23 February 2017

On Being an Evangelical Catholic

As a Lutheran Christian, I happily say that I am an evangelical catholic. (Others who use that term might write it with a large e and large c. It is my custom to use small letters because evangelical catholicism is not a denomination but an interpretation of something.) So, what does it mean to be an evangelical catholic? I can provide an easy answer to that question. But first, I have to assure you that it most certainly does not at all mean being a papist who subscribes to the Bebbington Quadrilateral!

Anderslöv Church.
Photo by Jan Ainali. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
To be evangelical is to believe that God justifies us by faith alone for the sake of Christ only. To be a catholic is to believe the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints and confess it in the ancient creeds of the Church. Being an evangelical catholic implies being a Christian who identifies with both the patristic and medieval Western Church and the German Reformation.

Very similar to the Lutheran evangelical catholic identity is the reformed catholic identity of many Christians in the Anglican tradition. These reformed catholics are usually of central churchmanship and they identify with both the patristic and medieval Western Church and the English Reformation. If I were an Anglican, that's the kind of Anglican I would be!

There are "high church Lutherans" who use the evangelical catholic label and they put great emphasis on the word catholic. They emphasize doctrines and practices that might be aligned with Rome, Constantinople, or even Utrecht. The kind of evangelical catholicism they espouse not surprisingly sometimes leads to conversions to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Christianity and formations of denominations such as the Augustana Catholic Church. These high church Lutherans are comparable to some Anglo-Catholics. What they are doing is not exactly my cup of tea.

As evangelical catholics, we know the Bible was written by saints and therefore it belongs to us. We know the ecumenical creeds are timeless and are true declarations of the one true faith that has Christ as its foundation. We know the doctrine of justification by faith alone as confessed in the Augsburg Confession is orthodox. We know Augustine, Anselm, and Luther are our heritage. We know the Lutheran parish is one of many places where we can find the holy catholic Church. As an evangelical catholic, I know the Spirit who came down on Pentecost inhabits my denomination this very day.

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