Lutheran CORE (as if you're shouting the second half) had a highly disappointing theological conference. Someone named David Neff covered it for Christianity Today.
Guess what? They're all disappointed the the ELCA is institutionally liberal and, that we in the LCMS (and by proxy the WELS and ELS) are (get this!) Fundamentalists! Wow, I've never heard that before. What a devastating critique.
So, being the enlightened, creedally orthodox folks as they are, but not wanting to be too orthodox and get the label of "Fundamentalists," they've decided to try to come together to forge a path forward and create a via media between liberalism and evil, evil fundamentalism. By which they mean make a church body that resembles the ALC ca. 1980, which within a similar time spade will look like the ELCA ca. August 2009.
Of all the presentations, I find Carl Braaten's the most interesting because of the theological sleight-of-hand. His argument is that the ELCA is Gnostic because (to put it briefly, he gives a number of reasons) they rely on the inner word or spirit, and not, the external Word. In order to counteract this, Braaten suggests that we undertake the same tactics as the early Church: Insist that the Word is to be found in the canon of Scripture, have clear creedal rules which the Scriptures are to be read on the basis of, have Bishop who will enforce those readings.
Couple of observations about this.
1. In light of the Lutheran Reformation, it is difficult disagree with canon, creed, and teaching office as the proper structure of authority. What one should take exception to is where the later two derive their authority. As Sasse notes, obviously we need creeds and confessions because the Word is always being challenged. In the beginning the Apostolic keygma as a guide to the OT was enough, then the NT was enough, then the Apostles creed was enough, so on and so forth. Nevertheless, Sasse observes that the regula fidei must be derived from Christ and the biblical authority which he established. Similarly, the office of ministry must be predicated not on some abstract concept of apostolic succession (as in Catholicism), but rather on the basis of call of the true visible Church (that is, the Church that holds to scriptural truth) to properly teach the gospel and administer the sacraments.
Braaten by contrast wants to make the regula fidei and the teaching office independent of the Scriptures and talks about the movement of the Spirit in Church history. Because Braaten does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and believes in the the HCM, he takes it for granted that the Bible doesn't really say what creedal orthodoxy says that it does. In his book Mother Church, he tells us all that Roman Catholics have now accepted that dogma evolves by the motion of the Spirit apart from the Word, so we Lutheran should accept it as well. He makes a similar argument about the hierarchy of the Church and insists that we need to figure out a way of reuniting with the Catholics so that we can have a clear and unambiguous teaching authority. In this schema, the Church is able to add meaning to the Bible because of its history of Spirit-guided reading. The regula fidei is not then a simple exposition of the content of the Bible, but rather something impose on it.
As one can observe, most of their problems could be solved by a return to the traditional Lutheran doctrine of plenary and verbal inspiration. Promoting the special inspiration of the Church Fathers and the Bishop simply makes up for a deficiency of the Bible. Nevertheless, not wanting to be laughed at by other mainline Protestants and have the social stigma of being "Fundamentalists," they can't.
Granted the LCMS has a lot of problems. We have nothing to brag about. But we don't have sermons promoting state-run socialism every week and we have yet to vote for gay marriage and ordination- neither does that even remain a remote possibility in the near future!
2. This is why I refer to this as a sort of sleight-of-hand on Braaten's part. Why use the term "Gnosticism" instead of Enthusiasm? Well, because that would damage Braaten's own theological proposal! In other words, instead of returning to the Word, Braaten wants another sort of Enthusiasm, a high-churchy one, rather than the Liberal one proposed by the institutional leadership of the ELCA.
3. Of course, appeals to the Spirit apart from the Word is what caused this whole mess in the first place, so why would more of the same be the solution?