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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

On Lutheran Objections: Bibliolatry vs. Ecclesiolatry?

Pardon the invented word "ecclesiolatry", but the idea was brought up by Lito, a Lutheran commenting on what was said by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, a former Protestant who came home to the Catholic Church:


Firstly which "idolatry" do you rather have? Fr. Neuhaus said

For the ecclesial Christian, the act of faith in Christ and the act of faith in the Church are not two acts of faith but one. In an important sense, every Christian, even the most individualistic, is an ecclesial Christian, since no one knows the gospel except from the Church.

If Protestants (Lutherans/Reformed etc) idolize the Bible, then Fr. Neuhaus idolizes the RCC. This statement is significant, notice that he says that faith is an action and that faith in Christ is not enough, one must have faith in the Church and by Church he means RCC.

This is not what Fr. Neuhaus is saying at all. That quoted line comes not from his experience as a Catholic convert but as a cradle Lutheran long before his conversion. A few lines earlier he says "To be brought up a Lutheran, at least a Missouri Synod Lutheran, at least there and at least then, was to know oneself as an ecclesial Christian." He is not referring to his faith in Christ in the same way as his faith in the Church. When he says the latter, he means faith in Christ within or as a member of the Church. That is what he means by being an ecclesial Christian, i.e., a Christian in the Church, not one who worships the Church as deity.

Fr. Neuhaus is really stating something simple: one's faith in Christ brings one inside the Church. The Church is, after all, the household of God and the pillar and foundation of truth, and Christ is the truth. This might sound controversial, but it is so true that extra ecclesiam nulla salus: outside the Church, there is no salvation. Here I refer to the Church referred to in Scripture, the one bride of the Christ, the one body of Christ. A Protestant may be free to dither about a Catholic Church that is not the Roman Catholic Church, but I think it is perilous to suggest that there is no Church as such, that an individual relationship with Christ is all they need. The people of God is a people, not a loose group of strangers who individually have a relationship with Christ. In this sense of what the Church means, Fr. Neuhaus is absolutely correct: faith in Christ and having that faith within the context of being in the Church are not separate things. Christ makes of us a bride, a body, a flock, a household, a great nation of royal priests, a family of sons and daughters, co-heirs of the Kingdom. Christ makes of us a Church, his Church, which he took great pains to build on top of himself, the cornerstone, using the Apostles as pillars and foundation. When his Church is persecuted, he is persecuted. When his Church is unfaithful, he is wounded terribly. It must also be pointed out that, when all is said and done, at the Lord's triumph will be one bride of Christ, not several brides. It must also be pointed out that the Lutherans also proclaim their belief in the one, holy catholic and Apostolic Church in the Nicene Creed, a Church entered through one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

The real issue Lito is raising is not that there is any contradiction between faith in Christ and faith within the Church, but that the Roman Catholic Church is not that Church. That's a different issue altogether.


L P Cruz said...


Very good post and admirable penetrating comment.

Firstly Father Neuhaus interpreted his Lutheranism that way yet of course there are those like him - cradle Lutherans who do not come up with the same conclusion. Lutherans locate the church this way - where the Gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered. There are church that are malformed but still church. A crippled man is still a man. But in the RCC case, Church (captital c) is the RCC.

I do not say (as I know you know) that a believer is not attached to other body of believers. But in the case of Fr. Neuhaus it has to be the RCC. If you read Fr. Neuhaus' comments though a pastor for 30 years in a Lutheran denom, he ran out of things to justify why he is not a RC. If you do not know why you are not an RC, you will run out of excuses. In otherwords, the attraction was fatal (so to speak), the attraction was so great - resistance was futile. This attraction did not happen in a day, you must note his fascination with the RCC of his neighbors as a young child.

I ask this question - was he not part of a body before his conversion, was this body not part of the church universal? Yes of course. For Fr.Neuhaus - it was not that body.

The saying "outside the church there is no salvation" is not from scripture. If you seen Luther the movie, Luther was quoted as saying -outside the church there is salvation though not outside of Christ - because Christ is the savior not the Church/church. There are people who came to faith by reading Scripture w/o anyone preaching to them, though this is not normally what happens - another example is Paul's conversion.

Jeff Tan said...

"I do not say (as I know you know) that a believer is not attached to other body of believers. "

Okay, that is clear. This body of believers, confessional Protestants will understand to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of our creed. Their contention with Fr. Neuhaus truly is whether or not the Roman Catholic Church is "it" as the exclusive Church. However, this is thornier than that. While the Magisterium teaches that the fullness of truth must include communion with the bishop of Rome, it nonetheless teaches that the Orthodox churches form "the other lung" of the Catholic Church. So here is an expression of unity with the only other community of Christians who defend and maintain the apostolic succession through the ordination of bishops. Lastly, the same Magisterium teaches that Protestants and other Christians are also in the Church, but not completely. They possess, in varying degrees, the way, the truth and the life.

Let me point out an example: we can agree that one can come to faith in Christ through reading Scripture without anyone preaching to them. What are we to say about the rest of their lives if they never receive the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? After all, we know that many (most?) modern Evangelicals believe the Eucharist to be merely symbolic. Yet Christ insists that "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53-54). How do we square the Evangelical non-belief in the real presence with those words of Christ? Is it accurate to say, from a Catholic and from a Lutheran perspective, that their unity with Christ can go further? After all, St. Paul calls the Eucharist a communion of the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 10:16-17). If, to these, the Eucharist is merely symbolic, do they fully participate in the Eucharist, and are they fully in communion with the body and blood of Christ, and do they have life in them?

In that sense, we can say that some who are in Christ through faith can go into a deeper and more complete communion with his body, the Church. I grant that to you, this is not the Roman Catholic Church. Nonetheless, many a convert went looking for this Church. It turns out that many found that Church in the Roman Catholic Church or in the Orthodox Church -- the two with the strongest sense of Church as pillar and foundation of truth. There is a strong attraction to that sense of complete unity with Christ through his Church, something which is not necessarily taught to be of any consequence, sadly, by many today -- even in the Catholic Church.

This is not a question of that first encounter with Christ, that salvation, but a question of a deeper life in Christ, an ongoing and deepening encounter that sanctifies us, makes us more Christ-like. On the other hand, if there is no deeper communion with Christ, then one runs the risk of becoming lukewarm and worse (Hebrews 6:4-8, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20, Matthew 7:21, 1 John 5:16-17, Galatians 5:4). But that is a separate topic. I only wish to clarify here that salvation is not granted by the Church, but by Christ. On the other hand, having Christ fully includes the whole life ahead of the Christian, a member of his household, which gives a strong sense of family and a strong support structure to nourish one's living faith. For many Christians, their support structure consists only of the Bible, because "church" to them is something ephemeral, one that can be shopped for to suit one's preferred pastor or even doctrine, which can change when the pastor or the doctrines change. This is not the structure that Christ wills for us.

L P Cruz said...


See my post in my blogspot as answer too of what you posted to me.

We are saved by what Christ has done and not on whatever is going on inside us. We are indeed not saved by proper understanding of every doctrine. If the evangelical is repeating the very words of Jesus on the elements - then the evangelical is receiving the body/blood of Jesus even if he believes it is just symbolic. Why? Because the Supper belongs to God not to us - it is he who makes it effective in our lives. It's validity is not dependent on the recipient or the administrator.

However, I add, and I must add they miss the strengthening and rejoicing in faith that is found in them. But God does sustain his children also by his Word thus if they hear the Gospel preached to them rightly they will be sustained even if their view of the sacrament may be deficient. It is Christ who made a promise to them so it is the Lord's responsibility to nurture his children too.

I do agree with you, God will put that believer into a body, yet he is not left to fend for himself his Christianity. God's HS abides and is responsible too to sustain and lead.

The evangelicals today are in a cross roads and this cafeteria style of Christianity that comes from this culture I know God too in his mercy is addressing. There is a long way to go but some of confessing evangelicals are sounding the bell.


Jeff Tan said...

"We are saved by what Christ has done and not on whatever is going on inside us. We are indeed not saved by proper understanding of every doctrine."

This is true. Whether or not anyone believes it, our Lord is truly present -- body, blood, soul and divinity -- in the Eucharist. However, that is not all that matters. We would not faithful to the truth, nor the care of the flock, if we do not uphold that truth. We also endanger the welfare of those who receive the Eucharist in "an unworthy manner" due to ignorance of its solemn mystery (1 Cor 11:27-29).

So it is more than just missing out on the strengthening and rejoincing in faith that they risk. Without the full knowledge of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, such risks are possible.