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quod pro nobis traditum est

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Protestant Principle

In recent years there was vocal opposition within Lutheranism to what was called the "catholic principle," a principle which finds clear basis in the Lutheran Confessions for the catholicity of the Church and her confession. Those voices have been silenced or marginalized. Some have left Lutheranism, whether willingly or not.

Recent events seem to suggest a demonstration of the protestant principle. Although the firing of the host and producer of Issues, Etc. and its removal from the air may be seen as a political move and defended as a business decision (as is almost always the case), it appears that this unexpected and deliberate action may be seen as a "protest" against thoughtful discussion of theological issues facing American Christianity, from a self-consciously confessional Lutheran perspective. Here are two reasons to suggest this. 1) Although the Lutheran Church and her pastors, teachers and congregations subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions less and less is known about these documents. More often we hear about Lutheran laity who hear the Confessions quoted and think they are hearing things that are Catholic ("Roman"). Also, those who mention these Confessions do not seem to be following the latest trends in Christendom (they are out of step). This may not even have to do with the Lutheran Confessions, in particular, but with a distrust of "theology" in general. It appears that the Confessions and theology are getting in the way of marketing principles. Neither does it help when people have the impression that "Scripture alone" is against either or both the discussion of the Confessions and theology. 2) Holy Week is important to Christians but apparently moreso to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Protestants prefer to downplay the days prior to Easter Day and jump to the joyous Resurrection. Some Protestants may not even know what "Holy Week" is. When it is understood that Christianity has little or nothing to do with the mind and much more to do with how we feel then we need, not necessarily Easter, but the joy of Easter (the same can be said about Christmas). And if we can say this about Christmas and Easter then what of the other less joyous Sundays during the church year? Are they even necessary? Protestants are especially uncomfortable with "holy" days. Therefore, what better time to "protest" than to pull this radio program on "Holy" Tuesday. If people do not get the message then, at least, it may serve as a distraction. They will get over it by Easter and all can rejoice.

As we see, the listeners of Issues, etc. will not be undone by this protest. They have managed to launch a massive "protest" of their own. More than 6,500 have signed an online petition in favor of the radio program and this number is growing. Commentary is appearing in newspapers and on radio around the country including both the Christian and secular media. New blogs and websites have been created solely to document the events surrounding this tragic event and gather further support from others. Finally, a two hour protest is being planned outside the Synod's international headquarters for April 14.

Whether it is by an act of power or by public confession we are witnessing the protestant principle at work. In the end it will not matter who won. Issues, etc. will not be returned to the airwaves and those involved in its demise will not gain from it either. What will matter is that all were involved in "protest." Whether it is a protest that takes place during Holy Week or a protest that takes place on the eve of the Pope's visit to the United States, all will be united in having demonstrated that they can protest. This is the protestant tradition and it suggests that there is an underlying protestant principle at work.

Did I sign the petition? Yes. Am I comfortable with all that is happening? Yes and no. Maybe it is time to revisit the "catholic principle" and what it means to be "Church."

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