If you are sentient and live anywhere in the northern half of the western hemisphere, you have been told at some point to “question everything.” This postmodern goop that some think is a brilliant insight essentially argues for a lack of trust in authority and even knowledge itself. Kind of like with Apple’s “Think Different” slogan, the idea is that we are a generation with the right and the skills to re-think the wisdom of the ages. Or, at least, the wisdom of our parents. So, question everything! Apparently, it’s the spirit of the age.
And if spy movies have taught us anything, it’s that every car should have built-in heat-seeking misses. No, I meant to say that we should “trust no one.” How many times has the hero of the spy film been told exactly that: “And remember, trust no one.” Only the person dispensing that advice turns out to the be very person the hero should not have trusted! You sly devil, you! If only the hero had possessed the wisdom to apply your advice to to everyone in his world, he (or she, of course) could have saved himself a lot of anguish.
Both pieces of advice are good for social strategies that are doomed to fail and plot twists in the movies. But both will lead to a pretty stunted life if applied in reality. We live our lives assuming certain things to be the eternally true and good. And if we don’t trust anyone, we will miss out on a whole lot of joy, even if we are made vulnerable in the process. So what works well for a society and in the movies doesn’t work well for us long term.
There are some things we should answer in our hearts and minds and souls, and never question again. We all have intellectual, theological and philosophical bedrock. When we are convinced we have found it, we should build our house upon it, and stop assuming everything is up for debate. As Christians, that bedrock is the revelation of God, especially the Bible.
In terms of trust, well, it is sad that the Church often gives us good reasons not to trust our pastors and elders. Our spouses and business partners also give us reasons at times not to trust. But trust we must! We will all be given reasons not to trust those we know and institutions we love. But we must continue to take risks if we are to make a difference in this life. When we are burned, we need to allow the Spirit within us to grant forgiveness and forge ahead.
With all of that said, the Christian life is one of constant growth and discernment. And while we have the bedrock of scriptures – indeed because we have the bedrock of scriptures – we are always considering the winds of change in the Church in the light of God’s Word. In that sense, we are always questioning the trends, the popular teachers, and even the teachings of our own pastors in the light of the scriptures. And we are also then considering the institutions of which we are a part: our church bodies, our seminaries, our ecumenical agreements…again, in the light of the scriptures.
Not only is that okay to do, it is modeled by the Bereans in Acts 17 and encouraged by John in 1 John 4 when he writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” There is a line between being a nuisance and one who likes to engage in quarreling, and one who is rightfully always in a discernment mode to make sure his church and his own mind are right with God. Sometimes being on the right side of that line is hard.
But I write this to give you two examples of discernment I am doing, and I do so realizing the risks of my saying this. As a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (STS) and as a member congregation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), I think often about both groups in light of the biblical teaching. For the NALC, the question of the ordination of women is one that I believe merits more biblical attention than it has received. For the STS, I believe it needs to consider to what degree we seek reunion with Rome and on what grounds, and to what degree we can maintain fellowship across denominational lines given the Gospel issues at stake across Lutheranism.
If you listen to my radio show, you know I enjoy a good argument, and that quarreling should never get in the way of a good argument. So I’m not seeking untoward attention or trying to sow seeds of distrust. I’m just here trying to frame the parameters for how and why we do discernment and what its limits are. May you do the same discernment always, so we would draw ever closer to the revealed truths of the Word of God.