I sit here in a coffee shop on my day off taking care of some work that I am doing for the fun of it. This work includes, but is not limited to, working on the index for a forthcoming publication and doing some preparation, i.e., reading lots of stuff, for an article I am going to be writing this fall. One of those preparatory materials I am reading through is The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as edited by Kolb and Wengert.
This book is an old friend and foe of mine, I used to, and sometimes still, lovingly refer to it as the world’s most expensive door stop. But it is more than that, much more. It is a book that I have sworn to teach scripture in accordance with. It is the lens through which I read the sacred scriptures. It is full of stuff that, at least at one time, mattered quite a lot to quite a bit of people. And yet, despite my fidelity to it, it is an odd scene to carry it inside this coffee shop and plop it on the table. I wonder and worry someone might actually ask me about why this big blue book is taking up space at the community table. Because if they do, I’ll have to answer. And most likely I can’t just make some sarcastic comment about it like I could do back at the seminary.
There has been a lot of talk in my circle of friends, on Facebook and otherwise, about what it means to be a Lutheran. For some it is about checking the right boxes concerning doctrine. For others its grounded in a love of the sacraments and old school liturgical worship. Still, others have more reasons to love or hate the church into which I was born. Reasons that have to do with what is in this book I am carrying. Reasons that have to do with how they view science, sexuality, and a seemingly endless litany of things that align with politically conservative ideals.
But to me, what it means to be a Lutheran is simple. It is to be embraced by a heritage of promise. Promise that despite my correct theology I am still loved by God. Promise that even the good I do won’t keep me out of the kingdom. Promise. Promise. Promise.
It can never be that simple, not for humans. We want to be right because we want someone else to be wrong. We want to be correct and orthodox so that we can prove that she is a heretic. The only problem with that cannibalistic attitude is that the power to arbitrate theologically doesn’t actually belong to us so we should stop acting like it. A father in the faith and son of my church body said it best…
Neither pope nor council nor synodical convention can decide that its doctrinal statements are scriptural. Only the scriptural Word can decide that. – Robert W. Bertram