Turning Point #5: Theological Method

I have not added anything to the Turning Points in our journey into the Church for sometime. So I thought I would write about a simple realization: Catholicism is not a set of doctrines (that can be looked at from the outside) but a method of looking at the world (experienced from the inside). That is, it is a means and not an end in itself. So, our search can be summarized as the seeking after

a theological method that
proclaims and lives the Faith once delivered to the saints
and engages the question of today’s world with authority and clarity.

Allow me to illustrate the journey a little:

  1. When we were Lutherans, the Faith once delivered to the saints was enshrined in the Confessional writings of Lutheranism. Of course, these writings were interpreted with a specific cultural hermeneutic. Yet, as a whole there is a central authority. But that Faith, for the average layperson, was not lived in the sense that the Confession were a part of their everyday life. In fact, most see the Bible as the only necessary book for doctrine. So the issue of the perceived identity vs the historical theological identity is very interesting.

    Yet what happens when a new question arises? Lutheranism in Australia has struggled with the question of women’s ordination for over a decade. The issue is not discussed (at least not explicitly) in the Lutheran Confessions. Neither, for that matter is there a Scriptural text that explicity speaks one way or the other. So, in the modern era, it is discussed on the floor of Synod and then voted upon. Not only is this an extremely slow way of making decisions but it is also ineffectual. When a decision is reached, it is open to political maneuvering and re-opening at a future synod. Also there is no sense of obedience to the decision and being in statu confessionis – a state of disobedience – is always an option.

  2. Anglicanism has no central confession. In fact, Anglican identity is fluid – depending largely upon the leadership of the priest in the parish and the bishop in the diocese. Yet Anglicanism is ahead of Lutheranism (and Reformed Protestantism) in that it sees itself as standing within the continuous proclamation of the Faith through Apostolic Succession. So the organic nature of the Faith is emphasized but not protected.

    Yet synods still play a part in theological decision making process. Okay, the theology is embedded in legal talk and canons. But it is still this context that engages the questions of today’s world and answers them with authority. But which synod? There is no consensus on anything in Anglicanism. In my experience, even the dioceses led by able conservative Catholic bishops are riddled with disobedience and decent. Why? There is an ongoing dialogue within Anglicanism over identity. Incidentals are elevated to the level of central doctrines and discussed infinitum.

Rome is not perfect. Yet, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.

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