What is the timetable? When does that begin? When does it end. I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t know. I don’t really care. I have seen the straw man presented that it only took one year for men to sit down and craft the Formula of Concord. But that was one year after many years of problems. The problems did not even really begin with Luther’s death. They began with Carlstadt in 1521. And they began with Zwingli in the mid-1520’s. And they began with the death of Luther in 1546. And they began with the Interims in the following years. And they began with… They had been going on for many years. And there was no guarantee that the “one-year sit down” for the Formula would be the final solution. To claim that the solution must be found by XX or we walk is to take a very short-sighted view of church history. Arianism was resolved in the one conference in 380-381 AD. But, of course, it had been condemned 55 years earlier in 325. That should have been the end of it. But between the two councils, nearly every regional council went for the Arians. And after 381, although Arianism was no longer a “threat” to the core bishoprics, it was all the rage among the Germanic tribes for hundreds of years more. There is an Arian baptistery in Ravenna dating from the sixth century AD.
Is the church going somewhere? Do we have some sort of time limit by which all error and sin must be purged or we lose our Christological character? Not to say we are lazy or complacent with false teachers – and I think the LCMS needs to work on this very issue. But to say, “Give me a timetable for unity” is to say, “Augustana V needs to conform to my schedule”. Rather, should we not seek to restore our brother in a spirit of gentleness? Should we not, like our Lord, ask for one more season? If there is a process in place to discuss and possibly resolve these differences, should we abstain from, or criticize the process solely because they have not taken this or that resolution regarding false teaching, presented it to our opponents, and said, “Will you recant?”
Has that ever worked? The Wyoming District has passed a number of resolutions which explicitly reject the position of the synod itself. Yet we can not expect that a one time “do you agree or disagree, and that will mark you as either in or out of our fellowship?” to accomplish the changes we seek, or bear the fruit of the unity of doctrine and practice that we desire.
At the joint conference we approached our brother pastors as equals. That is as it should be. Those not willing to do that will find this project not very much to their liking. This is not a “shooting gallery” for false doctrine. It is a deliberative theological conversation. There is a goal. There is a path to unity. But it requires patience, hard work, and bearing with our brothers and sisters in love. There is no “agree or leave by” date. There is no specific mechanism for removing or being removed in this process. Because it is not a process for doing that. But it is also not (at least not so far) a process of dialogue-as-excuse-for-indefinite-false-doctrine. It is the opposite. It is an attempt to unify our doctrine and practice around Scripture and the confessions of the church.
That takes time, and it takes respect for those with whom we disagree. To be very clear, and incredibly redundant, that does not mean that we compromise what we believe. But we must acknowledge that those who disagree are still brothers. They are still in ministry in our beloved synod. And that is worth some blood, sweat, and tears on everyone’s part to save.