Invitation to Conversation: Bob Kolb on the Ecclesiology of the Lutheran Confessional Writings
Every once in a while — not as often as we’d like — the faculty sets aside meeting time to discuss theologytogether. Often we’ll have a guest presenter, people like church officials, guests from our sister seminaries overseas, or an invited speaker with a particular area of expertise. My favorite discussions, though, are when we get together to do what I hope all Winkels do — read something worthwhile and discuss it together. Last week we read over and discussed Bob Kolb’s article in the Fall 2010 Concordia Journal: “The Sheep and the Voice of the Shepherd: The Ecclesiology of the Lutheran Confessions” (the article is available here, beginning on p. 324).
To get us going, Bob put together a series of discussion-starter questions. Not only is Bob a clear writer and the foremost scholar of the Lutheran Confessions in the LCMS, he also has a way of getting to the heart of matters in a subtle style that makes you think (usually a good thing, no?). I’ll post these questions from time to time, and invite your observations and comments. I didn’t take notes at the faculty discussion, but several questions led to lively interaction. If I can remember the gist of some of the conversation I’ll add it.
When I figure out a way to post documents on this site I’ll put up the full set of questions, for use in your own Winkels. Until then, I’ll dribble them out one-by-one.
Question 1: What are the implications for the twenty-first century church of Kolb’s interpretation of the Reformation as a shift in the public definition of the Christian religion from a religion dominated by the performance of ritual and/or the regulation of the proper polity to a religion of teaching, that is, a religion in which God, as a God of conversation and community, engages his people in conversation and thus in community and re-creates them as creatures who trust in him? (pp. 328-330)
My thoughts: I didn’t share this at the discussion, but what struck me was just how radical this shift was. I recently completed a series of studies on the development of the Bible, the King James, and modern translations. And one thing that was highlighted in that study was how there was no interest in having translations of the Scripture in vernacular languages until the Reformation — partly for cultural reasons — but also partly because the Scriptures played virtually no role in the life of the average Christian. They were not taught the Scriptures, they did not hear sermons on the Scriptures. They went to Mass on Sunday, paid their dues to God (viz., Rome), and went home, not having been encountered by Word — written or preached. With the radical notion that God speaks to his people, it became necessary to bring that word to God’s people, both through training pastors (hence the Large Catechism) and people (hence Luther’s 1522 translation of the NT, Tyndale’s 1525 English NT, and Luther’s 1534 Bible). No wonder Luther wrote the hymn: “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in They Word.”
Much of the faculty discussion to this question centered around precisely which “teaching” is necessary in our generation. In an age where catechesis is not as widely practiced as one would hope, and the unchurched and de-churched who are brought into the fold lack a basic understanding of the creedal framework that could be assumed of previous generations, how do we best teach? How do we regain the basic scriptural-creedal story of a God who acts in history, creating and then restoring his broken creation though the death and resurrection of his Son?