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?






4 responses to “Invitation to Conversation: Bob Kolb on the Ecclesiology of the Lutheran Confessional Writings”

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  2. Ted Hopkins Avatar
    Ted Hopkins

    Regaining that basic creedal story, the Biblical ‘meta-narrative,’ is definitely the first key in teaching our congregations. This narrative of God makes all the teachings of the Christian Church intelligible. What we do, how we worship, how we pray: none of it makes any sense outside the basic creedal story.

    How do we get this across? I think we must preach the basic story, and preach it all the time. We need to preach Christ as atonement less, which is connected to the larger narrative in a limited way (when it’s connected at all), and preach Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of his Spirit to the Church to continue his ministry.

    It’s much easier to preach Christ when his death is the key that our sins are forgiven, but Jesus is so much bigger than that. We’ve got to learn to regularly preach the basic story, where Jesus is the hero of the play and we are simply soldier number five and maiden number six (to steal N.T. Wright’s metaphor). The basic narrative makes Jesus the hero; he is the actor; he enters the world and makes all the difference. Yet in preaching, too often the primary actor is me who is in need of Jesus, and Jesus comes to save the day. There is certainly truth to this and it isn’t all bad, but I’m afraid that it reduces the larger Biblical story of God to mere history in order for me to know I’m forgiven today.

    I’m afraid that our preaching and teaching has made us as the heroes while Jesus plays the part of Savior #2.

    I’m not sure I so much answered the question as I reiterated the importance of teaching (and preaching) the creedal story. Oh well.

  3. Joshua Miller Avatar
    Joshua Miller

    I truly agree that the key to fully comprehending the scriptures is understanding the broader story God, which centers around the coming, dying, and resurrected Christ. If we ever doubt who our God is, we only need to look at who he showed himself to be in the Son, a gracious, kind, but serious God.
    I also know where you’re coming from about making the atonement the only aspect of our preaching, but I think it’s less about “less” emphasis on the forgiveness of sins, because we always need that. Luther reminds us that the old man needs to be drowned daily, harking back to Paul’s writings in Romans 7 that we still struggle against our old nature.
    However, I do believe that we often get out-of-balance with the creedal story as a whole. While the 2nd article of the Apostles creed is the crux on which the entire narrative stands, we often forget about the 3rd article, which is where we come in. The Holy Spirit works through God’s church, us, and how awesome is that! We are invited to be a part of the story, a part of advancing God’s kingdom. Not by our power or merit but by his grace and strength through the Holy Spirit.
    The only other tweak I have is referring to ourselves to mere “soldiers.” God has adopted us, we are “children of God,” and co-heirs and co-workers with Christ. The trick isn’t to somehow belittle humans, but instead lift God up even higher. How? By glorifying him through his work on the cross and conquering of the grave.
    But those are just my two cents…

  4. Rev. Scott Schaller Avatar
    Rev. Scott Schaller

    I saw the heading of Eccl. of the Lutheran Confessions and now I see that the discussion is over a the use of God’s word before the Reformation. I should say that the people were forced to not have the scriptures. if you saw people burned for translating the Bible you may think twice. I do remember the Lollards of England keeping the Bible hidden in a common language. Persecution is always a problem. I would ask the question does the Lutheran Confessions have an Eccles. that we can say this is right and this is wrong?

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