A word from Flacius about the current desires to have more debates about things which are clearly taught in Scripture:
“A year ago, in the Christmas season, when an assembly was held in the marketplace about the new Interim at Leipzig, certain Jews asked certain Christian merchants why they held so many assemblies about their religion, whether they perhaps had doubts about it. They were Jews, a godless people according to the Christian opinion, yet they rather would have died a thousand deaths than have the religion they followed changed. We thus carry ourselves so subtly with our adiaphora, new Interim, and so many days that Jews, Turks, papists, and all the godless laugh at and scorn us, our gospel, and Christ, and God’s name is blasphemed on account of our shameful inconsistency.” (Adiaphora and Tyranny, 77)
What strikes me very odd about this is that these debates during Flacius’ time were about things considered adiaphora in a church body that was in a state of confession (see the Solid Declaration for more on that). The “assemblies” being talked about here are talking about embracing certain things in order to keep peace with the Roman Catholic World, that these things really don’t affect the core of what we believe “the Gospel”. But Flacius and the Lutherans saw through it and stood strong against such compromise with the world (yes, the Roman Catholic Chuch of the time was the world – and the Interims were enforced by the Emperor). It was a matter which affected the Gospel. The constant ongoing discussions were causing damage to the Gospel. Jews, Turks, papist, and all the godless were laughing at these constant ongoing assemblies to discuss things. It caused those folks to believe that the Lutherans had doubts about what they believed.
Certainly with the recent announcement of this Women’s Ordination Conference designed to discuss it again (and by their OWN admission to come up with a resolution for the 2013 LCMS Convention, that’s a little more than “discussion”) reminds me of this. What is shocking is that we are having to have “discussions” not about adiaphora, but about things that are clearly settled in Scripture. We are truly in ungodly times if these kind of “discussions” are a part of the Church.
This past week I have had to think of how we react to things like this Women’s Ordination Conference. Some folks are advocating a more moderated response. I have not been one of those folks frankly because of things like what Flacius wrote here. The Gospel is at stake. The issues in our church body needing to have “ongoing discussion” are causing damage to the very Gospel we preach. The world (and other churches) are looking on at a time when we could be a solid voice for Lutheranism (like at the Theological Conference last week) and they are seeing that we have some shaking footing (like the Jews of old, they may be asking, does the LCMS have doubts about their religion?).
I am not sure of what these words of Flacius mean for things like the Koinonia Project. They probably won’t make any impact. We need to understand though that as we continue to converse about these teachings which have long been the clear teaching of Scripture (Closed Communion for example) it causes greater offense than just among us. It goes to the very heart of the Gospel, causing others to think that we have doubts about what we believe – and doubt is the enemy of faith. There are legitimate things which may need ongoing catechesis (I think the area of worship probably is one of them), but there are some teachings which should not cause any more conversation than that of the way of church discipline.
More than discussion, we need teaching. Discussion can be helpful in establishing positions for each side (but hey, in the LCMS those positions have been long established – you are either for closed communion or open communion). But discussion also goes to the core of the problem – thinking that each opinion is valid at table. That is not true – the only things valid at a Lutheran theological table are the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. Discussion leads to compromises, teaching leads to disciples. We have, for the most part, in our continued need for conversation shown that we are a church sorely in need of being taught. Maybe with the 500th anniversary coming up and the renewed focus upon Luther and Lutheranism we will start to learn again who we are as Lutherans and stand firmly in that, rather than continue to converse in ways which make the world laugh at us. If we are to be laughed at – let it be for the preaching of Christ crucified, like Paul before us (1 Cor 1).