Saturday, February 28, 2015
A legacy of political correctness that is hard to shake. . .
Playing out in Rome today is the idea that relationships are more important than doctrines. So there are those who say that sincere people should be given a place at the Table of the Lord even though they were divorced or divorced and remarried or cohabiting. There are also those who think that marriage might be a benefit for the gay and lesbian Christians and that an ordered disorder is better than a disordered one. In addition, we have witnessed no less than Francis enter the fray of the debate of science and Scripture with respect to creation and a shrug of the shoulders over the rejection of the Biblical word as mere symbolism or mythology. Finally, the Roman Catholic Church is struggling today over the idea of truth itself, more than mere loyalty to an individual or an institution. The witness of popes praying at mosques and non-Christian religious folks being invited to days of prayer in Christian sanctuaries raises the inevitable question of whether the truth of Christ is for all and over all or merely one version among many coequal truths.
Playing out in Lutheranism today is the question of doctrinal integrity. Some in Missouri believe that the fuss over doctrine and life is much ado about nothing -- that we already possess a greater measure of doctrinal unity than nearly all Protestant churches and that this ought to be enough. Others are insisting that there are many things that could and ought to be ditched in favor of the higher and nobler goal of winning people for Jesus -- such things as sacramental identity, the liturgy, and the music of worship. Hidden underneath it all is the idea that such things are not worthy the fight and the consequences of fighting over them are worse than the diversity that may test the limits of unity and order.
On the other hand, when the ELCA adopted its opening to gay and lesbian clergy and marriage in 2009, it began with a conscience clause the appeared to allow congregations and clergy to dissent from this decision. Now, almost six years later, it appears that in the ELCA you can deny the Virgin Birth of Jesus, doubt the physical resurrection of Jesus, disagree with the historicity of and the historical integrity of the Biblical accounts for just about everything but you may not disagree with the GLBT decisions of the ELCA.
The question remains: what is so important it is worth fighting for? What doctrinal truth, what practices reflect that truth, and what diversity from the confessional position of the church transcends the boundaries of unity? Is the witness of Scripture clear or muddled? Can we be certain enough of our faith to disapprove of that which contradicts that faith? What deviation from the confessional position of the church breaks that confession and fractures our unity at the altar rail?
Obviously I am not going to solve those questions here. Let me say, however, that the reason we fight is not because we are narrow minded, controlling, obsessive, etc... The reason we fight is because we take the Scriptures, our Confessions, and our life together seriously -- so seriously, in fact, that we risk being misunderstood by the world around us when we dispute, contest, and even refute false teaching and unfaithful practice. What is at work here is not some idyllic desire for lock step uniformity or some deluded idea of a pristine, golden age without dispute. No, what we face is the very integrity of the faith we confess and the salvation in which we hope. Our unity is not formed by common speculation but by common conviction -- Scripture teaches, catholic tradition affirms, our confessions declare, and we act in accord with them.
Missourians may seem to be a culture of infighting to those outside us. Rome may appear to be a few old, angry, white haired men resisting modernity to those outside her. Such a stereotype is convenient but inaccurate. Of course there are those who simply cannot tolerate any diversity and who would insist that everything is church dividing. Just as there are those who believe nothing is so important we should fight over it. But every age and every generation has been tested and tried and now it is time for us to come down on the side of Scripture, catholic tradition, evangelical confession, and faithful practice. The risk of losing the faith is worth it. Certainty in what we believe, confess, and teach is worth it. Integrity of confession and life together are worth it. Here we stand.