Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hopeful Optimism and Unhelpful Pragmatism

Many, including myself, have offered a cautious and hopeful optimism about the future of the LCMS.  On one level we can rejoice that we are talking more honest theology than we have talked for a long time.  But this is not a momentary conversation.  It is a dialog for the long haul.  Conversation that has real effect is honest, it is regular, and it is built upon trust.  The people who were elected are good people but the Synodical President has not and will not be installed into office until September 11, 2010.  Until that time it is my hope and prayer that the conversation before, during, and after the Synod Convention will continue on every level of our church body. 

With that conversation, we would do well to temper the irrational exuberance of some with a patient view toward a long term effort to rebuild consensus, to keep the conversation about theology and not personality, to prioritize the subjects of this conversation, and to keep the conversation positive AND pointed.  That said, some are not so sure that they are willing to wait, that the changes wrought in Houston this past week will come fast enough or go far enough.  I am concerned about this because this is the very thing that can and has derailed the good efforts of some in the past.  They and we need to be careful.

Some have determined to couch their hopeful optimism with some unhelpful pragmatism.  The organizing has continued following the convention and now one group is proposing an association of like minded confessing congregations which is self-described as a "loving challenge to the LCMS."  They are planning a "constituting convention" and have sent a fraternal letter of admonition to every LCMS congregation (though we have not received one), and they speak as an action group and not a discussion group.  If you exchanged the acronyms you might think this was formed by folks from within the ELCA to counter the controversial and radical actions taken nearly a year ago at their CWA.  But it is not.  It is a largely lay group from within Missouri.

I guess this is where my concern comes... Those who tried to suggest that the election of Matt Harrison was about a purge or housecleaning of Missouri were told over and over again that this is not the way of real change that endures -- rather theological consensus borne of honest, substantial, and serious theological conversation.  Yet some of those who are speaking for this new group (unofficially since it is not yet constituted), sound as if the goal is more removal of those who disagree than changing minds through common confession.

Anyone who knows Matt Harrison's career knows that he is a theologian, a historian, a pastor, an administrator, and a leader.  He has the gravitas to argue theology with just about anyone at anytime and he has a wit and winsome personality to frame this debate in fraternal terms.  So what is up with those who are presenting their loving challenge to the LCMS -- are we in for a bad cop good cop routine... or are some not content to wait for the conversation to even begin... or are some who were for his election not so sure they can count on him?  Whatever the answer to this, I think it might be pragmatic to do this but not beneficial to the Church as a whole and the opportunity given by solid election results.  So, if anybody is listening, I say, step back and wait a bit...

I am not against organizing, or studying the Confessions, or challenging practices inconsistent with the Confessions... but let's leave the structures for later and hold off on the shots across the bow... Not everything that is possible is beneficial... I think I read that somewhere....


Rev. David M. Juhl said...

Amen. Thank you, Pr. Peters. What is not needed now is a rifle pointed directly at a foot.

William Weedon said...

Amen! Amen! Amen!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I'll take the third round of Amen here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your excellent admonition!!

Steve said...

I think more amens might be redundant, how about a "hey, let me come along with you guys!"

Clint Hoff & Family said...

Amen (I think this is the fourth round)

Janis Williams said...

How about, "SO BE IT!!!!"

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

As the Facilitator of the Steering Committee of the ACELC, kindly permit me to respond to your post.

First, the proposed ACELC will not officially become the association it wants to be until after the Constituting Convention which will be held March 1-3, 2011, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Kearney, MO. (A suburb of Kansas City, MO).

We want to work with President Harrison to do precisely what he said he wanted to do in his excellent paper "It's Time". If you have read our documents (and if you haven't perhaps it might be adviseable to do so prior to condemning the ACELC), you will see that we are clearly defining the areas of theological concern which have divided our Synod. We do so so that they may be clearly addressed. One cannot have a meaningful discussion if things are not clearly difined first. Thus some of the finest theological minds among the Confessional pastors and theologians in our Synod have gone over these documents with a fine tooth comb to ensure that they are precisely correct, biblical, Confessional, and well-documented. This s probably an action which should have been taken shortly after 2001 at Melrose Park, but that opportunity was lost.

Second, of course the matter of timing is completely a judgment call. We had originally intended to send out our Letter of Admonition prior to the convention, but decided that we did not want to look political or that we were trying to influence the elections or give liberals an excuse not to vote for Harrison. I distinctly remember that I told some of the other Steering Committee members that no matter when we send out the letter (two or three years from now even), that some will question and criticize the timing of it and tell us that some other time (which will never happen) would be better.

Frankly, we believe that the ACELC documents will assist President Harrison to address the errors theologically as he has said he wishes to do. The statements are well crafted, clear, and winsome. Had President Kieschnick been reelected, having our concerns addressed theologically simply would not happen. There was virtually a "Zero" chance that we would receive a fair hearing. What the ACELC desires is that fair hearing and we believe that President Harrison will give us just that hearing and use the ACELC documents as one means of addressing the theological errors in our Synod.

If the goal is to actually RESOLVE these issues on the basis of God's Word only, then we do not need to replay the past endless and quite meaningless theological discussions of the past. Liberals are who they are and we are who we are. Neither of us will be changing their positions and we all know it. So the purpose of theological RESOLUTION of these issues is to come to a God-pleasing decision and let the chips fall where they may. That is what happens when God's Word settles an issue.

This is not purge nor a house-cleaning. It is a theological realignment. Surely you know that such a realignment is absolutely necessary in this Synod.

So we are using Bylaw 1.8.1 and 1.8.2 (The Dissent Process) to begin to do what the Synod says to us we should be doing. Bringing our theological dissent to our peers.

If we want a Confessional Lutheran church body for our children and our grandchildren that is still named The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, then the time for silence is quite over. Let us stand together and work with President Harrison to focus like a laser beam on the theological issues which are clearly defined by the ACELC documents. Cordially in Christ, Rev. Richard A. Bolland

Rev. John Frahm said...
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Rev. John Frahm said...

We are not pointing a rifle at the foot. Despite all the gifts of Pastor Harrison he cannot do it alone. Luther did not act alone either.

The documents of the ACELC are raising points that others have raised for a couple decades at least. They obviously must remain on the radar. The ACELC is approaching things from the marks of the church, hence the proposition of a confessing association of congregations within the LCMS rather than a list of pastor or individual signatories. It is so to speak to state what our churches teach and to establish the continuity of that teaching as Walther modeled so well.

This is not the emergence of a new movement but rather the latest in a call to repent and exercise ecclesiastical oversight where it has been much neglected in our time much to the detriment of the marks of the church in our midst in many places in the LCMS.

This is not about personalities or who has a "right" to establish a program. There are many compatible ways to begin at last addressing the causes of division and heterodoxy within the fellowship of the LCMS and no one way will alone accomplish the task.

The Word of God does the convincing and the unifying of the church but it also cuts and divides even down to the separation of bone and marrow. The Word of God in discussion and dialogue will unify us even as it shows those who are approved among us and those who are not. That is God's doing.

Rev. John Frahm said...
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Rev. John Frahm said...

To say that some will not be convinced is not to say that there is something lacking in the Word of God or necessarily lacking in faith, but to acknowledge that the Word does not forcibly convert or convince but gives and creates. But that it is rejectable is evident in the world from the schisms within Christendom throughout history even from apostolic times.

I do not see what the ACELC is doing as in anyway unworkable with It Is Time or what I am aware of from President Harrison. I do not get the impression that the ACELC wants to get in President Harrison's way at all. Our hope is in God's Word and promises.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wise, tempering counsel, Rev. Peters, both here and on at least one other board.

Don Kirchner

Pastor Pettey said...

Pastor Peters,
With all due respect you use language that is itself quite pejorative and ill-advised. You speak of this effor as "irrational exuberance." Based upon what direct knowledge do you make such a case? No one who has had a hand in this effort, myself included, has exhibited anything resembling irrationalism or a "knee-jeck" mentality. This was a long process, the foundation being a paper documenting specific examples where faithful Lutheran doctrine and practice have been ignored or contradicted. A paper more than a year in the making.

No one is rushing to chop off anyone's head. We are seeking to assist in the discussion toward open and honest recognition to where such departures are taking place with a view toward bringing about correction based on Scripture and the Confessions.

It saddens me that it is from other confessional pastors as yourself that we receive such rebuke. Please take the time to investigate what we are about thoroughly before making such declarations. We all want the same thing: a return of the LCMS to base all that it teaches and does upon the Word of God, not just paying it lip-service.
In Christ,
Pastor Rick Pettey

Pastor Peters said...

"irrational exuberance" was joking reference to then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan reacting to an upward tick in the market. I thought people would get it. I guess I was wrong. I certainly did not mean to refer to the ACELC as being irrationally exuberant -- quite the opposite. I was addressing those who believe the tide has been changed by Harrison's election and encouraging patience and working for the long haul. It would seem to me that the ACELC action was motivated more by the fear that nothing would change than by any confidence that something will change.

Rev. John Frahm said...

Pastor Peters,

I admire what you write on the blog much. I don't see anything of ACELC as motivated by fear that nothing would happen. I don't think that. But Harrison obviously cannot do it alone. And these problems aren't all new with the Kieschnick years either. Barry tried to do a lot too. There's no one singular magic button.

Pastor Pettey said...

Pastor Peters, your state "It would seem to me that the ACELC action was motivated more by the fear that nothing would change than by any confidence that something will change." I too am greatly encouraged by the election not only of Matthew Harrison but of the many solid confessionals in various positions. If I, and all those involved in the ACELC, did not believe that change could take place we would not go to all this effort.

So you see you and I are on the same page. It is toward assisting in bringing about that change that the ACELC is being formed. We are prayerfully hopeful that this will bring clarity to the issues that plague us and allow us to address these issues seeking to bring about unity (as Matthew said so faithfully) based upon the Word of God alone.

To that I know all of us can say "Amen."
Pastor Pettey

Unknown said...

There isn't much I can add to those who posted in defense of the ACELC effort. We are NOT fearful, but rather hopeful and believe that our call will be met with a spirit of brotherly love and a desire to do the right thing to foster the unity that we have in Christ and in our common Confession. We began this effort with a belief that many, perhaps most of the members of the LCMS are desirous of doing precisely what we propose, and that together we can discuss the issues that currently divide us, doing exactly what President Elect Harrison himself proposed in his paper "It's Time" . . .

Uncharitable characterizations by many aside, I do not believe that most who have spoken of our effort as poorly timed know absolutely anything concerning the considerations we have given to this effort, the reasons why we chose to release the letter when we did, nor of our love for our Synod. My suggestion would be that of Joe Friday, let's just stick to "the facts, mam."

Pr. D. Bestul said...

I have two feet. To shoot either makes it difficult for them to 'walk together.' This isn't the time for good confessional brothers to take pot-shots at each other. We've elected a good confessional Lutheran leader. Let's let him lead, and limp along side each other --encouraging one another---as long as he's following the right map...and we have every reason to believe that he will.

Jonathan Lange said...

Pastor Peters, Thank you.

To my brothers who think the "Fraternal Admonition" is the best way to help president elect Harrison:

I respect and admire your zeal. I know many of you personally and appreciate your faithfulness. Furthermore, I agree with the content of the document.

I, like you, want to support President Elect Harrison in any way possible. In the comments above, it is repeatedly asserted that this would be such an help. Did you ask him if he agrees?

I believe Pastor Harrison to be full of integrity, understanding and wisdom beyond his years. I know you do too. Let's put those qualties to use and help him in whatever way that he would think is helpful.



Anonymous said...

When a group of people outside the structure of governance decide to form a group with the stated purpose of identifying, documenting, and correcting errors within the LCMS, and appoint themselves as assistants to the President of the LCMS, well... it smacks of anything but love. I am appalled that such a letter was sent to every congregation in the LCMS.

I may be a lowly laywoman, but I smell nothing but strife and hubris. This stinketh of a desire to usurp authority and a will to lord over others. This group offers to do nothing but raise the hackles of those we would wish to persuade to return to the ancient paths and will most likely make the work of those who were elected to be the peacemakers and to set our house in order more difficult. May God increase the tribe who wish to allow Pastor Harrison to lead us in the days ahead and those who wish to refrain from attempts to usurp his authority or seek to bully him with their demands. Kyrie eleison!

Rev. Richard A. Bolland said...


I stumbled across this blog quite by accident today and it was interesting to see how people viewed the ACELC shortly after it began its work following the 2010 election of Matt Harrison. Lots of things were said then that were not particularly accurate respecting the ACELC.

It is now seven years later and the ACELC has remained a clear call to Confessional Lutheranism within the LCMS. Those who have taken the time and effort to attend the ACELC's annual conferences have come to know the good spirit of the group.

I would be curious to know who these same original commenters feel about the organization now.