Is it the question or the answer?

by Randy Freund (WordAlone board member)

October 22, 2003

The question we ask can determine the answer we get. Pollsters and statisticians are keenly aware of how this can work. And while we recognize the potential for manipulative questions that are designed to produce desired results, questions matter.

Many of us remember the popular bumper sticker long ago, “Jesus is the answer.” That may be true for many life questions, but the question is as important as the answer. Similarly, we may remember the Nancy Reagan slogan years ago, “Just say no.” Again, though this is a good and right answer relating to the question of drug use, there are bigger and more complicated questions that require an answer bigger than a slogan.

So it is with the difficult matters of faith. We are always seeking answers. We were created with curiosity. This has been with us since the beginning. The simple, yet helpful, definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding,” gives credence to the importance of questions; of seeking; and of searching. In matters of faith and theology, we ought not to be satisfied with simple or easy questions or answers.

After all, the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is indifference.

Unfaithfulness creeps in when neither the hard questions are asked nor are the hard answers given. At the same time, it’s clear from the beginning that our seeking and questioning can be temptations toward idolatry. Obtaining “all knowledge and wisdom” to become like God was the original sin and is still the most tempting. So how do we find our way?

As a board member I continue to try to understand the questions (and the many and varied expectations) people have for the WordAlone movement. It occurs to me that the best things we can offer people associated with the movement—as well as congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) who are not—may be helpful questions, which can lead not only to truth and understanding, but also, to faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A big part of what lies behind the mission of the WordAlone movement has to do with the questions we frame. For instance ever since CCM (Called to Common Mission, a full-communion agreement with The Episcopal Church USA) passed, WordAlone has continued to ask: “How can a mandated human structure purported to safeguard the gospel through the office of bishop serve the freedom of the gospel?” Lutherans travel light when it comes to ecclesiology or structure.

When other issues come along, other questions need to be asked. When it comes to matters of homosexuality, for instance, one of the sure questions that must be raised will sound something like this: “Can human stories, experiences and feelings be the sole or even primary determiners of truth?” In all matters, human experience is important, but, again, we must ask: “How it is interpreted as-over-against the Word of God.” And as we think about worship matters, one must ask: “Do (human) forms and styles of worship have to take a particular order so as to assure that the Word and Sacraments reach the hearer?” Certainly words and content matter greatly, but when do human ceremonies and forms start to become equated with the gospel itself? The danger of this was expressed when one prominent liturgist once said to me, “A worship service without Eucharist is merely a program.”

The way one thinks about questions such as these forces one to face the real possibility of idolatry. For regardless of the issue, whenever human and finite things make a claim that is divine and infinite, the claim must be questioned.

It seems to me that this is one task the WordAlone Board should tend to. We are not attempting to provide “the” answer, but we are about the business of serving and being faithful to the gospel within a church that (in my mind) is in danger of losing its Christocentric focus.

So when it comes to questions seeking answers, some others come to mind. What is “a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6)? How do Paul’s words reflect our day: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)?

If WordAlone can continue to lift up the important questions (regardless of the issues), then it can serve an important role in leading us to the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life.