Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Another Pastor Leaves

Dan Woodring announces his conversion to Roman Catholicism on his blog. Dan was active in Higher Things, a confessional Youth Organization, and somewhat prominent in the Confessional scene within the LCMS.

The story of his conversion is interesting and troublesome. He writes several times of dreading going to another congregation to work to make them Lutheran. That sentiment definitely strikes a chord with me.

I think every Lutheran pastor feels this way at times, and we shouldn't have to. Every congregation has in theory agreed to make the Book of Concord their confessional identity and standard. In theory, one should be able to go to a congregation, show them what the Confessions say and be done with it. Obviously, it's not that easy. People and emotions are involved, personal and family histories, local tradition, biases and prejudices. If District Presidents were concerned about the doctrine and practice of the congregations in their district and supported pastors in reforming the congregations it might be different. Often they do nothing, or even work to undermine the work of the pastor. It is a sad reality for those who take the Lutheran Confessions seriously, and a serious problem we face.

On the other hand, show me a congregation that does not require remedial work--in any denomination. If there is a standard, I reckon few congregations in any denomination meet it. This is part of the work of the ministry, in bringing the word of God to bear on people, not systems; on actual congregations, not in theoretical situations. In this respect I wonder if pastors who change church bodies for this reason should not rather simply leave the Lutheran ministry. The grass is not greener somewhere else.

The grass is not greener--but sometimes the conflict is about what is important. If I did not worry about my own members rejecting the liturgy, the confessions--if one morning I woke and all doctrinal and liturgical and practical controversies were miraculously gone...there would still be the hard work of repentance and faith, of leading the people--not to programs and committees, but to the life-giving waters of Christ. This is the real work of the Holy Ministry--bringing Christ and the life-giving Word into the lives of people.

This is not to say doctrine and practice are not important--but they are in a sense secondary to the real life of Christian repentance and faith. If your church is fighting about how often to celebrate communion, how much liturgy, how formal or informal, who to commune or not, then everyone's attention is on these controversies and not on their own sin and forgiveness. Right doctrine and practice are incredibly important--but are not substitutes for repentance and faith. When our attention is on the controversies, the important work of repentance goes neglected. Piety and faith are not found in theological knowledge, discussions of liturgy, history and facts, correct formulations and the more. Piety and faith is found in hearing the Word of God and doing it, receiving the sacraments and living a prayerful Christian life and witness.

Ultimately what Woodring and others have found is that these concerns of practice and problematic congregations are secondary to the Truth. As Woodring relates, he resigned because he could no longer affirm the vows he once made, and could not make them again. He affirmed that one cannot be a good Lutheran within the Catholic Church, not matter what Fr. Neuhaus says. Lutheranism has many problems, and some may be insurmountable. But what is at stake is Truth and salvation. This is what Woodring realized. He believed the fullness of the Truth to be elsewhere: a genuine conversion, like it or not.

I hope he will be happy, though I disagree with his ultimate conclusion.

--------
P.S.

Contrary to one who posted this comment, I do commend Dan for following his conscience. That is an honorable thing. Too few of us believe in that kind of honor anymore or find the strength to practice it. Keeping our word and integrity often falls to matters of expediency and comfort. Dan did not fall into this trap, thanks be to God.

26 comments :

  1. Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

    I don't fault people so much for leaving the LCMS, but there aren't many options out there where you don't run into the same thing. He went Roman Catholic? The same church that has Father Michael Pfleger? Just because they have an authoritative pope doesn't mean he isn't going to run into similar crap over there.

  2. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Exactly. If one is running away, one finds that trouble is everywhere. It seems, though, he converted in trying to find Truth, and that is the only reason to do anything, I suppose.

  3. Hoffster said...

    Dear Pastor Hall, I am troubled how you can commend someone for following his conscience when it leads to converting to Roman Catholicism. One can use "following your conscience" and justify just about any behavior or decision. Following the Word and accepting all consequences, now that is commendable. For Mr. Woodring to claim "I came to the conclusion that Rome was right all along, and that their doctrine was in agreement with Holy Scripture" is astounding from a former Lutheran. It reveals that he is not following the Word, something else certainly, but not the Word.
    C. Hoff

  4. -C said...

    I think that if you come to a church because you are running away from another one, you are bound to get hurt in your new church before too long.

    But if you are instead running to what you believe is the Truth -that's what we are all called to do, no? It has to do with following where Christ leads, a journey to which all Christians are called.

    (I thought the remarks of the commenter you mentioned, while not at all surprising, were the only "shameful" thing about the post).

  5. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Dear C. Hoff

    How many pastors do you know who neglect the Confessions, who seek to alter this Body and turn it into something different, but remain? How many do you know who keep quiet and shut up and wait for retirement? How many laity do not agree with what we believe, teach, and practice yet remain LCMS to keep the family happy or out of a sense of obligation, inertia or stubbornness? How many secretly believe Baptist doctrine, but never leave? How many? Are these somehow better because they give lip-service to the "truth" though they deny it in their hearts? I don't believe so.

    Woodring no longer believed in what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess and had the courage and integrity to admit it and leave. This is what I commend him for.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    I am going to concur with Pastor Hall about the rightness of following conscience. Not that I think converting to Roman Catholicism is right (which the fact that I am not a Roman Catholic right now should show). Rather this. I would rather have someone disagree with me and be honest about the disagreement - than a person remain and lie about what they believe and teach.

    The situation is this - Woodring came to the conclusion that Lutheranism is wrong. A poor decision, a wrong conclusion, but there it is. What does he do? Does he play it safe and be a hypocrite, remaining a Lutheran? Is that better? No. If you stop being a Luther - be honest and public about it. I will sorrow over your loss, but pray for the best.

  7. The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

    What troubles me is that so often pastors who leave are not really criticizing doctrine, but politics -- which isn't a sign of a wrong church, but of a sinful church. They hold Lutheranism up to these high ideals, but when it comes to their new church (generally either Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox), they are willing to take a look at things like clerical celibacy, praying to saints, justifcation, and so many other SERIOUS errors, and be willing to overlook those, as well as the fact that these churches are having the exact same political struggles that we are. They just have a bishop, so they must be better, or whatever other issues are involved.

    If that is what their conscience dictates, then I too am glad that they are acting according to their consciences, but it is often their logic that is falling prey to a rampant idealism. It makes me sad. Very sad.

  8. Christopher D. Hall said...

    "Rebel"-- Thanks for commenting. I actually didn't it read it that way--rather, that the politics started him off looking, but he found doctrine, not peace from politics (God knows if he thought there were no politics in the RC, he hadn't read a newspaper since 1954...or 1054).

    But again, I could be wrong, but I think "political" problems was only the impetus to asking bigger questions for him--as I read his account.

  9. Randy Asburry said...

    Christopher,

    I think you're right: the politics was only the impetus to get him searching. He did, though, center his search on doctrinal issues, such as Communion practice (yes, doctrine and practice go hand in hand!).

    After I read his "story" I found myself wishing, as I have with other such "stories," that he would have gone more deeply into the theological/doctrinal reasons, comparisons, etc., rather than the "personal story" angle. It's one thing to say, "Rome was right all along"; it's another thing to show it theologically. Although I suppose that would take more than just a few blog posts.

    I do commend Mr. Woodring for having the integrity to admit that he no longer believed and taught the Lutheran doctrine and then to make the switch necessary for him. Better that kind of honesty than the other examples of believing something else (e.g. Baptist teaching, or church growth "theology") but yet remaining, as cited in other comments.

    We should also remember that our Lutheran doctrine does say that Christians in other communions can and do hear the Gospel. We do need to be careful not to critique such moves as if they are tantamount to joining a non-Christian religion or a satanic cult of some kind. God's grace in Christ Jesus can be and is heard in other communions, despite other problem areas that may exist.

  10. The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

    Pastor Hall,

    I hear him saying that as well, but what I also hear him saying very frequently throughout his post and his comments is:

    "Most who are in the Lutheran Church don't understand what they believe about Lutheran doctrines, and that goes right up to those at the International Center, so that makes them terribly flawed and I must leave to go to a church body where most people don't understand what their church teaches (and has made a solid effort to make it so for the entire Middle Ages and beyond) that regularly teaches one thing about Justication, but buried in their history, I found that they actually teach something else...only most people don't know about it, but its there, so I can be there, too."

    Now, that is not an argument that gives meat to why he should come back, but it is part of the lack of logic that is in his argument...and really, it seems that his disgust (and some of it very righteous) in how the LCMS is doing things has shaped how he is willing to accept a whole load of other things (and the same thing) from the RC church.

    They are struggling with liberalism, whatever he found in the church fathers is not what is professed now, they do not practice what they proclaim, and there are ton of inconsistencies throughout their history. Not only that, it is a church body that has had no qualms in killing people in the name of these false teachings that they may or may not embrace currently.

    The Council of Trent lists Justification by Faith alone as anathema. They have not backed away from that stance, even in their new joint declaration. They just worded it differently. The reason why they can have a joint declaration in the first place is that salvation by works carry such a high authority with them that they can now say that good Muslims and good Jews and good Hindus will also find themselves in heaven. Now they can save even without Christ.

    Lora - RPW

  11. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Lora,

    Part of me wants to keep this up, another part of me wants to say, "Who can understand the mysteries of the human heart," and be done with it.

    I agree that many of the problems besetting the LCMS are found in RC as well--in fact, many of our problems originate with Vatican II, I'd argue. However, I don't think its fair to pull out the Crusades or Inquisition, though. Lutherans persecuted Anabaptists as well.

  12. The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

    I can understand not wanting to let it continue. The Crusades were not specifically what I was thinking of...the Spanish Inquisition and others were what came to mind, and that only officially ended in 1834.

    I don't want to keep this up either. I do respect Mr. Woodring for following his conscience. He certainly is struggling with issues (and probably more than just doctrinal issues) that make him incapable of ministering to a flock right now. It takes a certain amount of integrity to see that.

  13. The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

    And you are right, maybe that wasn't a fair analogy. I apologize.

  14. Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

    Dear Rebellious Pastor's Wife:

    As one who's made the journey to the East, I'd like to respond to the first comment you made here. You wrote:

    "What troubles me is that so often pastors who leave are not really criticizing doctrine, but politics -- which isn't a sign of a wrong church, but of a sinful church."

    Rx: I, for one, did not leave because of politics. The problems in the LCMS were not the cause of my leaving, but the sign it was time to go. Like the LCMS, the Church is made up of sinners; so it is natural that problems arise from time to time. But the Church herself is not sinful. She is "without spot, or blemish, or any such thing."

    Furthermore, there's no comparing the nature of the problems that arise in the two contexts.

    * In the LCMS, I was constantly facing issues like lay absolution/consecration of the Sacrament, the use of grape juice, trying to get a few people to use private confession every so often, wondering what words were being spoken at the next altar over (if there was still an altar) etc. etc.--things which by the light of the Lutheran Confessions themselves call the presence of church into question ("where the Gospel is purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered"). My critique of Lutheranism (e.g. "There is no Lutheran Church") was done *solely based on the Lutheran confessional writings themselves*. These problems had an attraction to my sinful flesh, I confess; the battles on the outside could distract me from facing the battles on the inside.

    * In the Orthodox Church, there are practical problems, arising from historical contingencies (e.g. the work to get Orthodox jurisdictional unity in the US, a problem arising from the Russian revolution). But the biggest problem I find in the Orthodox Church is--me. I don't battle with the next priest over about what he's doing. I beg God to grant me repentance.


    RPW: "They hold Lutheranism up to these high ideals, but when it comes to their new church (generally either Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox), they are willing to take a look at things like clerical celibacy, praying to saints, justifcation, and so many other SERIOUS errors, and be willing to overlook those, as well as the fact that these churches are having the exact same political struggles that we are."

    Rx: We don't have clerical celibacy. WRT intercession of the saints and justification, Rome and Wittenberg take opposite sides of a given question--the question and both answers resting, ultimately, on one father (Augustine).

    The East does not ask the same question. It is founded on the question raised, and the answer given it, by the consensus of the Fathers and the faithful throughout the past 2,000 years.

    It was Rome, after all, who unilaterally added the filioque to the Creed...Rome who initiated action in 1054. The Bishop of Rome acted against the previously-existing consensus. And so the Reformation logically followed, when each prince, land, and Christian exercised the right they learned from him.


    RPW: "They just have a bishop, so they must be better, or whatever other issues are involved."

    Rx: It's worked for 2,000 years. And it does work.

    PS: I see that your hubby is pastor at Zion/Garrett. I did my field work there, back before the electric light was invented. :-)
    Please, if you would, greet Curt and Anna Hartman for me. You have a lot of wonderful people at that parish...

  15. Christopher D. Hall said...

    And Rebellious and I have agreement!

    I do appreciate your discussion here...and want you to know that when I wrote I just want to drop it, I wasn't telling you (or anyone else) not to post; rather, that we cannot judge or even know what is going on in his heart.

    Thank you again for reading and for the discussion--feel free to comment on Fr. Gregory Hogg's comments too ;)

  16. The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

    Father Hogg,

    I will pass along your greetings to Curt and Anna, they are wonderful people, and being able to play a part in training up pastors is one of my husband's greatest joys in pastoring here.

    I'll continue with your method of discriminating who is saying what...I kind of like it:

    FGH:
    Like the LCMS, the Church is made up of sinners; so it is natural that problems arise from time to time. But the Church herself is not sinful. She is "without spot, or blemish, or any such thing."

    RPW:
    You are right, as the Bride of Christ, The Church is not sinner. But until our Bridegroom returns, we are indeed composed of sinners, and that will bring about the difficulties that arise. Even Paul describes "I am of Apollos, I am of Paul, I am of Peter, etc."

    I am sure there are those who go East or "home to Rome" for legitimate doctrinal reasons. I honestly respect someone who goes Orthodox much more than Catholic, because it is clear that the theological errors such as doctrine of justification, veneration of saints, selling of indulgences, papal authority, are still going on and are false doctrine. One can be Christian and be RC, but to leave a Church based on sound Biblical doctrine for one that clearly is not is concerning.

    I have at least given lip service to the idea of leaving the LCMS in favor of Eastern Orthodoxy, particularly when it came to seeing my children being deprived Holy Communion not because of the maturity of their faith, but because everyone seems to believe that they reach a magic age of religious development at the end of 8th grade. Luckily, the pastor, after much study agreed, and after careful teaching, the congregation also believed that was the right thing (since it is a necessity to be gentle, even though the pastor knows what is right and has the authority to act on that).

    In my limited experience, and based only on what I read and hear, not on what is going on in their hearts (and I can only judge by these things), what I described has been my experience when I hear "why I have left."

    At the same time, I do not expect a completely logical expression of reasons when a person has devoted their entire lives to the ministry, and whose faith shapes their identity...and they find reason to leave it. But when doctrinal reasons are asked for (and maybe it is too soon to ask them to fully express it), the discussion rapidly goes to political reasons and the doctrinal reason is often not expressed. I've seen that with men that my husband went to seminary with, with a dear friend, and with those who have shared their thoughts on their blogs. Probably all I can say is they have their reasons, but they have not clearly expressed them, but they have certainly expressed their political dissatisfaction.

    FGH
    * In the LCMS, I was constantly facing issues like lay absolution/consecration of the Sacrament, the use of grape juice, trying to get a few people to use private confession every so often, wondering what words were being spoken at the next altar over (if there was still an altar) etc. etc.--things which by the light of the Lutheran Confessions themselves call the presence of church into question

    I definitely apply that differently than you. Sure there are congregations that vary greatly in their practice (and wrongly as well). There are LCMS congregations where Law and Gospel are not preached and taught rightly, and the sacraments are not administered rightly. And I will fully agree, Synod does not discipline these situations as they should.

    But the official confession of the LCMS is that Scripture is inerrant, the Augsburg Confession is what we base our doctrine and practice on, and Christ's body and blood are truly present under the bread and the wine, we receive the Holy Spirit through baptism and we receive forgiveness of sins through the means of grace. Just as every congregation has those who do not believe, every church body has congregations that are in error and even some that are in unrepentant rebellion. Just as in the Early Church, the presence of heretics did not mean that the whole Church was corrupt, it does not mean that today either. If they did nothing to confront these errors though, it could've, and almost did in the Middle Ages. But God raised up Luther and others.

    While the LCMS still confesses its loyalty to Scripture and the Augsburg Confession, and congregations within her still take their duty to rightly administer Word and Sacraments seriously, there is still The Church. There is still reason to hope. And there is still opportunity to correct error or prune.

    My husband has always taken Wilhelm Loehe as his example. He was in a church with contaminated doctrine. They put him out in the middle of Bohemia where they thought he could do no harm. He built up his congregation, sent out missionaries, and trained pastors. He cared for his flock. And the structure of the LCMS allows my husband to do just that as well. It allows things like Higher Things, CCA, Lutheran Public Radio, and many other movements to develop as well. Sometimes when things have grown frustrating, my husband has comforted himself with the fact that they let him care for his flock, and in fact, there isn't much they can do about the fact that he cares for his flock, which is at least one plus side to the LCMS model of polity.

    We still care about what is happening in the other congregations. But not on Sunday. He teaches his flock to be concerned about pure doctrine, and while no one really comes to confession and absolution, he prays that one day they will...and he knows that they find comfort in the absolution they they receive in the liturgy. But getting a congregation to embrace individual confession and absolution takes years, even decades. In the meantime, they are willing to grow in other ways. He encourages them to be concerned about areas where the LCMS is not acting rightly, and to hopefully read their Bibles, grow in the faith, and catechize their children and so that they too can commune. (if I repeat myself, I am sorry, I can't type like this in little boxes for long)

    There is a place inbetween watching your own bellybutton and always worrying about what the other congregations around you are doing. No matter what they are doing, they don't take away from your congregation being The Church, an enclave of orthodoxy and a haven for those who are looking for that within the LCMS...even though it SHOULD be everywhere they see that purple cross that doesn't cross. :)

    Having a bishopric is a good thing. I agree with Loehe and Walther that it is not the only way, and it in itself can be the cause of serious problems when you are dealing with the fact that sinners fill those posts. I don't know as much as I should about the history of the Eastern church, but I do know some about the West. In Wycliffe and Luther's time, there were plenty of priests who were ordained who could not understand Latin, did not know where the Ten Commandments were in the Bible, and could not even say the Lord's Prayer. Offices of Bishops and Cardinals were awarded not on merit, but for political reasons. Many performed their roles in the name of personal and political gain, not in the name of shepherding the flocks they were charged with. They kept the laity from the Word in the name of keeping power and control through fear of damnation. The God they presented to the people was not the God of the Bible.

    We at least have the hope every three years of removing someone from office who is teaching falsely or administrating poorly. And no matter how much the district president dislikes you, it is really hard for him just to move you somewhere else or kick you out. Not impossible, but it is hard. Having the possibility of things turning over every three years is also the downside. Having the call come from the congregation means that the pastor is not under a sinful D.P.'s thumb, and not under a bad or incompetent bishop, either.

    Right now there is a rumor that those in the Purple Palace are trying to go more toward an Episcopate type of administration. The goal is to have more control over the congregations. In this situation, I am thankful that we have what we have, and I pray that we have the common sense to preserve it.

    I know the Eastern Orthodox do not have clerical celibacy and I rejoice in that. My closest association with the Eastern Church was that we had an Armenian Apostolic congregation renting from us in Pasadena. I know they are "out there on their own" (again, I don't know Eastern Church as well as I should). I know it was their practice that their priests can marry, but their bishops should be celibate. I have no idea if that is the practice in the Orthodox Church.

    I apologize for the long response. I can't seem to get away from that

  17. Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

    RPW, you wrote:
    I'll continue with your method of discriminating who is saying what...I kind of like it:

    FGH: So as not to take up too much bandwidth, I'll delete my earlier posts, and just use your replies.

    RPW:
    You are right, as the Bride of Christ, The Church is not sinner. But until our Bridegroom returns, we are indeed composed of sinners, and that will bring about the difficulties that arise. Even Paul describes "I am of Apollos, I am of Paul, I am of Peter, etc."

    FG: To speak a little more precisely, the Church is composed of sinners; we are sinners. But the Church is not sinful; she is without spot or blemish or any such thing.

    RPW:
    I am sure there are those who go East or "home to Rome" for legitimate doctrinal reasons. I honestly respect someone who goes Orthodox much more than Catholic, because it is clear that the theological errors such as doctrine of justification, veneration of saints, selling of indulgences, papal authority, are still going on and are false doctrine.

    FGH: Going to Rome or the east implies a judgment being made about the Reformation. To go east says, "It was well-intentioned, and recognized many problems arising within Rome after she left the Church; but alas, the disease was congenital and manifested itself almost immediately with splits and schisms etc." To go to Rome says, "The Reformation was fundamentally wrong."

    RPW: One can be Christian and be RC, but to leave a Church based on sound Biblical doctrine for one that clearly is not is concerning.

    FGH: Indeed.

    RPW: I have at least given lip service to the idea of leaving the LCMS in favor of Eastern Orthodoxy, particularly when it came to seeing my children being deprived Holy Communion not because of the maturity of their faith, but because everyone seems to believe that they reach a magic age of religious development at the end of 8th grade. Luckily, the pastor, after much study agreed, and after careful teaching, the congregation also believed that was the right thing (since it is a necessity to be gentle, even though the pastor knows what is right and has the authority to act on that).

    FGH: I tried, in my Lutheran parishes, to get the view changed from 'No sooner than 8th grade' to 'No later than 8th grade.' But even if one gets the age down to 5, there is still a division made between Baptism and Eucharist...still a 2-tier Christianity that can't be justified in the light of the Gospel. Imagine not feeding your children until they understood what nutrition is!

    RPW: In my limited experience, and based only on what I read and hear, not on what is going on in their hearts (and I can only judge by these things), what I described has been my experience when I hear "why I have left."

    FGH: (I hope you don't mind that I trimmed your comments following here.) I distinguish 'reasons for leaving x' from 'reasons for cleaving to y'. The reasons for leaving Lutheranism, in a nutshell, boiled down to this: the body described in the Lutheran confessions, no longer exists. There may be individual parishes that closely resemble its features; but there is no parish that fully captures it, and certainly no ecclesial body that it describes. The Lutheran confessional documents are not meant to describe an ideal, towards which we strive. They describe an actually-existent entity. That entity has ceased to exist.

    If one wanted a handy formal way of describing the root of the LCMS problems, it'd be "the lack of bishops, and the presence of sola Scriptura." If one wanted a handy material way of describing the root of those problems, it'd be "Blessed Augustine's reformulation of key Christian teachings."

    The 'reasons for cleaving' are probably too long for a comment box; perhaps I'll address the matter more fully on my blog.


    RPW: I definitely apply that differently than you. Sure there are congregations that vary greatly in their practice (and wrongly as well). There are LCMS congregations where Law and Gospel are not preached and taught rightly, and the sacraments are not administered rightly. And I will fully agree, Synod does not discipline these situations as they should.

    But the official confession of the LCMS is that Scripture is inerrant, the Augsburg Confession is what we base our doctrine and practice on, and Christ's body and blood are truly present under the bread and the wine, we receive the Holy Spirit through baptism and we receive forgiveness of sins through the means of grace. Just as every congregation has those who do not believe, every church body has congregations that are in error and even some that are in unrepentant rebellion. Just as in the Early Church, the presence of heretics did not mean that the whole Church was corrupt, it does not mean that today either. If they did nothing to confront these errors though, it could've, and almost did in the Middle Ages. But God raised up Luther and others.

    FGH: Your standard is different, then, than that of Pieper, who said, "If anyone should prove against us that even one pastor preached false doctrine, or even one periodical stood in the service of false doctrine, and we did not eliminate this false doctrine, we would thereby have ceased to be an orthodox synod and would have become a unionistic fellowship. In short, the mark of an orthodox church body is that throughout that church the true doctrine alone prevails, not only officially and formally but also in actual reality."

    You see, no matter how faithful an individual Lutheran pastor tries to be to the Lutheran confessions, the existential reality is that he's in pulpit and altar fellowship with all the creative worship, grape-juice drinking, lay consecrationist pastors and parishes around the Synod.

    RPW:
    While the LCMS still confesses its loyalty to Scripture and the Augsburg Confession, and congregations within her still take their duty to rightly administer Word and Sacraments seriously, there is still The Church. There is still reason to hope. And there is still opportunity to correct error or prune.

    FGH: Again, you judge this differently than the LCMS itself historically did (as represented by Pieper's remarks above).

    But let's try a mental 'suppose.' Suppose all the right-believing pastors in the LCMS should form their own body. What would that body look like? What form of polity? What practice wrt individual disposable cups? How about age of confirmation/communion? And what basis would it offer for taking those views, beyond personal preference? I don't mean to sound harsh, and I take no delight in pointing these things out.

    RPW:
    My husband has always taken Wilhelm Loehe as his example. He was in a church with contaminated doctrine. They put him out in the middle of Bohemia where they thought he could do no harm. He built up his congregation, sent out missionaries, and trained pastors. He cared for his flock. And the structure of the LCMS allows my husband to do just that as well. It allows things like Higher Things, CCA, Lutheran Public Radio, and many other movements to develop as well.

    FGH: Your husband sounds like an honorable man, and the people of Zion are blessed to have him. But the problem is that the same body that 'allows' the things you mention (note: it didn't end up 'allowing' Issues, etc., right?), also 'allows' Jefferson Hills, and lay absolution/consecration, and supreme voters' assemblies etc. That's how it is with relativism. It allows some truth as an option...until the tipping point is reached.

    RPW: Sometimes when things have grown frustrating, my husband has comforted himself with the fact that they let him care for his flock, and in fact, there isn't much they can do about the fact that he cares for his flock, which is at least one plus side to the LCMS model of polity.

    FGH: And that works, as long as he can keep the good will of the good people of Zion. But other pastors have experienced that as soon as a little group starts grousing, the District comes in like gangbusters and gets rid of faithful guys.


    RPW: We still care about what is happening in the other congregations. But not on Sunday. He teaches his flock to be concerned about pure doctrine, and while no one really comes to confession and absolution, he prays that one day they will...and he knows that they find comfort in the absolution they they receive in the liturgy.

    FGH: The point of being a communion fellowship, which the LCMS claims to be, is that what happens at one altar happens at all altars. Your altar may be fine, as you see it, but the parish down the road using grape juice *has the same altar.* That's the problem.


    RPW: But getting a congregation to embrace individual confession and absolution takes years, even decades. In the meantime, they are willing to grow in other ways. He encourages them to be concerned about areas where the LCMS is not acting rightly, and to hopefully read their Bibles, grow in the faith, and catechize their children and so that they too can commune.

    FGH: One of the things that got me, as I tried to comfort myself in that same way, was this realization: if I died, or took another call, the years of patient catechesis I did could all be eradicated within 6 months, depending on who came to take my place. It's happened already in numerous places. And as the whole body gets more corrupted, it'll happen more, not less. (Forgive my hard words, dear sister in Christ.)


    RPW:
    There is a place inbetween watching your own bellybutton and always worrying about what the other congregations around you are doing. No matter what they are doing, they don't take away from your congregation being The Church, an enclave of orthodoxy and a haven for those who are looking for that within the LCMS...even though it SHOULD be everywhere they see that purple cross that doesn't cross. :)

    FGH: One of the joys of the Orthodox Church is that I know precisely what's being prayed and done, not only in my own parish, but in every Orthodox parish around the world. My son has been to Orthodox parishes in Britain, Russia, and Ukraine. It's all the same worship, wherever you go. It's *been* done this way for centuries, not to say millenia. And so I can fall asleep in peace, knowing that my children and grandchildren will have the same faith, the same worship as I do.


    RPW: Having a bishopric is a good thing. I agree with Loehe and Walther that it is not the only way, and it in itself can be the cause of serious problems when you are dealing with the fact that sinners fill those posts. I don't know as much as I should about the history of the Eastern church, but I do know some about the West. In Wycliffe and Luther's time, there were plenty of priests who were ordained who could not understand Latin, did not know where the Ten Commandments were in the Bible, and could not even say the Lord's Prayer. Offices of Bishops and Cardinals were awarded not on merit, but for political reasons. Many performed their roles in the name of personal and political gain, not in the name of shepherding the flocks they were charged with. They kept the laity from the Word in the name of keeping power and control through fear of damnation. The God they presented to the people was not the God of the Bible.

    FGH: Bishops are fathers in Christ. When I spoke to the East District pastors of the LC-C, I told them, "One of our problems is that all clergy are brothers...but we have no fathers. It's like an ecclesial 'Lord of the Flies'--and the fat guy with glasses always gets killed." Have there been bad bishops? Of course! (But in Orthodoxy, it's different than the West--see Anastasia Theodoritis' recent blog post on the priesthood.) There are bad fathers, too. But we don't reject fatherhood, or make it 'iure humano', because of some bad fathers.

    RPW:
    We at least have the hope every three years of removing someone from office who is teaching falsely or administrating poorly.

    FGH:
    That's both too long, and too short. It's too long, because if a bishop is teaching or adminstering poorly in the Orthodox Church, it doesn't normally take 3 years. (We've had cases, even recently, within the Church, of bishops having problems. They're dealt with.) It's too short, because sometimes if you differ with a bishop, he's right. And if you're always thinking about the next election, you never learn humility and obedience.


    RPW:
    And no matter how much the district president dislikes you, it is really hard for him just to move you somewhere else or kick you out. Not impossible, but it is hard.

    FGH: Until he can get a toehold of dissenters in a parish, that is.

    RPW:
    Having the possibility of things turning over every three years is also the downside. Having the call come from the congregation means that the pastor is not under a sinful D.P.'s thumb, and not under a bad or incompetent bishop, either.

    FGH: I can get you a list of pastors who've been mishandled by the Supreme Voters' Assembly, if you like. But surely you know that already. Again, as long as a pastor keeps his people's good will, he's ok.

    RPW:
    Right now there is a rumor that those in the Purple Palace are trying to go more toward an Episcopate type of administration. The goal is to have more control over the congregations. In this situation, I am thankful that we have what we have, and I pray that we have the common sense to preserve it.

    FGH: Episcopacy can't be created (thought they might try to ape it). It's a gift. Further, it's not there to control; it's there to serve.

    RPW: I know the Eastern Orthodox do not have clerical celibacy and I rejoice in that.

    FGH: Me, too! :-)

    RPW: My closest association with the Eastern Church was that we had an Armenian Apostolic congregation renting from us in Pasadena. I know they are "out there on their own" (again, I don't know Eastern Church as well as I should). I know it was their practice that their priests can marry, but their bishops should be celibate. I have no idea if that is the practice in the Orthodox Church.

    FGH: It's the same with us. That way the bishop can devote his full attention to the things of the Lord. We are so grateful for the sacrifices that our bishop makes for us!

    And one more thing, in summary:

    I encourage you and your husband to try your best to be Lutheran in its fullness, as that is taught in the Lutheran confessional writings. (In other words, don't make them an 'ought,' but treat them as an 'is.') God knows I tried, no matter what some may say now. Forgive me any harsh-sounding expressions I have made. I merely wanted to say, a propos this thread, that the reasons for leaving are not all that mysterious...and they're certainly not political. I did not become Orthodox to escape suffering--nor does anyone else. I became Orthodox because, quite simply, it is the Church. May I be found worthy through repentance and faith, to be her child!

    The unworthy priest,

    Fr. Gregory

  18. orrologion said...

    ...the politics started him off looking, but he found doctrine...

    I made just this point in an interview with a local paper doing an expose on conversion. There is usually a situation or stimulus that allows a pious believer to consider a religion outside their own - Stage 1. However, once the door has been opened, something else must be found that truly 'converts' one into actually believing in another faith (or lack thereof) - Stage 2 - otherwise, one simply weathers what can in hindsight be seen as a temptation.

    This is the basis of the common advice - at least to converts in Orthodoxy - that one must convert to Orthodoxy, not from ___________. Someone converting from _________ hasn't gotten past Stage 1; conversion, properly defined begins with Stage 2.

    I, too, laud former Pastor Woodring for resigning and converting. I have found it unseemly when ministers of other faiths dissemble for a paycheck. There is a point at which inquiry, searching, wrestling and struggle over conversion ends and the hand must be put to the plough, or one must put one's money where one's mouth is. If one has come to the conclusion that _________ is correct and __________ is wrong, then one must act in accordance with that, or admit that belief is not there. "I have a wife and children" is an excuse unworthy of those serving as a minister of any faith and shows an abject lack of faith in the God in Whose Name they preach. It also shows a pride of position/office quite different than the thousands that find themselves unemployed each year (myself included not so long ago) who God sees fit to watch out for (yes, and their wives and children: my wife is 7 months pregnant), and for reasons far less laudatory (happenstance, rather than salvation and Truth Himself).

    The challenge to put up or shut up can also be good in that it forces a person to cease 'playacting' at a petulant, dreamy 'conversion' and either chose to remain where they are (for good or bad reasons) or follow their soul's desire, their conscience to the true temple of the Lord. Either way, a choice must be made that requires repentence and humility, virtues seemingly absent from many the arm-chair critic for various and sundry reasons far less worthy than defense of 'the true faith' and the salvation of a fellow, former co-religionist.

  19. Past Elder said...

    From the perspective of someone who swam the Tiber the other way -- out.

    I've lived in two quite distinct Roman Catholic Churches, one pre Vatican II and one post.

    Conversions to the former sound absolutely nothing like conversions to the latter. Which makes sense, because the former itself is nothing like the latter itself.

    Unlike conversions to Orthodoxy, these conversions are not to a body with ancient roots with a claim to apostolicty, but to a new church founded in the 1960s with nothing in common with what it replaced but money, real estate, and some period costumes.

    When I left the RCC, it was not to or for anything else. It was because I believed what the RCC had once taught me but was now consistently kicking the ass of anyone who still held to it.

    I went to school at one of the leading centres for what became the "reforms" of Vatican II, and watched the pogroms by which every one of them was carried out. Cromwell was a crude piker by comparison.

    Still believing what had once been Catholicism, I concluded that for this to have befallen the faith meant it could not have been the true faith, and, seeing at the time no other credible claimant to the title, renounced Christianity in any form whatsoever, and stayed that way for twenty years.

    I became Lutheran because the BOC showed me from page to page that what I experienced did not start in the twentieth century but had been going on for centuries, and that what the BOC presented was not some novelty but simply the catholic church, as opposed to the Catholic Church.

    Which is not to proclaim LCMS the catholic church. It isn't. We have tons of problems (though I do not count grape juice and individual cups among them). We may have the opportunity to remove questionable officers every three years, but so far have not done so.

    The difference is, LCMS does not hold itself to be co-extensive with the Catholic Church. The RCC does. Which puts the abuses one encounters in an entirely different light. (Forget the doublespeak about ecclesial unions and separated brethren: we're OK to the extent that we preserve some of the Catholic Faith and are thereby united though imperfectly and invisibly with the Catholic Church.)

    So to me, these conversions are worse than sad. They are not conversions to the apostolic church they think they have found, and they are not even conversions to Catholicism but a preposterous charade under the same name. At least those who convert to Orthodoxy find Orthodoxy. What these guys have found is something with enough of the trappings of Catholicism that is just Protestant enough now to allow Western non-Roman Christians to think the waters are now safe to swim in, so to speak.

    Or as my dad, a 1941 convert from Protestantism, used to say, we're now just another Protestant church but with a pope.

    I hope these guys come to understand that if they think they have converted to Catholicism, they have in fact converted to the greatest enemy it has, a vicious murderer going about in its victim's clothes assuming its identity, condemned by its own anethemas.

  20. Past Elder said...

    That's anathemas, sorry. The "I know what you meant" function on my PC is off right now.

    Likewise: the LCMS does not hold itself to be co-extensive with the catholic church. The Catholic Church does ...

  21. Paul McCain said...

    There is no "honor" or anything to "admire" when a man picks up and leaves behind the confession of the Gospel purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered.

    Yes, it is good he left rather than linger around spreading his doubts and questions [as some pastors do].

    As far as I know, at least Mr. Woodring did not accept a call to a congregation under false pretenses, work to move people out of the congregation he served, and then set-up shop in another denomination, all the while working to woo people into his congregation.

    But this "Oh, what a fine and noble thing" tone to this discussion is disturbing on several levels.

    It is a failure to distinguish Law and Gospel.

    There is nothing to be commended when a man abandons the confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and heads off toward Rome or Constantinople.

  22. -C said...

    It is always noble and commendable for a Christian to follow where Christ leads him or her.

    Always.

  23. Paul McCain said...

    -C, Christ does not lead us into sin and error. Joining the Roman Church is both a sinful action and an embrace of error.

  24. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Paul,

    I'm not sure who said they "admire" Woodring. I don't. He did do the honorable thing in following his conscience. Period.

    PTM: As far as I know, at least Mr. Woodring did not accept a call to a congregation under false pretenses, work to move people out of the congregation he served, and then set-up shop in another denomination, all the while working to woo people into his congregation.

    Me: If these remarks are pointed to another commenter here, they are ad hominem and mean spirited. Probably libelous too. Please be careful.

  25. The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

    Father Gregory,

    Thank you for your comments. I've learned a lot from this discussion. Sorry it has taken me a while to respond, but other vocations have had priority.

    You wrote:
    The Lutheran confessional documents are not meant to describe an ideal, towards which we strive. They describe an actually-existent entity. That entity has ceased to exist.


    This is probably the one thing that I disagree with. I don't know that unity of practice or complete agreement of doctrine has ever existed within the LCMS or within the Lutheran Church as a whole. Luther wrote the Catechisms in 1529 because of the doctrinal poverty that he saw in the congregations and even among the pastors themselves. You can't tell me that was all errors and false practices were rectified and all were in unity by 1530 when our beliefs were outlined in the Augsburg Confession.

    The purpose of the Augsburg Confession was to create a document that outlined our theological beliefs and practices as they should be so that the princes could sign them and present a unified front to the Emperor. It provided a guideline for the Lutheran Church to attain to and a measure, definitely. But you still had poor teaching in some congregations, you still had theological battles such as with the antinomians and the crypto-Calvinists. In fact, that period of time was rife with disagreement over all of those issues, and the Augsburg Confession really succeeded in defining the issues. We still needed a Formula of Concord to redefine things after Luther. Maybe that is what is needed now.

    But when a congregation rejects right teaching or good practice, their altar may be contaminated, but it does not contaminate yours, because the Church is where there is proper administration of the Word and Sacraments. If one pastor is preaching and administering the gospel rightly, then the Church is there. If the LCMS church down the road chooses to have grape juice or change God's identity to female then they have ceased to be The Church. Even if the Synod itself is not doing its job in holding its pastors and congregations accountable to the Augsburg Confession, it makes life more difficult for the congregations that are, but it does not take away from the fact that those congregations that are holding fast to the Word and Sacraments are still Christ's Church.

    LC-MS membership should mean that the Church is there in every congregation bearing its name, but it doesn't, and it still does not effect whether Zion is still Church (since we were using my church as an example). Synod was not formed to be The Church, but an association of congregations that are The Church that held to the same doctrine and practice (though many worshiped in German, though there were different hymnals) that took on certain tasks to make things easier. They are supposed to hold its members accountable for their doctrine and practice, which they are not doing. Synod was formed in order that Missions could be done better, which it is not doing, or at least doing very well. It was formed to train pastors so that it would be easier for the churches to get shepherds -- I believe neither seminary is even partially funded by Synod at this point in time. It has the job of helping its congregations take care of the material needs of its pastors through retirement and insurance, which it certainly is not doing efficiently.

    But it was never The Church, it was an association of churches that were The Church --doing really what is some of the work ascribed to deacons in Acts. The Church is wherever two or three are gathered in Christ's name around Word and Sacrament. If the Purple Palace burns down (which I am not advocating), and the current leadership goes riding into the sunset leaving us without a hierarchal structure, we have not lost The Church in any way, shape, or form.

  26. Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

    Dear RPW,

    Delighted to hear back from you! I understand the need to balance our vocations...

    I said:
    The Lutheran confessional documents are not meant to describe an ideal, towards which we strive. They describe an actually-existent entity. That entity has ceased to exist.

    RPW:
    This is probably the one thing that I disagree with. I don't know that unity of practice or complete agreement of doctrine has ever existed within the LCMS or within the Lutheran Church as a whole. Luther wrote the Catechisms in 1529 because of the doctrinal poverty that he saw in the congregations and even among the pastors themselves. You can't tell me that was all errors and false practices were rectified and all were in unity by 1530 when our beliefs were outlined in the Augsburg Confession.

    Rx: One must judge by the words the confessors themselves use:

    Our churches teach...
    We believe, teach, and confess...
    Since it is unanimously confessed in our churches...

    Or again, to cite but AC 24: "For among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved." This is not an ideal to be attained, a moral command; this is a simple description of the reality at that time.

    When these descriptions of reality are turned into moral ideals, the whole purpose and point of the confessions is undercut. For the Reformers did not oppose an *ideal* to the *reality* in Roman practice--the Roman adversaries would have been quick to point that out. They described what actually happened in their churches--the territorial bodies which subscribed to the confessional writings.

    RPW:
    The purpose of the Augsburg Confession was to create a document that outlined our theological beliefs and practices as they should be so that the princes could sign them and present a unified front to the Emperor.

    Rx: No; it outlined the theological beliefs and practices as they actually were. Weekly eucharist, for example, was the norm until Pietism. Private confession and absolution were actually and normally practiced. Lowell Green has pointed out sermons of Luther's where he asks that some folks forgo too frequent communing, so as to allow others to confess, be absolved and commune.

    RPW:It provided a guideline for the Lutheran Church to attain to and a measure, definitely. But you still had poor teaching in some congregations, you still had theological battles such as with the antinomians and the crypto-Calvinists. In fact, that period of time was rife with disagreement over all of those issues, and the Augsburg Confession really succeeded in defining the issues. We still needed a Formula of Concord to redefine things after Luther. Maybe that is what is needed now.

    Rx: There was no disagreement within Lutheranism about the things that the Confessions speak of as normal Lutheran practice--like weekly Mass, private absolution etc.

    And another confessional writing is not likely to have any effect on the situation as it now is. Not only do confessionals themselves not agree on basic issues; contemporary attitudes towards truth in general, and written statements in particular, render it likely that any such statement would be a dead letter anyway.

    RPW: But when a congregation rejects right teaching or good practice, their altar may be contaminated, but it does not contaminate yours, because the Church is where there is proper administration of the Word and Sacraments.

    Rx: What does pulpit and altar fellowship mean? It means that what is done at one altar, is done at all. That's why Pieper made the strong remarks I cited earlier.

    RPW:
    If one pastor is preaching and administering the gospel rightly, then the Church is there. If the LCMS church down the road chooses to have grape juice or change God's identity to female then they have ceased to be The Church.

    Rx: If Pr. Faithful is in pulpit and altar fellowship with Rev. Wassup, then Rev. Wassup's grape juice is in principle being served at Pr. Faithful's altar. If Pr. Faithful dies, Rev. Wassup could succeed him. If Rev. Wassup's member comes to visit Pr. Faithful's parish, he is in duty bound to commune that person unless there is some personal issue.


    RPW:
    Even if the Synod itself is not doing its job in holding its pastors and congregations accountable to the Augsburg Confession, it makes life more difficult for the congregations that are, but it does not take away from the fact that those congregations that are holding fast to the Word and Sacraments are still Christ's Church.

    Rx: The fact that they are in pulpit and altar fellowship with those who don't hold fast, leads us legitimately to question the faithful ones' notion of what truth is.

    RPW:
    LC-MS membership should mean that the Church is there in every congregation bearing its name, but it doesn't, and it still does not effect whether Zion is still Church (since we were using my church as an example). Synod was not formed to be The Church, but an association of congregations that are The Church that held to the same doctrine and practice (though many worshiped in German, though there were different hymnals) that took on certain tasks to make things easier. They are supposed to hold its members accountable for their doctrine and practice, which they are not doing. Synod was formed in order that Missions could be done better, which it is not doing, or at least doing very well. It was formed to train pastors so that it would be easier for the churches to get shepherds -- I believe neither seminary is even partially funded by Synod at this point in time. It has the job of helping its congregations take care of the material needs of its pastors through retirement and insurance, which it certainly is not doing efficiently.

    Rx: I think your litany of what the Synod was formed to do, that it isn't doing, proves my point nicely. Synod is a structure, but there is a real communion fellowship in existence between the parishes of, say, Zion/Garrett and Jefferson Hills. And that is a problem.

    RPW:
    But it was never The Church, it was an association of churches that were The Church --doing really what is some of the work ascribed to deacons in Acts. The Church is wherever two or three are gathered in Christ's name around Word and Sacrament.

    Rx: Who decides what constitutes "word and sacrament"? Is it Sacrament when laymen perform it? When grape juice is used? Why or why not? If each parish gets to decide what is proper, then you really have no complaint against JH.

    RPW:
    If the Purple Palace burns down (which I am not advocating), and the current leadership goes riding into the sunset leaving us without a hierarchal structure, we have not lost The Church in any way, shape, or form.

    Rx: Forgive the bluntness: You can't lose what you don't have (and that judged solely by Lutheran lights).

    If (a) purely preached gospel and rightly administered sacraments are the marks of the Church,
    and if
    (b) each parish in a communion fellowship is in communion fellowship with all other parishes in that fellowship, and further, that
    (c) communion fellowship means what is done at one is done at all (hence the remarks of Pieper cited earlier);
    then since
    (d) many parishes in your communion fellowship do not have rightly administered sacraments,
    and since
    (e) your parish continues to be in communion fellowship with them--
    then
    (f) by Lutheran lights alone your parish is not Church.

    Note: I am not making a judgment about individuals--their salvation, whether they're Christians etc. I am making a judgment about *bodies*.

    I recognize this last statement is shocking. But it is precisely why I told my own beloved Epiphany members that they were living in a house aflame (not to say Ablaze!TM).

    Someone might say, "But the room I'm in is not on fire!" As in any house aflame, it's likely the smoke, not the flame, that will kill you. It creeps in where you least expect it. You can close your door, but it will find an entrance.

    Again, forgive the bluntness.

    The unworthy priest,

    Fr. Gregory