Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Who speaks for the Church?

George Weigel wrote eloquently about Francis Cardinal George.  You can read and feel free to agree or disagree with Weigel's sentiments about the now deceased Cardinal.  That is not my point here.  I draw your attention to the first paragraph or so in Weigel's article.  Without attributing this voice to anyone in particular, I would maintain that this is exactly what is needed among Lutherans.  Who speaks for us?  You read Weigel and see what I mean. . .

On September 2, 1939, the House of Commons debated the British government’s response to the German invasion of Poland the previous day. The ruling Conservative Party was badly divided between those demanding that Britain fulfill its obligations to Poland and those addicted to the habits of appeasement. “Party loyalty” was being invoked to drown out Conservative opposition to Conservative prime minister Neville Chamberlain when the deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, Arthur Greenwood, rose to speak. Then, from the Tory back benches, came the voice of an anti-appeasement Conservative, Leo Amery, who cried, “Speak for England, Arthur!”

Who speaks for country and principle, not just for faction or party? It’s a perennial question.

If it is true for politics, it is no less true for the Church.  What we have in Lutheranism is a cacophony of voices all claiming authority but what we need are a few voices who actually possess this authority to speak, to witness, to defend, and to lead.  It was not always that way.  In the Lutheranism of my youth, there were clear leaders whose voices carried weight and whose words spoke softly but profoundly.  Perhaps it is a consequence of conflict that we lose confidence in our leaders.  Perhaps it was part of the age and time (end of the 1960s and start of the 1970s).  Perhaps it was the partisan nature of our conversations.  I do not know if you can assign a simple cause but our church body needs a voice to speak for us.

Some of our District Presidents (who are entrusted with episcopal responsibility for oversight of doctrine and practice) are thoughtful individuals who need not shout to speak loudly.  Not enough of them have this character of sober, thoughtful, wise, and faithful theological and pastoral leadership.  Some of our leaders in Synod have this character.  Unfortunately, because elections are political and their consequences are political, it is hard even for some of these good men to be seen beyond their election.  It is sad that we want so to act in a partisan manner that we view one another with such deep suspicion and mistrust.

Even those in whom we meet the gravitas of people speaking not simply in self-interest but for the good of the whole, those are rare whose respect and character extends beyond the pale of the local area in which they serve.  We need people who can speak to us within the church body and those who can speak for us to the world.  Without such voices, the world hears the din of too many people clamoring for the same stage and the same microphone and the church hears people they do not automatically respect.

In the parish we suffer the same vacuum of leadership.  Parish governance is not considered interesting or rewarding and so we often go begging for people who will agree to stand for election or appointment.  Every parish pastor knows of this circumstance.  In the end our parishes tend to depend upon the pastor or staff when the voices and stature of their leaders is not great enough to speak with authority in time of uncertainty, conflict, and grief.

Lutheranism has an inherent weakness in the structures of our jurisdictions -- at least as I have observed them.  We need those who will speak to the Church and for her to the world.  When you pray, it would be appropriate to pray for God to raise up such people and for the willingness of those within and without to hear them as people who speak to us in the Lord's name and with the authority of His Word.  The Lutheran fear of democratic structures has always been anarchy.  We are not far from that.  We are never far from that.  Pray for our leaders.  Pray for those who should be our leaders.  Pray for wisdom, for respect, for nobility, for God to raise up those who can speak to us and for us.


Carl Vehse said...

Who speaks for the Church?

From the cover of his 1967 book, it would appear to be Paul Ramsey.

From the viewpoint of Romanists and some Tiberwaders, it's the pope.

In its 1995 Render Unto Caesar... and Unto God (p. 65), the LCMS CTCR states:

"'Who speaks for the church?' surfaces the fundamental ambiguity in the term 'church.' It makes a great deal of difference, for instance, whether the term church is used to refer to the universal, spiritual body of God’s people; a national or international church body; a congregation; or individual Christians generally. It also makes a difference whether one is referring to distinctively spiritual and ecclesiastical functions or to an institution that operates under secular law as property holder, employer, deliverer and purchaser of services, or investor."

In its Epilog (pp. 91-2), the CTCR provides nuanced answers to the question.

Anonymous said...

And then, after cycling through all the possible permutations of jurisdiction, we return to the problem that what is being said is wrong and disturbing the whole church. We don't really care who is saying it, if what they say is right. Joanne

Carl Vehse said...

We don't really care who is saying it, if what they say is right."

Which converts the question to: "Who says who speaks for the church is right?"