ‘what would Jesus do?’ as easily as a younger generation, but I may not be alone here in thinking that some of the reactions to Jess’ situation over-harsh, legalistic, and even of the Pharisees.
As I have told Jess, “Get thee to a nunnery” may have been appropriate once, a thousand years ago, in an age of arranged marriages, and life expectancies on the 40s or less. It is simply wrong now. One thing is the practicality, while Jess’ Anglican (and my Lutheran) churches do have monastic institutions, they are rare. The other thing is, she was sinned against, she is the victim.
Do we not temper the wind to the shorn lamb? How does the current Roman Catholic practice help her? It seems to me long on sanction and short on common sense. One option is she denies she was ever in something called a ‘valid’ marriage, although as it was an Anglican marriage and the RCC does not recognise Anglican orders, by what twist of legalism does the RCC suddenly insist it has the right to judge Jess’ marriage?
And now Catholic doctrine would take the victim and confine her for a life sentence, either cloistered, or living without a partner. There are several problems with this:
- It is unjust, she has done nothing to merit punishment, except to refuse to lie to God and man. It is very simply blaming the victim. We all know better than that.
- It unjustly reduces her life choices, being called to monastic service is a very high calling, if you have that call, otherwise it is likely to be seen as a punishment, for what? Trusting someone.
- Along the same lines, our economies are such that it is difficult to live very well on one income, and you would condemn her to that, without cause.
- And for that matter, although not a factor in this case, if there were children, you would condemn them to grow up in a one parent family, which has many times been proven to be far less efficacious for raising children.
While I agree that many of our church processes are far too liberal, and should be reformed, they should not punish the innocent, that was not what Christ taught us, indeed he taught us to forgive the guilty.
While I have great respect for the Catholic Church, the legalistic method they take in cases like this is simply wrong, and is completely unjustifiable in my mind.
As Romans 13:10 tells us:
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
I often think that this is a place where we come together in great fellowship, without giving away our store of belief, and I think that may be true for many of us. It makes for a valuable resource, in my opinion. Obviously none of us are likely to give way in any of our core beliefs, which is at it should be, but fellowship with like minded people is still helpful to us all.
Nothing new about this, of course, back in the early twentieth century one of the great Reformed theologian said some things about the support he received from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. His name was Dr. J. Gresham Machen. I found this in an article at Cranach by Gene Veith, there is quite a lot more and a further link there.
Does that mean that we cannot have Christian fellowship with our Methodist or our Lutheran brethren? It means nothing of the kind. On the contrary, we can have very precious Christian fellowship with them.
At that point I want to utter a word of personal testimony. I just want to say that in these struggles of the last few years against blatant unbelief in the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., one of the most precious gifts that God has given me––and I have no doubt but that many of those with whom I have been associated would say the same thing- has been the Christian fellowship that I have enjoyed with many of my Lutheran brethren, especially those of the “Missouri Synod.” How often, when I have felt tempted to be discouraged, has some message come to me from them bidding me be of good courage and remember that the battle is the Lord’s! How often have I in turn rejoiced when I have thought of the way in which that noble Church [I mean the Missouri Synod] cultivating Christian learning at its great Concordia Seminary and bringing up its people truly in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, has stood firmly against the unbelief and indifferentism of the day! (italics mine [Dr. Rosenbladt’s]––not Dr. Machen’s)
Will those brethren be offended if they read what I have written regarding my devotion to the Reformed Faith and my belief that it is the system of doctrine taught in God’s Word?
I feel rather sure that they will not. You see, one of the things that unite me so closely to them is that they are not indifferentists or interdenominationalists, but are profoundly convinced that it is necessary to hold with all our souls to whatever system of doctrine God’s Word teaches.
I wish indeed that they were adherents of the Reformed Faith, as they no doubt wish that I were a Lutheran. But I stand far closer to them than I should stand if they held the differences between the Reformed and the Lutheran system to be matters of no moment, so that we could proceed at once to form an “organic union” based upon some vague common measure between the two great historic branches of the Protestant Church.
No, my brethren, we do not risk losing our Christian fellowship with our true brethren in other communions if we hold honestly to our ordination pledge. Let us hold to it honestly; and let us not abandon, in the interests of any vague inter-denominationalism or anti-denominationalism, that great system of revealed truth which is taught in Holy Scripture and is so gloriously summarized in the Standards of our Church.
[It strikes me upon reading this that it reads more polemical than I meant it to be. For that I’ll have to say that we are talking here of our historic churches, and they were polemical, and very definitely able to see the evil in each other. And so, as always, if we are to understand the past; we must see the past through its own eyes. That does not mean that our current churches are like that, for indeed they are not. As we have written here, all of us, over and over, we share very much the same belief system. But this is part of how we got here.]
Geoffrey and I have both touched lightly on something that seems to keep coming up. Namely, the Petrine authority and why we don’t accept it. It seems that some have a bit of trouble understanding why that is. Our beliefs do parallel the Orthodox but there is a lot of western history tied up in it as well.
Most Protestant churches to a greater or lesser extent resist authority, outside of the congregation, Anglican and Lutherans both have a smattering of Archbishops and do have bishops but, at least here in the States ours have little authority, really. As far as I remember the only extant Lutheran Archbishop is in Sweden.
But one of the main things I have noticed is that Protestant doesn’t mean what you think it does. It does not refer to us protesting Rome. Instead as Peter Escalante, writing on the Calvinistinternational.com reminded us the other day, it originally meant
[Do not take]“Protestant” to mean “protestor” in the modern sense, when in fact it originally meant “confessor,” “proclaimer,” “testifier.” A brief consideration of this point can be found here. The Reformers were not defined by protest against Rome, they were defined by protestation of the truth.
Protestants are “evangelical” Christians, and evangelical means “of the Gospel” (Remember, the Lutherans were the original “evangelicals.”). This indicates that we stand on the plain meaning of the Old and New Testaments regarding the Gospel, in a way which is less mixed than churches which have not been reformed, although we warmly acknowledge that they are Christians too despite their imperfect understanding or problematic practices. Our faith is Biblical, and therefore “catholic,” which means, “universal.” We are also called Protestants, because the Christians who called the church back to a purer Biblical faith in the 16th century had to bear witness to Biblical truth, and originally, “protest” meant just that: to testify before an audience. And this is what our fathers in faith did.
As we still do. And to be completely honest, that is also what drove the Reformation. Because the one thing that the medieval Roman Church did in all times and in all place was to suppress the Bible from the people, We saw it with Wyclif, we saw it with Tyndale, and we saw it with Luther as well.
Although it’s not strictly necessary to the discussion the following video lays it out well, from the English side.
And I have seen reports that by the time of the Act of Supremacy, roughly half of all English people were more or less literate.
As Geoffrey will tell you, although it mandated putting the Bible in the hands of the people, the Church of England wasn’t necessarily much friendlier to dissent, and neither was the Lutheran church, it’s a function of a state church.
As an aside, the famous religious freedom in the United States came to be to try to tamp down religious conflict. Otherwise you would have Congregational New England, fighting with Catholic Maryland, Episcopal Virginia, Quaker Pennsylvania, Methodist Georgia and all the other variants. And note that originally our Constitution did not restrict the states from any religious test, the only prohibition was a prohibition on a religious test for an office of the United States. States could still have an established church, and some did. In other words, they quite rationally and consciously swept the whole mess under a rug in Philadelphia and got on with making a country.
But if we believe, as we all do that
Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Why would a church of that God seek to suppress that Word. The only reason that seemed to be in the mind of those reformers was that that church was not preaching the Word properly. That perhaps that church was
- Not educating it’s clergy well enough. Wyclif particularly commented on this
- Had become corrupt with worldly power (and pleasure) Luther particularly began to doubt the church after his summons to Rome, when he observed the practices of the clergy there. and/or
- Had corrupted the message for its own corrupt ends.
Not to put too fine a point on it, we hold that we did not leave the catholic church, Rome did. In American Constitutional terms, we are an originalist church, going back to the origins of the Faith.
In short, while we are perfectly willing to grant the Bishop of Rome respect, often even Primus inter Pares, perhaps even Patriarchal status, we do not recognize his authority as authority, any more than the Orthodox or the Copts do.
It strikes me further that there is an interesting side issue here. The Protestant lands, almost without exception are those which, never acknowledged the Emperor of Rome either. Is there also a folk memory acting here? You disagree because of England? Why? Yes, there was Roman Britain, but Britain was conquered by the Anglo-Saxons (and Jutes) after that; pushing the Celts into Wales, leaving little trace, and then again by the Normans, who while they came from France were by blood also Scandinavian. I don’t have any theory here, it’s merely an interesting set of facts, which may or may not be relevant to anything.
And some to make mirth · as minstrels know how,
And get gold with their glees · guiltlessly, I hold.
But jesters and janglers · children of Judas,
Feigning their fancies · and making folk fools,
They have wit at will · to work, if they would;
Paul preacheth of them · I’ll not prove it here —
Qui turpiloquium loquitur · is Lucifer’s hind.
Tramps and beggars · went quickly about,
Their bellies and their bags · with bread well crammed;
Cadging for their food · fighting at ale;
In gluttony, God knows · going to bed,
And getting up with ribaldry · the thieving knaves!
Sleep and sorry sloth · ever pursue them.
Pilgrims and palmers · pledged them together
To seek Saint James · and saints in Rome.
They went forth on their way · with many wise tales,
And had leave to lie · all their life after —
I saw some that said · they had sought saints:
Yet in each tale that they told · their tongue turned to lies
More than to tell truth · it seemed by their speech.
Hermits, a heap of them · with hooked staves,
Were going to Walsingham · and their wenches too;
Big loafers and tall · that loth were to work,
Dressed up in capes · to be known from others;
And so clad as hermits · their ease to have.
I found there friars · of all the four orders,
Preaching to the people · for profit to themselves,
Explaining the Gospel · just as they liked,
To get clothes for themselves · they construed it as they would.
Many of these master friars · may dress as they will,
For money and their preaching · both go together.
For since charity hath been chapman · and chief to shrive lords,
Many miracles have happened · within a few years.
Except Holy Church and they · agree better together,
Great mischief on earth · is mounting up fast.
There preached a pardoner · as if he priest were:
He brought forth a brief · with bishops’ seals thereon,
And said that himself · might absolve them all
From falseness in fasting and of broken vows.
Laymen believed him · welcomed his words,
Piers The Plowman, Prologue, p. 2