Monday, November 4, 2013

A duct tape church. . .

I love duct tape.  Where I grew up a little baling wire and duct tape could fix nearly anything.  Along with the ever present pliers and pocket knife, these two were the staples of the repair industry.  They are still the two things I keep closest at home.  But everyone knows that these were temporary repairs meant to get you by until a permanent repair could be made.  Anyone who has used duct tape knows that it is not permanent.  The stick wears off and, despite its name, it is not the way to repair leaks in duct work.  But it has its good use and little can compete with it there.

Some have tried to glamorize duct tape.  Maybe you have heard or even seen of the efforts to turn innumerable rolls of duct tape into prom dresses, tuxedos, or convertible tops or upholstery in cars.  This is all well and good fun but duct tape is not glamorous.  It is utilitarian.  Frankly, it is a waste of good duct tape to turn it into an outfit for a couple heading to a high school dance or a wedding.  It is like making fun of something that has a noble, kind of sacred use.

Many of the things we do in the Church are like duct tape repairs.  We jerry rig all sorts of things to get us through.  Some of them are relatively benign but some are really quite dangerous -- dangerous because the temporary repairs work so well we never go back to making a permanent fix.  We get used to the duct tape repairs and repeat them when the duct tape fails.  This is the danger to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  We have duct taped too many things to get us by, to prevent open warfare, and to patch up our frazzled unity.  I do not fault those who wired up and duct taped over the problems.  They were just doing what we asked them to do -- a quick, cheap fix.  But now our chickens are coming home to roost (pardon the mixed metaphor here).

We have problems that we have to talk our way through (I did not say argue out but discuss as calmly as our passions and tempers will allow).  We have a growing distance between the worship life of some Lutherans and others in the LCMS.  It is not a small problem.  When many found the 2013 Convention use of services and forms from the Lutheran Service Book (our official hymnal) to be "high church" or unfamiliar, we have a problem.  When LCMS Lutherans transfer from one area to another and choose a church home based upon what happens in worship (both contemporary folks who find a Protestant congregation or non-denominational church home instead of a liturgical Lutheran parish OR when liturgical Lutherans find it necessary to join an Episcopal congregation rather than an LCMS parish doing contemporary services only), we have a problem.  BTW both of these have happened in my parish or to my parishioners!

We have problems when we have licensed lay deacons doing in one district what they cannot do in another district, when Pastors are ordained but limited to ministry in one parish (SMP) without approval from their District President and supervising Pastor, and when we have hundreds of CRM Pastors who have left the ministry for one reason or another and now live in the terrible limbo of available for call but will probably never get one.  Not to mention the fact that there is growing distance between our seminaries and the kind of Pastors they produce for the Church -- witnessed by the fact that some districts refuse to accept seminarians from one seminary!

We have problems when it almost requires an act of the LCMS in convention to get you to the rail in some congregations and in others just about anybody is welcome to the Lord's Table.  We have problems when some Pastors see the goal of close(d) communion to prevent people from receiving the Sacrament and others see it as making sure that as many as possible may commune and both believe that they are being faithful to history and heritage of the faith.  I know because I have been grilled at the rail while attempting to commune at an LCMS congregation and I have hesitated to commune at others because grape juice or non-alcoholic wine and gluten free wafers paved the way for anyone of faith to come, irrespective of what they believe and confess.

We have problems when we speak of each other in bitter tones, when we regularly stay away from circuit winkels or district pastoral conferences, when we disparage the good name and efforts of our church body, when we believe that money is best spent at home rather than for the work of the Lord at large, when we fear others looking over our shoulders or resent that we might be asked to explain why we do something.... The clergy of our church body sometimes are the worst enemies of peace, concord, and harmony.

We all know that we have these problems but we prefer to duct tape the problems and put a little baling wire on them rather than to talk them out.  I think that the peace and calm of our last convention was in part because we deferred the treatment of the big issues until later or left it up to a blue ribbon panel to make recommendations.  This is the reason for the koinonia conversation -- we cannot afford to get us by any more.  We need to fess up to the things that divide us and take off the kid gloves and talk it out.  It may mean that some folks will decide they cannot stay.  I do not want this but if you hate being with us more than anything else, why stay?  It will certainly mean that we will have a long conversation  before any results are apparent and some may find this wait intolerable.  It must be noted that we did not get where we are overnight and there is no quick fix to getting out of this mess.  Hang in there for the long haul.  It may take a generation or so to make some progress.  Israel wandered for forty years so some voices might die off before progress could be made to the promised land.

We must do this not for the sake of Synod but for the sake of our parishes and people and the future of those who sit in the pews faithfully each week.  My folks encounter the liturgy in catholic form and a positive expression of the hope within us each Sunday morning and when they move or go on vacation and find an LCMS congregation where their Sunday morning is unrecognizable, they fear for our present and future as a church.  I suspect those whose only experience of Lutheran worship is a praise band, polo and khaki clad Pastor, and an instructional pep talk as sermon are just as disappointed and disillusioned when they come here.  This is a pastoral concern, a parish necessity, and the urgency of a koinonia discission presses upon us now more than ever.  But when we come to the table, I hope we leave the duct tape and baling wire at home.  Instead bring the repentance, confession, absolution, Confessions, and Scripture....


ginnie said...

It is definitely a problem that is recognized even by many layman who usually are oblivious to what's going on in our Synod. Thanks for speaking out.

John said...

"I know because I have been grilled at the rail while attempting to commune at an LCMS congregation ..".

Pastor Peters,

Do you mean by the above that you appear at the rail of another LCMS congregation, unannounced and expect them to just commune you? Is that how you show respect for your brother pastors and their congregations? You know that you would never have been "grilled" had you simply contacted the pastor prior to attempting to partake of Holy Communion.

The above quoted statement would have been best left out of an otherwise great post.

Janis Williams said...

I think the flesh-colored duct tape we all use for a quick, easy face-lift is definitely peeling up at the corners.

I pray my LCMS will not take the route the Baptists (my former denomination), and some Presbyterians have. Compromise is fine for the left-hand kingdom, but does not belong in the Church. We must have unity. "Unity in diversity" is a PC (politically correct) term, not a PC (proper Church) term.

Could it be that fear is a factor here? Each side is afraid the other will win. Instead both sides need to do as Fr. Peters says: Get in there and talk it out. Keeping personal preferences out of it, look at Scripture, then the Confessions. If you can't agree with those, you are not Lutheran.

Don't make those of us who finally "found" Lutheranism despair. We can go to Episcopal/Anglican or even Roman Catholic masses, but those fellowships aren't what we have been given (by Jesus) to understand IS the Truth

Pastor Peters said...

No, John, I did not show up out of the blue but to the parish where I was married, where I had worked in various jobs some years ago, knew 20 people, announced at the book (nobody was around when we got there), sang the liturgy with gusto a few pews from the Pastor, knelt, crossed myself, etc... and then was quizzed at the rail because I had not spoken to the Pastor who was not around before the service. . .

Martin R. Noland said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

Thanks for a well-thought out blog post. I agree with what you are saying. It is like "entropy" has taken over the LCMS--for those who understand physics.

Check out the latest CUS report here:

As I understand the report, Concordia Seminary now enrolls only 267 residential MDivs vs. 202 non-residential SMPs (see linked article's "Seminary Enrollment" heading, 11th paragraph).

The percentage of SMPs keeps growing each year. That will result in both more work for the sem professors and less income for the seminary (see 2013 Convention Workbook on that point). I think that, without some intervention, pretty soon all men matriculating into the sem who are not graduating college seniors will be SMPs--and that means they will have 1/3rd of the coursework, no MDiv, and spottier supervision. With declining numbers of pre-seminary students (see same linked article), the MDiv seems to be an endangered species--unless intervention takes place.

Your post is very timely. Thanks for all you do on this blog!

Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

John said...

Thank you, Pastor for your response. I see where you could expect to be recognized AND communed without question.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your findings, but what is the likelihood that anything will ever be done. How many of the issues you raised are recognized as problems by synod and district leadership. Their embrace of the theology promoted by the church growth movement (Saddleback, Willow Creek) will ensure that the LCMS continues to follow Evangelicalism into cultural and theological irrelevancy.

I have yet to hear of an LCMS church that has dumped contemporary worship or at least converted it into a second service to establish a traditional service. I have lost faith in the dysfunctional LCMS, but I still continue to hold on (nowhere else to go). Rev. Fisk, Todd Wilken, and Chris Rosebrough also keep me from leaving.