Pastor Larry Peters of Clarksville TN wrote the following recently in his blog “Pastoral Meanderings.” There is a lot of truth in what he writes:
I recently heard an interesting defense and description of the manifold twists of this person’s church membership. According to this fellow, his faith is like a candy bar — not so much about the wrapper on the outside but more about the content in the middle. It’s no wonder folks warm up to such a statement. After all, it sounds so deep and it seems so true. Faith is not a matter of mere membership affiliation and membership affiliation is no mere matter of a name written on a list somewhere. We all get that. And it is true. Denominations are remarkably diverse and there are people who believe more like Lutherans than some Lutherans — you know what I mean. But is this all its cracked up to be?
The wrapper DOES count. When I want a Snickers, I want the content — nougat topped with caramel and peanuts, covered in milk chocolate. But the only way I am going to find that delicious nougat topped with caramel and peanuts all covered in milk chocolate is by looking for the Snickers wrapper. The wrapper tells us what is inside. The wrapper is the guarantor of consistency. I have never opened a Hershey bar only to find a Mr. Goodbar or a Mounds or a Salted Nut Roll. Nope, it has never happened. When I feel like toffee covered in milk chocolate, I go for a Heath Bar — I do not open wrapper after wrapper in search of my craving. The wrapper tells me where I will find it.
The truth is the wrapper counts. It counts more than we admit. With candy bars and with denominations. The Lutheran wrapper tells you what you should be able to find inside — a Lutheran faith sourced from Scripture, consistent with the catholic tradition, bound by the Confessions, framed by the Law and Gospel distinction, creedal, liturgical, sacramental, etc… Just like if you open up a Baptist wrapper you can bet the doctrine will be fundamentalist, oriented toward decision theology, and non-sacramental, non-liturgical, and non-creedal. In the Roman Catholic wrapper you will find a pope, a cardinal or two, a bishop or many, priests, and deacons. I am not trying to be definitive but to suggest that we count on wrappers to tell us what is inside. We do not open wrapper after wrapper in search of something — the wrapper guides us and tells us what we can expect to find therein. It is a good thing for candy but even better for churches. Nothing is more problematic that the kind of diversity which makes the wrapper a lie or deception.
So no, it is not more about the content than the wrapper. They are both important and should not compete. They ought to reflect a consistency that informs us and comforts us when it delivers what it promises. I do not like Mounds and I do not like Almond Joy. I really don’t want to open a Babe Ruth and find coconut. I really don’t want to open the doors to a Lutheran Church and find something different inside. Neither do you.
BTW that is why even Whitman’s Sampler and other boxes of chocolates have a diagram to tell you where to find what you want. Is there any one of us who has not selected a chocolate from one of those mixed boxes, thought and hoped we were getting one thing, and then bit down only to be disappointed? Some of us like to play the game of hide and seek. Some of us don’t. But you should not have to be surprised when you bite down on a church. The wrapper has a purpose — and a good and salutary one. The wrapper tells you what is on the inside.
Now. . . if only that were uniformly true people would not enter a Lutheran congregation only to leave disappointed because they did not find one there! The best ecumenism is to be who you are and then to let who you are be shaped by Scripture and tradition (best sense of that word). If every church strives for this, we would not have so many different wrappers and churches would not be sold for taste but for truth!