The still centre

You’ll notice this site has new strapline, prompted by The Scylding’s comment on the BHT today:

I’ve found that of late, my theological questioning has died down a lot. I’ve virtually stopped asking why? – now I go to church, accept forgiveness, partake of His body & blood, and pray and work through stuff daily, without tormenting myself about the big (theological) picture. I can’t say why this has happened – but there is little angst and introspection regarding theological matters. Not that I have the answers, or have found solutions. I’ve had plenty of other problems to deal with – but in the past, problems let me to question theology.

As I said in reply, I can identify with what The Scylding is saying here:

For all that I may engage in more theological discussion than is probably healthy, I really don’t have any major angst about theological issues any more. Basically, if it’s not in the Small Catechism then as far as I’m concerned it really doesn’t matter all that much.

If it is in the Small Catechism, though, then you can take it from me when you prise it out of my cold, dead hands.

As I’ve said before, I believe the Small Catechism is a statement, not of “Lutheranism”, but of “mere Christianity”. It’s even more basic than “Augsburg evangelicalism”. The Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper and daily prayer: that’s Christianity for you, right there.

But, you may ask, does this mean that those who disagree with the Small Catechism (e.g. as regards baptism or the Lord’s Supper) are “defective” Christians or in some way outside the “true church”? How can the Small Catechism represent “mere Christianity” when so many Christians disagree with significant parts of it?

Well, to return to a theme from one of my earlier posts back in 2004, this is a matter of “centred sets” rather than “bounded sets”. In other words, I am not concerned here with defining a boundary, within which are “true Christians” and outside of which are “heretics” or “defective Christians”. Rather, it is a case of defining Christianity it terms of its “centre” rather than its “boundaries”. Of course, the true centre is Christ, but we encounter Christ in the life of the church, a life delineated by the Word, the sacraments and prayer, as expressed in the Catechism.

Some reading this may consider that the Small Catechism is in fact some way “off-centre”. Well, we’ll have to agree to differ on that (at least until you admit you’re wrong ;-)). But I’d still suggest that a “centred-set” way of thinking about these issues is more fruitful than a “bounded set” approach or seeking an irreducible “lowest common denominator” of teachings supposedly agreed upon by all Christians (which is really just defining a bounded set, but with a somewhat wider boundary!).

And here’s where I think the centre lies. “Here I stand”, and all that…

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8 Responses to The still centre

  1. Phil Walker says:

    The question, I suppose, is how it is appropriate to use a confessional document which is meant to be the centre of Christian orthodoxy, and not its limit; and also, how such a document works when it rejects errors.

    In related news, I’m very much hopeful that at our church, we may yet see a bit of movement towards a better confessional status, although any such document will be something written in and by the congregation, rather than an adopted confession. There’s a good argument for doing that in our situation, actually. We’re very broad, theologically, and while the church is and will ever remain baptist, we’ve got pretty much the whole range of UK evangelicalism in our midst.

    Sadly, the argument which made the most headway last time I raised the issue was the question of how teachers at church (I’m one) can know their limits ahead of time. I’d rather see something with both positive and negative statements, clearly structured and separated. Stating the gospel in positive terms seems far more constructive than just listing every conceivable error.

    Oh, and on using words like “centre”, “boundary”, and “set” with regard to theology… I nearly exploded once, after hearing a bod on the radio say of the EU, “The integration is going to get more differentiated.” If I’m found in a million little pieces with your blog on-screen, they’ll know whom to blame. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. John H says:

    The question, I suppose, is how it is appropriate to use a confessional document which is meant to be the centre of Christian orthodoxy, and not its limit; and also, how such a document works when it rejects errors.

    Well, while the Small Catechism is in the Book of Concord, it is not (and was never intended to be) a “confessional document” in the sense you describe, or in the same way that the Augsburg Confession, Smalcald Articles and Formula of Concord are “confessional documents” (each in a different way, it might be added). Those documents do draw boundaries, and there is a place for that. But that’s not what the Small Catechism is there for.

    The Small Catechism is exactly what it says on the tin: a catechetical document for teaching “the centre of Christian orthodoxy” to the young. (Each section is headed, “As the head of the household is to teach it to his family”.) It is therefore assumed, of course, that this teaching will be taking place within an orthodox (i.e. Lutheran) Christian community, in which there is no need to be repelling theological boarders at every turn!

  3. Phil Walker says:

    Now see kids, this is what comes of not thinking enough before you post. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Kepler says:

    John,

    I have to say, I really like this way of thinking, vis a vis a center. (Sort of an inverted version of Danta).

    Unfortunately, I think the tendency to see other denominations as either ‘in’ or ‘out’ is especially exacerbated over on our side of the pond, due to the adversarial nature of our political system. It’s rare that we get Baptists and Lutherans talking the way you and Phil do… Nice when it happens though. Of course, our Baptists don’t drink beer, so maybe that’s the problem?

    Thinking in terms of center rather than boundary allows us to say to our extra-Lutheran brethren, “Hey, you’re too far away, come closer!” rather than “You’re [wrong] [outside the faith] [a bleeding heretic].” (Pick your favorite).

  5. Kepler says:

    Dante. That was supposed to say Dante.

  6. Phil Walker says:

    Oi! Who you calling a Baptist? I ain’t a Baptist, I’m a gnu. I mean, Reformed. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Kepler says:

    Sorry Phil. I took this statement to mean you were baptist: “Weโ€™re very broad, theologically, and while the church is and will ever remain baptist, weโ€™ve got pretty much the whole range of UK evangelicalism in our midst.

  8. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Patience with the fringe

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