Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Best Practices. . .
Though you might think that best practices is largely a creation of the missional element in Synod, confessionals are also getting on board. The appeal is to learn what others are doing well so that we do not have to reinvent the wheel and the benefit is that some of the pitfalls and kinks have been worked out before you start. I always google an idea we have to see if somebody is already doing it and to see if we might learn from them rather then trudge on through our own comedy of errors in order to make it work.
What intrigues me is the very name best practices. It implies that other practices are not the best, perhaps not even good, and possibly harmful. That not always something we are quick to acknowledge. We Lutherans have clung to the idea that adiaphora means anything goes, everything is equal, and nothing is too bad. That, of course, is just plain wrong. Even when Scripture does not command or forbid something, that does not mean that every choice we make is equal. Adiaphora may mean that a command from the Lord cannot be applied but it does not follow that whatever we decide is equally good, right, and salutary.
In fact, some of our worst worship practices in Lutheran parishes are justified with just this idea -- adiaphora means freedom to do what we please, whatever is right in our own eyes, and whatever we decide to do is just fine. Adiaphora mean mean that no absolute rule can be applied but it surely does not mean that every practice is equal. There are many things which are adiaphora in the Divine Service but best practices require us to aim for a higher goal -- that which is most faithful to the spirit and word of our confession (here it means the exegetical key to the Lutheran Confessions which claims that we have not departed from catholic doctrine and practice).
BEST practices then means that we keep the ceremonies that do not conflict with the Gospel, our practices are consistent with the Church that went before us, and that we give vote but not veto to those who came before us. I wish that we Lutherans could agree on this -- heck, I wish all Christians could agree on this! Innovation, creativity, and spontaneity are not marks of the Spirit's life within the Church but faithfulness is. I cannot for the life of me figure out why we agitate so against this.
Best practices also trumps likes, dislikes, and personal preference. We have gotten into the awful habit of rating things -- from hymns to chanting, from vestments to preaching. Not everything that is best is appealing to us. In fact, it is usually the opposite -- that which is best is often that which conflicts with our wants, desires, and preferences. We need to aim higher than what we could do and work for that which is best -- the most faithful expression of our Confession. When we begin here I think some of our identity confusion, some of the band-aided worst practices, and some hopeful unity will be the happy result.
In any case, we must challenge the foolish idea that because nothing is commanded, everything we might do is equal in weight, value, and faithfulness. That is the hidden lie behind those who seem intent upon ignoring everything in our Confessions except those references to adiaphora -- the refusal to require this for the unity of the church. We ought to be concerned for more than just the esse of the Church's doctrine and life but also for the bene esse (essential or minimums vs best practices).