I've been following an interesting discussion thread on myspace, of all places, that was set up to be a discussion betweeen members of Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod as to our differences and similarities. There was no doubt that this discussion would descend into an argument about who is right, especially in terms of inerrancy of Scripture and right adherence to the Lutheran confessions. It quickly became a "the ELCA is too liberal" vs. "the LCMS is too conservative and close-minded" argument. I decided to toss in my two cents. (Probably not the smartest move, but I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut sometimes, especially when Christians are mean to each other under the guise of "Christian love.")
A few thoughts:
First of all, in terms of the "inerrancy of Scripture" debate. I appreciate both sides of it and know that the issue is quite important in the faith formation of either side of the debate. I wonder, though, if it might not be time to stop trying to convert each other and instead talk about the central tenets of our collective faith that bind us together no matter what our view of Scripture.
That being said, I take pride in my Lutheranism, and while I agree with whomever posted earlier about the fact that Christianity itself is bigger and more important than our own individual denominations, I feel a special affinity to Lutheranism because of what I believe to be the core focus of our beliefs: That we are justified by grace, through faith, and redeemed from our sinful and broken existence through Christ's life, death, and resurrection. We are dead to the Law, which only condemns us, but alive in the Gospel of Christ's saving work on the cross and God's free gift of grace.
I suppose that my question, then, is if we as Lutherans can agree on that statement of faith (and this is assuming that we can agree on it), then why are we so concerned about whether or not we do the the sacraments or do Scripture interpretation "correctly"? I'm not saying this to be cheeky or disrespectful, you have to understand that. I just get really frustrated when we begin to argue about the specifics of the way we "do" Christianity as if that were what saved us.
Perhaps I also feel that it is ironic that we, as Lutherans, are having this sort of problem. I was taught in my Lutheran formation is that works do not save us, faith does. Or more specifically, our works do not save us, Christ does. If that is true (which I truly hope it is!), then arguing as to whether or not the ELCA or LCMS is "doing it right" seems counter our Lutheran heritage. Didn't Martin Luther want to change a church system that, during his time, made salvation a matter of "doing" church and faith correctly?
If the conversation between ELCA and LCMS Lutherans continues to be a conversation about whether or not the other is "doing" Lutheranism correctly - in terms of the act of Scripture interpretation, or the act of interpreting the Confessions, or in terms of doing the Sacraments - then aren't we missing the point? It's not what we do that saves us, and by no means does "getting it right" save us (because, seriously, our sinfulness means that we will NEVER get it right).
We are saved by our faith in Christ.
It's fun to debate the peripherals. But isn't it possible for us to at least nod in agreement to that central claim about ourselves both as Lutherans and as Christians?