The Church: Rent and Distressed

“The Church’s One Foundation.”

Written in 1866 AD, this hymn proclaims the mysteries of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. In the first stanza alone, the author 1) proclaims the centrality and the divinity of the divine person of Jesus Christ to the Church - linking the theological disciplines of christology and ecclesiology, 2) joins together eschatology (“new creation”) and sacramentology in a biblical baptismal reference (“by water and the Word”), 3) invokes the incarnation, the monergism of grace, and the mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ, and 4) introduces the sacrificial theme of the atonement.

And that’s just stanza one.

The third stanza, however, is painfully poignant today. The author speaks of the Church “oppressed.” Surprisingly, the author is not speaking of external persecution in the worldly sense (e.g. the Roman arena and cross, Communism, Islam), but rather “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” For this is how the Church is truly oppressed, internally, by her most vicious enemy: the devil.

Luther considered the “cross” - that is persecution, to be a “mark of the Church.” If Satan is not working night and day to destroy you, you have become uninteresting to him. Only one who is hopelessly lost has that kind of “luxury.” As long as the Bride of Christ endures in the fallen world the true Church will suffer the assaults of schism and heresy bubbling up from within.

This reality is of great comfort when we see encroachments of the secular world upon the Church. For if she were not the Church, Satan wouldn’t care to attack her.

No part, jurisdiction, or confession within the Church Catholic is exempt from such internal discord - though some feel the need to put forth the illusion that their particular confession is free from such schisms and heresies.

The conservative element of my own confession (the Missouri Synod), known historically as “Lutheranism,” is particularly prone to triumphalism and false security because on the surface, we have resisted much of the world’s encroachment. Our church body is unabashedly pro-life, we only ordain men to the pastoral office, we openly teach that homosexuality is a sin and not in accordance with God’s created order, and we hold unequivocally to the infallibility of the Bible. Our particular church body also clings without reservation to the 1580 Book of Concord - at least on paper.

All of this can make Lutherans obnoxiously smug and arrogant. But we have much to keep in mind before we get on our high horses. We have utter confusion about who is authorized to officiate in Word and Sacrament ministry - and are subjected to an endless parade of Bible studies, reports, votes at conventions, opinions of bureaucratic boards and seminary faculties - all to figure out what the heck the office of the ministry is. If we don’t know after 2,000 years, something is wrong.

As former members of our synod have rightly pointed out, we have aberrations and abominations regarding the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, whether it is served amid terrible irreverence which belies our confession of the Real Presence, or involves the substitution of foreign elements for the bread and wine used by our Lord. There are disagreements among us over whether or not the Lord’s Presence expires from the elements, and whether the Real Presence exists from the time of consecration or only begins when the element is orally received.

We can’t even find commonality in such externals as the liturgical forms used in worship.

And in spite of our official positions regarding women’s ordination, there are lay members, pastors, and even high ranking church officials who believe women’s ordination is not prohibited by Scripture. Many of our young people, according to surveys, believe in premarital sex, homosexual unions, and the legitimacy of abortion. We do not even have consensus as to whom should be communed at our altars.

World Lutheranism suffers from different schisms and heresies - such as a militant established advocacy of women’s ordination and the encroachment of the homosexual movement upon theology.

Some see our church body “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies oppressed” and conclude that this cannot be the Church. For certainly, the Church, the true Church, would not be rent and distressed. For such people, the cross is not a mark of the Church, but rather a mark of not being Church.

Some flee to Anglicanism - which shares the Lutheran historical tradition of the western Reformation, and indeed much of our theology and hymns - certainly our Anglo-Saxon liturgical tradition and western Catholicism. And yet, if there is any communion that typifies being rent asunder and distressed by schism and heresy, it is Anglicanism. There seems to be a special hatred seething in the heart of Satan for the Anglican communion, having used every trick in the book to rend and distress them, many identical issues to that which plague world Lutheranism: women’s priestly and episcopal orders and the normalization of homosexuality being chief among them - all stemming from a claimed mastery over, rather than submission to, Holy Scripture.

Some take refuge in Rome, whose heavy hierarchical structure and authority (as well as gravitas of historical tradition) would seem to make that communion immune from some of the individualism plaguing the heirs of the Reformation. And yet, in the Roman Church, even under a conservative pope, there are still schisms and heresies biting and growling every which way. Feminism and secularism have made horrific inroads into mainstream Roman Catholicism - as well as irreverent entertainment-based liturgies, including clowns, rock music, and dancing girls; an almost flippant view of private confession, and preaching that is overwhelmingly the stuff of Marx and not of Christ. And yet, the Church is still there, for why would Satan be so keen to corrupt those who are not Christ’s holy bride?

Many people see the schisms embedded in historic Protestantism and the heresies lurking among their Roman cousins, and begin to look to the East. In fact, “looking East” has an almost poetic and romantic sound to it, to look to the rising sun, facing the orient, keeping one’s eyes to where our Lord both ascended and will descend, to take one’s theology “ad fontes” - to the source.

Like Lutherans, many of those who have gone to the East are keen to present to non-Orthodox a squeaky-clean schism-and-heresy-free brand of Christianity (which is what restless “home seeking” converts to Eastern Orthodoxy often seem to be after). The paradox is this: without the cross, there is no Church. Without the devil’s constant attacks, there is no Bride of Christ. A perfect Church is no Church at all. And yet, Christians do find their perfection “in Christ,” He who is the vine to our branches.

Thanks be to God the propaganda of zealous Orthodox converts is really not true at all. For Eastern Orthodoxy is indeed the Church, where the Gospel is proclaimed in sermon and liturgy and where the Sacraments are administered.

And while Eastern Orthodoxy - especially here in the U.S., where they have been somewhat isolated from the larger culture - has done a remarkable job of keeping modernism and postmodernism at bay, the more “mainstream” Orthodoxy becomes, the more converts she takes in, the more she is integrated with American life - the more she too will be “by schisms rent asunder” and “by heresies distressed.”

Just as homosexuality is often the cause of much of the rending asunder and distress within mainline churches, one can find gay and lesbian advocacy within Orthodoxy, especially in California, whose culture has great power in shaping young minds. The freedom of speech and anonymity of blogging can only result in even more previously-suppressed diversity of viewpoints regarding homosexuality within Eastern Orthodoxy.

Similarly, Eastern Orthodoxy is not without feminist influences. Indeed, there are even those pushing for women’s ordination using Eastern church history as a basis. There are radical Orthodox women theologians pressing a feminist theological perspective. And again, the world of blogging makes access to dissenting views within Orthodoxy regarding feminism more readily available than in times past.

The St. Nina Quarterly is a feminist theological journal from within Eastern Orthodoxy. The late Elizabeth Behr-Sigel, a prominent radical feminist Orthodox theologian, served on their board of directors. Here is a review of her now-out-of-print book The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church, which incidentally, was co-written by Bishop Kallistos Ware - whose book The Orthodox Church has become a standard introduction to Orthodoxy to converts (both Ware and Behr-Sigel are converts from Protestantism).

Syndesmos: The World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth sings the praises of Behr-Sigel, including her iconoclastic views of the male priesthood, in a newsletter that goes so far as to declare her to be a “father in the faith.”

In her Times-Online obituary, Behr-Sigel, a former Protestant “pastor”, is praised for her work as an Orthodox theologian:

She also argued for the possibility of re-establishing the ordained ministry of the deaconess — a ministry still in evidence well into the early medieval period and even, very occasionally, in modern times.

She sought to re-imagine what she called a “new humanism”; one that would not only fully embrace the feminine dimension of human experience but also balance and correct the “aggressive masculinity” that tends to dominate human affairs.

Bishop Ware, for his part, is not without criticism for holding some rather shocking theological views. Bishop Ware, comes across as being somewhat open to women’s ordination - like the Patriarch of Alexandria, Parthenos III, who openly endorsed the idea (not to mention the idea that non-Christian religions were “paths to God”). Patriarch Parthenos was indeed criticized by his successor Peter VII - but for being “too conservative.”

These are the kinds of things that converts, and those seeking converts, are not eager to discuss - any more than we Lutherans are too keen on talking about the blasphemous abominations that occur in places bearing the name “Lutheran”. These things are painful and grievous, but the Church, East and West, has always been “rent asunder” and “distressed” by both internal “schisms” and even by “heresies” emerging from within.

But these things in no way negate the faithful remnants within Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Roman Catholicism as being constituent parts of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. In fact, the East’s long history of struggles - theological and political - only serve to confirm that she, like the rest of the Church Catholic, is an enemy of the devil - because she is most certainly a part of the Bride of Christ.

While there is a place for theological debate, and even at times, polemics - we Christians would do well not to lose sight of who our real enemy is, as well as who our faithful Husband shall always be.

Good Brother in Christ,

I say this not in meanness but in perfect honesty: do you realize that the one great crack in Christendom which led to endless, and I mean endless schism, was Lutheranism?

Well said, Iggy. Let me punctuate this by finishing the verse you start with, then add the next.

Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
— Samuel J. Stone


While the Great Schism was long before Luther, to the extent that we Lutherans have our share in the blame of division of His Church, we ought rightly fall on our knees and seek forgiveness.


No offense taken. There was a Great one 500 years earlier :slight_smile:

And two about 500 years before that.

Good hymn, I remember this was the music they played for the J Vernon McGee radio Bible class years ago. To hear the full effect the hymn should be sung in a large church with a choir and preferrably a pipe organ.
Some hymns were just written for big Cathedrals.

Thank you for sharing that Iggy. Between you and JonNC, I’m learning more about Lutheranism, and why it’s becoming a great choice for me.:smiley:

I always thought Batman was Wiccan.
All that ‘dark knight’ stuff.

They’re on to me:p:onpatrol:

He has changed, and is still changing. :coffeeread: :smiley:

For numbers of Christians involved, the split with the Church of the East was probably greater that the so-called “Great” Schism.

Sometimes I wonder whether the split between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15) couldn’t be thought of as a model in which Christians who find it necessary to “part company” as the Scripture says, to undertake their separate missions in the world.

Do you think Great Schism was doctrinal in nature? It seems to me to be more political and based on human pride. While the West did add dogmas that later became a problem for the East, it did not start that way, did it?

Indeed. At one point, the Church of the East had more adherents than the Church within the Greco-Roman world.

That depends on whether you consider the insistence on the universal jurisdiction of the papacy to be political in nature or doctrinal.

I think at that day and time, it was both. But I understood that the patriarchs excommunicated one another?

In 1054? Not really. The papal legates, Cardinal Humbert and company, excommunicated patriarch Michael Cerularius, hoping that the Eastern clergy and the emperor would side with them and depose him. They misjudged the East’s amicable overtures towards Rome, however, and the response of the Eastern clergy was to anathematize those who wrote the bull. That being said, there was no excommunication of office of the papacy (the very idea of excommunicating a see instead of a person is absurd), just of the legates. The legates themselves were acting on invalid authority at the time, because the pope who sent them had died a month or two before the bull was written.

The reason I called it “the one great crack in Christendom” is because of its effects on the philosophy of schism. The Great Schism was large-scale and earlier, but it took 500 years for another split. After Lutheranism, it became rapid-fire.

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