In times of controversy or false teaching, the church is called to confess. But that confessing is not always the straight line we would like to think it is. And oftentimes, those things which we may assume are confessions are really a part of a long-term conversation leading to a confession. Similarly, those things which we may assume are just a part of a conversation, become in time a statement of confession.
As an example, the fight in the early church over the second person of the Trinity took hundreds of yeas to finally settle. This, despite a rather early-in-the-controversy creedal statement at the council of Nicaea. But that creedal statement is not the Nicene Creed. It was certainly part of the long term conversation that led to the creed we use today. But the Nicene Creed would more properly be termed “The Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed with the Toledo emendation.”
Conversely, I have seen no evidence that the princes at Ausgburg understood themselves to be writing the Magna Carta of the Evangelical Catholic Church (Heh-heh). They wanted a church council to be called to discuss the disputed points. That is, they wanted a dialogue, based on holy scripture. Had they been given the chance to have that discussion, they assumed that their confession would have been approved. And if that had happened, it would likely not be so much Magna Carta, as another teaching tool to clarify. Instead, it was rejected out of hand in the confutation. This gave the church Melanchthon’s beautiful 65 page treatment of Justification in the Apology.
Luther likely had no idea of the confessional status his catechisms would achieve. They were just one more attempt to explain the faith. They weren’t even Luther’s first attempt, nor his last. There were different editions, with different things included. And yet the church without them would be much the poorer.
The Formula of Concord was not the first attempt at unity after Luther’s death. It was the culmination of years of efforts. Had it failed, perhaps the final documents in the Book of Concord would be called the “Magdeburg Theses” or the “Saxon Accords” or some other title that would have been given to the next round of discussions.
And yet, God in His wisdom chose the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed with the Toledo emendation. He used the Augustana and it’s Apology, the Catechisms of Luther, the Formula, etc. Many other “confessions” over the years have fallen by the wayside.
We need to be careful that we do not assume that every word we write is the final statement on the issue that will ever be needed. We don’t know what will become just another part of the important ongoing conversations, and what will be long-lasting and definitive confession.
Today, the issue is not the second person of the Trinity, or justification, or the Sacrament. Each communion has their own teaching on these things. And although we are right (oh, come on, if I didn’t believe that, what sort of Lutheran pastor would I be?) and although there is significant disagreement, the differing churches have pretty much contended themselves each with their own understanding.
The issue today, and it cuts across all churches as well as the broader culture, is the nature of humanity. What does it finally mean to be human? Are male and female a part of that definition, and if so, how? Now, the answers may seem pretty simple to us: boys is boys, and girls is girls. But what does it mean to be a boy or a girl? What is the appropriate role for a man or a woman in society, in the church, as they relate to each other in the family as husband and wife?
This will not be easily solved. Just like many of the other controversies in the church, it will be an extended conversation. It may take several generations. That’s ok, the church isn’t going anywhere. But part of that conversation is the back and forth wrestling with the precise language and understanding of roles of men and women.
To that end, Concordia Publishing House has offered a bit of that conversation in a new book, Ladielike: Living Biblically. Thanks to the authors for making the effort, and to CPH for publishing an important bit of the conversation.
Also as a part of that conversation, a few of the Sisters of Katie Luther have responded. They have offered a critique of the book that looks at the good and the less good. It’s an important response. We need these conversations in the church. One book written by sinful humans won’t solve the problems we face today, any more than a single book solved the problems during the reformation or the Arian controversy. But that doesn’t mean that the book is unimportant. And a review that points to areas that could be clearer or better is a good thing as well.
So kudos CPH. Kudos Sisters of Katie Luther. Let’s all keep up the good work, the important conversation, and the hard work of figuring out who we are based on the Word of God. The church will be the stronger for it.