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.