Friday, March 24, 2017

Like a candy bar. . .

I recently heard an interesting defense and description of the manifold twists of this person's church membership.  According to this fellow, his faith is like a candy bar -- not so much about the wrapper on the outside but more about the content in the middle.  It's no wonder folks warm up to such a statement.  After all, it sounds so deep and it seems so true.  Faith is not a matter of mere membership affiliation and membership affiliation is no mere matter of a name written on a list somewhere.  We all get that.  And it is true.  Denominations are remarkably diverse and there are people who believe more like Lutherans than some Lutherans -- you know what I mean.  But is this all its cracked up to be?

The wrapper DOES count.  When I want a Snickers, I want the content -- nougat topped with caramel and peanuts, covered in milk chocolate.  But the only way I am going to find that delicious nougat topped with caramel and peanuts all covered in milk chocolate is by looking for the Snickers wrapper.  The wrapper tells us what is inside.  The wrapper is the guarantor of consistency.  I have never opened a Hershey bar only to find a Mr. Goodbar or a Mounds or a Salted Nut Roll.  Nope, it has never happened.  When I feel like toffee covered in milk chocolate, I go for a Heath Bar -- I do not open wrapper after wrapper in search of my craving.  The wrapper tells me where I will find it.

The truth is the wrapper counts.  It counts more than we admit.  With candy bars and with denominations.  The Lutheran wrapper tells you what you should be able to find inside -- a Lutheran faith sourced from Scripture, consistent with the catholic tradition, bound by the Confessions, framed by the Law and Gospel distinction, creedal, liturgical, sacramental, etc...  Just like if you open up a Baptist wrapper you can bet the doctrine will be fundamentalist, oriented toward decision theology, and non-sacramental, non-liturgical, and non-creedal.  In the Roman Catholic wrapper you will find a pope, a cardinal or two, a bishop or many, priests, and deacons.  I am not trying to be definitive but to suggest that we count on wrappers to tell us what is inside.  We do not open wrapper after wrapper in search of something -- the wrapper guides us and tells us what we can expect to find therein.  It is a good thing for candy but even better for churches.  Nothing is more problematic that the kind of diversity which makes the wrapper a lie or deception. 

So no, it is not more about the content than the wrapper.  They are both important and should not compete.  They ought to reflect a consistency that informs us and comforts us when it delivers what it promises.  I do not like Mounds and I do not like Almond Joy.  I really don't want to open a Babe Ruth and find coconut.  I really don't want to open the doors to a Lutheran Church and find something different inside.  Neither do you.

BTW that is why even Whitman's Sampler and other boxes of chocolates have a diagram to tell you where to find what you want.  Is there any one of us who has not selected a chocolate from one of those mixed boxes, thought and hoped we were getting one thing, and then bit down only to be disappointed?  Some of us like to play the game of hide and seek.  Some of us don't.  But you should not have to be surprised when you bite down on a church.  The wrapper has a purpose -- and a good and salutary one.  The wrapper tells you what is on the inside. 

Now. . . if only that were uniformly true people would not enter a Lutheran congregation only to leave disappointed because they did not find one there!  The best ecumenism is to be who you are and then to let who you are be shaped by Scripture and tradition (best sense of that word).  If every church strives for this, we would not have so many different wrappers and churches would not be sold for taste but for truth!  Oh, well, that is a topic for another post.

25 comments:

John J. Flanagan said...

Great metaphor......the outside wrapper should indeed have an ingredient statement describing what is in the candy. In the case of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, congregational polity seems to denigrate the unity we really need in order to retain a more uniform identity as Lutherans.

Carl Vehse said...

John Joseph Flanagan: "In the case of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, congregational polity seems to denigrate the unity we really need in order to retain a more uniform identity as Lutherans."

Such a claim is just a variation on Loehe's delusional "amerikanische Poebelherrschaft" (American mob-rule) and Loehe's Lufauxran doctrine of church and ministry.

The Missouri Synod's congregation polity is in fact Scripturally based and Lutheran. Whether the Synod's congregational polity is been properly administered is another story.

John J. Flanagan said...

Carl, I would like to simply point out that I have been a visitor at more than a few LCMS churches, as you may have as well. There are variations in worship and style, and in focus, music ministry, and what is emphasized in preaching. We cannot ignore the fact that some of our churches serve up a different buffet of spirituality and rarely reinforce Lutheran distinctives in a way that would be more cohesive for the Synod's Lutheran identity.

Chris Jones said...

The Missouri Synod's congregation polity is in fact Scripturally based

Poppycock.

I defy you to show us from the Scriptures that


* A local Church is to be governed by a voters' assembly of its lay members

* Admittance to the Lord's Supper is to be decided by that voters' assembly

* The voters' assembly (or the laity by any means) is to be superior to the Apostolic ministry

* The pastor's faithfulness to the Apostolic faith may be judged by the laity (via a voters' assembly or by any other means)

I defy you to demonstrate that the Lutheran Confessions either prescribe or even describe or permit these things, such that they may be called distinctively "Lutheran."

I wouldn't claim that the Church's traditional polity is prescribed by Scripture, either; but at least it is consistent with Scripture and has the solid support of Tradition, which Missouri congregationalism certainly has not.

Carl Vehse said...

John, Lufauxran worship styles, music, preaching, and spirituality are not components of congregational polity. The existence of these aberrations is primarily from decades-long failures in ecclesiastical supervision by ordained members of the LCMS, from Circuit Counselors (now called Visitors), to seminary faculty, DPs and the SP. An episcopal polity would not have made a difference and it would have made reformation just as difficult as the original we are celebrating in the Quincentennial year.

Carl Vehse said...

Since you asked so politely, Chris, here is my response to your points.

* A local Church is to be governed by a voters' assembly of its lay members

That isn't the way it works. Show me where Scripture prohibits a synod of pastors and congregation members from having a polity that allows the voting members of a congregation in assembly to decide on issues in a manner that is in harmony with Holy Scripture, the Confessions, and the teachings and practices of the Synod.

* Admittance to the Lord's Supper is to be decided by that voters' assembly

What voters' assembly decision on the admission to the Lord's Supper are you talking about?!?

* The voters' assembly (or the laity by any means) is to be superior to the Apostolic ministry

In what way do you mean "superior" and where is such a superiority specified in the LCMS congregational polity?

* The pastor's faithfulness to the Apostolic faith may be judged by the laity (via a voters' assembly or by any other means)

See the Scripture Proof, the Witness of the Church in Its Official Confessions, and the Witnesses of the Church in the Private Writings of Its Teachers for Thesis X on the Ministry in C.F.W. Walther's Kirche und Amt (Church and Ministry).

Chris Jones said...

Carl,

What voters' assembly decision on the admission to the Lord's Supper are you talking about?!?

In our congregation, and I think in most if not all LCMS congratulations, the voters assembly is empowered to excommunicate (that is, exclude from communion in the sacrament) a member of the congregation.

In what way do you mean "superior"

The voters assembly is empowered to depose a pastor from his office for heterodoxy.

See ... Thesis X on the Ministry in C.F.W. Walther's Kirche und Amt

I'm well aware that Walther teaches a congregational polity, but the Bible does not teach it. Show it to us in the Scriptures.

"Scripturally based" is stronger than "not forbidden by Scripture." My challenge stands unmet.

Carl Vehse said...

Chris Jones: "The voters assembly is empowered to depose a pastor from his office for heterodoxy."

See Thesis 31 in Walther's Proper Form of a Lutheran Congregation as well as explanations, and Scriptual and Confessional references in the 2003 LCMS/CTCR Report, "Theology and Practice of the Divine Call."

Chris Jones: "I'm well aware that Walther teaches a congregational polity, but the Bible does not teach it. Show it to us in the Scriptures."

As I have stated, the Scriptural and Confessional evidence are in the various books and documents I have provided. It is your choice whether to accept those.

Chris Jones: "Scripturally based" is stronger than "not forbidden by Scripture." My challenge stands unmet."

"Not forbidden by Scripture" is included within the understanding of "Scripturally based," as is the category of "forbidden by Scripture." Therefore my statement, "The Missouri Synod's congregation polity is in fact Scripturally based and Lutheran," stands as correct.

I encourage you, Chris, to study the documents I have referenced as you explore the path toward becoming a Lutheran.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@Carl: help this revert out. ISTM presbyterial or episcopal polities, with their systems of ascending courts, seem better set for disciplining wayward pastors and laity than a congregational polity with broader courts. The former polities are very common in Lutheran history; are you arguing that they are not IAW Scripture, or that polity is adiaphora?

Chris Jones said...

Carl,

"Not forbidden by Scripture" is included within the understanding of "Scripturally based"

I disagree. Something can be "not forbidden by Scripture" if it is never mentioned or alluded to in Scripture; such a thing can hardly be said to be "based" on Scripture. If all you are saying is that our polity is not forbidden by Scripture then you are simply saying that polity is adiaphora, not that it is "based on Scripture." That is a respectable position - not one that I agree with, but defensible - but it is a different position than what you wrote.


the Scriptural and Confessional evidence are in the various books and documents I have provided

You made a claim that I disagree with. It is not my responsibility to do the homework to support your claim. If your sources demonstrate that our polity is Scriptural (truly Scriptural, not adiaphora), then give us the Scripture references that your sources cite in support of that position. If they give convincing arguments based on those Scriptures, then quote and cite them. Otherwise all that you have done is made an unsupported assertion.


I encourage you, Chris, to study the documents I have referenced ...

I've read Walther, and I've read the CTCR report, and I remain unconvinced that a Scriptural polity looks anything like that of the LCMS. And again, I'm not going to do your homework for you. I will, however, go back and re-read the specific sections of Kirche und Amt that you referenced, to make sure that I understand Walther's position as well as I can (whether I agree with him or not).

... as you explore the path toward becoming a Lutheran.

Who's being "polite" now? I commented with a sharp tone to emphasize my strong disagreement with your position, but did not attack you personally. You, on the other hand, impugn the authenticity of my faith as a Lutheran.

In any case, my "Lutheran-ness" is based on the public confession and practice of the congregation to which I belong. I am a member in good standing, and an elder, in an orthodox, confessional LCMS congregation. That is all I need to show that I have "become" a Lutheran. I have no interest in "becoming a Lutheran" according to your rather narrow definition of it.

Carl Vehse said...

Kirk Skeptic: "ISTM... presbyterial or episcopal polities, with their systems of ascending courts, seem better set for disciplining wayward pastors and laity than a congregational polity with broader courts."

BTATM, Walther, and the other founding pastors and congregations of the Missouri Synod, thought otherwise.

"The former polities are very common in Lutheran history; are you arguing that they are not IAW Scripture, or that polity is adiaphora?"

WITW would make you suggest that I was "arguing that they are not IAW Scripture"?!?

I have argued nothing more than the understanding expressed by Walther in his The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation Independent of the State [ Introduction and Theses only] (Die rechte Gestalt einer vom Staate unabhängigen Evangelisch-Lutherischen Ortsgemeinde), translated by Dr. Th. Engelder, in Walther and the Church (Dau, Engelder, and Dallmann, CPH, 1938).

Kirk Skeptic said...

@Carl: I was arguing for nothing, but rather picking your brain. I am saying that Lutheranism antedated Walther & the LCMS, and that scholarship regarding polity has come to no consensus in the Lutheran or any other Reformation church.

I will be happy to follow your link, but wish you would flesh-out your points with some brief summaries. This would aid the current discussion immeasurably.

Chris Jones said...

... wish you would flesh-out your points with some brief summaries. This would aid the current discussion immeasurably.

Indeed. It would be very helpful.

Carl Vehse said...

Quite frankly, I become wary of people who claim they sincerely want to understand a particular Lutheran position which I have stated, but then don't want to bother reading the references I provide on that Lutheran position.

I also become wary of people who claim "ISTM presbyterial or episcopal polities, with their systems of ascending courts, seem better set for disciplining wayward pastors and laity than a congregational polity with broader courts," after a November 12, 2015, post on Pastoral Meanderings, when they commented to Rev. Peters, "Thank you for demonstrating how episcopacy per se fails to protect against heresy, and how the real issue is corrupt men in office cum church unwilling/unable to protect the flock - as with perverts, so with heretics. No amount of Law in the form of titles and ceremonies will change this."

Kirk Skeptic said...

@Carl: I'm not claiming that any polity can hedge against original sin, but that is not to say that systems which have built-in right of appeal to a higher court aren't more potentially just - exactly how a congregational system can't.

As for your link, I went to it and found Walther's defense of congregationalism anemic at best. Per the comment you site above, note the *per se* and then tell me how I'm out to lunch. Do note, though, that I become wary of people who who post and expect to be taken as authoritatve but bristle when questioned, and seemi to draw their circle of fellowship around their shoes.

John J. Flanagan said...

Gee, guys, sorry I brought up the subject of 'congregational polity.' Let us remain friends and brothers in Christ.

Carl Vehse said...

In his paper, "An Assessment of LCMS Polity and Practice on the Basis of the Treatise" (Concordia Theological Quarterly, 49:2, 1985, 87-115) by George F. Wollenburg states:

"The constitution of the Missouri Synod, and the form of church government which he [Walther] advocated, and under which the Missouri Synod was organized, was derived, not from the principles of American political thought, but instead from the writings of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions....

"In order to understand the background for the Treatise, it is necessary to examine briefly the development of church polity in the churches of the Lutheran lands of Germany. In 1523 Luther published his tract entitled That a Christian Assembly or Congregation Has the Right and Power to Judge All Teaching and to Call, Appoint and Dismiss Teachers Established and Proved by Scripture [Daß eine christliche Versammlung oder Gemeinde Recht und Macht habe, alle Lehre zu urteilen und Lehrer zu berufen, ein- und abzusetzen, Grund und Ursache aus der Schrift] . This tract was a reply to the congregation at Leisnig who, having chosen their own pastor without the consent of the bishop, found themselves involved in a dispute. In 1523 they appealed to Luther to provide a Biblical rationale for their action. In the Treatise Luther clearly emphasizes the Word as the basis for ministry. The congregation is created by the Word through which men are called to faith. The congregation created by the Word also hears the responsibility of proclaiming the Word. Since the congregation shares the authority of the Word on the basis of Baptism, it may call its own preachers. The Christian congregation is identified by the preaching of the pure Gospel. Wherever the Gospel is, there must be Christians. In the matter of judging doctrine and appointing pastors or teachers, no human statute, law, precedent, usage, or custom should be of concern to a Christian congregation The congregation has the right and duty to depose and remove from office any and all who teach and rule contrary to God and His Word? Since every Christian has the duty and right to teach the Gospel, there is no doubt that a congregation may call or appoint someone from among its members to teach publicly....

"Those who criticized the polity at the beginning of the synod and prophesied that it would not and could not endure, or who referred to it as 'mob rule,' have long since been proven false prophets in their prediction."

Carl Vehse said...

"In 1523, Luther wrote his famous essay: 'That A Christian Assembly or Congregation Has The Right and Power to Judge All Teaching and To Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proven by Scripture.' (Luther’s Works, pages Vol. 39: Pages 299-312). Luther showed that even though the pastor has the highest office in the church, the lay people, as a congregation, are the highest tribunal in the church. Today, Luther’s critics in the LCMS claim that the above is the teaching of the young radical Luther. They claim that as years progressed Luther changed his mind and reaffirmed the necessity for Episcopal hierarchy, the sacrament of ordination, and the pastor having authority over the congregation. They claim that Walther’s Church and Ministry is in error because it only reflects the teaching of the 'young' and not the 'elder' Luther. The point of this paper is to show how mistaken these critics are."

Excerpted from "Did Luther Change his views from congregation supremacy to Pastoral Hierarchy?," presented at the 4th annual Walther Free Conference held November 1 and 2, 2002, at Hope Lutheran Church St. Ann, Missouri, by Rev. Jack Cascione. See also "Did Luther Change from Congregational Supremacy to Pastoral Hierarchy? (Part II)."

Carl Vehse said...

Other previous comments on Pastoral Meanderings have included the following:

Excerpts from Carl Mundinger's Government of the Missouri Synod and C.F.W. Walther's The Congregation’s Right to Choose a Pastor,
Excerpt from Carl Mundinger's Government of the Missouri Synod,
Excerpt from J.T. Mueller's Christian Dogmatics,
Excerpts from CCM Opinions 00-2202, 00-2215, and the CCM February 18-20, 2011, minutes,
Excerpts from Christian Dogmatics quoting Luther, and C.F.W. Walther's Church & Ministry,
Excerpts from C.F.W. Walther's presentation at the 1851 Synodical Conference and Dr. Carl Eduard Vehse's Protestation document,
Excerpt from Chapter 7, in Carl Mundinger's Government of the Missouri Synod,
Excerpts from the LCMS Short Explanation to Luther's Small Catechism, Church and Ministry, and the CTCR's "Church Discipline in the Christian Congregation".

Carl Vehse said...

Here's the link to George F. Wollenburg's paper, "An Assessment of LCMS Polity and Practice on the Basis of the Treatise."

Carl Vehse said...

Here's the correct working link to the comment with an Excerpt from Carl Mundinger's Government of the Missouri Synod.

Lutheran Lurker said...

No one disputes the choice of the Missouri Synod to choose its own style of government. Whbat is at issue is the assertion that the choice of Missouri is divinely mandated or preferential to another form. It may be permitted but it is not in any way divinely mandated.

Carl Vehse said...

Lurker,

Does your use of "divinely" modify both "mandated" and "preferential"? Or just "mandated"?

Lutheran Lurker said...

I initially meant it to modify mandated but it could be taken to modify both.

Carl Vehse said...

If, as you claim, it's at issue, then who in the Missouri Synod is asserting that the congregational polity established by C.F.W. Walther and the other founders of the Missouri Synod is a divinely mandated or divinely preferred polity?

If anything, the historical opposition to a congregational polity and a preference for an episcopal polity was raised by Wilhelm Loehe, and the opposition has been expressed by members of the Missouri Synod more recently in blog articles like:

A Traditionalist Lutheran Bishop is Consecrated
Congregational Catholicity, Pastoral Practice, and Episcopal Ecclesiology
The Sad State of Congregationalism in Missouri
Can we have an episcopal polity without actually having bishops?
Having a bishop and/or the exercise of episcopal authority
The strange phenomenon of individual bishops going their own way