Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ecclesia Augustana: What Does This Mean?

Ecclesia Augustana.   Church of Augsburg.  More specifically, the Church of the Augsburg Confession.   It seems only fitting that a blog bearing such a name should be founded on the Feast of the Reformation, the day that many recognize as the “birth” of the actual Ecclesia Augustana.  But in the spirit of the Blessed Reformer whose hammer met the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg some 495 years ago, we should ask ourselves: “What does this mean?”  What does it mean to be the Ecclesia Augustana?

In simplest terms, the Ecclesia Augustana is the Lutheran Church.  St. Johann Gerhard once opined, “it is not we who call ourselves Lutherans. Rather, our adversaries call us that. We allow this to the extent that this title is an indication of the consensus that our churches have with the orthodox and catholic doctrine of Luther, set forth from Holy Writ. Therefore we allow ourselves to be named after Luther, not as the inventor of a new faith, but as the asserter of the old faith and the cleanser of the church from the stains of papist dogmas.”  No, the Blessed Reformer did not found the Ecclesia Augustana in 1517 any more than the Emperor St. Constantine founded the Ecclesia Catholica at the Council of Nicea.

Therefore, the Church of the Augsburg Confession isn’t a man-made institution.  It isn’t the LCMS.  It isn’t the WELS.  It isn’t the ELCA, ELS, CLC, ALCA, ELDoNA, or any other spoonful of letters one might fish out of a bowl of alphabet soup.  Being a member of the Ecclesia Augustana supersedes these man-made institutions in the same way that the Ecclesia Catholica does.  But Ecclesia Catholica and Ecclesia Augustana aren’t synonymous either.  The Augsburg Confession is not a mark of the Ecclesia Catholica.  Rather, the Augsburg Confession exists to confess the faith of its subscribers.  It confesses what the Ecclesia Augustana believes the Sacred Scriptures say; it confesses how she will live out the tradition and faith of the Ecclesia Catholica in practical terms.

This means that the Augsburg Confession does not exist as some sort of extra-biblical canon law, replacing the Papal magisterium in dictating what everyone must believe or do to be truly part of the Ecclesia Catholica.  Rather, the Augustana exists to demonstrate how its subscribers believe and live in terms of their shared confession.

As such, we cannot take the Augsburg Confession and try to splice and dice it to fit our preconceived notions of what our confession should be.  This means that we cannot “subscribe” to the Augsburg Confession “insofar as” it agrees with Sacred Scripture.  Either one agrees with what it says about Sacred Scripture, or one does not.  Likewise, we cannot “subscribe” to the Augustana “insofar as” it is making a “doctrinal” pronouncement.  Either one agrees with everything it says, or one does not.

It is self-defeating to subscribe to something with one breath while trying to qualify that subscription with all sorts of caveats and exceptions in the next.  If you do not subscribe to the Augsburg Confession, its Apology, and the other documents contained in the Christian Book of Concord because they represent an Evangelical and Catholic confession of the chief doctrines of Sacred Scripture and their practical application in Christian life, you may be a member of the Ecclesia Catholica, but you are not a member of the Ecclesia Augustana.   You will probably not agree with many of the viewpoints expressed by this blog.

If, however, you accept these Confessions as your confession of faith, not trying to cherry-pick through them to fit some other confession of faith, you are a member of the Ecclesia Augustana.  This blog will attempt to wrestle with the questions of doctrine and practice that currently press the Ecclesia Augustana and her members.  It will attempt to demonstrate the Catholicity of the Ecclesia Augustana in terms of the Early and Lutheran Fathers.  It will attempt to demonstrate that the Ecclesia Augustana in no way “varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers” (AC:XXI:5).

At the same time, this blog will not present itself as more than it is.  It is a platform for a group of laymen to opine concerning the state of Confessional Lutheranism in America and abroad.  We do not pretend to be esteemed theologians or learned academics.  We have no fancy degrees or extensive doctrinal training.  We come armed only with Sacred Scripture, the Confessions, the writings of the Church Fathers, and our Liturgical heritage.  We welcome constructive criticism and diversity of thought.  We hope you will join us in struggling with the difficult questions we attempt to face. 

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