Confessing churches in Canada

In the Reformation, the catalytic issue was the sale of indulgences, but the underlying issue was the authority of the Word of God.  Today the catalytic issue has to do with sexuality, but the underlying issue, again, is the authority of the Word of God.  So says Matthew Block, Communications Manager for the Lutheran Church-Canada and editor of The Canadian Lutheran.   (He comments sometimes here as “Captain Thin”!)

He has written an interesting article about how this is playing out in Canada, specifically in the Anglican Church of that nation, which, as here, has split over the issue.  Matthew also notes the new affinity that is being explored between the new conservative Anglican bodies in Canada and the USA and conservative Lutheran church bodies (the LCMS and the LCC).

See Standing firm: The cost of confessing the Word of God.

Matthew also has an interview with J. I. Packer, the evangelical Anglican (I bet a lot of you didn’t know this popular writer is both Anglican and Canadian) whose church was one of the first to break away.   Note the distinction he makes between “ecumenism” and the possibilities of “partnership” among “confessing” church bodies: J. I. Packer on Biblical Authority, World Anglicanism, and Ecumenism.

I do like the terminology:  “confessing churches” is better than “conservative churches.”   “Confessing” means that they confess their faith rather than change or downplay it.  We Lutherans speak of being “confessional,” meaning adhering to our Lutheran confessions of faith.  I suppose “confessing” can refer to various churches that confess their own various theologies–Anglican, Calvinist, etc.–as opposed to those that have no particular theology.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://strangeherring.com Anthony Sacramone

    Speaking of the Confessing Church: There are PC(USA) churches that are looking to the Barmen Declaration as an expression of their fight for confessional integrity: http://www.theologymatters.com/barmendeclaration.cfm

  • http://strangeherring.com Anthony Sacramone

    Speaking of the Confessing Church: There are PC(USA) churches that are looking to the Barmen Declaration as an expression of their fight for confessional integrity: http://www.theologymatters.com/barmendeclaration.cfm

  • EGK

    To be “confessional” for Lutherans of course means to teach in accord with the Book of Concord. But we of course also need to remember that these books are “confessions” of what we believe, not just to each other but also to wider Christendom and to the world. To be “confessional” means to confess!

  • EGK

    To be “confessional” for Lutherans of course means to teach in accord with the Book of Concord. But we of course also need to remember that these books are “confessions” of what we believe, not just to each other but also to wider Christendom and to the world. To be “confessional” means to confess!

  • mrpreacherman

    A part from theological issues, which are understood from the get-go, it is a great witness that we (as an LCMS pastor) can look to other “confessing” (albeit conservative) church bodies to do mercy work in and outside of our country. Instead of compromising on social beliefs, as has been done in the past, we can look ahead to how the “confessing” churches can make an impact in our world!
    There’s a lot more that can be done in service for Christ’s sake and for a bloc of churches that have principals of traditional dignity to work together across theological lines.

  • mrpreacherman

    A part from theological issues, which are understood from the get-go, it is a great witness that we (as an LCMS pastor) can look to other “confessing” (albeit conservative) church bodies to do mercy work in and outside of our country. Instead of compromising on social beliefs, as has been done in the past, we can look ahead to how the “confessing” churches can make an impact in our world!
    There’s a lot more that can be done in service for Christ’s sake and for a bloc of churches that have principals of traditional dignity to work together across theological lines.

  • Steve in Toronto

    Their is of courses a huge amount of affinity between Conservative Anglicans of both high and low church varieties (apt for different reasons) and Lutherans. However I don’t expect to see an uptick in ecumenism between conservative Anglicans and Lutherans any time soon. The reasons for this I think are three fold 1) even conservative Anglicans are a lot more liberal then the typical confessional Lutheran (most of us are comfortable with woman priests). 2) open communion is a key Anglican doctrine 3). The rise of Conservative ANIC (Anglican Network in Canada) churches are a real treat to confessional Lutherans. I expect that they (the new conservative Anglican churches) will draw both disillusioned Conservatives from mainline Anglican churches that might otherwise have ended up in confessional Lutheran church (people like my self) and more “moderate” Lutherans from confessional congregation. My own tenitive exploration of the world of confessional Lutheranism was cut short by the founding of an ANIC congregation with in a 15 minuet drive of my home (the nearest confessional Lutheran church is over an hour away). The ANIC congregations tend to be very young and energetic with strong Sunday school programs and the Confessional Lutherans tend to be elderly and insular. For someone with a young family its not a hard choose (even though I prefer the more traditional liturgy offered by the Lutherans).

  • Steve in Toronto

    Their is of courses a huge amount of affinity between Conservative Anglicans of both high and low church varieties (apt for different reasons) and Lutherans. However I don’t expect to see an uptick in ecumenism between conservative Anglicans and Lutherans any time soon. The reasons for this I think are three fold 1) even conservative Anglicans are a lot more liberal then the typical confessional Lutheran (most of us are comfortable with woman priests). 2) open communion is a key Anglican doctrine 3). The rise of Conservative ANIC (Anglican Network in Canada) churches are a real treat to confessional Lutherans. I expect that they (the new conservative Anglican churches) will draw both disillusioned Conservatives from mainline Anglican churches that might otherwise have ended up in confessional Lutheran church (people like my self) and more “moderate” Lutherans from confessional congregation. My own tenitive exploration of the world of confessional Lutheranism was cut short by the founding of an ANIC congregation with in a 15 minuet drive of my home (the nearest confessional Lutheran church is over an hour away). The ANIC congregations tend to be very young and energetic with strong Sunday school programs and the Confessional Lutherans tend to be elderly and insular. For someone with a young family its not a hard choose (even though I prefer the more traditional liturgy offered by the Lutherans).

  • http://pseudepigraphic.blogspot.com Trent

    I’m afraid I must take issue with one of the claims in this piece:

    “In the Reformation, the catalytic issue was the sale of indulgences, but the underlying issue was the authority of the Word of God. Today the catalytic issue has to do with sexuality, but the underlying issue, again, is the authority of the Word of God. So says Matthew Block, Communications Manager for the Lutheran Church-Canada and editor of The Canadian Lutheran. (He comments sometimes here as “Captain Thin”!)

    The issue in the current debate over homosexuality — as it takes place in our culture and in our churches — is not the authority of Scripture. Perhaps this is not what Matthew Block, or you, Dr. Veith, are saying. If by “the authority of the Word of God” we are also speaking of the Natural Law manifest in Creation, then, yes, this is a matter of the authority of the Word of God. But this is most certainly not an issue where we just need to find out whether or not homosexuality is forbidden in Scripture, and then decide whether it’s moral or immoral based upon the results of our exegesis. The Rev. Robert C. Baker, editor of Natural Law: A New Lutheran Reappraisal (CPH, 2010), has an excellent post over on his blog about how dangerously faulty this sort of thinking is.

    I hope I’m not castigating a straw man here; someone please correct me if I am in error as to what is being claimed in the foregoing piece.

  • http://pseudepigraphic.blogspot.com Trent

    I’m afraid I must take issue with one of the claims in this piece:

    “In the Reformation, the catalytic issue was the sale of indulgences, but the underlying issue was the authority of the Word of God. Today the catalytic issue has to do with sexuality, but the underlying issue, again, is the authority of the Word of God. So says Matthew Block, Communications Manager for the Lutheran Church-Canada and editor of The Canadian Lutheran. (He comments sometimes here as “Captain Thin”!)

    The issue in the current debate over homosexuality — as it takes place in our culture and in our churches — is not the authority of Scripture. Perhaps this is not what Matthew Block, or you, Dr. Veith, are saying. If by “the authority of the Word of God” we are also speaking of the Natural Law manifest in Creation, then, yes, this is a matter of the authority of the Word of God. But this is most certainly not an issue where we just need to find out whether or not homosexuality is forbidden in Scripture, and then decide whether it’s moral or immoral based upon the results of our exegesis. The Rev. Robert C. Baker, editor of Natural Law: A New Lutheran Reappraisal (CPH, 2010), has an excellent post over on his blog about how dangerously faulty this sort of thinking is.

    I hope I’m not castigating a straw man here; someone please correct me if I am in error as to what is being claimed in the foregoing piece.

  • EGK

    Trent:
    As the debate continues in the culture, natural law is the issue. But in the churches it certainly is the authority of the Scriptures. At ELCA and ELCIC conventions words spoken from the floor have even gone so far as to reject the authority of the Word. In debate on the subject, some “scholars” will bend over backwards to make the Scriptures say the opposite of what they do say. Even among those for whom the sexuality question is the catalyst leading to the division of church bodies, there still is a willingness to accept some higher critical conclusions, but simply to turn the clock back forty years. So yes, Mathew was right. Sexuality is the catalyst, but the issue boils down to the authority of the Word. “Did God really say . . .?”

  • EGK

    Trent:
    As the debate continues in the culture, natural law is the issue. But in the churches it certainly is the authority of the Scriptures. At ELCA and ELCIC conventions words spoken from the floor have even gone so far as to reject the authority of the Word. In debate on the subject, some “scholars” will bend over backwards to make the Scriptures say the opposite of what they do say. Even among those for whom the sexuality question is the catalyst leading to the division of church bodies, there still is a willingness to accept some higher critical conclusions, but simply to turn the clock back forty years. So yes, Mathew was right. Sexuality is the catalyst, but the issue boils down to the authority of the Word. “Did God really say . . .?”

  • http://www.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    Trent @5,

    I think EKG answers similarly to how I would. I’d agree that Natural Law is incredibly important in the discussion of sexuality in the culture outside the Church, and that Natural Law can also help us explain to those inside the Church why God’s command make sense. But for those inside the Church to simply ignore the command? That comes down to a matter of what we think Scripture is for: how it ought to be read and interpreted. In the end, it comes down to whether or not we consider its words authoritative for faith and life today.

    As for your final comment, let’s just say that I’d rather you castigate strawmen any day of the week so long as you don’t castigate me :)

    Blessings,

    Mathew

  • http://www.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    Trent @5,

    I think EKG answers similarly to how I would. I’d agree that Natural Law is incredibly important in the discussion of sexuality in the culture outside the Church, and that Natural Law can also help us explain to those inside the Church why God’s command make sense. But for those inside the Church to simply ignore the command? That comes down to a matter of what we think Scripture is for: how it ought to be read and interpreted. In the end, it comes down to whether or not we consider its words authoritative for faith and life today.

    As for your final comment, let’s just say that I’d rather you castigate strawmen any day of the week so long as you don’t castigate me :)

    Blessings,

    Mathew

  • http://pseudepigraphic.blogspot.com Trent

    @Elektrokardiogramm, Kapitän Schlank

    I’m not convinced.

    If we the Church cannot and do not accept what God has to say in His revelatio generalis et naturalis, we lack even a floor on which we might stand. Speaking of the authority of Scripture divorced from the context of the natural law makes no sense, as Rev. Baker points out. Both must be preached together. You’ll forgive my reiteration, but Rev. Baker’s words illustrate this point better than I can, I think:

    Are we to assume, for example, that if only folks would accept the authority of the Scriptures they would have a proper understanding of marriage? How so? Can’t unbelieving Muslims, Hindus, and even atheists conceive of marriage even apart from Scripture? Well, of course they can and they do. Believing and submitting to the authority of Scripture is not a requirement for an adequate conception of marriage. What about homosexuality? Is the Bible absolutely required in order to see the disordered-ness of same-sex acts? Of course not. True, the sacred writings of other religions and secular musings of pagan philosophers sometimes approve, yet more-often-than-not disapprove of them.

    This brings up the way that some contemporary “conservative” Lutheran theologians argue in favor of traditional marriage and in disfavor of same-sex acts. Sadly, the usual default mode of discussing these issues is 1) biblical inerrancy, and 2) that homosexuality is a sin. Both are theologically correct. However, merely leaving the matter there falls short of a full appreciation of what Scripture tells us about why male and female were created in the first place.

    Here I maintain that we must appropriate all that the Bible says not only to condemn same-sex acts, but also to affirm traditional marriage. Here, affirming traditional marriage includes the purposes of marriage: 1) the procreation and education of children; 2) the love and help of husband and wife; and 3) due to the Fall, a protection against sin.

    Yes, the Church is to submit to the written Word of God. But in its proclamation, the Church is to proclaim all that God has to say about a subject in His Word. The Church should also not shy away from connecting that Word to God’s will revealed in Creation. Most call this Natural Law. St. Paul did it, so it’s OK.

    Same-sex sex is sinful. Why? Because the Bible says so? That the Bible says it is sinful is not the same as saying, on the basis of Scripture, why it is sin. Same-sex behavior is sin because it is a full, frontal assault on God’s will revealed in Scripture and expressed in Creation, notably His desire to grow and to educate His human family through male/female marriage and child bearing/rearing.

    And that, curiously, is what some “conservative” Lutherans seem unable or unwilling to proclaim.

    God is no capricious despot approving the sexual activities of some of His human creatures, while disapproving of the sexual activities of others. No, God created male and female, and their life-generating organs, in order to populate the earth with human creatures believing in and serving Him with willing hearts. To use those life-generating organs against His will as expressed in Scripture (our only sure guide and deposit of truth), and against His will expressed in His Creation (accessible by human reason, or Natural Law) is a gross violation of God’s sovereignty (which is also a Lutheran concept).

    (All emphases original.)

    Call me a cynic, but if you have lost the fight on natural law in as big a way as it has been lost in, for example, the ELCA, then the fight over the authority of Scripture is doomed to end the same way. But there is a logical progression here which we ignore to our peril: a church first stops seeing the substance behind the specific emendations of the Law in Scripture; then, it denies the authority of the Law. Pastors must catechize the faithful in the fullness of God’s Law, including what it has to say about human sexuality — not in some legalistic way, but because the “the law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm xix, 7-10).

    There is something essentially harmonious and harmonizing about the Natural Law (keeping in mind that the Spirit uses it as he will), something inherently cosmological, that is, connected with orderliness of God’s creation. It must be preached an reinforced from the pulpits of our churches, and the Church catholic all over the world, if our witness is to be consistent. Otherwise we run a great risk of portraying God as capricious and nonsensical. Yes, ultimately sinful men resist reasoned arguments as well, but that is no excuse for the Church not to avail herself of the sharpest blades with which she has been endowed.

  • http://pseudepigraphic.blogspot.com Trent

    @Elektrokardiogramm, Kapitän Schlank

    I’m not convinced.

    If we the Church cannot and do not accept what God has to say in His revelatio generalis et naturalis, we lack even a floor on which we might stand. Speaking of the authority of Scripture divorced from the context of the natural law makes no sense, as Rev. Baker points out. Both must be preached together. You’ll forgive my reiteration, but Rev. Baker’s words illustrate this point better than I can, I think:

    Are we to assume, for example, that if only folks would accept the authority of the Scriptures they would have a proper understanding of marriage? How so? Can’t unbelieving Muslims, Hindus, and even atheists conceive of marriage even apart from Scripture? Well, of course they can and they do. Believing and submitting to the authority of Scripture is not a requirement for an adequate conception of marriage. What about homosexuality? Is the Bible absolutely required in order to see the disordered-ness of same-sex acts? Of course not. True, the sacred writings of other religions and secular musings of pagan philosophers sometimes approve, yet more-often-than-not disapprove of them.

    This brings up the way that some contemporary “conservative” Lutheran theologians argue in favor of traditional marriage and in disfavor of same-sex acts. Sadly, the usual default mode of discussing these issues is 1) biblical inerrancy, and 2) that homosexuality is a sin. Both are theologically correct. However, merely leaving the matter there falls short of a full appreciation of what Scripture tells us about why male and female were created in the first place.

    Here I maintain that we must appropriate all that the Bible says not only to condemn same-sex acts, but also to affirm traditional marriage. Here, affirming traditional marriage includes the purposes of marriage: 1) the procreation and education of children; 2) the love and help of husband and wife; and 3) due to the Fall, a protection against sin.

    Yes, the Church is to submit to the written Word of God. But in its proclamation, the Church is to proclaim all that God has to say about a subject in His Word. The Church should also not shy away from connecting that Word to God’s will revealed in Creation. Most call this Natural Law. St. Paul did it, so it’s OK.

    Same-sex sex is sinful. Why? Because the Bible says so? That the Bible says it is sinful is not the same as saying, on the basis of Scripture, why it is sin. Same-sex behavior is sin because it is a full, frontal assault on God’s will revealed in Scripture and expressed in Creation, notably His desire to grow and to educate His human family through male/female marriage and child bearing/rearing.

    And that, curiously, is what some “conservative” Lutherans seem unable or unwilling to proclaim.

    God is no capricious despot approving the sexual activities of some of His human creatures, while disapproving of the sexual activities of others. No, God created male and female, and their life-generating organs, in order to populate the earth with human creatures believing in and serving Him with willing hearts. To use those life-generating organs against His will as expressed in Scripture (our only sure guide and deposit of truth), and against His will expressed in His Creation (accessible by human reason, or Natural Law) is a gross violation of God’s sovereignty (which is also a Lutheran concept).

    (All emphases original.)

    Call me a cynic, but if you have lost the fight on natural law in as big a way as it has been lost in, for example, the ELCA, then the fight over the authority of Scripture is doomed to end the same way. But there is a logical progression here which we ignore to our peril: a church first stops seeing the substance behind the specific emendations of the Law in Scripture; then, it denies the authority of the Law. Pastors must catechize the faithful in the fullness of God’s Law, including what it has to say about human sexuality — not in some legalistic way, but because the “the law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm xix, 7-10).

    There is something essentially harmonious and harmonizing about the Natural Law (keeping in mind that the Spirit uses it as he will), something inherently cosmological, that is, connected with orderliness of God’s creation. It must be preached an reinforced from the pulpits of our churches, and the Church catholic all over the world, if our witness is to be consistent. Otherwise we run a great risk of portraying God as capricious and nonsensical. Yes, ultimately sinful men resist reasoned arguments as well, but that is no excuse for the Church not to avail herself of the sharpest blades with which she has been endowed.

  • http://pseudepigraphic.blogspot.com Trent

    I seriously messed up the formatting there! My apologies.

  • http://pseudepigraphic.blogspot.com Trent

    I seriously messed up the formatting there! My apologies.

  • http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/ Erich Heidenreich DDS

    We desperately need to return to the truly Confessional and orthodox Lutheran understanding of epistemology rather than continuing with the faulty “strong divine command theory ethic” of Karl Barth that began infecting the theology of the Missouri Synod in the 1930s. Explanation here: http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/2009/08/strong-divine-command-theory-ethic.html

  • http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/ Erich Heidenreich DDS

    We desperately need to return to the truly Confessional and orthodox Lutheran understanding of epistemology rather than continuing with the faulty “strong divine command theory ethic” of Karl Barth that began infecting the theology of the Missouri Synod in the 1930s. Explanation here: http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/2009/08/strong-divine-command-theory-ethic.html


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