As with many teachings, the Lutheran teaching on Mutual Conversation and Consolation of the Brethren fits in with other teachings. The various teachings don’t stand alone, but they fit together as an organic whole.
Luther offered a great reason that this practice would be important. As he said, “No man can preach the Gospel to himself.”
I could offer some plausible philosophical ideas about why this is true. I even believe some of them. But I don’t believe this because I was argued into it. I believe it because of my experience with Mutual Conversation and Conversation of the Brethren. (Let’s call that MCCB from now on.)
Common to all these situations is that there are times when I have gotten too internal and have been bearing too much and God has started seeming distant. Some of these times I have been guilty of real sins. Other times I was not able to figure out whether my sins were grave or whether I was repentant or what-have-you. I was trying to figure it all out and do justice to it so I would have a more certain idea of my state. But the more soberly I weighed things, the worse things got. At its worst times, this didn’t just make me look bad to myself. Everyone looked bad. "How can people worship so happily when we're stuck in the midst of this?" I had become a prosecuting attorney. This had started out seeming like an exercise in seriousness. “Someday finally I’m going to really look at this carefully.” "Someday is today." But it was toxic. What I needed was a voice from the outside.
The voice took many forms. I mentioned the "Foolish Galatian" reading where I was the foolish Galatian. There was another where I was told I was being nit-picky like the Pharisees on my own sins. Another where I was told God saw me as "utterly righteous." Others where I was told God had forgiven Rick Ritchie's sins. (The advantage to becoming Lutheran was that the Lutherans were better at Gospel delivery. Evangelicals did this, but often just argued the lesser severity of your sins. Or how you passed the necessary preconditions. It helped, but not like the Gospel itself. Still, I am grateful for it.)
We can be in any number of states when we need to hear the Gospel. Our need may be desperate, where we have been a parched desert for months. Or it may just be momentary, but real. The Good Father knows that we are not good at doctoring ourselves. To be sure, we should remind ourselves of Gospel promises. And yes, despite Luther, doing so can be effective. But the genius of Luther is his ability to make a profound overstatement. When we fail at it, we realize that no man can preach the Gospel to himself. Not when it matters. He isn’t supposed to be alone. It is not good for the man to be alone. Two is the number of witness. If one witness is weak, the other may be strong. The MCCB is tied into that.
When our first parents fell, the race witnessed a tragedy. The couple had been divided against each other by their Satanic foe. They became accusers like the one they followed into sin. Redemption involves, in part, humanity stopping entering the accusatory role and taking the role of defender. Our worst aloneness can occur when we imagine that we are the only ones who can preach the Gospel to ourselves. Nobody else really understands. It takes special insight. They can't really see our inner state clearly. They're just saying it to be nice. Whatever. Redemption moves forward when we step in and plead each other’s reckoned righteousness. When we tell each other’s consciences to shut up and listen to what God has said in His Word. Even sharply so.
But whatever the reason, I know this works. And I suspect that many of my readers do, too. They have experienced it. I’m less telling them that it exists than giving a name to it. The Mutual Conversation and Consolation of the Brethren.