This morning, my Pastor reminded us of that simple, but often overlooked truth and preached to us about St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and our need to debate with each other over doctrine when necessary.
1 Corinthians 11:17-19 (ESV) But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (ESV) For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV) I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
In a day-and-age when we are so passionate and so vocal about political affairs, we might often wonder, "Why aren't we equally as bold and passionate about our faith and the life-saving Gospel?"
Now, that's not to somehow suggest that only those who are said to be "On Fire For The Lord!" are the *true* Christians or something. That would be absolutely absurd, but it is a good question to ask and think about, especially only a few days removed from the Presidential Inauguration I think.
Back to Paul's letter to the Corinthians.
The divisions, though sad, made clear who was following apostolic teaching and who was not. So, while we should never strive to cause divisions with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we have to accept the truth that this is just bound to happen from time-to-time, and should fully expect them rather than act surprised by them all the time.
Yes, it's easier said than done for sure! I'm a perfect example too. My own rants, reflections, and writings here over the years bear witness to that harsh reality.
It's only by the grace of God and not due to anything that I've done or am doing that I can sit here today and tell you that the way 2016 ended and the way 2017 is beginning has me looking at such divisions with a new perspective.
With that in mind, I would like to cite an excellent commentary written way back in 2011 by Rev. David H. Petersen, which was "A Response To The President's Koinonia Project" and republished a few years later in 2014 by another Confessional Lutheran blog (by the way, the BOLD portions are my own highlights)...
In short, everybody needs to calm down.
Those who are tired of the fighting and wish we would all just get along need to calm down. We live in the Church Militant. The Church has always fought within itself. Iron sharpens iron. It is good to care about eternal things. It is good to care about the details, about the lost, and about how we interact with each other and the world. Our fighting is caused by sin but refraining from fighting does not remove the sin. It only hides it. Our Lord does not call us to ignore the speck in our brother’s eye but to love him enough to take some risks and to try and help.
Next, if we are going to do this, we need some nomenclature. We have to drop “liberal” and “conservative.” They are not only pejorative, they are inaccurate. I like the label “confessional.” This doesn’t mean that I think I am the only one confessing. It simply means that this is my focus and identity. I suspect that this self-chosen description rightly fits and is comfortable on about 51% of the synod. The other side, the roughly 46% who supported the reelection of President Kieschnick, seem to have chosen the term “missional” for themselves. Just as I don’t think that I am excluding others from confessing by calling myself a confessional, I do not think that the missionals are accusing me of being disinterested in missions, lazy, or complacent. They simply understand this as their particular focus and identity. If indeed this is the adjective they wish, I promise to use it respectfully. If this is the wrong term, or not accepted by all, I am sorry. For the time being at least, it seems to me to be what they have chosen – and it also seems accurate. When I am corrected and given a better self-description, I promise to use it. But we can’t impugn one another with conservative and liberal.
For years I have heard complaints from Jesus First and other proponents of the missional camp that there is a terrible danger and mis-emphasis among the confessionals on doctrinal purity. I think, in part, they are right. This charge has been too easily dismissed, as though being accused of being obsessed with doctrinal purity were akin to being accused of loving too much, having too much money, or being too good-looking. We have been called to doctrinal purity. This is what God desires and demands. But it is not true to think that doctrinal purity trumps all else. Doctrine was made for man, not man for doctrine. David ate the showbread. The Lord’s disciples plucked grain and Jesus healed on the Sabbath. St. Paul allows the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Love is the ultimate principle behind the Law. So also, love is the ultimate principle, both in content and application, of doctrine. If doctrine does not serve love, or if it serves pride, it is false.
Some might rejoin that these are Law examples not Gospel examples. These are, however, ultimately arguments about the Law. The Law commands we evangelize. To fail to confess and witness is a sin. The Law also commands that we teach pure doctrine. False doctrine is a sin. It is possible to love a system of doctrine for its own beauty and reasonableness apart from its actual content. That was the sin of the Pharisees. The missionals do well to warn us of this danger.
We, the confessionals, need to calm down. We should not be issuing ultimatums. We should not be setting ourselves up as the judges of Israel. We should not be operating out of fear as though it is our duty to cleanse and purify the Church. And we should be careful in our language and criticisms so as not to hurt the feelings of our brothers.
We, the confessionals, need historic perspective on doctrinal purity. We sometimes speak and act as though there was a golden age in the Church to which we must return. There was no golden age. The history of the Church is a history of disunity, confusion, heresy, abuse, and schism. The history of the liturgy is equally messy. St. Gregory did much to foster unity but even then there were local customs and variances in almost every locality. Those who waited for and expected the Messiah at the time of Christ were divided between the Pharisees, the priests, the Essenes, the zealots, Gentile proselytes, and the quiet in the land. The Lord has provided amazingly clear and articulate voices from time to time. Athanasius was such a voice at the Council of Nicea. So also were Luther and then the Lutheran fathers in 1580. But they are few and far between. They are the exception. There does not look to be a great, charismatic, theological mind and voice in our age.
We are insignificant men in an insignificant synod in an insignificant time. The history of the Missouri Synod is not the history of great preachers, scholars, or obedient Germans. We are not a sleeping giant. We are a raging, self-important mouse. Our history is the history of fools plodding along without really knowing what they were doing. Pastors taught false doctrine from their ignorance. They got caught up in politics and culture. Missionaries instituted crazy practices. The synod grew by immigration and inertia. Members insisted on acting and looking like their neighbors. They stuck to the truth out of nostalgia as often as conviction. Yet the Lord provided. Babies were baptized. The Word of God was read. The Absolution and Body and Blood of Jesus were bestowed, and the half-hearted, confused prayers were heard by a gracious God. Sometimes the best thing we ever did was stick the name “Lutheran” on the sign. If nothing else, it forced us to use the Small Catechism and keep a copy of the American Edition of Luther’s Works and the Book of Concord on the pastor’s shelf. Then sometimes, somebody, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, no doubt, read them. The Lord doesn’t need us to purify or unite or fix or do anything to the Church. It is His Church. We confessionals need to calm down and stop acting as though every time a pastor does something stupidly or chooses a weak practice or even commits an unintentional heresy the walls are going to come crashing down. So what if they do? Calm down.
The line between doctrine and practice is blurry. That is because practice matters. It confesses and witnesses. But it is hard to talk about it, hard to critique. Just recently, I had a brief and casual exchange with a confessional brother in a theatre while we waited for Garrison Keillor to appear. He has switched, for many reasons, from the historic lectionary to the three year lectionary. He complained that some of the proponents of the historic lectionary, of which I am one, went too far and were dogmatic about its superiority. I thought that was a straw man and said so. I asked for an actual name and example. He named another confessional brother whom he claimed had denigrated the three-year lectionary. Then the curtain came up and the man in the red shoes began his shtick, so I never got to respond. If I had, I would have said that denigrating is not dogmatizing. We might well denigrate the three year lectionary and praise the historic lectionary. That is the way argument works. There are three possibilities: the three year lectionary is superior to the historic lectionary, the historic lectionary is superior to the three year lectionary, or they are completely equal in every way. If they are completely equal, then it is stupid to talk about it.
If we are to debate practices — and we must — then we will denigrate. This might be slightly painful, but it should be no surprise. Consider the matter of LSB hymnody. We must all surely know that its hymns are unequal. They all passed doctrinal review. Thus we trust that they are all free of blatant false teaching. But some are abysmally weak, have to be explained away from their original context, and do little actually to teach the faith. Others are confession, praise, and catechesis of the highest order. We may not agree on which hymns fall into which category, but we all know that some hymns are stronger than others. We all choose hymns in context. We don’t use the strongest hymn in the hymnal each Sunday. We vary hymns week to week. So also, not every hymn, regardless of its merits, is necessarily immediately accessible, while some hymns, weak as they are, are simply congregational favorites for sentimental reasons and for the sake of love we sing them. We don’t dogmatize the hymns of the day. But we certainly should teach both our pastors and laity to practice theological discernment in hymn choice and also encourage them to strive for stronger and stronger hymnody as they are able. A congregation or pastor without discernment who choses hymns merely for entertainment or emotional value deserves rebuke.
We confessionals need to admit that we all live with some level of compromise. No one has perfect practice. We need to stop trying to force our brothers into orthodoxy through legislation. It’d be blessedly nice if everyone in the synod would limit himself to the confines of our hymnals, but they don’t and they won’t, and we have to give a better reason than simply “we make the rules.” We need to be able to talk about what is allowable but weak, what is strong, and what is right out. We cannot pretend that everything the Commission on Worship has produced is equal.
The point of this is simply that we have to be careful in our speech and careful in our listening, and we have to be honest. This debate must center on practice. That is where our doctrine hits the road, where our confession and witness is actually made. But we can’t have real discussion and debate without denigration. We have had synodical attempts to brush over our real differences in the past. We have been told they are not real or significant, and we know that is not true. That fantasy didn’t create unity. It didn’t create trust. It was a waste of time and money. If all things are equal, then we are worse than fools to debate them. If this is all just splitting hairs, then those who determine that is the case ought to give in for the sake of us weaker brothers. But they won’t, will they? That is because these things are important. So they need to be not just discussed, but actually debated. And we have to take the risk that such debates could lead to division. It could well turn out that debating practices leads to the realization that we cannot abide one another’s doctrine and aren’t actually in fellowship.
I don’t say this to alarm anyone. My goal is to find the logs in my own eye. How have I failed in this process? How are the criticisms laid at my feet valid and invalid? But my desire is that everyone would calm down, speak carefully, and listen carefully. It will be hard. It will be slow. It will be frustrating. But we must try and pray God’s blessing
This is most certainly true.
There's a lot more that Pastor Petersen wrote so do take a few minutes to read the rest of it.
Like the congregation at Corinth, we also suffer from divisions and party spirit, which undermine God's work among us. Yet the Lord still leads us to true confession through Jesus, our Savior, and the Spirit's work among us.
Mute our idolatrous pride and curb our party spirit, O triune Lord. Combine our hearts in works that praise You, even as You unite our voices in the true confession of Your name. Amen.
Believers are united to Christ and to one another.
Holy Baptism, in which the Spirit is poured out (Acts 2:38-39), is the basis of Christian unity. Even unto this very day, Christ continues to unite us in Baptism, and makes us His very Body (Galatians 3:27-28). Then, the Lord's Supper offers us the forgiveness of sins, which creates unity with Christ and unity with one another.
Does this mean that we should "Agree To Disagree" and let "Deeds Not Creeds!" rule the day as we all practice "Gospel Reductionism" and rally around John 3:16 for the sake of love and unity? Not a chance!
However, it does mean that we continue to pray.
We pray fervently for those who loved Pastrix Paula White's Inaugural Prayer to the nation.
We pray fervently for those sitting under the preaching and teaching of a false teacher each and every week.
We pray for our co-worker who bounces between being an agnostic and an atheist.
We pray for our friend who is a Muslim.
We pray for our dad who is ambivalent to anything pertaining to Jesus.
We pray for our mom who is under the spell of "Spiritual But Not Religious" Facebook memes.
We pray fervently for our sister who believes in Astrology and Horoscopes.
We pray fervently for our spouse who hates going to church.
We pray fervently for our in-laws who think that "God's will" for their lives is doing whatever feels good and makes them happy.
We pray fervently for our cousin who is a rabid supporter of Planned Parenthood.
We pray fervently for our best friend who believes Catholicism and the Pope saves us.
We pray fervently for our Lutheran Day School's Teachers who think it's ok to jettison our Confessional Lutheran beliefs and practices on a daily basis.
We pray fervently for our District President who insists on charting his own course within Christ's Church.
We pray fervently for our Pastor to remain a faithful and true servant of God's people in the midst of growing challenges and temptations.
We pray fervently for ourself that the Lord would help us to examine our heart and mind (2 Corinthians 13:5) and to remain steadfast in our God-given faith (Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 3:12-19).
In a Lutheran layman's terms, Jesus Christ is doctrine, and we are expected "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), but we also need to do so with a measure of perspective and restraint, because we are the "Church Militant" and "everybody needs to calm down."
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 4 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with the Bible, our Confessions, and Lutheran doctrine in general (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can not only correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1), but repent of my sin and learn the truth myself. Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I will defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!