Randall Balmer’s compelling story of finding Jesus in the cadences of the historic liturgy and the Presence of Christ in the Church’s Sacramental life was a sweet song in my Lutheran ears. How wonderful to be worshipping the same way Christians have for 1500 or more years, to be worshipping with all the faithful who have walked this earth and are yet to come. In worshipping like they have/will, we worship with them. I feel the presence of this vast communion of saints (even the presence of my deceased forebears and yet to be born great-great grandchildren) every time I pray the Kyrie with the priest and the congregation, sing The Gloria Excelsis, receive the Eucharist after participating in The Great Thanksgiving. I ask Dr. Balmer along with our Catholic and Eastern Orthodox group members if they do not experience this rich fellowship too. And best of all Jesus is there, just as He has been among Christians in worship far longer than the Western liturgy and the Liturgy of John Chrysostom have been in use. No need to find and follow Jesus. He comes to us and follows us! (Note how I am finding justification by grace through faith in describing these experiences.)
Our churches have already recognized that we are kin. It is why The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have declared full communion, so that Balmer and I can swap pulpits and serve in each other’s congregations with the full blessing of our Bishops. I see some other ways in which the Episcopal and Lutheran traditions follow (or get found by) Jesus in similar ways, and so I suggest a few to which Professor Balmer might respond in order to see if I am on the right track in understanding his heritage.
Balmer and I are both part of catholic traditions, by which I mean not just our liturgical heritage but catholic in the sense of universal, that we can embrace the whole diversity of the Christian heritage. I’ve been pointing this out in Lutheranism, and maybe we don’t need to educate our learned colleagues about the diversity of the Anglican heritage. But it does no harm to state the obvious, that there is room in the Anglican heritage for Anglo-Catholics like Dr. Blamer and prominent “low-church” Anglican Evangelicals like John Stott. Certainly the heirs of Calvin and Wesley can find a home in your heritage, right, just as they and a few more of our friends along with Catholics and the Eastern tradition can find their views expressed in the Lutheran heritage.
Dr. Balmer, am I correct about these understandings of the catholic nature of your heritage? They open doors for your considering the viability of other commitments which are precious to me and my Lutheran tradition. Let’s start with the observation by Balmer that he refuses “to allow the canons of Enlightenment Rationalism serve as the final arbiter of truth.” The Lutheran in me is in the “Amen Corner” on that one. Such sentiments link with Luther’s Theology of the Cross and the claim that reason is the devil’s whore (Luther Works, Vol.52, p.196; Vol.40, pp.174-175). In the Heidelberg Disputation (19) he once claimed “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible…” Are Blamer and my heritage (and I also think the Eastern Orthodox heritage) not on the same path here? Such sentiments fit our shared liturgical sensibilities. The liturgy is filled with all sorts of mysteries (Christ actually present in bread and wine, in our songs and all-too-human words), and they get us in touch with the mysteries of the faith.
The other issue which is always critical for Lutherans is the role of justification by grace alone in following Jesus. As I’ve previously noted it is the central doctrine for Lutheranism. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV.2-3; Luther’s Works, Vol.26, p.106). This is certainly part of the Anglican theological heritage. Thus we again find points of contact in following Jesus. Indeed, Art.11 of The Thirty-Nine Articles even speaks of such a teaching as “a most wholesome and comforting doctrine.” That seems pretty close to calling it the central doctrine of faith. I’m at home. Am I right to feel that way?
The only remaining sticky-wicket is whether there is place in Episcopal thinking and living the faith for the Lutheran commitment to freedom from the Law, spontaneity, and a Situational Ethic (Galatians 3:13; 5:1; Ephesians 2:10; Luther’s Works, Vol.31, 333-377). How pervasive in the Anglican heritage is its debt to Reformed thinking and pre-Augustinian theological modes? My worries come from how these roots seem to give no place for spontaneity and freedom and also from Art.35 of The Thirty-Nine Articles is effectively an endorsement of the Third Use of the Law, mandating that the Commandments must always guide our following Jesus. Or is this just a statement that having concrete guidance on the issues discussed by some of the homilies is advisable? As a historian, could Professor Balmer give us insight into the historical intentions of this Article and on whether Art.14 could be used legitimately to allow space for the Lutheran claim that you can never measure good works? Given the Lutheran openness at times to the Commandments offering guidance in following Jesus, I see nothing in the Anglican heritage to preclude welcoming Episcopalians in a Lutheran setting as kin. But is there a place for the Lutheran emphasis on freedom and spontaneity in Anglican circles (esp. as we celebrate the liturgy together)?