“There’s no such thing as an ex-Catholic”

J. D. Flynn explains that a person who has been baptized into the Roman Catholic Church is always a Catholic and can never leave it.  Those who later reject the church’s teachings, lose their faith, join another ecclesiastical body, become atheists, or rebel against the church–such as pro-abortion politicians–are still Catholics.  But they will have to face their judgment.  The Church, he says, includes those who will be damned.

Does any of this way of thinking apply to other theologies? Can we say that there is no such thing as an ex-Lutheran? Lutherans distinguish between the visible church–which does include sinners, hypocrites, and others who are lost–and the invisible church of those who have faith in Christ.  We are baptized into the latter.  Roman Catholicism rejects that dichotomy.  But presumably someone might no longer belong to a Lutheran church but still belong to the invisible church.  And someone might not belong to the invisible church, but still be a Lutheran.  Right?  Someone help me out here.  And how does the Lutheran doctrine of baptism fit into all of this?

Also, how would this apply to once-saved-always-saved Baptists and elect Presbyterians? [Read more…]

State church

Richard Neuhaus once said that the habit of associating Lutheranism with Germany–then blaming Lutheranism for what’s bad in German culture–is misplaced.  Germany has always had a mix of many religious traditions:  not just Lutheranism but Roman Catholicism, Calvinism, anabaptists, etc., etc.   If you want to see Lutheranism’s cultural influence, he said, look at the Scandinavian countries, whose only church, pretty much, has been Lutheran.  More than Prussian militarism, he said, you could argue that Lutheranism helped inspire the Scandinavian welfare state.  (More on that welfare state later!)

I met a member of the conservative theological faculty at the University of Aarhus who studied at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN.  He fondly recalled the classes of Dr. David Scaer, who told him, “I love Denmark.  Everyone is Lutheran.  Even the cows are Lutheran.”

And yet, the Scandinavian state churches, with their near religious monopoly, have become extremely liberal in their official hierarchy.  I don’t know about the cows, but the churches are not always confessionally Lutheran any more.  And yet, there are confessional Lutherans in the country, not just in Inner Mission, but in the state church.  I’m going to run a series of posts telling about some of the paradoxical things I’ve learned about the church situation in Denmark (where I spent most of my time) and the other Scandinavian countries, in the course of which I’ll also pose some questions that you can help me with. [Read more…]

How important is Church?

Not very, according to a new Barna study, at least for 51% of Americans.

What, if anything, helps Americans grow in their faith? When Barna Group asked, people offered a variety of answers—prayer, family or friends, reading the Bible, having children—but church did not even crack the top-10 list.

[Read more…]

There is no pope

Pope Benedict’s resignation goes into effect today.  So, until the cardinals get together to elect a new one, there is no pope in office.  Canon law used to require a conclave to meet within 20 days of a pope’s resignation, but the outgoing pope changed that so that the cardinals can set the date whenever they want, and no date has been set yet.  So if the church of Rome can exist without a pope for 20 days and even longer, with the bishops and priests still doing what they do, I’m curious in what sense the office of the papacy is considered to be necessary. [Read more…]