Friday, August 12, 2005

“Our Church . . . is the Evangelical Church” -- Charles Porterfield Krauth

It is a curious fact in denominational history that, as an ordinary rule, the more large, catholic, and churchly the title of a sect, the smaller, narrower, and more sectarian is the body that bears it. In a certain respect, the Roman Catholic Church is one of the narrowest of sects, first, because of the bigotry of its exclusiveness, not only over against the Protestant bodies, but also toward the venerable Church of the Orient, with which it is in such large doctrinal and ritual affinity, and with which was once so closely united, but in which there has been produced by irritating and aggressive acts a more than Protestant ardor of aversion to the Papal See; and secondly because of its building upon a solitary earthly see as a foundation. If you look round among the Protestant bodies you will find such glorious titles as "Disciples of Christ," "Church of God," "Christians," worn as the distinctive cognomen of recent, relatively small, heretical, or fanatical bodies, who have largely denounced all sectarianism, and who reject the testimony of ages and the confessions of Christendom, for the purpose of putting in their place the private opinion of some pretentious heresiarch of the hour. The latest assaults upon the old-fashioned denominationalism are made, every now and then, by some new church, the statistics and leading features of which are somewhat as follows: ministers, one; members, intermittent from the sexton up to a moderate crowd, according as the subject of the sermon advertized on Saturday takes or does not take the fancy of those who spend the Lord’s day in hunting lions; churches, on (over, if not in, a beer saloon); creed, every man believes what he chooses; terms of membership, every one who feels like it shall belong till he chooses to leave. This uncompromising body, which looks forward to the speedy overthrow of all Christendom, because all Christendom rests on human creeds, is styled "Church of the Everlasting Gospel," "Pure Bible Christian Church," or something of the kind.

Had the Lutheran Church chosen her own name, therefore, it would have furnished no presumption against her -- it would have only shown that, as sectarianism may take the names which point to a general catholicity, so, on the other hand, the most truly catholic of Christian bodies might be willing to submit to the historical necessity of assuming a name which seemed to point to a human originator. There was a time when the true Catholics were tauntingly called Athanasians, and could not repudiate the name of Athanasius without faithlessness to the triune God himself. But our Church is not responsible for this portion of her name. She has been known by various titles, but her own earliest and strongest preference was for the name EVANGELICAL (1525), and many of her most devoted sons have insisted on giving her this title without any addition. No title could more strongly express her character, for pre-eminently is her system one which announces the glad tidings of salvation, which excites a joyous trust in Christ as a Savior, which makes the word and sacraments bearers of saving grace. In no system is Christ so much as in the Lutheran; none exalts so much the glory of his person, of his office, and of his work. The very errors with which her enemies charge the Lutheran Church are those which would arise from an excess in this direction. If she believed in a local [NB this word -- CPA] ubiquity of Christ’s whole person (as she does not), this would be the excess of faith in His presence; if she believed in consubstantiation (as she does not), this would show that though her faith in Christ was blind, yet it hesitated at nothing which seemed to rest on His word; if she denied the obligation of the Church to keep the Christian Sabbath (as she does not), it would show that she had carried to excess her disposition to see in Christ the substance of all shadows. Happy is the Church whose failings bear in the direction of safety, which, if it err, errs not in a legalistic direction, but in an excess of evangelism. The heart of unbelief works only too surely in reducing an excess, but how shall a Church be revived, which, in its very constitution, is defective in the evangelical element? The name Evangelical is now given, out of the bounds of the Lutheran Church, to the Christianity of the heart everywhere, to all that makes much of Christ in the right way. It is a poor trick of some extravagant party within a party -- some paltry clique in Protestantism at large, or in one of its communions -- to attempt to monopolize the name Evangelical. Where thoughtful men accept the word in this narrowed sense, they despise it -- but it is, in its true, original compass, a noble, a glorious name, not to be lightly abandoned to those who abuse it. The true corrective of abuse, is to restore or hold fast the right use. Our Church, to which it belongs in the great historical sense, has a claim in her actual life, second to none to wear it. She is the Evangelical Church.

From The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1872, pp. 115-117). Previous posts (including links to a photo and biographical information) on Charles Porterfield Krauth and his work here , here, here, and here.

Originally posted at Here We Stand