Thursday, August 15, 2013
Missouri's Achilles Heel...
We end up talking about what might happen on a desert island in which no one was there to baptize, no bread and wine to confect the Sacrament, and no man to serve as Pastor. What is worse, this is not merely the domain of the curious but the infiltration of speculative theology into standard practice.
The plight of the small rural congregation, 20, 30 or 50 miles from another congregation, suddenly becomes an emergency situation so how they are served with pastoral care and the Sacrament of the Altar is an emergency solution. Emergency solutions make terrible standard operating practices. The so-called licensed lay deacon serving Word and Sacrament ministry to this emergency situation is our terrible emergency solution. Oh, the tangled web of duct taped together solutions to these "emergency" situations!
Emergency does not mean inconvenient. Emergency has nothing to do with what we prefer or do not prefer. Emergency does not include bandaids to dying congregations that could drive a little longer, change their service times, or share a Pastor and be served by existing congregations. Emergency means life and death. It means when you drive around the bend in a road and find a person thrown from a crashed car and dying and you absolve or baptize that person IN AN EMERGENCY though you are neither Pastor nor (my favorite phrase to hate) professional church worker. Even then, such emergencies do not establish standard practice. They are always exceptions to be regularized later. If the person survived, that person's emergency care would be regularized by the Church by the reception of that baptized individual according to the rite in LSB (at least for Missiourians). But that does not mean the folks in the pews should be out in their cars looking for opportunities to absolve and baptize those who choose to go to play golf or shop or sleep on Sunday morning. They constitute no emergency.
It seems that we are too darn good at turning emergency responses into regular practice. So when Luther was asked by a congregation in unfriendly territory which had no opportunity to be served by the Gospel if they could ordain from within their congregation, Luther said "yes" neither to reflect what the Augsburg Confession states nor to violate its rule but to deal with a true emergency. Yet, that emergency has led us to quote Luther to justify every short cut or by-pass to ordination (read that licensed lay deacon or SMP program) so that a congregation of 20 folks who prefer to worship at 9 am in a building filled with sentiment instead of driving another half an hour or worshiping in the evening or sharing a Pastor with another congregation. That is no emergency. That is personal preference. There is a difference.
Likewise the issue of communion. To those who may not commune at Missouri's altar it is as if they were being consigned to the gates of hell or their fervent desire (emergency?) to receive the Sacrament that day at that time were being callously ignored by some stupid rule getting in the way. Wrong. Not receiving the Sacrament for one Sunday or one week or one month is no emergency. It is sad and troublesome but ask any military person stationed far from a LCMS chaplain how to deal with a real emergency!
Or there are those who make regular exception to the rule and then presume that there is no more rule -- only the exceptional admission of someone to the table of the Lord who is not in fellowship with the LCMS. Even if we make every exception to every one who comes to us to be irregularly admitted to the altar rail, the rule is still close(d) communion [close(d) is my way of hitting every preferred way of annotating that term so that I can be inclusive. . . lol]. Yet that is exactly what has happened among some of us. The rule has become the exceptional practice.
Finally it is always wise to remember that when the emergency situation passes, so does the emergency response fade away. We do not keep exceptional responses to exceptional circumstances in our bag of tricks waiting for the next one nor do we change the procedures because the emergency has come and gone. Once the emergency is over, the emergency response is over. Missouri needs to learn this one and the sooner the better. The fellow who baptized the chap on the road is not now authorized to baptize because of a one time emergency situation. Emergencies neither establish our practice nor does the practice with which we responded to the emergency become part of our practice. Both disappear sooner or later.
Read Pieper for all the what ifs... or Fritz telling the Pastor how to baptize a two headed baby... or read through the often tedious legalities of the CCM or CTCR responses to the odd question... We love emergencies or exceptional situations because without them Missouri would not know what to do on a normal day. That is our Achilles' heel...