Sunday, June 20, 2010
You are what you do...
Each congregation and each Pastor face this challenge. We are what we do. We can say that we hold this or believe that but if it is far removed from our prayer and practice, it will be equally far removed from our beliefs and faith. So, for example, we can say that we hold the Eucharist in high regard but when it is only occasionally celebrated or occasionally received, our practice counters our words. We can say we believe the Word of God is efficacious but when we direct and manipulate that Word toward a specific goal we are admitting in practice that we believe the Word will not do what it promises unless we direct it so. We can say we believe that God's Word is truth but if it is an unused and unapplied truth, then our practice says something different than our confession.
Within Lutheranism there is rather broad latitude about some practices. Some Lutherans have bishops and some do not. Some Lutherans have voters assemblies and others do not. Some Lutherans have schools and some do not. Some Lutherans have active social ministries of care and compassion and some do not. Some Lutherans have six month long catechism classes and others 3 years and others nothing. We can argue for or against these things and still be well within the range of Lutheran identity and practice.
Within Lutheranism there are other practices about which there is no similar latitude. This is not because a particular taste or preference is Lutheran but because these practices go to the heart and core of what Lutherans believe and teach and confess. To violate them is to live in conflict with the core values and identity of Lutheranism. Some of these include the Law/Gospel dialectic, the ecumenical creeds, weekly Eucharist as the Hauptgottesdienst, infant baptism, justification by grace through faith, etc.
We do not get to choose which practices are broader or narrower -- these are defined for us in our Lutheran Confessions. While we can approach with fraternal admonition those within our fellowship whose practice borders the fringe or exceeds the boundaries of our Confession, discipline is not personal but belongs to the Church. While we may desire to impose personal desires upon others, they cannot bind the consciences of others. Only the Church can restrain our freedom to apply the Confession to a place and time and the Church must do this or there will be no effective boundaries at all.
I have often said that if you want to know what people think in their heart, ask them to name their favorite hymns. In this way what we do shapes what we believe -- despite our words to the contrary. Or, you can put this another, more classic form... lex orandi, lex credendi.... Either way the point is the same -- you are what you do... For this reason practice is a legitimate arena of judgment and for this reason our practices continually are examined and bound to the Confessions of the Church... and this is how it should be...