Monday, September 05, 2011

The Eighth Commandment and Theological Discussion

In my 19 years since I returned to Lutheranism, and this time to Confessional Lutheranism, I have pretty much been constantly surrounded by pastors, theology students, and other very devoted laymen. I've been in live discussion groups (as in, actually WITH real people), on email lists, in the blogosphere, and on Facebook. And one question has plagued me the whole dang time:

How come the Eighth Commandment doesn't apply to theological discussion?

I'll break this down into other questions to clarify --

Why is it okay to basically assume that a person is not "solid" until they have proven otherwise?

Since when is it considered perfectly acceptable by some to openly mock someone, just because we don't agree with their doctrine or practice?

Who actually believes that someone will be open to change in their doctrine or practice when they are being ridiculed for what they are doing now? Why should they take guidance from you when you are treating with disdain something that matters very much to them (right nor not)?

If someone shares a quote or an idea over lunch or by email because they think it is interesting or sweet, is it good manners to pick apart the phrasing to show how theologically inadequate the statement is? In the end, even without the best confessionally-correct choice of words, you probably knew what was intended, and so does everyone else; so why cause frustration?

When did orthodoxy stop becoming a journey that we sinners are all traveling toward? When did it become a competition?

When you point out your brother-in-Christ's flaws, Are you really trying to correct him out of love for him? Is it his well-being that you are seeking, or are you seeking to make a good theological point? Are you really the best person to address the issue, or do you think there is a better way to bring about repentance and reform? Are you willing to respectfully walk him through the issue that has drawn your attention, or do you just want to point out the fault and move on?

Don't get me wrong, I know there are certain issues that should be corrected, but there are plenty of statements made by your average Joe that can go either way; and while they may not be phrased quite right, they still don't do any harm. In these situations, it is just more civil to assume that it is meant in the best possible way. After all, most of us don't expect to face the Spanish Inquisition over an "interesting" link on Facebook (NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition).

We also need to be careful because in these discussions, we might completely miss what our brother is saying when our own "issues" get triggered. Sometimes the person is just sharing their love for Jesus and actually didn't intend to bring up the issue of sovereignty or Arminianism at all (as examples).

We are called by Christ to love each other. Jesus bore with a whole lot from His disciples, and only corrected things that were terribly crucial. Really, He ignored a lot of the nonsense, and when He did find need to correct, He generally did so with gentleness. The "Get Behind Me Satan" response is not appropriate just because someone shares an inspirational quote that gets in your craw. Jesus reserved this treatment for Peter's denying the need for the cross.

This is not talking about true theological error. However, before we open our mouths, we should ask ourselves whether or not we are truly being loving, especially in a public forum. We should ask ourselves if this is worth hurting someone's feelings or causing a lot of exasperation. Important theological issues are definitely worth it, because the person's well-being is at stake. But again, it might be better to address the topic privately or even go to the person's pastor for assistance if it is really concerning. If you find yourself getting actual pleasure from it, you probably should walk away, hang up the phone, or turn off your computer.

In the end, when we are discussing the very topic that is most dear to our humanity -- our relationship with our Creator (through Christ), it is important to remember that Christ died for the person that we are arguing with, and it is a pretty safe assumption that in our quest for theological purity, our Lord doesn't want us to forget that.


Laura said...

Exactly why I got off Table Talk. I have no idea what it is like now or if that is what you are talking about. I thought it would be a place for laity to talk to pastors...especially a pastor's wife since we have a unique relationship with our pastor. I never asked anything because I saw how people were spoken to when they asked something contrary to the main way of thinking and there was no way I was going to enter that. Sad...I hope it has changed. That was a few years ago.

Cheryl said...


Anonymous said...

This very thing inspired me to write a bit of satire:

Hymn to the Excesses of Lutheran Confessionalism, If There Be Any
Version 3.1

A mighty fortress is Our Church. The rest somehow are failing.
Contentiously upon our perch, against most trends we’re railing.
Outside work many a foe – non-Lutherans we don’t know.
Baptized though they may be, we criticize with glee,
No argument curtailing.

They follow Christ. It matters not. Their doctrine is distorted.
Pure Gospel they just have not got. Their message is contorted.
Let arguments begin, for we shall surely win.
While billions nothing know of Christ, we make a show
Of knowledge rightly sorted.

The Turk compelled our unity. Before, we had division.
Now we expect conformity, resisting all revision.
Unless we think alike, diversity will spike.
That surely leads to sin. New thoughts must be reigned in!
Our past remains our vision!

We guard this culture with our might: Our forbears shall think for us.
All that they said is surely right. Their writings are before us.
New questions don't arise; old answers shall suffice.
Though grace we preach each day, it’s not ours to display.
Divinely we’re ungracious.

What fruit emerges in the end from seed that we have guarded?
The Master gets His seed returned, just as when He departed:
All kernels safe and whole and free from soil, we’ll show.
No foreign seed is there. With joy we shall prepare
For how we’ll be rewarded.


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I can't say that gets to what I am saying either. I don't think that Lutheran confessional theology is arrogant. I think some men and women who discuss confessional theology have a tendency to be arrogant.

I do hold that the Lutheran Confessions are the clearest summary of Scripture in Christianity.

In the words of William Weinrich "just because you are confessional doesn't give you the right to be a jerk."