Thursday, December 29, 2022

Not ducks in a row. . .

Some, perhaps many, belittle and mock the idea of pure doctrine.  Dogma no longer has a favorable impression upon Christians and especially on those outside the Church.  It is presumed that doctrine is like a checklist of things we must mark off to prove we are worthy.  What a foolish idea!  Doctrine is never mere truth to which we add our assent much less a series of steps to something bigger than better that we must get in order to be saved.  Doctrine is life.

These things we confess are not simply true in the sense of truth vs error but the sublime truth that envelopes us with the steadfast love and mercy of God.  Doctrine is beauty against the ugliness of sin and the hard reality of a world in the shadow of death.  These are not postulated truths of our invention but the revelation of God.  While no human language can fully encompass what God has made known, the same language is most eloquent and elegant when it expresses within our human limitation the fullness of God's self-disclosure.  It is a marvelous thing and not something that holds us captive or imprisoned.  Doctrine is freedom.

Like every pastor, I wonder why so few of our people interested in the Scriptures or in doctrine? How is it that someone can warm the pew for years only to gradually fade away until the truth they believe and the life they live are indistinguishable from the neighbor who does not believe?  Why is it so easy or a Lutheran to surrender the truth and gift of baptism for a believer's baptism in which God is mere spectator?  How can one shrug their shoulders at the Christ who comes in His flesh and blood in the Sacrament for a symbol that does nothing and requires you to do everything to benefit from it?  The surrender of doctrine is not merely the abdication of words on a page but a source of life, the gift of His presence, and the work of His grace?  Why have so many of our children abandoned the church and her doctrine and her life?

Of course, we all need regular warnings against sin and we need the encouragement to keep running the race of faith to its appointed end. We need to be held accountable for the love that saved us and would work through us for our neighbor in need.  Yet by themselves, such warnings and encouragement cannot sustain our faith and will become reasons for falling away unless we live by the beautiful means of grace that our doctrines confess. Unless we live by these dogmas that bestow grace and convey mercy to call us to repentance, to restore us when we fall, and to nourish our faith that we may grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, we will wither and die. Without a clear vision of where the Christian life lives and grows and without the weekly rehearsal of what lies before us, all the rules you can lay down, the cautions you use to warn, and the inspiration speeches you can muster will not keep us in the faith or keep our faith orthodox, normed by the Word of God which is a Word of life and hope.  

The old joke about the hymn "I Love to Tell the Story" is that it never actually does tell the story.  But the other side of this is when we stop loving the story and the doctrine that it conveys, the story becomes merely words that no longer do anything and end up being only about us and not about God at all.  Doctrine is not getting your theological ducks in a row.  It is something much grander.  Doctrine is how we express, as best we are able, the wonderful truths of God whose love made us and whose love redeemed us when turned our backs on it.  It is not stuffy or theoretical or boring.  If that is the impression we have given to our people, God will hold us to account.  Doctrine is not some impediment or restraint placed upon the believer but the power to believe and order the life of the redeemed. 

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