Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Doctrine with a ? or a !

In Titus 2:1 we hear an instruction to Titus from Paul and to the Church that follows him:  teach what accords with sound doctrine.  Now this is prior to the first images of the creed, prior to the councils and their clarification of teaching with regard to the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, and prior to the great philosopher theologians (Aquinas, among others), and yet, Paul can commend the Pastor to preach and teach what accords with sound doctrine.  He does not elucidate what he means here in a polemic sense but implies that this sound doctrine is, indeed, that with which Titus is familiar.  He does plead with him but speaks to him as if this were an implicit understanding of the very office that Titus holds.

How different this is from today!  Today we tend to speak of doctrine with a question mark rather than an exclamation point.  We approach the Scriptures as if this Word were not clear in its teaching but dark and hidden and, more importantly, uncertain.  We approach doctrine or dogma as if it were a four letter word to be avoided in polite conversation.  It is both because we have grown ashamed and embarrassed about what the Church has believed, confessed, and taught or because we no longer have confidence that this is the truth that is to be our way and the light than enlightens our darkness.  We approach belief both as if it were personal and individual to define and determine and as if nothing were clear enough to be taught with authority and confidence (a truth for all time).

If Paul can commend Titus to preach and teach what accords with sound doctrine, why do we find it so hard to do so today?  I must admit that it seems like Pastors heading out into their first parish find more questions than answers to carry with them.  Practice has become peculiar, localized, and governed more by tradition with a small "t" than any universal or catholic Tradition with a capital "T".  Young men are cautioned against changing anything -- even clear wrongs -- but to get to know the people and build a trust level before addressing what may be egregious error of faith and practice.  They are sent forth with the idea that the vast majority of things in the parish are adiaphora, that adiaphora means things not important, things indifferent, or things about which we can do as we please -- never mind that it really means thing about which the conscience cannot be bound because there is no "thus saith the Lord" behind them.  Such things are seldom unimportant and uniformity of practice may be necessary for other reasons -- the voluntary submission of our freedom for a higher purpose of witness, for example.  And I could go on... the role of women, the issue of who communes, the question of grape juice vs wine, well, there does not seem to be an end to all the questions.

The other side of the coin is that we are less confident in our confessional answers than ever before.  Either we believe they do not apply or they are not binding or every Pastor is a pope in a parish which is his independent, congregational domain.  Why do we have less confidence that there even is a body of sound doctrine with which our preaching, teaching, presiding, and practice should accord than young Titus heading out as a Pastor in the first century?  What fruit has all our speculative theology and exegesis bought us?  We are not sure of much and less sure of most things with respect to the faith.  That is not a good thing.  If the world does not hear us or heed our witness, could it be that we are speaking our doubts and fears to them more than the way, the truth, and the life that leads fallen man to reunion with the Father through the intercession of His Son and this confidence engendered by the power of the Spirit?

Bible classes, sermons, new member instruction, catechesis, devotions, etc.... these need to be the domain of that sound doctrine that Paul commends to Titus and not the realm of questions that have no answers.  My kids are fond of joking "what does this mean?" and then saying "That was a rhetorical question -- don't answer that!"  What does this mean is not a rhetorical question but the application of sound doctrine to the urgent need of sinners under the shadow of death.  We have to stop speaking as if the answers are unknowable or unknown and being to speak with courage and confidence as Paul commends to Titus and as our Lutheran Confessions believe, confess, and teach.