Sorry for the long and uncreative title. What can I say? I’m German.
Reading the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, I came across this passage: “Regarding these matters, we have thoroughly and clearly told one another the following: a distinction should and must by all means be kept between (a) unnecessary and useless wrangling (the Church should not allow itself to be disturbed by this, since it destroys more than it builds up) and (b) when the kind of controversy arises that involves the articles of faith or the chief points of Christian doctrine. Then the false, opposite doctrine must be reproved for the defense of the truth.”
Oh, how helpful such a distinction would be in our Church Body today. For it often seems like for us Confessional guys everything is a threat to the genuine articles of Faith, and for the non-Confessional types, nothing is a threat to true Christian doctrine. Surely there are some controversies in our church body that could be categorized as “unnecessary and useless wrangling” which we ought not concern ourselves with. But there are just as surely some controversies that do pose a real threat to the essential articles of Faith.
Perhaps it would help if we could identify those controversies in our Church that are truly “useless wrangling” and set them aside so that we can focus on those things which are clearly contrary to the articles of Christian doctrine as laid down in the Augsburg Confession and other Confessional writings. Maybe we would get somewhere with doctrinal discussions then. Maybe this is what the ACELC is attempting to do by drawing up a list of the controversies in our Church and addressing them from a doctrinal standpoint. If so, then perhaps this is something all of us should support.
If we cannot make this distinction, then everything becomes clouded by emotion and pride. With regard to our worship controversies, what could be categorized as “unnecessary wrangling” and what could be categorized as that which involves the articles of Faith or the chief points of Christian doctrine? What if we could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that some worship practices that have come into use among us are contrary to the articles of Faith? Then they could be clearly reproved by all. But then we also must be willing to accept what might be considered “sub-standard” worship practices but are not necessarily contrary to Christian doctrine. Just thinking out loud here guys. Don’t tar and feather me yet!
Is it merely useless wrangling, for example, to criticize our brother pastors who mix consecrated hosts and wine with unconsecrated? I would say, absolutely not, but that this involves the articles of Faith. For, it is an article of Faith to teach that the true body and blood are present in the Sacrament. Doubt is introduced by such irresponsible practice. Now, it might be “useless wrangling” to argue that the Sacrament ceases to be the Sacrament at this, that, or the other point. Or, we might consider it to be “unnecessary wrangling” to argue about the use of tabernacles, so long as those who use them are not using the Sacrament for unbiblical purposes (like carrying it in a parade) but are actually reserving the Sacrament for use with the sick and shut-in.
It would, in my opinion, be considered useless wrangling to argue about how one should hold his or her hands in the Divine Service. And, to be honest, I hear more about this from those who are annoyed by the pastors who instruct their acolytes and other assistants to hold them palm to palm than I actually do from those who actually practice this. Who is making the issue out of it? Not the ones who are doing it, but the ones who are annoyed with it! “Unnecessary wrangling?” You make the call.
Here’s one that involves a chief article of Faith (AC XIV): lay involvement in the Divine Service (lay preachers and celebrants, and possibly readers). “It is taught among us that no one should publicly preach in the church or administer the sacraments without a regular Call.” Seems pretty clear to me. I don’t think it is useless wrangling to argue about these widespread practices, as well as the entire doctrine of the Call. How we understand the role of lay-professional church workers has got to be addressed. We have been teaching falsely on this for decades now. This is a biggee in my opinion, and we need Concord on it.
I just think it would be helpful if we could categorize some of our controversies under one or the other. If it’s truly “unnecessary wrangling” then we should not allow ourselves to be disturbed by it, as the Confessions say. It destroys more than it builds up. But on those things which truly threaten Christian Doctrine, then let’s identify them, reprove them, root them out, and move forward with proper teaching and practice.