Monday, December 13, 2010

The Purpose of Conversation

Listening in to some of the conversations in the Church over what happens in worship, who communes at the Lord's Table, and how much diversity/disagreement may be allowed over established dogma, I find that the conversation is hardly ever fruitful -- though nearly always illuminating.  It is illuminating whenever we must speak, support, and defend our positions in a healthy debate.  We learn something as well as those with whom we speak.  Such is the wonderful fruit of the earlier rounds of Lutheran - Roman Catholic dialogs.  When we had men the caliber of Arthur Carl Piepkorn speaking the Lutheran position, we learned something about our Lutheranism and were made students again of our Lutheran Confessions -- through this conversation with others.  I would suggest that the same thing happened among the Roman Catholic participants.  That is not to say that such conversation necessarily moves people to convergence or agreement.  Most often it does not.  But what it may accomplish is the removal of stereotyped positions, straw dogs, and misconceptions.

In order for this to happen, the participants in this conversation must be true to their positions, vigorous in speaking and defending themselves, and willing to listen to what the others are saying.  For this reason it is difficult to predict or make such conversation work toward the fruitful end of information and illumination.  I have most enjoyed some of the rich conversations made possible by internet forums on Lutheran theology and practice -- though I will admit that it can also be greatly frustrating when we make the same points over and over again to no end or when those misconceptions, straw dogs, or stereotypes remain at the end of it all.  There have also been some very helpful private conversations to this end as well -- and some that have not turned out so well.

The difficulty is that we want people to be passionate about their positions but so often such passion is also accompanied by an unwillingness to listen or to learn.  So, I have great hope for the koinonia project of deliberate conversations about the issues that divide us or cause us problems within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and I pray God's blessings upon Pres. Harrison's leadership in this area.  But at the same time I find that the great temptation to us is either to ignore the elephant in the room and speak about peripheral things OR to direct a conversation that neither illuminates nor informs but merely offers arguments to abut arguments as reinforcements might back up troops.

So I guess it will depend upon those who come to the table to talk, whether they are willing to listen as well as engage, and whether they will be willing to learn as well as defend....

There is one more point to add.  That is the fact that when we gather for this conversation, it is essential that the saints have voice and place in this dialog.  For the tradition of the Church is not some dead baggage we carry around but the living voice of saints, who contended for the faith, and delivered to us the great deposit.  For this reason tradition requires that we have good cause for change or adjustment to that which has been believed, taught, confessed, and practiced in our past.  This is not some nod to the attitude "we have never done it this way before" but the honest appreciation that we did not and do not invent the faith, that the faith is not a novelty to be treated casually, and that the faith is not our possession to do with what we please, but only our sacred trust to be received and to be faithfully passed down....


Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters: Who is the elephant
in the room concerning the Koinonia
talks proposed by President Harrison?

Bill Hansen said...

From the context I would assume the elephant is NOT a person but rather an issue on which there is disagreement.

Norman Teigen said...

I consider that Pastor Peters had in mind a larger conversation, a conversation not limited to just Missouri Lutherans.

As a friend of Missouri in an ELS situation I welcome the discussion.

The things that we have in common are greater than the things that divide us.

The need is for honest and respectful speech and writing that serves to build up and not to tear down.

Pastor Peters said...

The elephant in the room is the main issue at disagreement -- often hidden in peripheral things that are easier to face and discuss... so we talk about what is done in contemporary worship rather than what our Confessions state about worship... for example...

Anonymous said...

It is my prayer that the Koinonia
talks begin with a Scriptural basis
and foundation. Our laity will be
more willing to discuss issues on
the merits of Holy Scripture. The
Confessions of the Lutheran Church
are always secondary to Scripture.
The Holy Bible is timeless and has
been in existence longer than our