Disputation is indivisible from Confessional Lutheranism. Lutherans fray their orthodoxy when they do not engage in frequent disputation with all who dare to tamper with or reject the formal and material principles of Scripture alone and grace alone, respectively.
By contrast, Liberal Lutheranism is indivisible from toleration, compromise, accommodation, and permissiveness.
Disputation does not make Lutherans disagreeable, quarrelsome, confrontational, or discordant. It makes them orthodox; zealous for pure doctrine. They are confident to dispute because they know where to find pure doctrine, and how to apply it. They are eager to dispute because they know what has been done for them in Christ. They welcome opportunities for public disputation because they know that true salvation stands to be lost if they are quiet and unseen.
A Confessional Lutheran synod should be prized and famous for its militant disputational character. It should dispute with itself more than anyone else to ensure that any heterodoxy is refined out before it quenches the forge of justification. The treasure of the church should be poured into foundations of disputation since assaults and sieges against pure doctrine will never end until the return of Christ.
Martin Luther and his fellow theologians of the Reformation modeled ardent disputation for us. The consequences of their disputation were hardly trivial — they were always just an axe-drop shy of losing their voices. In spite of the threats, they disputed continually with princes and Popes, laymen and lectors, bishops and barons to continue securing the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
The Book of Concord (BoC) demonstrates how vigorously and rigorously we are to contend for pure doctrine. The BoC is also instructive in matters of resolution. All Christian disputation has a single purpose — the maintenance of one pure and true religion.
According to the Preface of the Augsburg Confession, we are to deal with dissension by:
- Hearing opinions and judgements in public;
- Considering opinions and judgements in mutual charity, leniency, and kindness;
- Removing and correcting error by testing it with Scripture;
- Leaving no room for accommodation since there is a single truth; and
- Doing all the above for the purpose of unity and concord in the Church.
Only a fraction of members of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS) would disagree. Our institutions are a different story, though, and the LCMS dispute resolution process has codified a perversion of the instructions of the AC Preface.
A different spirit has long animated the corporatized entities that fly the LCMS flag. This institutional spirit overwhelms even the most reliably Confessional men and women. It pressgangs them to serve the institution and its offices above even pure doctrine. They help, often unwittingly, animate the institution to prefer external virtue signaling, and the suppression of disputation.
Examples are too legion to list. You have already thought of at least three, have you not?
The root of the rot is genuflecting to the culture. Modern America hates disputation because someone might discover a pimple on their self-esteem. Those engaged in disputation are condemned and shunned, and we prefer to be surrounded by accommodators.
Our culture is deathly afraid of resolution because it requires someone to be right and someone to be wrong.
Consequently, we resolve nothing. We bury things. We massage things. We euphemize things. We endlessly ponder and review things. We distract ourselves to prove that we have risen above mere resolution to the exalted glories of reconciliation. Before that throne, everyone agrees to disagree in the name of mutual respect and understanding. Our faith allows no such toleration, but bylaws must prevail over truth.
LCMS seminarians are increasingly indoctrinated to be winsome in the manner of Campus Crusade. Valiant experts in Christian disputation? Surely not! Pastors engaged in disputation have no love for the lost, don’t you know?
Pastors who toe-the-line are rewarded with winsome congregations in winsome districts that indulge themselves along the spectrum of heterodoxy to the point of heresy. Pastors who won’t submit to the institutional spirit are threatened and cajoled in innumerable ways until they crack or comply. When they don’t break or bend, they are slandered and politicked against.
Those who organize to point out errors are accused of trying to split the Synod even as the accusers fund and tend their own shadow Synod. These are the shameful depths we have sunk to.
Thankfully, we know where to look for our salvation, and it is not in Milwaukee this Summer, nor at 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122. Pray that the LCMS would repent of its errors before it is too late.