Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Certainty in an ambiguous world
Now there are a few anachronisms to these points of view; Missouri, being one of them. These antiquated groups actually hold that doctrine can be known, that it can be known with certainty, and that it can be known to a rather high level of completeness. This is what we say in theory, at least, although the practice is something we struggle with. The tensions in Missouri center around how much diversity can be tolerated. Some in the LCMS have resigned themselves to a high level of diversity and others still demand a more rigid uniformity. The Orthodox have limited doctrinal certainty to the first seven ecumenical councils and have left the balance of the question to episcopal discretion and collegiality to decide. Rome seems to have substituted communion with the Pope for doctrinal uniformity. Like an umbrella, the Roman Catholic Church tolerates a certain level of disagreement and diversity as long as the central spine that holds it up (Papal authority) finds ready agreement. Lord knows what might happen if that central authority of the papacy were to be dismantled. What would hold Rome together? Meanwhile, the rest of Christendom seems largely untroubled and even somewhat amused by the questions of what we can know of God, with what certainty we can know it, and what level of uniformity in confession and practice is required of those who claim fellowship.
Missouri and the smaller confessional Lutheran bodies are either dinosaurs of a past era or prophetic voices to the modern mess of ambiguity and relative truth. It all depends upon who you are. We in Missouri believe we are being prophetic; the rest of Christianity sees us as artifacts of an ancient and lost theological position.
So what then shall we do? That is what Missouri is now considering. In the so called "Koinonia" Project, we are being asked to discuss this basic question first and foremost. Sure, some have already written off this conversation as fruitless or pointless -- a wasted effort. Others have already gone past this and cannot figure out why such a big deal is being made of this issue. They have come to accept this diversity and even frame it in the context of modern or old fashioned approaches. Some believe the old style Lutherans will eventually come around. Most of Missouri lies in the muddle, I mean, middle. We recall an era when we were more confident, more certain, and more united -- we would like to go there again but we are not all that sure how you can recapture something like this and we worry that we just might be missing something while we look away from the pressing matters of the parish and Church to pursue doctrinal clarity and doctrinal unity.
For my part, I think the potential far outweighs the cost or the distraction. I cannot for the life of me see the future to a Christianity in which the Gospel means one thing to some and another thing to others and something completely different to many other groups within the whole. Doctrinal clarity, doctrinal conviction, and doctrinal unity are not some impossible dream but the key to the revitalization of a Christianity which has grown fuzzy and complacent about the very truth that defines this faith.