Conversations about our Faith
August 2008 Pastor's Newsletter Article This past June, I had the opportunity to sit at the feet of Dr. Winston Persaud, Professor of Systematic Theology at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Dr. Persaud's lectures were presented under the theme: "Witness and Hospitality in the name of Jesus Christ in a World of Diversity."
He argued that believers best come to understand what they believe when they are in dialog with those whose beliefs are different from theirs. It is when we are put in the position of having to articulate our faith, and make it understandable (if not compelling) to others, that we discover what we truly believe.
Dr. Persaud was a member of the study group that developed a document entitled "The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" - a position statement approved by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999. At the beginning of that process, there appeared to be quite a difference between how we Lutherans and our Roman Catholic friends spoke about salvation. But as members of the study group worked together, they came to discover that there was much on which we could agree. Their final document has been a helpful beginning, in building a bridge between our two groups; a helpful beginning also, in developing our own self-understanding as Lutherans.
I've never been involved in a process as intense and as highly visible as that one. But I remember the first time I was asked to teach Sunday School to elementary school aged children. On my first day, I headed into the classroom terrified. What would I say to these young people? What did I have to offer them? I wasn't even sure I knew what I, myself, believed! But in the process of studying the Bible, and preparing to interpret it with a group of rambunctious fifth grade boys, I came to understand my own faith much better. I came to understand the stories appointed to us in new and helpful ways. As I entered into conversation with them, I found the opportunity to think through what I believed, and I continue to be grateful for that opportunity. (As a matter of fact, I commend it to you: if you think you don't know as much as you should about the Bible, volunteer to teach a class of 5th grade boys. I'll guarantee that you will learn more than you might imagine!)
There is great benefit to talking about our faith, our God, and our Scriptures with those who may understand them differently than we do, or with those who embrace a different set of scriptures and beliefs than ours. If we join these conversations in a respectful manner, hoping to better understand our conversation partner, we discover that along the way we come to better understand ourselves, and what we believe.
So have a conversation or two about your faith with someone who is not a Christian, or with a Christian who is not a Lutheran. Your testimony might end up being a blessing to that person. But whether or not it is, the conversation may well serve to strengthen your faith, and deepen your understanding of what a gift it is to live in the grace of God that we know through Jesus Christ.
God's peace to you all,
David J. Risendal, Pastor