By Bob Hiller –
As a person who finds himself plagued with a great deal of guilt, I like to at least enjoy it from time to time with a few “guilty pleasures.” To be honest, my guilty pleasures are pretty lame, consisting mostly of John Elway highlight binges on YouTube and memorizing Gob (pronounced “Job”) Bluth quotes from Arrested Development reruns. But recently, I have found myself finding a sick amount of entertainment in following various Confessional Lutheran groups on Facebook and Twitter. Every two or three months, it seems like one Lutheran blogger becomes upset with another Lutheran blogger over some seemingly small issue like the way they speak of the Law, or how to speak on the life of the baptized, or the way one is to preach to Christians, or some nuanced point like this. The accused party takes offense, the gloves come off, and my twitter feed is just pathetic to watch. And I can’t get enough. (Some have even found cause to take up against this innocent little blog here…can you imagine?)
I am fascinated by this stuff for any number of reasons. Sinfully I get a kick out of watching how silly the fighting gets, the rallying of the troops, the back and forth quoting of the Lutheran Confessions. It’s like watching the preliminary debates of, say, the Republican Party (I’d say Democratic Party, but Graham is never in these discussions…he’s too busy with his rosary…more on Graham in a moment). Like the preliminaries, everyone on the stage pretty much agrees on the issues, but for one reason or another (Pride? Votes? Notoriety?) they find it necessary to set themselves up against each other and attack. Brothers label each other and sarcastically fire shots across the twitter-sphere. I pop some popcorn and enjoy the show. Don’t worry, by the way, about anyone breaking the eighth commandment here; that commandment never actually applies in theological debate. Bearing false witness and putting the worst possible spin on your opponent is really quite useful in winning your argument and shaming…er…correcting your brother in love.
But, besides some lame, guilty pleasure I get in watching the seemingly ridiculous antics of my Lutheran brothers and sisters, I watch because I am trying to learn something. I actually think these guys, despite the shamefully low levels they allow their dialogue to drop into at times, are pretty sharp theologians. Believe it or not, amidst all the strange and, at times, juvenile twittering, some pretty valuable points are made. In fact, the more I think about this, it makes me happy to know there are people (in my church body!) who are still willing to fight for truth at any level. Though the way they tend to engage in debate leaves much to be desired, too often they are ridiculed over what they are actually debating. They are said to be “majoring in the minors.” But, in so doing, my Confessional brothers recognize that what many see as minor are, in fact, symptomatic of major problems. The trouble many have with this is that fighting for truth down to the smallest part doesn’t lend itself to unity. But, I wonder, should it?
(As a quick aside, this does not mean that all issues are worth fighting over. How high your pastor holds the host, for example, has no bearing on the promise of Christ’s presence in the sacrament. Some of the arguments are just dumb.)
This week’s blog from Graham got me thinking a good deal about how being a Confessional Christian of any stripe doesn’t seem to achieve visible unity in the church catholic. After all, to confess is to reject. For example, to say that I believe Jesus is bodily and bloodily present in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins by necessity rejects any contrary teaching. Any assertion does. Let’s take it one step further, to confess is to reject compromise. The work of theology is not to create some sort of earthly peace between opposing parties. Jesus says he’s come to bring division, after all. That is, He’s come to take His church away from anything that might get in the way of Him delivering sinners from their bondage. He’s not interested in pretend ecumenism or mere visible unity. He’s interested in gathering His saints and angels around His throne to sing the great Te Deum with one voice (Revelation 19). And that happens only through His work, not ours. There is one baptism that puts you in the church, and it is His work. There is one message that kills the old Adam and Eve in us, and that is His Law. There is one Word that creates the one new man, and it is His Gospel. We partake of the one loaf, which is His body given to forgive our sins and make us one with Him and each other. Unity is not merely a matter of getting all of our doctrine in agreement, but receiving what He has to give as collective beggars.
It is the two words of God, Law and Gospel, which create unity. By this, I don’t mean just a unified explanation of what the Bible says to us, as important as that is (in fact, that in itself is a product of the uniting work God does to us). What unites the church is what God says to us, to you and me: “You and everyone around you are damned sinners. But, I have done something for each and every one of you: I have sent my Son to be united with you in your flesh, to take on your sin, to die your death, and to rise from your grave. As He has done all of this for all of you, you are all one in Christ Jesus. In Adam you have all been one huge rebellious man. But in Christ, you are my one redeemed people! For whom I love He is your head, you are His body. You are one, because He purchased you all together with His blood that you may be His own.” Under the Law, we are one great big ecumenical pile of steaming sin. But, under the Gospel, in our baptisms, we are all one beautifully cleansed and washed new man, united to Christ our head!
So, I say, thank God for everyone who fights and confesses to keep the devil from bringing anything that gets in the way of Christ’s unifying Word. Thank God for Confessional Lutheran twitter fights. Minor lies create major divisions. So, if we ever want to achieve any kind of real unity, we must pray for more people who stubbornly fight for truth and preach God’s Word without compromise. Or, as the church stubbornly prays with one voice, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…deliver us from the evil one.”