David Yeago: “In the Aftermath”

Most of the comments at the end of David Yeago’s essay IN THE AFTERMATH are positive. Few take the perspective that I am about to take in this and future posts on the topic (mainly because all the comments, so far as I can see, come from ELCA Lutherans of one stripe or another). But one commentator says this:

It [the decision to ordain practicing homosexuals] is a break from the traditional teaching of the Church–but so were Luther’s reforms, so that argument makes me listen hard and seriously to tradition, but is not the trump card many (like Braaten) would like it to be. From my perspective, this decision has roots in good Lutheran theological reflection and biblical interpretation–but I say that humbly because I have no doubt that there are many perspectives on this (hence the insistence on bound conscience). Isn’t that how Lutheran theology and biblical hermeneutics is supposed to work?

When I was reaching “breaking point” in the LCA, I heard many conservative Lutherans argue for obedience to the Church authorities and remaining within the tradition of the Lutheran Confessions. But deep down, I knew such an argument to be in direct contrast with the origin of the Lutheran Church itself. Did Luther respect tradition? Was Luther submissive to the Church authorities?

Here we come head up against a popular “myth” within the Lutheran Church: that Luther did not leave the Catholic Church, he was “kicked out”. The evidence for this seems clear enough: Luther was excommunicated by the Pope Leo X in 1521. But that is the only evidence for it. Here is the evidence against that myth:

1) Luther and Luther alone was excommunicated, not all the thousands who followed him into the formation of the separate communion of “evangelical” churches – a communion that had more or less broken with the Catholic Church by 1528, when the Church Visitation was conducted.
2) Furthermore, why was Luther excommunicated? Because in his doctrines and teachings (not to mentions his attacks upon the Pope and his persistant refusal to be reconciled with the Catholic Church) he had already put himself out of communion with the Church.

In IN THE AFTERMATH, David Yeago makes full use of the popular myth that Luther was “kicked out” of the Catholic Church when all he wished to do was live in peace and harmony and the freedom to “preach the gospel”.

He makes use of a passage in Luther’s Commentary to the Galatians – a passage which notably dates from 1519 – the interim period between the posting of the 95 Theses and Luther’s excommunication. He understands “the course of the Lutheran Reformation” to be “broadly consistent with what Luther wrote here”. I disagree entirely. And I think, when you read his paper, you will too. I trust that you, dear reader, are not entirely ignorant of the events in the Church during the early 16th Century. And I expect that you, like me, will want to question what David Yeago presents as “the course of the Lutheran Reformation.”

Keep in mind that Yeago’s question is “How do we live now?” The options before him and his traditionalist Lutheran colleagues is that which Cardinal Pole pointed out in the combox of my last post on this topic:

1. Convince his co-religionists that they are in error.
2. Leave his co-religionists and join a sect which does not hold that error.
3. Start a sect of one’s own.
4. Become a ‘non-denominational Christian’.

The option that really scares the willies out of Yeago and co. is the option that has been taken by many of their former colleagues faced with the same question: Do I leave the Lutheran Church and seek communion with the Catholic Church? (or the Orthodox, as appears to be a common path among American Lutherans). It is important to understand that the real spectre which Yeago is fighting in his paper is that the “Roman Catholic Church” is beginning to look a lot less like the whore of Babylon and a whole lot more like the Spotless Bride of Christ to many in the ELCA. This is an option that has to be headed off at the pass, and he seeks to use Luther’s exposition of Galatians 6:1-3 in the 1519 Galatians Commentary (Luther’s Works 27, 387-394) to do it.

More anon.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “David Yeago: “In the Aftermath”

  1. David,
    From reading this and particularly the previous entry on Yeago with the commentary that followed, I think I see more clearly now why we are bound to disagree so much on what is Lutheran – you were quite a liberal Lutheran! (Not an accusation, just an observation, fwiw.)

  2. A liberal Lutheran? Yes, perhaps I was, for a bit, but my journey into the Catholic Church has indeed been that, ie. a journey, and a large part of the journey took place while I was still a Lutheran.

    As a Lutheran, from the time of my early Seminary education, I always had a high regard for the confessions, and hence for Sasse and the like. I was also introduced very early on to the liturgical experiences of other Churches, particularly Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox, and therefore began to more strongly identify with Evangelical Catholicism. I also had (and still have) a deep concern that my personal theology was expressed in ways consonant with the Scriptures.

    But at times it is true that I expressed my faith in quite radical ways, which were sometimes at odds with the church around me.

    The other important thing is that from very early on I always made it my point not to be “Lutheran”, but to be “Catholic”. That led me away from such things as women’s ordination and the somewhat more radical interpretations of Holy Scripture. But it also means that I was, eventually, led further abroad in my search for truth than the Lutheran Confessions. I did not accept that, just because the Book of Concord or Martin Luther said something, it was necessarily true.

    Perhaps I could challenge you on that score too. You wish to demonstrate that Lutheranism is Catholic. To do so, it is best not to assume for a start that everything Lutheran is Catholic, but rather seek what is Catholic and then ask “Is this what my Lutheran Church teaches?”. For there is no benefit in being Lutheran. The Athanasian Creed does not state that who ever wishes to be saved must hold the true Lutheran faith, but the true Catholic faith. If it turns out that the Lutheran faith is indeed Catholic, well and good – but you need to be ready for the fact that it might not be – at least on every point or in the way that any particular Lutheran Church teaches and practices it.

  3. Thanks for that candid response, David. I appreciate your honesty.

    In regard to your challenge, I must say I consider that’s exactly what I have been doing for twenty years now, but it isn’t evident from the website as yet. I hope it will become more evident as it develops.

    Remember, I didn’t start as a Lutheran, and I looked at all the options before I became one. In fact, I did all I could do to avoid joining the Lutheran Church because I have no particular fondness for German culture even in its watered down Australian version and I still feel like an outsider in the LCA most of the time. The truth of Lutheran doctrine compelled me to join and keeps me here.

    • And I appreciate you making that point, Mark. Certainly others among our Lutheran clergy brethren have made similar journeys – Peter Holmes made the journey from the Brethren to Evangelicalism to Lutheranism and then to the Catholic Church (which seems to me an entirely consistent journey in the one direction). So I encourage you on your journey. God grant that you may never lose the courage to follow Truth where it leads!

  4. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Oh for Judas Priest the Wordspinners’ sake, not the old Catholic/catholic thing.

    The creed doesn’t speak of the Lutheran faith OR the Catholic faith, it speaks of the catholic faith. Not even in the old days did we think or were we taught that the presence of the word catholic in the creeds indicated in any way that the Catholic Church was the church of the creeds.

    There is, or was, four marks of the church, and the use of the adjective “catholic” for one of them had not the slightest thing to do with why the Catholic Church believed it had all four.

    Seek what is catholic, and see if that is what the Catholic Church or any Lutheran, um, ecclesial union, teaches.

    Great jumping Judas it was bad enough when all I found here was sorta kinda Catholicism according to anything I was taught by the Catholic Church prior to the 1960s. Now it’s sorta kinda Lutheranism too. Oy.

  5. “The creed doesn’t speak of the Lutheran faith OR the Catholic faith, it speaks of the catholic faith.”

    I can agree with that, not sure I follow the rest though.

  6. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    No reason you should, Mark. I was recounting how the Catholic Church understood the four marks of the church, its name for the words “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” in the Creed, and why it believed that it alone had them all and therefore other churches are not properly churches at all on the creedal sense.

    What the Catholic Church taught me bears a sorta kinda resemblance to what it taught me after Vatican II and apparently is still pedalling as “Catholic” if this blog is any guide. Converts to Catholicism, one of whom was my dad, didn’t sound anything like converts now.

    When I was a regular commenter here, Mark — something I do not wish to resume — that was my whole point, nothing about the “Lutheranism” I hold now, but about having been re the Catholic Church much as many ELCA members are now re the ELCA, and that the current entity bearing the name “Catholic Church” championed here, whose birth I saw, some of whose midwives, so to speak, were my teachers, other than real estate and period costumes has little to at times no resemblance to the Catholic Church, let alone the catholic church which at one time I identified with the Catholic Church, but not the entity you see here.

    As they say in the blogosphere, hope that helps.

  7. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    If that’s a challenge I will accept.

    Nonetheless I am glad for my brief return, because it has clarified why you find the Church of Vatican II so appealing and mistake it for both the Catholic Church and the catholic church, seeing all evidence both Catholic and Lutheran as incomprehensible like one in a drug induced fantasy finds the fantasy real and reality incomprehensible.