Thursday, September 29, 2022

A Generous Orthodoxy. . .

Could it be that we have misunderstood the generosity of the Lord?  Whenever there is a plea for a generous orthodoxy it usually ends up being the suggestion that more flexibility and fluidity be allowed for those who disagree with matters of doctrine and faith.  Certainly the age in which we live supports such a definition of generosity in which the broad boulevard is substituted for the narrow way of Scripture.  I wish we could rescue the phrase, however.

A generous orthodoxy does not pick and choose what to believe, what to preach, and what to teach but is committed to the whole counsel of God's Word.  What generous orthodoxy does is apply it pastorally.  I believe this is the real substance of the impetus of CFW Walther in pursuit of the right understanding of and distinguishing of Law and Gospel.  It makes little sense to take his legacy as preaching helps.  You are preaching to an assembly and not simply to one person and therefore it is a fool's errand to presume that every hearer is in the same place and needs to hear the same word.  Yes, carefully distinguish the Law and Gospel in the sermon but only so that you do not turn the Gospel into Law and therefore render the Law into the Gospel.  But a generous orthodoxy addresses the hearer with the Word they need to hear.  Sometimes that is Law without much of the promise of the blood.  To hearts cloaked in evil and presuming that hidden sin is unknown, like the priest approaching David, the Law is a sword to draw blood.  Once repentance is born as the consequence of the Spirit's voice in the Law, the Gospel of mercy cannot be spared.  It would seem to me that a generous orthodoxy knows the people to whom we speak the Word of God and therefore what Word of God it is that we would speak.  This is what makes orthodoxy generous.  This is how we follow the example of our Lord who was painfully blunt among those without faith or repentance and incredibly merciful to those whose heart of faith was wounded by the world and their own failures.

In our own age, the liberal and progressive folks seems to have mistaken tolerance that accepts what the person feels as generous orthodoxy.  It would seem that Pope Francis has made the same error when he would suggest that the Church might accommodate in some way what Scripture plainly condemns.  In the same way, those on the other side of the theological spectrum often appear to delight in condemnation and only regretfully and reluctantly admit to mercy.  Surely we could all agree that this is neither orthodox nor generous.  If God desires not the death of a sinner, why should we?  Yet the language and demeanor of some have made it appear that orthodoxy is merely a contest for righteousness and not the pastoral and wise discernment of the sinner and the careful and loving application of the Law and Gospel.  The Church must chart a careful course here.  We cannot fail to speak forth the whole counsel of God's Word but we must be discerning when it comes to the hearer what predominates.  While this is not the easiest thing to do, it is far easier and more effective to do in pastoral care than it is in trying to lump all the Sunday morning hearers into one group, pick out one person and paint the whole for what we know of the one.  Again, the preacher must never forget he is preaching to the Church and it would do no one any good to begin suspecting the faces in the pews of hypocrisy, impenitence, or unbelief (unless there is obvious evidence).  

A generous orthodoxy does not fail to call out sin but not simply to condemn it.  It is that part of John 3:16-17 that we too often forget -- not to condemn but to save.  A generous orthodoxy does not fail to speak doctrinally and faithfully the truth that endures forever but neither does it fail to speak pastorally this doctrine so that the faithful might hear it, comprehend it by faith, and trust it for their eternal salvation.  A generous orthodoxy is not merely concerned with the eternal destiny of the sinner but is also about their holiness of life in the present.  A generous orthodoxy does not lay upon the faithful rules and requirements to the living of the faith but neither does it fail to ask the faithful to show forth in their words and works the faith that lives in their hearts.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Indeed. Appears the source of the generosity (man or Jesus) makes all the difference in the direction the Church takes.