By Paul Koch –
Sometimes I wonder what it is we are fighting for. When I go to a circuit gathering of fellow pastors and argue over doctrinal distinctions and their current importance, or engage in discussion about disagreements that have come from the continued writing and promotion of this blog, or I hear about what some dillhole put on their Facebook page about a friend of mine, I wonder what we fight for, what is the end game of all this, and is it really that crucial?
A few years back, I read a challenging book by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark titled The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy. It may not sound like a very lively book, but trust me, it was an excellent read and enlightening to say the least. The authors speak of the religious environment of America in terms of a free market economy. Their endeavor is not to describe the history of Christianity in this country but to explain its incredible growth—why some denominations have seen increased membership rates and participation, and others have failed to prosper.
They use language that initially causes me to bristle, “Religious economies are like commercial economies in that they consist of a market made up of a set of current and potential customers and a set of firms seeking to serve that market. The fate of these firms will depend upon (1) aspects of their organizational structures, (2) their sales representatives, (3) their product, and (4) their marketing techniques” They then translate this into churchy language, “Success of religious bodies will depend upon their polity and local congregations, their clergy, their religious doctrines, and their evangelization techniques.”
The shocking thing they uncover and make clear throughout their analysis is that the great market weakness of many denominations is their doctrinal content or lack of it. In fact, they argue that as “denominations have modernized their doctrines and embraced temporal values, they have gone into decline.”
Such an unbiased study is an encouraging reminder of why we fight and why we must continue to do so. It reminds us that those doctrinal distinctions are not only important for the theological warfare launched through social media but actually play out in the life and health of a congregation. The arguments forwarded by The Book of Concord and Pieper’s Dogmatics or Paulson’s Lutheran Theology ought to be wrestled with for unless we keep them closed up in our studies and hidden from view they will have an impact upon the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We don’t just fight to be right, not just to climb to the top of the mountain and prove to everyone else that we are victorious. We don’t fight for self-vindication and moral superiority. We fight for each other. We fight for the truth but not the truth in and of itself. We fight because the truth is what our neighbor needs. Whether they are locked in depression and grief, whether they are boastful and arrogant, whether they are confused and afraid, whether they are hopeful and energetic, they need the truth—not the truth according to this age, not the truth that fits their mold or supports their agenda, but the Truth that calls them out of the darkness into the marvelous light.
Last Sunday, after lunch, I skipped my usual afternoon, post-preaching nap, got in the car, and drove up to a small-town hospital north of here. I went to visit a dying saint. I found her in the hospital bed with her eyes closed. In fact, she never opened her eyes while I was there. But as I began to read Psalms to her, she began to respond. In a shallow voice, she prayed the Lord’s Prayer with me and recited the Creed. She eagerly responded in the affirmative when I spoke about our Lord’s promise given to her so many years before in the waters of Baptism. She heard me boast about her salvation and even had the hint of a smile when she received the benediction and I told her I would see her again, if not in this age then in the new heavens and new earth.
Early Monday morning I received the phone call from her daughter telling me that she had died. I told her about my visit, about the sure promises of God, about a confession of faith far beyond what the eyes can see. And as I hung up the phone I was reminded why we fight for the truth, why it matters and just what is at stake.
We fight so that we might always speak the truth in love, so that the proud might be convicted and the broken bound up, and so that eternal life might be proclaimed to those who believe.