Sunday, March 8, 2009

Truth or Love?

Synod Theological Day
March 3, 2009 at Trinity, Pelican Rapids
Moral Conversation Process

Ephesians 4:11-16
"The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love."

“Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ….”

Truth and love: now which will it be?

In the Lutheran church of my youth—that would be the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church of my youth—folks actually put the question like that: which is more important, truth or love?

If memory serves, there were even church convention resolutions that took up that question, arguing for the supremacy of the one over the other….the truth team duking it out with the love squad….the vote tally, finally tipping the balance.

I’m not making that up.

Truth and love: which is most important?

There is only one answer to that question, I believe, and the answer is YES. The answer must be one that refuses to drive a wedge between those cardinal principles, those core values for Christian folk, truth and love.

Which will it be—truth or love? YES, yes, yes to both…don’t you dare think you can have or will have the one without the other. “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up,” pleads the apostle, refusing to pick one over the other.

In the church of Jesus Christ there is no room for truth that runs roughshod over love for real human beings….nor is there room for love of the “sloppy agape” variety that has no substance, no concreteness, no rootedness-in-truth to it.

Today, we gather to learn one way of speaking the truth in love. We gather with a view, obviously and specifically, toward the continuing conversation about human sexuality that we’ve been having for a long, long time as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Today we gather in the conviction that the apostle got it just right. We will take no votes about which should prevail—truth or love. We say yes to both, we commit ourselves to both, we will not pursue the one without the other.

Not that that will make everything all right or cause thorny issues to get simpler to puzzle out….far from it. In some respects, the easier path is to choose one over the other, truth over love….or love trumping truth. It’s harder, always harder, to hold the two together….

But that is what God, through the apostle, is calling us to do, linking that (by the way!) to our growth, our maturing in Christ.

I just wrote the last of an 11-part series of articles on Healthy Congregations. In his writing, Dr. Peter Steinke offers his own commentary on this text from Ephesians chapter 4. He speaks about the church as a human community, an emotional/relational family system….and he holds up two cardinal values: (1) Define yourself—take stands—speak with your own voice….
….but then Steinke adds: “and (2) stay connected with those who disagree.”

Sounds like another “take” on truth and love. Stand up and speak the truth….but not in such a way that you drive a wedge permanently between a brother or sister in Christ. Take stands….as you stay connected.

Our goal today is not to pull a rabbit out of a hat and give you a “magic bullet” for having consistently great, deep, satisfying conversations about vexing moral issues. Our goal is to equip you to do what the church needs to do in times like these.

As our culture seems to be divided, increasingly, by the extremes….enthralled by the cable TV news “talking heads” who represent the predictable blue/red, traditional/progressive, secular/religious polar opposites… that happens, we in the church have a marvelous opportunity presented to us—a chance to be and do something else.

This is our time, the right time, to provide an exceedingly rare thing in our contentious culture: a free and open space for people of goodwill to come together around neuralgic questions and vexing issues without hurting each other…..we are invited into that sacred space where people speak out of their hearts, but also speak to the hearts of others…refusing, steadfastly refusing to drive a wedge between the truth and the love that have met us in Jesus Christ.

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