Monday, February 15, 2010

Let Us Not Exalt Our Past to Define Our Future

Ted Kennedy was many things but one thing I remember him for was his gift of expression in the eulogies he delivered. In speaking of his brother Robert, Ted said: My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life... It is a power line that remembers how easy it is to enlarge the past both in terms of individuals whom we wish to honor and events we remember. In these moments, we often glory in the very things that the person would not desire to have noted as his or her legacy.

Missourians tend to glory in their past and to raise up the figures of that past larger than life to the point that they are idealized as people without sins and our church body as righteous without flaws. Neither does us much good.

I love the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Although my home congregation was independent until a few years before I left for college, she was always served by faithful Missouri Pastors. The list of names that flows from the parsonage and homes of this little Nebraska congregation includes District Presidents, professors, campus pastors, parish pastors, teachers, etc. And it is my humble place among them that offers me moments of gratitude and thanksgiving for their faithful witness and service.

I went to LCMS colleges and seminary. I have served as this church body as Circuit Counselor, convention delegate, church extension fund board member, conference presentor, author, and, most of all, Pastor, for the majority of my life. I am a Lutheran by conviction and a member of the LCMS by choice. When I had the opportunity to attend a seminary in exile or one of another church body, I chose to attend one of the LCMS. I have had many friends leave for Rome or Constantinople and I have in every case refused to accept their choice as mine or their reasons as reason for my leaving. I am here for the long haul. That said, I am also fully aware of Missouri's flaws.

We began in a mess (the first one in Germany) and we found a mess when we got here and we have either been making or cleaning up messes since that time. We have produced individuals of great stature and character (from Walther to Pieper to Piepkorn to the fine individuals whose names adorn the religion departments of our colleges, universities, and the faculties of our seminaries). Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich stands as testament to the scholarship the wider world recognized from our educational institutions and our professors.

But there are some in Missouri who think Lutheran theology was born with Walther, hit its apex with Pieper, and has gone down hill ever since. There are some in Missouri who believe the the Saxon immigration were on par with the Reformation in terms of the heroic act of God to reform His Church. There are some in Missouri who believe that the only true Lutheranism there is, is the Lutheranism defined by Missouri's terminology, institutionalized in Missouri's structure, and lived out in Missouri's congregations. There are some who insist that the peculiarly congregational perspective of Missouri is the Confessional definition of ecclesia and kirche. There are some who believe that ditching bishops and the adoption of a congregational and synodical definition of church and its structures is the articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae. There are some who believe that there was a golden age in Missouri's history and life that we need to replicate today. There are some who believe that Missourians can only learn by listening to other Missourians and that the number of those who qualify and is still alive is fairly small. There are some who believe that Missouri is purity cult -- both detractors who mock us and those who secretly would be relieved if that truly were the case.

I am not one of them. I think we have more to fear by being dishonest with our flaws and our historical blunders than we do by confronting them. I think that honest theological conversation (without the constant appeal to by-law or constitution) is the path to greater strength, witness, and, yes, numbers. I think that those who glory in the freedom or cover congregationalism provides (including myself) should be prepared to forsake it for the sake of the Church and her witness, her unity, and her order. I think that far too much blood has been spilled on the altar of personal choice and that we would be better served in focusing on what is required to be faithful to our Lord. I think that Missouri has spent too much time isolated and needs to enter the world wide theological conversation because she has things to contribute and things to learn -- me included. Our myopia is not serving us well; we are not seeing ourselves or others clearly and therefore cannot respond to our own needs and issues as we should nor respond to the world around us as we might and could.


Carl Vehse said...

“There are some who believe… there are some who think… there are some who insist…”

Strawmen are much more convenient to argue against than historical facts and documented doctrinal positions.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And sometimes straw men hit close to home.

One of the things that can happen, and I see it commonly in Missouri as a fellow with old ALC family roots is sort of a legalistic character to the LCMS that assumes that the way that WE do things (whether the "WE" in question is a particular congregation, district, or even the Synod as a whole) is the RIGHT and that anything else is by definition wrong. We don't handle the idea of Christian freedom well. . . either denying it or flying off the handle completely in the name of Freedom. Thus is life in the fallen world.