Tuesday, September 20, 2011
The Big Picture....
We have Koehler and Mueller and Pieper but we don't know Johann Gerhard, Abraham Calovius, Martin Chemnitz, Aegidius Hunnius, Leonhard Hutter, Nicolaus Hunnius, Jesper Rasmussen Brochmand, Salomo Glassius, Johann Hülsemann, Johann Conrad Dannhauer, Valerius Herberger, Johannes Andreas Quenstedt, Johann Friedrich König and Johann Wilhelm Baier, among others. I am certainly as guilty as most and we are only now opening some of these great theologians to the English speaking population (thanks to CPH and others). I have already written a couple of posts on this but thought I would approach it from a different perspective today.
While reviewing the article on bishops in the Augustana (during Sunday morning class), I discovered that the issue with bishops raised there was not the one the people resonated to. They thought we were against bishops because of their authority and because Luther sought a more democratized form of church government. They initially thought the idea of supervision of doctrine and practice not a good one. They instinctively saw bishops as vestiges of a "Catholic" past disgraced and repudiated. Of course, I do not need to tell you that Luther had little thought of a democratic church structure. He was a monarchist in terms of civil government and his biggest complaint with the bishops is that they did not exercise their teaching authority and proclaim the Gospel. It was this failure that had placed a black mark on bishops -- their preoccupation with the civil realm, the confusion of Law and Gospel, and their failure to fulfill the ministry committed to them. Now to be sure, Lutherans saw the episcopal office as a difference in responsibility and not in kind from the pastoral office. But Luther and those with him certainly had no contempt for supervision of doctrine and practice. Those who were given such responsibility were held to a high standard of faithfulness in exercising that responsibility but they agreed that the episcopal function was not in and of itself wrong headed. It was just that Luther was less concerned with the title than with the responsibility, less concerned about who did it but whether they did it faithfully.
When we reviewed the history of Missouri, it was much easier to see why Missouri had a problem with bishops (Stephan and all) and it was easy to see how a democratic church structure evolved (one that could never have been conceived while still in Germany).
If anything, our fear of bishops has translated into a fear of the functions of supervision and oversight. As individual Pastors of Missouri, we tend to resent in principle the idea that somebody can tell us we were wrong or did not faithfully exercise what was entrusted to us. The congregational side of Missouri means that parishes also tend to resist and resent the needful role of supervision and oversight of doctrine and practice. Which brings me to the point. Part of the reason that there is such diversity within Missouri (both in theology and practice) flows from this fear and this failure of doctrinal oversight and supervision of the local practice. Missouri has become an island nation of six thousand autonomous and separatistic entities who cooperate in certain areas but who have come to regard the role of supervision of doctrine and practice an unwelcome intrusion into local affairs. Although I write as one who insists that this is exactly what we need, I also admit some fear and hesitation to place myself or my parish under the supervision of those with whom I have many disagreements over worship, mission, and our identity as Lutheran Christians.
The solution is probably outside our grasp. We have added the muddy history of the 1970s and the schism in Missouri to the way we love to fear and fear the love of doctrinal oversight and supervision of faithful Lutheran practice. It is beyond our grasp but that will probably not stop me from agitating for the restored roles of episcopate in knowing what is going on in the parishes under their care, knowing the Pastors in their districts, and the loving and faithful supervision of the doctrine and practice of both.