Rectification of Names

I understand that it can be tedious.  But somewhere between High School and my ordination I became a big fan of Confucius. Why you might ask.  Seems odd for a Lutheran Pastor. The biggest reason was his answer to the question: If you were made Emperor, what would be the first thing you would do?  Confucius’ answer was: the rectification of names.  What did he mean by that? All words being used would be clearly defined before they could be used.  In a united and functioning society nobody thinks about this because they all roughly share the same definition. Even in an early stage Weimar Republic people share enough definitions to communicate.  But then you get to the stage where people start electing Nazis to fix it.  Different groups have their own dictionaries.  Smart people learn to “code switch” knowing which dictionary to use by which group they are in. Which of course penalizes the less verbally adaptable.  And you find yourself in hot water because the dictionary changed overnight and you didn’t get the update.  Ancient China in the time of Confucius was at that point. And instead of electing Nazis to kill everyone not using the correct dictionary, Confucius thought there was a better way – the rectification of names.  Call things what they are with clear definitions first for to the good of everybody.

The second generation of the Lutheran Reformers – names like Chemnitz, Andrea and Chytraeus who you probably haven’t heard about – were good Confucians. Not only did you have a Roman Catholic dictionary and a basic Lutheran dictionary, you started to have Calvinist Dictionaries, and Radical Reformer dictionaries, and more important for them intra-Lutheran splits.  Their answer is something called the Formula of Concord.  The Formula is the last confessional work that all Lutheran pastors subscribe to as part of the Book of Concord.  It is the last binding dogmatic work of the Lutheran Church.  And it is almost completely a work of Rectification of Names.

Every place where Lutherans were fighting Lutherans would have its own article to address the argument.  The first part of every article is “The Status of the Controversy” which was a paragraph that defined words used and captured the basic argument between all sides engaged.  The Concordists would not allow disagreement to fester through the use of squishy terms that meant different things to different people.  Nor would they allow any group to not recognize their position.  After everyone agreed upon terms and what the argument was, they addressed the argument in two ways.  First, they made affirmative statements.  One of the famous Lutheran phrases comes from these, “We believe, teach and confess…”.  They set forward on the basis of scripture and plain reason what the doctrinal teaching of the church should be in regards to the controversy.  This usually took a few steps to really address it, but the point was concord – a true peace between people arguing, an agreement on truth.  After they affirmed what the true teaching should be, they condemned various false teachings in the air (“We reject and condemn…”).

How do we find ourselves in Weimar?  We allow people to change definitions and use private dictionaries. Instead of positively putting forward in the best way possible what we believe, teach and confess, we rely on tribal markers to sort good guys and bad guys.  (Oh, you aren’t using my dictionary, you go on the bad guy list.) Our politicians and church-politicians today, instead of saying “I’m for X” all compete to say nothing, hoping that you read into whatever they do, say what you think, and so vote for them. And maybe more importantly we never clearly state what is out of bounds.  Why do we find ourselves here?  Because saying things like “deeds, not creeds” sounds like a warm fuzzy. And for a while you can coast off of previously shared understandings or at least known boundaries. Because Weimar, at least early Weimar, is profitable to the powerful who can surf the dictionaries and attempt to enforce theirs. Making everything a power game of who has the biggest megaphone helps the powerful.

None of that is the Way of Jesus Christ who said things like: “whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. (Lk. 12:3 ESV)” and “have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. (Matt. 10:26 ESV)”  and “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matt. 5:14 ESV)”  The way of Christ is the way of all hidden things being brought into the light.  The way of Jesus includes clear teaching, not the soft lights of Weimar to hide the things done in the darkness. 

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