Wednesday, November 5, 2008

In Casu Confessionis

Pastor Albert Collver delivered his paper "In Statu Confessionis: Origins and Development" to the Confession and Christ’s Mission: Challenges to the Future of the LCMS Conference in 2004 (available at Consensus). In it he explores the Confessional basis of the Latin phrase Nihil est adiaphoron in statu confessionis et scandali, nothing is an adiaphoron in the state of confession and scandal.

In the LCMS today Confessional pastors are occasionally harassed for standing up for our Confession, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in more serious ways. With this persecution going on, it is appropriate to explore the "state of confession" and what a proper response to persecution should be.

Pastor Collver defines the time of confession (in casu confessionis) as a time of persecution. He goes on to explore in casu confessionis within the context of Formula of Concord Article X, and the Epitome, and determines that "although persecution could be defined rather broadly, the Formula of Concord clearly has in mind persecution by the government."

Here is a portion of his conclusion, one which might be disputed by some, and one which is worthy of discussion:
The Formula of Concord, Article X, does indeed describe a case for confession in the midst of persecution by the state. It seems that the confessors had in mind a rather limited scope. The struggles of the church over against the state in German lands and in particular with the Nazi regime brought about the expansion of a questionable concept to include a protest against the state for political and ethical reasons, rather than, strictly speaking, theological reasons. Bonhoeffer had in mind a corporate confession of protest. Karl Barth morphed Bonhoeffer’s corporate protest into an individual protest. Barth altered the direction by putting the church in a position to dictate to the state in accord with Reformed theology. The churches of the Synodical Conference completely removed the left-hand kingdom from the equation, instead applying the term to an intra-church conflict. This last application is perhaps further a field from what the Formula of Concord described than even Karl Barth’s version.

In light of the foregoing, a status confessionis protest against a church body does not seem to be a tenable option to those who take the Lutheran Confessions seriously. A better way is that of Dr. Luther and countless other saints who gave a good and faithful confession in the place and situation the Lord called them to do so. The faithful confession was made until it could not be tolerated by those who opposed the truth any longer. This is the key. How does one know when a church body is unreformable? A church body is unreformable when the true confession is no longer tolerated. By this, we do not mean to indicate merely a lapse in the practice of the true confession, but the snuffing out of the voice of the true confession. As long as the Gospel is confessed in truth and purity, there is the opportunity to hear the Gospel’s call. When the true confession is silenced definitively and permanently from a place either by force or by the power of the sword, that is, by the abuse of the left-hand kingdom, or through institutional and ecclesiastical measures, then there is no hope of reform.

Lest we are tempted to conclude there is no hope too readily, we ought to consider what those who have gone before us endured for the sake of the Gospel. In Acts, Stephen, who belonged to the Office of the Seven, confessed the Gospel until his hearers literally could not bear to hear more. After he proclaimed that he saw the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, the text reports, "But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him." (Acts 7:51 RSV) Imagine that, the people literally plugged their ears so they did not have to hear Stephen’s confession. Talk about a co-mingling of the left and right-hand kingdoms. Stephen was thrown out of the synagogue, that is, excommunicated, and then taken by the very same people and stoned to death. The people had to plug their ears to block out the sound of Stephen’s confession and when that didn’t work they silenced it permanently by stoning him to death.

We can be thankful the two kingdoms presently are not co-mingled in our situation. In fact, it is difficult to come up with a historical example when the silencing of the true confession did not involve the force and power of the left-hand kingdom. The worst that we can receive is the institutional death-penalty of removal from office or the removal of a congregation from Synod. It should also be kept in mind that the isolated and occasional removal of a faithful pastor for proclaiming the truth (as tragic as that is) is not yet an indicator that the church body is unreformable. There are perhaps church bodies in America where reform is impossible. In other denominations, one hears of pastors and congregations being removed from their respected denominations for boldly confessing the truth and for rejecting the errors in their church bodies. Soon some of these denominations may be without a single faithful voice in their midst.
With a single Word, the Lord can and does raise the dead. As long as the true confession remains, there is hope. Until there is no hope, one is called to confess the truth in the place the Lord has called him to serve. This certainly does not mean error is tolerated. The way error is dealt with is by exposing it to the light of truth. And that proclamation of truth may well evoke a reaction similar to Stephen’s hearers in that they stopped up their ears and took measures to remove the true confession from their midst. A confessor does not have to remove himself from a situation; rather those who can no longer tolerate the truth will do it for him – one way or another. This follows the example of Dr. Luther who continued to confess the truth to Rome, until he was removed by excommunication. Then Luther shook the dust off his feet and burned the Pope’s Bull of excommunication. Quoting Judges 15, Luther said, "As they did to me, so I have done to them." Until such a time occurs when our voice is silenced, we are called to confess the truth of the Gospel.

Our calling is not to take the easy way, or to protect the Gospel from abuse (as if the Gospel needed protection from us). The Gospel always suffers just as our Lord Jesus suffered. So too, the bearers of the Gospel will suffer for proclaiming it faithfully. Our pious desire to protect the Gospel from indignity and abuse and our sinful nature’s desire to avoid suffering can cause us to remove ourselves from a place before the Lord has finished having use of our confession. Our call is to give a faithful confession and to travel the lonely way until the Lord reveals our path and delivers us to our destination.
Given the current state of affairs within the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, various people have called for a status confessionis protest. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on what Pastor Collver has said, on whether or not we are in a time of confession, and on what path we should follow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Pr. Collver's conclusions. I also think he's missing some critical data.
There's nothing inherently Reformed about a state of confession. Besides, the LCMS is a left hand institution in many respects.