Creedal Christianity is Broad
Creedal Christianity is Christianity bounded by creeds, i.e. agreed upon confessions of faith. Among creedal Christians Broad Church is a negative concept. The term "Broad Church" became prominent in the second-half of the 19th century in the Church of England. Broad churchmen opposed requiring loyalty to definite theological definitions, emphasized an intellectual approach to Christianity, and advocated liberal interpretation of their liturgy and rubrics. Broad Church principles are often identified with liberalism and Modernism (OCCD, 202; Luth. Cyl., 379). The LCMS is a Broad Church. Everything from high church liturgical to happy-clappy worship, from open to closed Communion, from recognizing to denying the Order of Creation is accepted. Broad Church always leads to liberal church and the end of creedal Christianity. What sense then is Creedal Christianity broad?
Who thinks a Christianity bound by creeds of the first 6 centuries and confessions of the16th century is broad? It's narrow. You think that. Closed Communion closing the Communion table to everyone of a different confession of faith is narrow. You think believing the Order of Creation revealed in Genesis 1 and 2 and referred to by Paul in 1 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Tim. 2:12 is narrow. If believing there are God-ordained roles for men and women and it's sinful to violate them isn't narrow, then Susan B. Anthony isn't on a one dollar coin and Sacagawea didn't follow her. Is it broad to require months of instruction for adults to be confirmed and years for kids?
Face it. We're not a broad church. We're narrow-minded, bigoted even; we think we're the only ones going to heaven. We're embarrassed by our confession of faith. I surely have been. In my first parish, the head Elder accused me of not believing in Closed Communion. Kirby and Harriet lately from the liberal ALC wanted me to commune their adult children still in it. I wouldn't. But evidently I was so apologetic, obsequies, fawning in doing so that Harriet told Eddie, "I don't think Pastor Harris really believes in Closed Communion." I believed it, but I was embarrassed by it. Already by then, I had lost count of how many times I'd been told Closed Communion was unloving, ultra-this, or narrowminded that, not broad.
But I'm here to tell your Creedal Christianity is broad. Go to the Catechism. You've all memorized that Communion is "instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians". We don't say He instituted it for creedal confessional Lutherans or even Lutherans. What you've been reciting on Wednesday reeks of broadmindedness. Not so much in the First and Second Articles but in the Third we're the Dixie Chicks celebrating wide open spaces. He doesn't just call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify little old me, but "the whole Christian church on earth." And we don't say in this Lutheran Church, let alone Confessional Lutheran Church, but "in this Christian Church", He daily and richly doesn't just forgive "all my sins" but "the sins of all believers." And finally, on the Last Day, He doesn't just raise me but "all the dead" and doesn't just give eternal life to me but to "all believers in Christ." Confessional Lutherans are as broad as Augustine who said, "As long as they say, "Our Father", they remain our brothers." And we agree with the Russian proverb, "The walls of separation do not reach up to heaven" (Ox. Hit. Of Worship, 743).
You don't believe me, do you? Then you haven't read the Preface to the Confessions we bind ourselves to. In it we say, "It is in no way our design and purpose to condemn those men who err from a certain simplicity of mind, but are not blasphemers against the truth of the heavenly doctrine, much less, indeed, entire churches rather has it been our intentionin this manner openly to censure and condemn only the fanatical opinions and their obstinate and blasphemous teachers" (Book of Concord, 20). This is not your Baptist neighbor let alone your ELCA family member. Don't believe me? Keep listening: "But we have no doubt at all that one can find many pious, innocent people even in those churches which have up to now admittedly not come to agreement with us. These people go their way in the simplicity of their hearts, do not understand the issues, and take no pleasure in blasphemies against" our teachings. (Ibid.).
Confessional Lutherans are as broad as the Holy Christian Church we confess to believe in. We don't say, "I believe in the Confessional Lutheran Church" do we? We with Luther say "Holy Christian Church." Luther follows the custom of the century before him of rendering Catholic as Christian. "'One can do no better than to translate Catholica into German with christlich, as has been done elsewhere already'" (Peters, Creed, 269). Confessional Lutherans recognize the Word and Sacrament ministry of all Christian pastors. The Baptist pastor down the street, the Catholic priest up Burnet, the Non-denom down 45th all have valid Word and Sacrament ministries. I have no permission, let alone command, to interfere with them. Catholics and Orthodox don't recognize I have a valid Word and Sacrament ministry. To them there is no way I have the power to make the Body and Blood of Christ present. Confessional Lutherans, however, recognize the Body and Blood of Christ is present on the altars of Catholics, Orthodox, and even High Anglicans.
Creedal Christianity is no more broad or narrow than the Bible. Pagan emperor Diocletian wanted to set the boundaries of Christianity. He picked the pagan festival of Terminalia - a feast in honor of the god Terminus who presided over boundaries to do so. At dawn, he sent soldiers to the main church, broke open the doors and burned the Holy Scriptures (Decline and Fall of Roman, 247-48). Our boundaries are that of our Lord who declared not a jot or tittle could fall from His Scripture that would endure longer than the earth and heavens. Our boundaries are that of St. Paul who said to mark and avoid those who depart from the teaching of the apostles. You want to know the narrowest statement in our Confession? It's in the Athanasian Creed: "Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic/ universal/ Christian faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally This is thefaith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved." This comes from one of the 3 ecumenical creeds, i.e. a creed all Christians accept. It predates Confessional Lutheranism by more than a 1,000 years.
You want to see the width, length, breadth of Creedal Christianity? Go to the Passion. There stands the Second Adam. All of us we're in the First Adam when he was created, fell, died, and damned, so all of us are in the Second Adam. That's what 1 Cor. 15 says: "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.So it is written: The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam, a life-giving Spirit" (22, 45). And to this Second Adam all authority in heaven and earth is given as a Man, because as Man He wins it in the Passion. As True God He always had it, never lost it, just didn't always use it. But here He wins it for us men and our salvation. Though a holy Man without sin, original or actual, He is rejected by Church, State, and Family. And He is punished as unbeliever, rebel, and deserter. Having not broken one law of God or man, as both testified to, He is punished for every law of God ever broken by mankind, knowingly or not, willingly or not, purposefully or not. We sing of this and the rising tempo mirrors the rising pain: "Many hands were raised to wound Him,/ None would interpose to save;/ But the deepest stroke that pierced Him/ Was the stroke that Justice gave" (TLH 153:2).
What Jesus creates with hands nailed to a cross, with blood pulsating from wounds, with spittle running down His face is a Kingdom not of this world but bigger than it. Into the Kingdom built on Jesus' blood, sweat, and tears bled, poured, and shed, who does Jesus say comes: "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Mat. 8:1). "People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God" (Lk 13:29). I've attended in the last 5 years non-denom, Reformed, liberal, Evangelical, and liberal Lutheran churches, all would consider us narrow at best, unloving at worst. But none of them have our broad vision. The Biblical revelation of Jesus having built already an eternal Kingdom by what He did with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death that all may come into. No, the congregation is pointed to what still needs to be done to realize this kingdom, to build this kingdom, to further this kingdom. I walk out of them having been imprisoned once more in what I should do, don't do, can't do, but better do.
Creedal Christianity confesses a kingdom broader and bigger in which we ourselves are kings and queens. We dare say 4th century Athanasius's motto: God the Son "was made man, so that He might make man God'" (Peters, Creed, 171). We dare say with Luther that Jesus' descent into hell means that "'He is Lord over the infernal region'" (Peters, Creed, 183). Jesus kingdom is so huge it invades not only our dreams but that of unbelievers. He, and therefore His kingdom, can't be ignored. You are either in or out of it. This kingdom spans not only all the earth but angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. But it's only found where the real Jesus is. The Jesus revealed within the boundaries of Scripture not yours or mine's imagination, opinion, or theology. Step outside the revealed Jesus and you've crossed over into the realm of darkness, demons, and destruction. Stay there and you will be destroyed, forever.
You think all my talk of boundaries, true and false, a real and fake Jesus, is unnecessarily complicating Christianity. Go to the Non-demons, most Evangelicals, and emerging Lutheran churches, and this is the drum they beat. They represent the real, uncomplicated Christianity. They don't know church history. "The pagan who desired to become a Christian in Rome around the year 150 found himself in the same circumstance as the pagan" today does. "He had to ask himself where the true church is(Sasse, The Lonely Way, II,186). You know the answer to this: the Church, the Body of Christ, is found where the Head is. And how can you locate a Head you can't see? By what comes out of His Mouth. His Word. If it's not His Word, His Head isn't present there. Did you catch in our reading how little Jesus spoke? Twice to Pilate and then no more to him or at all to that fop Herod. He speaks to the women crying for the wrong thing warning them not to. And to His Father He pleads for forgiveness for us who crucified Him. He speaks a broad warning and a broader forgiveness. Creedal Christians in the Broad Church hear both. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek Lent 5 (20210317); Passion Readings 4 & 5, Second Chief Part