Last year one of our 8th grade confirmands requested that a class be offered about the Holy Trinity. Well, this was a request that we pastors answered with excitement! How many fourteen year olds are genuinely asking questions about the triune nature of God? As I prepared to teach the class, I noticed that one of my messages is that the doctrine of the Trinity may or may not be helpful to you. I also noticed that I am not terribly interested in ‘defending’ this doctrine as though it is the only way to describe and experience God. Personally, I find it helpful and I taught in such a way that shared the Church’s experience of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But the goal of the class was not to have 15 young people robotically leaving the classroom regurgitating the Nicene Creed. Why not? What is the goal of Christian education nowadays if not to explain truths we all are supposed to share? At one point, a young woman in my class asked, “Is there anything Lutherans can disagree with about faith that gets them kicked out?” To be clear to anyone reading this, yes there are extreme things one could believe and/or do that would suspend a person’s access to Holy Communion or get them forced to leave our membership. But what she was asking was this: do Lutherans all have to agree on church doctrines like the Trinity that feel really complicated?... or controversial? She was echoing Pilate’s response to Jesus in John 18 when he asked, “What is truth?”
For the last couple of generations, the nature of Truth has been under close examination. I’m reading a book by David Lose called Preaching at the Crossroads: How the World—and our Preaching—is Changing. In it, Lose, (pronounced like it rhymes with ‘dose’) explains the difference between the world that was and the world that now is. People used to believe there was an ultimate truth that could be sufficiently claimed, described and known. “Knowledge is power” was a motto of this age. If we think hard enough, and if we are clever enough, we can fully know Truth. The aforementioned doctrine of the Trinity, for example, was used by the Church for a very long time to describe the Truth of God’s divine nature. Now, though, it is much more common for people to deny that any Truth is fully available to us. It’s not that the world no longer believes in truth. It’s that people don’t believe any Truth is beyond critique. It used to go like this: name foundational truths upon which all other ideas are built. But so many of those foundations have crumbled like the superiority of one race, gender or religious tradition. Many question the wisdom of ever holding too tight to any ‘foundational Truth’. As Lose says, “architects in the San Francisco Bay area have discovered that buildings with more flexible foundations are more likely to survive seismic tremors.” The idea of flexible foundations seems to appeal to many in our world today. Living with more flexibility would allow for future adaptation without completely losing everything from the past. Another great example Lose invokes is how mathematicians function. They “are not paralyzed until their axioms are proven eternally valid; rather they act as if they are true and build their various theorems, pausing to reconsider their work only at those points where their assumptions are called into question by emerging data.” This willingness to allow assumptions to be challenged produces stronger theorems and gets mathematicians closer to Math Truth, if you will.
What if the Church acted like this? What if we admitted that Truth is not about ‘proof’ as much as it is about ‘confession’? Go back to what Jesus says to Pilate in John 18, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Jesus does not prove truth with arguments. He testifies to it with actions and claims, inviting others to experience the Truth—that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
This month, First Lutheran members are asked to participate in a cottage meeting where the five year Strategic Plan will be presented. The Plan does not seek to tinker with any of our doctrines or long-held beliefs. But it does invite our members out of the world that was and into the world that is and will be. Being a ‘member’ of a Church used to mean you certainly believed agreed-upon communal truths otherwise known as doctrines. That understanding of membership allowed people to be quite passive as their inclusion was based on the proper thoughts and beliefs. But that’s not what membership of a Church means any more. I know for certain that many people disagree with me about all kinds of things: from how Creation occurred to what happens to our bodies after we die to the depth of God’s grace amidst our Sin. With thousands of ‘members’ genuine disagreements are inevitable and I am not pompous enough to think I am right about everything! Basing church membership on aligning every belief with the statements of a denomination or a Pastor is passing away. Instead, our Strategic Plan grounds membership in faithful confession which asks much more of you than doctrinal agreement did. To confess faithfully, you’ll need to grow your spiritual life, which includes using your intellect to know God more, using your relationships to experience God more, staying emotionally, physically and financially well so that there aren’t huge worldly obstacles as you seek to confess. To offer the world a faithful confession you will need to become more familiar with your own story in light of God’s story. Being a Christian in this new century is less and less about having your membership at a certain Church. It is more and more about living a life in Christ, recognizing how God is transforming that life and living into God’s new creation. Our strategic plan opens up all kinds of opportunities for you to develop your gifts, share experiences with small groups, and learn more about how God’s story connects with your story. Please, prayerfully consider how you are being called to craft your confession to the Way, the Truth and the Life. Come to a cottage meeting to hear how you may connect to an action team (there are many) or other ministry. And pray to be continually transformed that your confession may transform others.