Thursday, November 19, 2015
Leading from behind. . .
Polls surely seem designed to produce leaders who do not lead at all but who follow the often fickle and shallow whims of the people. It seems like we are consigned to elect the very people who do not know how to lead, how to make an unpopular decision, and how to act when there is no real consensus from the momentary snapshot of the people's desires. Absent those willing to lead, we seem content to elect people who are good at deflecting the blame, procrastinating before urgent problems, and telling us what we think we want to hear. You can apply that equally to Republicans as well as to Democrats. But there is something silly about a political process in which candidates compete to do what we think we want them to do more quickly and efficiently than others.
As telling as this problem is for the political discourse and election process in America, it is also killing the Church. The Church has been subjected to the same polling machine as politics. We regularly find out that only a minority of Roman Catholics go to Mass, believe in priestly celibacy, reject the ordination of women, believe that the Gospel is the only way of salvation, etc... Lutherans, not as large as Roman Catholics, are not overlooked in this. We regularly hear how our people want this in worship or that, are not so sure where they stand on abortion, homosexuality, etc... It is as if we are being fed the same hogwash as the political sphere in that the most effective leader finds out where the people are at, gets behind the people, and follows the whims of their thinking or feeling wherever they lead.
Pastors need to learn quickly that they are not there to follow the sheep but to shepherd them, to guide them, to lead them to the verdant pasture and still, quiet waters of the Lord's Word and Sacraments and to preach the whole counsel of God's Word and not what people desire hearing. In season and out of season was the slogan from St. Paul. Peach thou the Word and plant it home. This happens not only in the pulpit but in the classroom, in catechesis and Bible study. Our own church body is foundering not simply because our people are not so sure about the positions we once believed were right but also because they just don't know what we believe, confess, and teach. Most of the great questions of the faith are deemed open questions in which anyone's and everyone's answer is equally valid or true, at least for this moment in time.
Some LCMS pastors are not so sure women should vote. I am not so sure any of us should vote. We say that we do not vote on matters of doctrine and faithful practice but we write enough resolutions and we pass enough motions and overtures to question that stand. That I agree with it or vote for it does not make it true. Voting is an exercise of choice that has become a birthright even to religious entities. Even the Synod at Rome allowed the participants to vote on the statements that will become the outcome. Can bishops out vote the Pope? Can Lutheran pastors veto the Word of God? Can conventions overturn the Will of God?
We have contentious moral issues that are shaped by serious and consistent theological statement -- abortion and same sex marriage come to mind. We have contentious theological issues that are shaped by serious and consistent theological statement -- creation comes to mind. WE have contentious liturgical issues that are shaped by serious and consistent theological statement -- contemporary worship and music come to mind. The hidden fear behind all of this is that we cannot afford to get too far ahead of our people or they will reject our positions and us. The greater fear ought to be that if we fail to teach, fail to hold the unchangeable faith, and fail to worship consistent with our confessional stand, we cease to be who we say we are.
There has always been in Lutheranism a hermeneutic of continuity. We ended the Augsburg Confession with the bold statement that we have not departed from the Word of God or from catholic doctrine and practice. That is the golden thread of Lutheranism. But look around at the Lutherans today and we see all sorts of ways we have ignored the voice of Scripture and tradition to go our own way -- from the areas of sex to worship, from Scripture to science. Yet we have justified this, at least in part, by insisting that we cannot afford to get ahead of our people. I would say just the opposite. We cannot afford to follow them when they choose to depart from Scripture and tradition either out of ignorance of the Truth or out of willful desire.
Nobody needs a President or Congress who will listen to the will of the people. We have the technology to vote on everything that comes up and we can govern ourselves according to the whims of the moment. Polls can pass for legislatures and we will get exactly what we want for ourselves. No one needs a pastor who listens to the people and repeats back to them what they want to hear. They can do that nicely without the inconvenience or expense of clergy. America needs leaders who will lead us where we are not sure we want to go because it is the right thing to do. Churches need pastors who will hold us to the Word of God and catholic doctrine and practice. Without them, it is anarchy (everyone doing what is right in their own eyes).
Leading from behind is not leading at all -- not for parents who cater to their children's every whim or for politicians who shape their positions according to the latest poll or for pastors who exchange the Word of the Lord which endures forever for the latest wind of change.