brief answers, Clergy Titles, Ecumenism, Lutheran identity, Reformation

Frank Answers Briefly

This blog  is primarily about answering questions sent to me—if I am able and willing to do so. I receive questions anonymously via the blog platform or from people I know by email. Not all questions need an essay-type answer. So I decided to have a post here in which I respond to questions with just a brief answer. The most recent one is on top.  I have also set up a post exclusively dedicated to answering briefly questions about communion practices, some of which previously appeared here.

Table of Topics

Reformation or Reconciliation Sunday?

Praying to the Saints

Why Lutherans are Identified as Evangelical Catholics

Lutherans and Catholics “On the Way”

Calling Pastors “Father”

October 23, 2018

Reformation or Reconciliation Sunday?

Question: Why didn’t the proposal to make Reformation Sunday Reconciliation Sunday take off?

Answer: I suspect that the proposal to turn Reformation Day/Sunday into Reconciliation Day/Sunday didn’t take off because there’s nothing to celebrate. Reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics is a hope, not a fact. It is based on the successes of contemporary ecumenical dialogue and cooperation, such as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and the involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Reformation, on the other hand, is something that historically happened and Lutherans have several centuries of tradition in observing it liturgically. It has become a way of dusting off and looking again each year at our Lutheran heritage. If the idea of a Reconciliation Festival is to have any currency, it will have to be at the local level (between dioceses/synods, parishes/congregations) where relationships between Lutherans and Catholics are being cultivated and sustained by continual dialogue and cooperation.

Another possibility is for the Roman Catholic Church to also celebrate a Reformation Festival. After all, what the Roman Catholic Church has been for the last five centuries has also been shaped by the Reformation—the Catholic Reformation. In modern times the festival has prompted us to ask about the continuing relevance of reformation. Both Lutherans and Catholic have seen the need for continuing reform. Ecclesia semper reformanda. “The church must always be reformed.” I dare say that in the wake of the pervasive sexual abuse scandals throughout the world the Catholic Church today is in need of institutional and spiritual reform today as thorough as what occurred after the Council of Trent—reform that touched the whole ecclesial body from the papacy to the parish.

Local Catholic bishop of Rome (Francis) visits local Lutheran pastor (Jens-Martin Kruse) at Chiesa Evangelica Luterana (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rome) 15-11-2015
@Servizio Fotografico – L’Osservatore Romano

About Praying to the Saints

Question: Did the Lutheran Reformation throw the baby out with the bathwater when we rejected the cult of saints? The biggest critique I hear from Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox is that asking the saints to pray for you is just like asking one of your living friends to pray for you. Which got me thinking, with our doctrine of the communion of saints that we confess in the creeds, I wonder if we could make an argument of asking the saints to pray for us.

Answer: I refer you to my article, “Frank Answers About Saints in the Lutheran Church.”  Lutherans do not pray to the saints, claiming the sole mediatorship of Christ as the main reason. But the Lutheran Confessions (Apology, Article 21) grant that “the saints pray for us.” So I suppose there isn’t a need to ask them to do so.  However, I wonder: how do we address the dead?  What consciousness (mind) do the dead have?  What is the substance of the soul apart from the body? What is the relationship between the body, the mind, and the soul?  I refer you to my articles, “Frank Answers About What Happens After Death” and “Frank Answers About the Soul.” In what sense can “saints in heaven” hear earthly prayers? Wouldn’t they need to be like God?  I think we need to hear Catholic and Orthodox theologians deal with these kinds of questions. I think that we can certainly pray with the saints, just as we join our voices “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” in singing the thrice-holy hymn (Sanctus).

About Why Lutherans Are Identified as Evangelical Catholics

Question:  Aren’t Lutherans Protestant? Why would some theologians like Martin Marty suggest we call ourselves evangelical catholic and reject the terms Protestant or even Lutheran?

Answer: The issue is one of historical and theological identity. The name “Protestant” was first used of those who “protested” the Edict of Speyer (1529), which revoked the Recess of Speyer (1526) that left the determination of religion in each territory and city of the Holy Roman Empire up to the governing authorities until a general council could settle the religious differences in the Empire. So, yes, Lutherans are among the first Protestants.  The problem is that now every denominational group that is not Catholic or Orthodox is regarded as Protestant, not just the Lutheran and Reformed protesters. What do Lutherans have in common, say, with Pentecostals, who might also be identified as Protestants? As for the name “Lutheran,” it was originally a name of derision used by Catholic critics and Luther himself did not approve of it. He said his followers should simply call themselves “Christians.” The term “Evangelical” (gospel-centered) was also applied to Lutherans in Europe, often to distinguish them from the Reformed. But “Die evangelische Kirche in Deutschland” is quite different in character from American Evangelicalism, as are American Lutheran denominations and congregations that have “Evangelical” in their name. Many Lutheran theologians since the 19th century have embraced the term “evangelical catholic” to indicate that Luther’s intention and actual Lutheran practice was to reform the Catholic Church, not to create something new. The Catholic creeds, the canon of Scripture, dogmas of the ancient church (Trinity, Christology, original sin, etc.), historic liturgical forms, and many church practices were retained by Lutherans. Theologians such as Archbishop Nathan Soderbloom, Gustav Aulen, Paul Tillich, Jaroslav Pelikan, Carl Braaten and many others have used moniker “evangelical catholic” as a description of Lutheranism as well as Martin Marty (and yours truly).

Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006), who popularized the identity of Lutherans as evangelical catholics, but converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in his later years.

About Lutherans and Catholics “On the Way”

Question: What do you think of the new Lutheran-Catholic document “Declaration on the Way?” Have Lutherans given away the store?

Answer: This document was adopted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is a summary of the very substantive theological dialogues in the U.S. over the last fifty years. At its heart are 32 “Statements of Agreement” about where Lutherans and Catholics do not have church-dividing differences on topics about church, ministry and the Eucharist based on previous dialogues. More tentatively, the document also explores differences that remain. As to whether it “gives away the store” as far as Lutheran confessional commitments are concerned, I don’t think so. But in a blog article I can’t analyze all 32 individual points of agreement. So I decline to give a full Frank Answer.

About Calling Pastors “Father”

Question: When and why did Lutherans stop referring to pastors as “father”? I’m particularly confused by this since Luther seems to defend the practice in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism and was addressed by many of his colleagues as “reverend father”.

Answer: You are correct that in the explanation to the fourth commandment, “Honor you father and your mother,” Luther commends “spiritual fathers” along with, and even more than, biological fathers, heads of households, and rulers who are “fathers of their nations” (The Large Catechism I, 158). Contrary to “those in the papacy who have had themselves called ‘father,’…the name of spiritual father belongs only to those who govern and guide us by the Word of God. St. Paul boasts that he is such a father in 1 Corinthians 4[:15}, where he says ‘In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.'”

Luther and many Lutheran clergy were addressed as “reverend father.”  I do not know when Lutherans generally stopped using this title of address. As to why, my suspicion is that it sounded “too Catholic,” which is the Lutheran default response to anything they don’t like. However, the title “Father” is still used  by some Lutherans today, especially those who regard themselves as evangelical catholics.

The Reverend Father, Doctor Martin Luther, teaching the Catechism

While I’m at it, Lutherans never call their ministers “Reverend.” “Reverend” is a written form of address preceded by “The.” Most Lutherans call their ministers “Pastor,” although properly speaking “Pastor” is the spiritual leader of a congregation or parish: e.g. The Reverend Doctor Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor of the Wittenberg Stadtkirche. In the English tradition it is quite appropriate to address ministers as “Mister,” “Master,” or “Doctor,” according to their academic degree. I would add that if our ordained male ministers can be called “Father,” ordained female ministers can be called “Mother,” since the fourth commandment refers to honoring fathers and mothers, and “Reverend Mother” has also been a title of honor given to women heads of religious communities.

German Lutheran Pfarrer confirming youth

1 Comment

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    Eugene A. Koene

    Wonderfully frank answers, Fr. Frank, as always.

    On the question of asking the saints for their prayers, the old Roman Catholic Baltimore Catechism answered, in response to the question of whether or how the saints are able to hear our prayers, that God reveals our needs to the saints. So in a real sense, any invocation addressed to a saint is really addressed to God, as an expression of our belief in the oneness of all God’s faithful in the communion of saints. I’m not sure whether the current Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses this issue. Suffice it to say that divine omniscience is not being attributed to the saints in heaven. On the other hand, since we advance “from glory to glory” and become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), I think it could be left as an open question. I personally do think we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, and as heirs of the Reformation should reconsider this issue. A devotional practice that includes the saints in the fellowship of prayer is not unique to Rome, but is practiced in some form by all of the ancient Catholic churches (Orthodox & Oriental).

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