The answering papers were, frankly, disappointing. Two papers amounted to little more than a protracted suggestion that we will struggle for answers the end of our life but never find any surety till after death. The third paper, in answer to my friend’s paper, was more helpful in that it clearly contrasted the Lutheran position over against the position we had espoused. But saying “that is not Lutheran” does not amount to the same thing as saying “that is not truth” unless one presupposes that Lutheran = Truth.
Ironically, this is the very assumption required in Lutheran ordination vows, and the assumption we were questioning. It was interesting to note that less than half of the Lutheran pastors at the forum (eighteen including the three of us) could agree with the Confessional Lutheran doctrines outlined by the third paper.
One more paper was distributed which simply attacked the option of personal conversion as a means of dealing with the catholic question. He said it lacked courage, integrity and reason. To be honest we couldn’t make head or tail of the logic of his paper. I later joked that he seemed to have simply gathered together a bunch of insults and plastered them to the option he didn’t want us to consider. Seriously though, his main points all seemed to be based on the assumption that we were considering becoming Catholics because we thought that Catholics were better at being Lutheran.
All in all it was a confused bunch of blokes what went to lunch at ‘half time’ that day. The three of us had been asking the questions for at least a year already, the others for much longer than I had, but only now had most of the others even begun to comprehend the questions, let alone wrestle with them. A significant minority made no attempt to engage the questions at all.
Some genuinely struggled to understand. Not a few successfully followed the arguments but could not accept the logic because of its inevitable end point. Once you ask these questions, they confided in hished voices, all roads lead to Rome! There was some hurt and even some barely concealed hostility but, on the whole, they were just a confused bunch faced with a question they could not answer. I was particularly stung by the behaviour of three of my seminary classmates who had been asked to sit in on the day. They deliberately and pointedly refused to greet me, discuss anything with me, or even stand in the same general space as me during the lunch break. I had spent six years studying and carousing with these men in seminary not so long ago, I was a groomsman for one of them! None of them have spoken more than two words to me since that day.
At lunch I was required to sit with a vice president and a retired professor of NT theology. They asked me gently but bluntly if there was any point in continuing the discussion. I replied that they needed to understand the issue because so many men are struggling with it, but that I was unlikely to change my mind given their best efforts had come to naught that day. When the vice president asked how, then, could they best ‘pastor’ me from this point on, I broke down and could not complete my reply. The pressure of living with the tension of these questions had drained me so much that once the floodgates opened it was all I could do to compose myself for the session after lunch. They gently promised to do their best to pastor me through the difficult days ahead. While I do not doubt their good intentions, I have not heard from nor seen that vice president since that day.
After lunch we heard some more debate, but every point simply reinforced the gap between the Lutheran position and ours. The only debate seemed to be between those who claimed this disagreement (with the Lutheran position) was no big deal, and the minority who held (somewhat uncomfortably) to the Lutheran position.
All in all the ‘summit’ simply confirmed the Lutheran doctrine floundered when faced with logical questions, and that only a few Lutheran pastors actually held to the ‘Lutheran’ position in any case.
I arranged to meet with the president and vice president on the following Tuesday.
Next: The Aftermath