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Discernment is a tough business. . .

19July2011

It’s a difficult time in the church.  People have to become informed of what is at stake for them and the church and they have to make decisions.  Questions are asked and answered.  Issues are examined under the lens of scripture, the scrutiny of tradition, the history of orthodoxy. It is a messy business that many of us would rather just gloss over, “Let’s get on with life, we’re tired of all of this and we simply want to move forward,” we might say.  But we cannot really move forward until we have examined, turned over, gazed at, pondered, and concluded where we stand.

There is so much change going on all around us, sometimes it seems we stand for everything and yet stand for nothing at the same time. As leaders in the church we have a heavy burden, a responsibility to teach the faith using the tools that have been given to us by our forebears in the faith.  I’m not talking about a cursory glance either, I’m suggesting a commitment to a deeper understanding of what these documents, historical diets, and defining moments have meant and still mean to us today.  I would start with memorizing the Small Catechism, that little booklet that few of us probably even remember from our 7th and 8th grade instruction.  If you memorize it, it becomes a part of you!

In the midst of conflict, and be sure that we are in the midst of conflict in the mainline churches, we have a great opportunity to dig deeper, to define ourselves and our position.  Not all of the Reformers agreed with Luther, Melanchthon didn’t always agree with Luther.  The next generation after ML had an even more difficult task as they divided up into two main camps to hash out what Luther “really meant” as Team Philippist and Team Gnesio-Lutheran.  Point being that they did sit down and hash it out.  The result was the Formula of Concord.  They put on the table that which they agreed upon and then they tackled the issues/doctrines/tenets of the faith where they had differences of viewpoint or opinion.

How much of that kind of dialogue is actually going on today?  Are we heading to our corners and forgetting to engage with one another in this discernment process we call faith?  Are we shutting our ears and eyes and hearts and insisting on our own way?  The call of faith is to risk- risk relationships, status, “right” thinking, community comfort and more in order to make informed decisions about what is before us.  There are many topics to cover:  the name of God, inclusive language, using other religion’s sacred texts in worship, universalism, sin/repentance/forgiveness, biblical interpretation and so much more.  Where do we stand?  Do we even know?  As pastors how do we lead?  How do we help the faithful become informed of all sides of an issue and how intertwined it might be with other issues?

Spiritual discernment is a difficult business.  It takes time, energy, effort and a commitment to discovering what God might be up to.  Each and every Christian has to do the hard work of discernment; each and every congregation has to do the tough job of testing the spirits. . . but in the final outcome we will become more faithful, stronger, and more differentiated.  We will actually be able to articulate what we believe.  Isn’t that worth the effort?

acl@CCD

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