I’ve recently been reading the seminary’s copy of ‘Catholic Matters’ – the new book by Richard John Neuhaus (editor-in-chief of First Things http://www.firstthings.com/). I’ve been an RJN fan for some time – in fact I was pleased to attend a lunch with him in Melbourne a couple of years back (thanks Schutz http://cumecclesia.blogspot.com/), and I have fond memories of myself, Pastor Adam Cooper, and Lutheran seminarian (but then Classics student) Tom Pietsch (http://tom.untothislast.net/) engaged in conversation with RJN in St Patrick’s presbytery later that night. We’d got RJN talking on the topic of private opinion in the thought of John Henry Newman. But that’s for another post.
Anyhow, back to the book. In it, RJN proposes a way of looking at the life of the Catholic Church since Vatican II that makes a lot of sense to me. Rather than seeing the aftermath of Vatican II in the Catholic Church through a left/ right, progressive/ conservative filter, RJN suggests making a distinction between those who see the council as a great break with the past and those who see it in continuity with the past (he calls the two groups ‘the party of discontinuity and the party of continuity’). Viewed through this filter, he suggest that both the radical progressive theologians and the schismatic traditionalists are both in the party of discontinuity – they are united in the common conviction that the council brought into being a new church – one that is radically discontinuous with what went before.
It got me thinking that a ‘party of discontinuity’ and a ‘party of continuity’ exists outside the Catholic Church, and is an ecumenical reality. At least, these different parties seem to have a life in the LCA. Consider: How are we to receive the Book of Concord? As confessions of faith that are to be read as radically discontinuous with the Catholic Church (and I’ll be specific – with the church that was in communion with the pope – yes, even the ‘antichrist’ papacy), or continuous with it?
The Confessions, in their plain sense (if I may put it that way), invite the conclusion that Lutherans should be committed to the party of continuity. The Augsburg Confession states: “Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.”
Now before Schutz accuses me of wanting to do a Tract 90 on the Book of Concord, I’d like to say that here the Augsburg Confession specifically invites us to do a Tract 90 on it. So there.
But more importantly: Ecumenically speaking, isn’t a commitment to being of the party of continuity – no matter to which ecclesial body one may belong- the sine qua non of movement toward the goal of outward, visible unity?