Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Can we talk?

There are a number of folks in Synod who want to talk.  Talk is good.  But talk is also cheap.  Some want to talk about women's ordination.  Some want to talk about close(d) communion.  Some want to talk about the role of women in the Church.  Some want to talk about the confessional integrity.  Some want to talk about ecumenical relationships.  Some want to talk about confessional witness.  Some want to talk about finding common ground with our culture.  Some want to talk about the liturgy and more uniformity on Sunday morning.  Some want to talk about diversity of styles.  Some want to talk about unity of doctrine.  The list is by no means set and it could go on and on.  But there is a difference.

We cannot talk about things for which the answer is given in Scripture and manifest in tradition and confession as if these were open questions without answers.  We can talk about women's ordination, for example, but we cannot talk about it as if there was no Scriptural answer attested to in unbroken tradition and practice.  It seems that some believe a conversation must treat even settled matters as open questions.  This we cannot do.  It seems that others believe that there can be no conversation about settled doctrine.  This cannot do, either.  We need to talk.  We need to talk openly and honestly.  We need this conversation (some call Koinonia) but we need to be careful about treating unsettled issues as settled and settled doctrine as if these were open questions.

I find the polarization in the country strangely evident in our church body as well.  We are not talking like we should and when we talk we are failing to distinguish the nature of the conversations.  I have no doubt, for example, that we have not mined fully the role of women in the Church and written as carefully and as clearly as we ought.  We have, to be sure, some inconsistency here which must be addressed.  We have failed to distinguish well that which is doctrinal and unchanging and that which may be, well, cultural and open to change.  Some don't want any conversation -- just the strong arm of the law to enforce the rules.  Others want to talk and talk and talk but never conclude anything and always include everything.

Strangely, I find myself somewhat in the middle of all of this.  I like to read and read people and sources with which I disagree -- sometimes even vehemently.  I like to debate and prefer a rigorous debate with stalwart opponents to the sometimes mind numbing hair splitting that some seem to relish.  I want my Synod to be united in doctrine and practice but from the positive confession that this doctrine and practice is good, salutary, and true -- not because we have erected a barbed wire fence around the Church.  I want my opponents to be engaged and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  I admit that I am not as smart as I might imply nor as knowledgeable as I often infer.  I want those who disagree about doctrine to walk together joyfully in the truth and I want to be able for us to trust one another without fear.  I know that there are people who disagree with me (though I cannot for the life of me figure out why) and, as long as those disagreements do not involved settled doctrine and its catholic practice, I think we should be allowed to disagree without rancor (say ad orientum vs versus populum?). 

Our nation suffers because we cannot talk about the big issues facing us.  Our Church suffers equally and, in my opinion, more deeply from the lack of conversation and the recognition that some conversations will always have a certain answer (say Trinity anyone?).  Can we talk?

BTW in my experience as a Pastor when folks say "Can we talk" it often means "I need to confess something..."  That may well be true of the many sides of what should be many sided conversations.  With some of the outcomes ought to come some repentance as well.


Janis Williams said...

I think we have to resurrect the correct definition of the word tolerance. We can't all be right. We can disagree and continue the debate at a future date if necessary.

Until we trash the politically correct ideas of toleration, real "talk" can't take place.

I agree. We must be "allowed to disagree without rancor."

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters,

Well done. Thanks for your post.

+Nathan Rinne