Sermons fall somewhat into that category. In the brief period of time you have in the pulpit, it is easy to shorthand subjects that should be given extra time and more detail. It is just as possible to leave brief references or isolated statements to be read differently out of context or heard differently if that was there only thing to which the hearer paid attention. Sermons demand the best of the preacher but that best sometimes is different when you face weeks with heavy demands of the pastor in the pastoral care of crisis and emergencies in the families of your parish. What I mean to say is that sometimes your best is less than your best at other times. Again, that does not mean to excuse any pastor or me from not doing the careful preparation work and the wordsmithing necessary. It merely admits that there is a difference and substantial one between the academic exercise of the teaching authority and the rigors of parish life.
The public witness of the faith is under more scrutiny and attack than ever before. As I have mentioned before, there have been columns here that were distributed more widely than I could have ever imagined and raised the particular interest of those groups who watch for attacks on the sexual desire and gender alphabets. That said, it means that we need to be more careful than ever about what we say and how we say it. I am not in any way saying that we should not be provocative or shy away from politically and socially charged topics. What I am saying is that the times require the best of us now more than ever and nowhere is this more true than in our official documents and publications. Again, I am not at all suggesting that we need to step lightly or be verbose where clearly worded brevity may better suffice. What I am saying is that our no needs to be no and our yes needs to be yes. No matter what side of things you come down on with respect to the publications of our Synod and our doctrinal review process, this much is true. We cannot afford to muddy the waters nor do we have the luxury of being less than clear, speaking the truth in love that demands and expects such clarity.
The other side of the coin is who is speaking, or, in this case writing. There are times when the name and the body of work of an author speak more loudly than the actual words of a particular publication. Rome certainly understood this by restricting certain authors from presuming to speak or publish as official teachers. Of course, that did not prevent them from finding another publisher or venue to put forth their opinions but it did prevent them from addressing their disagreement with the seal of approval from the very people they were criticizing. As Lutherans we need to learn this lesson. It may be that what is said is not nearly as powerful as who says it, that certain authors may carry enough baggage for where they depart from orthodox and catholic teaching to prevent them from being credible when they do carry water for the truth. While I am glad I am not one of those who must make such determinations, it is clear that those so charged must begin to ponder as much who is doing the writing or speaking as well as what is being written or said lest the hearers and readers confuse or presume that a narrower common position applies more broadly.
Let me say one thing more. There were times in the past when I could presume by the author that I might and would likely agree and appreciate what was said or written by that author -- without even perusing the actual content. In the same vein, there were other authors with whom I could presume to disagree and even when we might agree, would dislike how it was said or written. These take on a greater meaning in an age when the distance between churches and their teachings and the teachers increases day by day. For that reason alone, we will need to consider not only content but also reputation down the road. There will always remain editorial discretion but the lines are moving and the time is coming sooner rather than later when it will be harder to justify common content when reputation and association diverge from our own. Rapidly the days of exploratory and experimental theology must be placed under a microscope for a deeper consideration than what might have passed in a previous age.