Sunday, August 06, 2006

Who Are the Romanizers?

[Note: This post is an article of mine that appears as a letter to the editor in the latest issue of Gottesdienst: A Quarterly Journal of the Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgy].

Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock's feathers.
- Sir W.S. Gilbert from "H.M.S. Pinafore"

It seems one can hardly turn around without hearing the charge of Romanism. It's often hurled at those who have been labeled by the epithet "high church", or "those who call themselves 'Father' and sling pots of incense," strutting about in gold copes and "peacock's feathers".

But what is this nefarious Romanism? Just who are the Romanizers in our midst? Sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious. The cream in your coffee may be nothing more than skim milk (if not non-dairy chemical powder). Things are indeed seldom what they seem.

The author of a recent letter to the editor of "New Oxford Review" made an interesting point about how terminology is itself a form of confession. He relates that in his former days as an Anglican, he made a point to always refer to his pastor as a "priest" and to address him as "Father." This was a confession against the Roman Catholic Church, which has doctrinally declared that priests and bishops of the Anglican Communion lack proper orders, and are therefore not in the Office of the Holy Ministry. It further follows that the Eucharists over which they preside are (per Roman dogma) nothing more than bread and wine. However, when the writer converted to Roman Catholicism, he did a U-turn in his terminology. Consistent with his embracing of Roman doctrine, he now confesses his beliefs by refusing to refer to Anglican ministers as "priests", nor addressing them as "Father" as he did before his conversion.

As is the case with Anglicanism, there is a great diversity of terminology used in world Lutheranism. In parts of Scandinavia and Africa, for instance, traditional churchly polity and confessional terminology has survived unscathed. Therefore, outside of the United States and Germany, it is not uncommon to hear a minister referred to as a "priest", to be addressed as "Father," and for the Divine Service to be called the "Mass." In fact, in the Swedish language, the Eucharistic service is called the "High Mass Divine Service."

Of course, the Roman Catholic Church denies the validity of our ministerial orders, and thus would deny the title "priest" to our pastors. They could therefore express a denial of the validity of our priestly orders by refusing to call our pastors by the traditional address "Father." Similarly, the Roman Catholic Church denies that we have the Mass at all.

Therefore, when we use the traditional and ancient terminology of the Church, it is an assertion of our confession that our ministers are indeed rightly called and legitimately ordained, that our Eucharist is in fact valid - over and against Roman Catholic theology! This is certainly the approach of our Lutheran confessions. The Book of Concord has never conceded that Rome is correct in her denial of our ministry and sacraments. In fact, the early Lutherans saw themselves entirely in proper succession to the apostles as a continuation of the Church Catholic, not as Protestants with individual relationships with Jesus in their hearts. Innovations and novelties in doctrine and practice are roundly condemned by our Symbols. Therefore, the ones who claim those ancient and traditional terms and use them freely are confessing against the Pope!

So, ironically, when people become incensed (pun intended) and register charges of Romanism when a Lutheran pastor is called "Reverend Father," when he is referred to as a "priest", when the Church is described as "Catholic," and when the Lord's Supper is called the "Mass", they are the ones (though unintentionally) affirming the doctrine of the papacy. They are, in fact, the Romanizers strutting about in "peacock's feathers"!


cheryl said...

That last paragraph was especially poignant. One of the scariest aspects to all of this, is the underlining protestant mentality behind such characterizations. Meaning, that their identity as christians rests partly in how "noncatholic" they are. And that as I said, can be dangerous.

You often hear that Jesus and Salvation is the point, well it is. And I'd rather go "all the way", and affirm purgatory, papal infallibility and the immaculate conception, and still affirm an orthodox christology and the sacraments(which Rome, unlike many protestant groups still retain), than to not have to deal with purgatory, papal infallibility and the immaculate conception and NOT HAVE a proper christology and the sacraments.

They're so worried about what may be coming through the front door by way of catholicism (in any manifestation, not just Roman "Orthophile" has also been thrown around quite a bit as of late.) that they are not paying any attention to what is coming through our backdoor by way of protestantism.

The good news is that we are confessional, not papal. The mistakes we make today can be corrected without overhauling Lutheranism, if only individuals will allow it. All that has ever been asked by the "catholic" Lutherans is that we return to the Confessions.

Whey Lay said...

Standing on the confessions, scripture and tradition leaves a little target for detractors. Usually "unloving" or "frozen chosen" is the preferred ammo. Being declared a Romanizer I imagine is expected to instill some fear, unless as already stated the target understands what the real seperation is of us from Rome. Yes, a little historical understanding is all that is needed to be vaccinated against such charges. Likewise the use of the term only shows ignorance on the part of the detractor. Unfortunately though even many Lutherans think that we are no longer aligned with Rome because of the symbolic things (incense, art, tradition).