Monday, July 5, 2010
Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated...
Some folks have already jumped on that bandwagon. I know some Lutherans who have opted for an independent congregation or one of the mini-denominations that are but a few congregations wide. There are those who continue to suggest that now is the time to abandon the good ship Missouri even as some in the ELCA are bailing out of their boat. I would maintain that there is a radical difference between bailing from a ship whose confession is solid but whose practice is not vs a ship whose confession is broken and whose practice is all over the place. But that is for another post...
My point is that denominations are not dead and in fact they continue to provide the same benefits that they have always provided to congregations and Pastors. They provide connections for people to learn and grow. They provide access to resources consistent with their confession. They provide a place to work in common what none could do alone (the truth is that the vast majority of ALL mission plants are done by denominations!). They provide a bedrock against a cracking and shifting theological foundation. They provide an identity which is not limited to one zip code.
Sure, we can all lament that there have been foolish programs which squandered precious resources, strange decisions made by folks not fully accountable to the church at large, unwillingness to reign in practices that stretch the limits of what it means to belong to the fellowship/synod/denomination... I am sure that readers can provide a host of examples to support these. BUT... at the very same time, when we work together we can accomplish far more than each of us working alone or several of us working in very small associations.
Ed Stetzer (a Baptist) has written a piece in Christianity Today (June 2010 called "Life In Those Old Bones") and I highly recommend it. A parishioner gave me the issue to read and I can echo many of his points. He is writing from a very different perspective (SBC vs LCMS -- though some in liberal groups assume that all "conservatives" are alike). That said, he has come to the same conclusion. Denominations are not dead.
He rehearses the tendency toward non-denominational identities that seem to dominate the landscape (the Willow Creeks and Lakewood Churches of Hybels and Osteen, for example). But the truth is that more teaching, learning, growing, sending, worshiping, and service goes out through congregations in denominations than all the non-denominationals combined.
So for those who are ready to wash their hands of Missouri, I would say, step back for a moment and think about this. We have two very fine seminaries and faculties (I am naturally prejudiced toward Ft. Wayne). We have some very fine colleges (I say this though all the Synodical schools I attended have been closed for many years). We have a wonderful publishing house (and I would give credit to Paul McCain among others for the robust efforts to bring new and old resources to print). We have a great hymnal and a host of attendant resources that multiply this hymnal's greatness (again, thanks to Paul Grime and Jon Vieker, among others). We have a deep and vibrant confessional identity and affinity (more than in nearly any other denominations). We have people who lead us in exemplary works of compassion and care (Matt Harrison and John Nunes), mission planting, witness, and church music. We are not dead -- our gait has slowed down and we may have wandered around the path a bit, but these are fixable.
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod will survive this current debate and the key here is to separate our potshots from the things that work to the things that need to be fixed. We need to be careful about the way we talk about our church body and not to let the needful criticism of those things that are not good tear down or scar those things that are working just fine. We need to make sure that we do not demean the many who labor out of the limelight and do faithful and important work on our behalf just because we disagree with some. We need to overcome the fear that acknowledging and confronting our problems will not weaken us but ultimately strengthen us. We need to work to make sure that the way we confront our problems is credible, loving, and working toward solutions (instead of simply creating misery and offering endless complaint).
Missouri is not dead but we may kill her trying to make her better. Let us be careful how we do this, preserving what is good and salutary and changing what is inconsistent with our Confessions and identity.