Why spend the time interpreting the PMW?

This question has been asked on LutherQuest. It deserves an answer, since it is rather evident that I spent some time on the interpretation, particularly on the longer, original explanation.

It has aptly been pointed out that some parts of my interpretation don’t hold water very well. That’s because the parts of the PMW that I am explaining are somewhat deficient in their expression, in my opinion. Still, I sometimes read a poorly-worded sentence in the newspaper or elsewhere from time to time, and though I may mock it, I can usually understand the intent. Thus, my interpretation is not a defense of the PMW per se, but an explanation of the understanding under which I can tolerate the PMW, for the moment.
Yet I would prefer not to tolerate the PMW at all. Preferably, the ELS should withdraw its adoption of it until it can be fixed in a way that is permanently acceptable to more than a majority of the synod.

So why would I be willing to tolerate the PMW, in spite of my opinion about it? I can think of several reasons that I could mention, but only one stands out above the rest. By stating my explanation clearly, and defending it in the longer document, I can offer an understanding of the PMW that is more clear and precise than the PMW itself. My explanation may not synchronize perfectly with the PMW, but I do not assume that the PMW is perfectly clear to begin with. When someone reads my explanation, I hope, and dare to think, that he knows exactly what I mean by it.

The result, then, is that we have a tool to which others may react and respond. I hope that representatives from all “sides” of this debate can respond to this interpretation. They should be able to say whether they agree that it is a reasonable interpretation, and they should be able to say whether they agree with the doctrine.

If some say that these points of interpretation are generally reasonable, but others say they are flat wrong, then we have incontrovertible proof that the PMW is not clear enough for prime time. If everyone says they are wrong, but in different ways, then we have a strong indication of the same problem. If some say the doctrine behind these points is right, and others say it is wrong, then we have strong evidence that we need to have more synod-wide exegesis and hermeneutical study on this doctrine, before we are ready to express it in a doctrinal statement. If everyone says the doctrine is correct, then it shows that we should be able to express that doctrine better than we have it expressed in the PMW. If someone is unwilling to say anything, then he is probably trying to pull something sneaky. My interpretation is not a trick question.

Meanwhile, these points of interpretation make clear the understanding of the PMW with which I am able to tolerate its adoption, for the present. If I were asked to accept the PMW with an understanding substantially different from the one I have described, then I would have to insist upon its immediate withdrawal as a synodical doctrinal statement.

The chief deficiency of the PMW is shown in the fact that people have been understanding it several different ways. Perhaps it expresses itself accurately, but is too complex. One contributing fault is that it does not limit itself to expressing doctrine. Instead, it also describes a usage of vocabulary and local, contemporary customs such that these things cannot easily be distinguished from one another. A doctrinal statement should use well-defined vocabulary, but the vocabulary definition should be separated from the doctrine, because the meaning and use of words change over time and space, while the doctrine does not. A doctrinal statement might touch upon application to local customs and the contemporary context, but the distinction should remain obvious, so that the borderline between adiaphora and things commanded is well-marked.

I am sure that the PCM tried to formulate the PMW this way, but that does not mean they succeeded, or that the PMW was ready for adoption. In fact, it wasn’t. In a way, my interpretation of the PMW is an attempt to take the next step toward finishing the PCM statement, a step that has been hampered by the statement’s adoption. Rather than defending the PMW, one could accurately say it is a criticism of the PMW, but I prefer to call it simply an interpretation.

2 thoughts on “Why spend the time interpreting the PMW?

  1. I am an ELS layman upset with the pastors of our synod for creating such a mess. I comment on these issues in my blog

    I will get back to you with my address. Thought I had it locked in.

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