Thursday, July 19, 2007

Those Who Leave, Part II

Emily at The Children of God wrote a nice, gentle post on how to consider those who have left or are leaving the LCMS. Check it out.

But why are pastors (and layfolk) interested in leaving? What is so wrong with Missouri that some would forgo retirement payments and excellent health care coverage, the esteem of peers, friends, even family? Clergy leaving a church body is much different than management leaving a corporation; it’s emotional, it strikes at their personal identity–it is life changing like few other things can be.

Whatever is wrong with the LCMS certainly must be profound. But what is it, exactly? Those on the outside may look at Missouri and say, “How ungrateful you are! The problems in this or that denomination are so much worse than anything you may be facing!” They may be right in this. As one Synodical President said, we have a lot we do not disagree about. But those items we do disagree about strike at the heart of who we are.

Here are some individual considerations that have weighed heavily on some who have left or are contemplating leaving, as they report it (the list is not complete). Note well: I write this to give some background explanation to those who are not connected with church politics, gossip, message boards and email lists.

1. The Lutheran Confessions are adhered to in theory but not in practice.

A. Lay ministers preach and administer the sacraments without rite vocatus, i.e., being rightly called.

B. Closed Communion is not practiced in many places.

C. The Liturgy is not honored or prayed. Yes, this is a confessional matter.

D. Eucharistic piety is poor. The Body and Blood of the Lord are confessed by the mouth, but not by the hands or behavior.

E. There seems to be several levels of actual Confessional subscription at work in our clergy: ones who take the Confessions seriously in all matters; ones who adhere mostly to the “believe and teach” statements; ones who never cracked them open since graduation.

2. The LCMS is “not your grandfather’s Synod anymore.”

A. Our District Presidents have formed an unconstitutional Committee (Council of Presidents) which wields excessive power over the church.

B. Some District Presidents seem to yield to the temptation of “lording it over others,” while turning blind eyes to real problems.

C. Church Growth practices are actively encouraged and codified in the Conventions (a la Ablaze! and contemporary mission congregations).

D. Doctrinal and theological rigor which once characterized our denomination has waned and is replaced by neo-Evangelical concerns and slogans.

E. “Unionism” and “Syncretism” being practiced by pastors and congregations.

F. While “church” always has “politics”–the LCMS is drenched in politicking and the active repression of the opposing party, hence the virtual elimination of floor nominations at this year’s convention, the labeling of “lawsuit party members” at the election, despite the fact that the lawsuit settlement imposed no punitive measures; and various other nefarious deeds.

And the list could go on. What is happening is bureaucratic rot coupled with theological decay.

One pastor who is no longer LCMS wrote the following, comparing the LCMS to an airplane:

“In each case the plane has left the runway and already has a destination route prepared. Those who don’t like the destination are continually asked whether they would like to fly high or lower, or whether an additional packet of peanuts would help. There is no intention of even considering the possibility that the pre-determined destination might be changed. The Synod in Convention is not going to deal with our points of dissent.”

It is the slippery slope argument that gets most of these guys. And while the “slippery slope argument” can be a logical fallacy, sometimes it’s not, like when the slope really is slippery. I know many pastors who are uneasy with what is happening in the LCMS, but are either “staying and fighting” or “waiting and seeing” what direction this plane is really headed.

What I see is a denomination that seems to be turning into just another mainstream Evangelical/Protestant church body, only with infant baptism and a high view of the Lord’s Supper.