Wednesday, May 27, 2015
One issue conversions. . .
The NALC has not become the huge magnet for disaffected ELCA types and there are questions still being resolved -- not in the least of which what does it mean to be in fellowship with the very church body they left in protest?! The LCMC has become a hodge podge of strange and unusual -- things Lutheran and things Protestant and things Evangelical. It is not so much a church body as a loose group of cooperating churches who function independently of one another. Issues of fellowship are likewise as informal and loose within this group.
Those who have left for Rome or Constantinople have left with dreams only to find that any more is an exchange of one set of problems for another. No one who says otherwise is being honest. It is a matter of what problems you choose to live with and what problems force you to leave. Some have quite willingly and cheerfully shaken the dust of their former Lutheranism from their feet -- running from more than running to a new church home. Others have been much more circumspect (thinking here of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus who never really renounced his Lutheran identity and life but saw his conversion as the ordinary outcome of his Lutheran-ness).
One does not even have to think on a denominational scale to see this. Splits over single issues seldom produce healthy churches in the short term. It may be enough to force you to leave but a single issue is not enough to help you face the future with a positive identity and picture of what you are here to accomplish. We have had folks who left the two congregations I have served but less than half of them ended up being regular attenders or people who fully embraced their new church homes. Single issues and a move from rather than toward has resulted in very uneven fruits. Even those who leave a liberal Christian denomination for one that unashamedly affirms Scripture's infallibility may not be prepared to embrace the liturgical, sacramental, and theological consequences of their move (I am thinking here of one family who left a denomination which no longer affirmed the truthfulness of Scripture but is still uncomfortable about the infant baptism they encountered in Lutheranism).
It is much easier to run from something than to run to it. To a certain extent, many Christians are running from their own churches and church bodies -- even while they remain active members. The clear and unbroken historical position on marriage, for example, becomes an issue people run from when a child, grandchild, or other relative or friend presents themselves with a same sex partner desiring to be married. The clear and unbroken position on abortion, another example, becomes an issue when people have a child, grandchild, or other relative or friend who faces an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy or seems ill-equipped to care for a child. People are always saying about their churches "Oh, I know our church teaches that but I don't believe it..." Even congregations have chosen to de-emphasize aspects of their historic confession (say Lutherans who have outgrown the liturgy and worship like Evangelicals).
The truth is I think Lutheranism -- that is the faith confessed in the Lutheran Confessions and proclaimed by generations of orthodox teachers, preachers, pastors, and musicians -- is better than the actual Lutheran church bodies that claim that confession. Most of us do. So what do you do with that? In my case, I agitate for my parish and my church body to take seriously their own Confessions and to exercise more discipline (personally and ecclesiastically) to let those Confessions inform and govern doctrine and practice. It is an ongoing struggle but I think in the end it is a positive one. I hope that I am not running away from something but running toward a positive affirmation of an evangelical and catholic faith that reformed and continues to reform the dogma and practice of our life on behalf of all Christians but within the specific sphere of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
I would be happy if all denominations did the same thing -- struggled with Scripture and the catholic tradition to make sure their own church body was as faithful as it could be. In the end I think this is much better ecumenical model that overlooking differences or deciding that such differences are somehow or other no longer impediments to being one at the altar. None of us gains anything by having those who discount or are embarrassed by our confessional identity lead us or engage other Christians on our behalf.
Lutherans have never said that the borders of the church are coterminous with any particular Lutheran denomination -- only that the faith expressed in our Concordia is the catholic and apostolic faith and not sectarian in any way. I am regretfully prepared to accept that any Lutheran denomination will disappoint me but I am yet to be disappointed with the Lutheran faith as confessed in our Concordia. For that reason it is less likely I will leave than those who have drawn a line in the sand and said no more.