Imagine you have a pretty daughter who comes home one day and tells you that a boy has asked her out on a date. She wasn't sure if you'd grant your permission, so she has asked him to stop by the house for you to size him up. So the bell rings. You turn the knob. And upon opening the door, you see that he looks like this:
Then, after this guy leaves to go read Flex Magazine at a 3rd grade level, your daughter asks, "so what do you think? May I go out with him?" And because she has not established a relationship with The Abomination, because her pride and identity and heart and future are not bound up in a union with MC Deltoids, then you can answer as honestly as possible. You can say, "No, my darling. That guy is the worst human being in the history of the world. His name should be Broseph Stalin. Even Jon Gosselin thinks that guy is a jack wagon."
So imagine that. Then imagine that you ignore her initial request and, a few years later, your daughter brings the same guy home and says, "Hey dad. Electrolysisized Vinnie Barbarino and I just got married and I'm carrying his child. So what do you think of him?"
Well, all of a sudden, you can't answer so honestly, can you? Even though he's still 180 proof moron with spray tanned abs that make the angels weep tears of sorrow, because your daughter is now one flesh with him and carrying his very offspring in her womb, you can't answer as truthfully as possible because you don't want to condemn her for what she's now become.
The point here is that the earlier we discuss things, the less we need to worry about defending ourselves and the more success we have in beginning an honest conversation with each other. But the longer we wait, the more our own hearts and egos get in the way of true discourse.
So when it comes to issues of controversy in the church, particularly worship practices, I think this is where we run into so many problems. Instead of addressing the issue when he's standing at the door for the first time, we wait until our daughter is his legally wedded, baby bump sporting guidette before we begin talking. Instead of pastors and congregations waiting to implement new and novel practices until they've had a collective discussion about them, they dive right in, establishing themselves on the foundation of these very practices and then put themselves in the position where either they need to accept the word of condemnation for having embraced these things or their opponents need to accept that same word for having opposed them.
So, on the one hand, it becomes frustrating for people on my side of the aisle when we are essentially told, "hey, what do you think about importing "Lutheranized" Pentecostal forms of worship into the Divine Service and having ladies read the lessons and distribute the Lord's Supper and reducing the requirements of admission to the Sacrament to four very vague points of belief and preaching sermon series on the seven hidden principles of effective Christian living and, oh, by the way, I'm already doing all these things so remember that I'll take it personally if you oppose them." And yet, I also understand how it's frustrating for those on the other side of the aisle when they're essentially told, "hey, you know that girl you've been hitched to for 30 years, the one who has raised up an entire generation of Lutheran pastors and laymen and cultivated for them everything they know about Christian piety? Yeah, you totally shouldn't be married to her."
So there's your problem. How can we ever objectively determine whether or not we can go on a date with the woman if half of us are already married to her?
But in an effort to avoid falling into my typical bad habit of pointing out a problem without offering a solution, let me toss out a suggestion. With the LCMS' renewed emphasis on discussing controverted issues in mind, permit me to theorize a way in which we might wade out of the muddy waters that seem to have immobilized us for the moment. So here we go:
However we choose to sit down at talk about our disunity, in whatever way we address our conflicts and differences, we treat these "new" practices as though we're talking about going on a first date, as though none of us have already embraced them and married ourselves to them or rejected them and condemned all who support them. If they can survive the purifying heat that is the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, then great! Problem solved. And if they can't, then let us allow the Word of Absolution to do what it does and treat the sin of our brother as if it never took place.
So, again, discuss the practice and not the practitioners. Treat the controversies as though we're all meeting them for the first time. No one is allowed to accuse anyone of heresy and no one is allowed to force an accusation of heresy. No one is allowed to ask, "why does your congregation do this?" And no one is allowed to say, "but that's what my congregation does." Anyone who cannot abide by these rules (and it will be many) may not participate in the discussion. Seriously, kick them out of the room. Let them go to Cracker Barrel and order the Country Fried Breakfast or something. Then discuss this stuff. Get into it. Pour over every page of the Scriptures and Confessions. Learn everything about these controversies that there is to learn--where they came from, what they mean and how they ended up on our doorstep. And, most importantly, learn whether or not the guy standing on your doorstep should have any business taking your daughter to Medieval Times, even if the two of them already have a framed marriage license and seven kids running around their house in Jersey.
My name is Pastor Hans Fiene. Thanks for reading.
P.S. The last paragraph includes a picture of Don Ameche to remind us that there are very nice, respectable Italians in this world who would make wonderful husbands to our daughters. Granted, Don Ameche is dead. But, you know, whatever.