My friends over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds are proposing an evangelical canon to be followed by pastors and congregations in the LCMS. Rather than get stuck in the midst of the 55 comments (and going) they have on the list, I will offer my observations here.
First and foremost, it is undeniable that our Lutheran forefathers found no contradiction between following an evangelical rule and order (a church order) and the Gospel. The claims that following such are legalistic misses the point that a church order is A) Voluntary and not prescribed; B) For the sake of the unity in the Gospel and C) Agreed upon in love and not coercion. If we claim that following a church order is against the Gospel or somehow fundamentally unLutheran, we run the risk of contradicting the Lutheran Confessions themselves, which repeatedly affirm how our forefathers in the faith held to such orders.
Having said that, I don’t see how a church order will help us in any substantive way today. For men of a common confession, such a church order is superfluous and just one more meeting, group or piece of paper. Thank you very much, I have boxes of such and have wasted countless days in such endeavors. Such a common Rule may be possible in a theoretical level, but I don’t see how it will meaningfully contribute to unity.
This is why I doubt it’s benefit. For those who are in agreement, it isn’t necessary. For those who aren’t in agreement, they will never have anything to do with it. So all the lines and camps and the like all remain the same. In fact, confessional Lutherans might end up dividing over things that at the end of the day simply aren’t that defining for us. Are we really ready to say that only those who use the Common Service as handed to us in TLH, LW (which is a dubious version of the Common Service anyway), and LSB are in the club? See Canon 12.
I will continue to look and follow with interest this line of thinking. But I’m not convinced that this will actually contribute to the unity of the Church. I fear it will only divide those who are in agreement all the more.