Friday, April 18, 2008

Why This Won't Work, Part I

To my non-Lutheran and non-LCMS readers: I appreciate your patience with these "inside" posts, and thank you for your continued readership (who invented that word, anyway?).

For my congregation's members, other laity, and fellow clergy:

I am encouraged by seeing so many "Save the LCMS" style blogs and websites and so forth. I was delighted that M.Z. Hemingway has revealed the truth about what has been happening in our Synod. For the moment, there seems to be a general movement of folks who've had enough with what is going on. Some have written and said, "Perhaps the cancellation of 'Issues, Etc.' is the shot heard 'round the world for us." Perhaps there will be change!

I'm afraid not.

The divisions in our Synod go far deeper and longer than this administration, Barry's administration, Bohlmann's or beyond. The LCMS has been conflicted about its purpose and identity from the very beginning. We have always had pastors, professors and presidents who've been calling us to be mainstream Protestants, and those who have been more "Evangelical Catholic" style. Sometimes it wasn't too obvious. Now it is, at least for some who care.

Why have we had this tension? The Synod was established in conflict and has had a chip on its shoulder since the beginning. Couple this to an inferiority complex (why can't we be as famous as the Episcopalians1? We even outnumber them!) and pride and you have a church body that is dysfunctional. Scratch that. We don't even have a church body. The LCMS is a non-profit organization. The only churches in the LCMS are those that hold membership2.

The LCMS has never benefited from having a single identity. Take the Synod from the late 1950s to 1974. To oversimplify things, imagine there were several streams: those who desired to go mainline Protestant, those who wanted the esteem of liberal academia, and the 'bronze agers' who sought to keep the status quo (the Ev. Catholics may have been hiding in with the bronze agers). Sometimes our pastors and leaders found one foot in two streams--perhaps even all three.

The point is, the laity in our congregations were catechized in this schizophrenic atmosphere. Pastor Bronzezeit used the liturgy but never explained it. He taught with vigor the Small Catechism. Pastor Hauptstrecken next door emphasized that all denominations are Christian, and tried to build bridges between the local churches. Pastor Wissenschaftler was a wild card: he tried to build bridges, he used the liturgy well, but subtly questioned the "fundamentalist, anti-Lutheran tendencies" within the Synod. He wanted to broaden minds. None of these pastors were regarded as harmful, unless they had personality deficiencies. By themselves, what they emphasized was not necessarily bad.3 But in the larger picture, each was leading in a different direction, with different motives.

Meanwhile the same mix of messages are heard by succeeding Synodical Presidents, worship and practice is always called "adiaphora," and our pastors hid behind our congregational polity--our "ecclesiastical supervisors" have no episcopal authority. Every pastor could lead in a way he felt was truly L, truly C, truly M, and truly S. Successful pastors convinced their congregations to follow. Unsuccessful pastors were run off until they found a congregation to listen to them. Congregations were successful when they found a guy who would tell them what they wanted to hear. And since we had no oversight, everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

1 Not the Episcopalians of the last decade, but before the recent "unpleasantness." They have always gotten more press attention that Lutherans.

2 This is not a "composition" fallacy--if you know what that means and disagree, let's take it up in the comments.

3 We are not fundamentalists even theory.


  1. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    It becomes a matter of never being able to know. A congregation isn't sure what they are going to get from a pastor they call. A pastor isn't sure what to expect when he heads to a congregation. There are things that we should be able to expect. . . but we really can't.

    What is our identity? What compels us to be in the Missouri Synod? Until we know what that it (other than mere historical accident) we are going to be all scatterbrained.

  2. Rev. Benjamin Harju said...

    Oversight is a key issue - pastoral oversight. Electing ordained men to be bureaucrats in a non-profit organization is not pastoral oversight. People think it preserves the distinction between the two kingdoms, but I think it actually mixes them. If our elected officials are to be not-for-profit bureaucrats, then why give them spiritual oversight (ecclesiastical supervision)? We call the LCMS not a church body, but then we act like it is a church body. In the end we lose both proper organizational management and spiritual oversight.

  3. wmc said...

    No problem with oversight. It's godly and biblical. But it means we're going to have to choose different sorts of men and give them different job descriptions and titles, and not give them 3-yr terms.

    As it is now, bureaucrats and a left-handed institution is all we have.

    For this kind of church body, you need to start over.

  4. Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

    I agree with this more than anything else I've read.

    There's just too much momentum in the wrong direction. Ultimately, something new will have to be formed unless the Lord comes quickly.

    In my opinion, oversight is an essential piece of the puzzle.

  5. Anastasia Theodoridis said...

    I'm waiting on tenterhooks for Part II.

  6. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Thank you all for the kind comments. Part II will hopefully be ready later this week.

  7. Fr John W Fenton said...

    Why is re-booting seen as a godly option?