Monday, February 21, 2011

Last Best Hope

Lutheranism is alive and well but the specific incarnations of Lutheranism are not in such uniform great condition.  As you survey Lutheranism in America, you find that this is even more true.  On the one hand you have the radical success of books proclaiming the confessional Lutheran identity and the thousands upon thousands of Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions volumes sold -- largely to the lay.  On the other hand you have the boneheaded actions of Lutheran bodies such as the ELCA and its antinomian rejection of Scripture and natural law in order to accept and promote a radical social agenda.  And to be fair, you have Missouri's dalliance with evangelicalism (and, perhaps, fundamentalism) because there are those who have lost confidence in the means of grace.  On the one hand you have more Lutheran congregations observing a weekly Eucharist than ever before but you have some Lutherans intent on a communion policy that seems to say "y'all come" while others solemnly close the door to the rail in front of you.  On the one hand you have Lutherans talking more and more about the Bible but on the other you have some who laugh at taking the Bible literally and others who will fight to the death for its inerrancy but have lost confidence in the efficacy of the Word.  I have no doubt that Lutheranism will survive but sometimes I am not so sure about the physical incarnations of Lutheranism in the national Lutheran judicatories.

That said, I believe that this is Missouri's moment.  In many respects, Missouri represents the last best hope for a national Lutheran church body that is confessional, evangelical, catholic, Biblical, and liturgical.  I wish that I saw the same opportunities in other Lutheran bodies in America, but I do not.  The ELCA has many fine Pastors and many fine congregations but there is a different spirit there that does not take to speaking of the Scriptures as infallible or to the third use of the Law which means that certain things are always wrong -- no matter where our culture and society are headed.  I have many friends in the ELCA but few of them are really interested in Missouri.  They would be content with an ELCA minus the sexuality decisions of August 09.  They are not ready to roll back the ordination of women or a Biblical perspective which interprets Scripture differently from other books or literature or history.  In the end, I do not see that an ELCA rolled back to before the summer of 09 will end up in any different place.  Sadly, you can often find the liturgy observed more liturgically in the ELCA than in Missouri (with all of its contemporary worship) yet it seems that some are going through the motions and not listening to the Word in that liturgy or the Scriptures read from the lectionary.

Missouri is by no means perfect -- far from it.  What Missouri has going for it is a conversation that is still saturated with confessional language, perspective, and authority.  We may not have arrived at the end of this dialog but at least we are getting the vocabulary right.  This is, in good measure, because theology is not only a clerical enterprise but we have lay folks who are reading good Lutheran theology and holding their Pastors and church body ever more accountable to the Lutheranism they are reading about.  In addition, we have a pastoral theologian as our President.  Pres. Harrison is a theologian (something Kieschnick never claimed to be) but more than that -- he can preach it.  His gift is not his intelligence or his wit (both true) but his ability to speak it pastorally and yet pointedly to call us home to who we claim to be in our Confessions.  He knows the Word and it overflows in His presentations.  He is not canned but genuine -- a man with flaws but also with perhaps the right gifts for this moment.  If we will listen to him, he will draw us into the kind of theological conversation designed to bring us together not around him or any others but around Scripture and our Confessions.

We have a publishing house which has been pumping out volumes of good Lutheran theology -- both reprints of old works and new books from young authors.  I am amazed at how many CPH books I have in my library.  It was not that many years ago, CPH seemed to have lost its way as the publishing arm of our Synod but now it is leading us through so many fine resources.  We have a fine hymnal filled with treasures new and old -- a hymnal that is certainly connected to our past and a bridge to that past yet not some repristination of yesteryear.  It offers the Pastor and congregation a book with plenty of options and resources to enhance the Sunday morning experience within the creative parameters of both catholicity and faithful confession.  And there is more to come.  And most of our congregations are using this book -- happily!!

We have two fine seminaries (though I am naturally partial to Ft. Wayne) and they are poised to offer us both theological wisdom for the tensions and temptations of this modern age as well as their primary mission to prepare and form Pastors for the Church.  Our colleges are not yet where the seminaries are but they are improving (especially Mequon).

So when I say I am Missouri Synod, I do not say with with the regret of someone whose heart is longing to be somewhere else.  I am not beating my chest.  We have a long way to go and I am not naive about the dangers and difficulties before us.  I am Lutheran and Missouri Lutheran by conviction.  And when I say Missouri is perhaps the last, best hope of Lutheranism in America, I am not trumpeting Missouri as an institution nor insisting that revival cannot come to other Lutheran bodies.  I am merely saying that I believe right now many things have come together to make this Missouri's moment.  And with that, I might ask, what we will do with all that God has given to us, right now, today?

So when I criticize my church body, it is not the despair of someone who believes the old gal is dead or dying.  It is the hopeful criticism who believes we are not yet what we can be and should be -- given the gifts, resources, and faithfulness that is our heritage and, hopefully, our legacy, too.  I am not generally a negative person.  I have strong feelings and opinions (no surprise to you, there, huh).  But I am truly hopeful and thankful for this moment -- this window of opportunity.  So I hope you will join me in some joyful celebration of the many things that have come together for us now, in being hopeful for our future, and in holding each of us accountable for the hope and grace that is ours right now.  Let us not squander this opportunity or these gifts our Lord has supplied but run with faithfulness the race that is set before us.


Anonymous said...

The LCMS is definitely at a difficult
place in her history. In the year
1970 we had 2,788,536 baptized
members. In 2010 we had 2,310,235.
This is a 40 year loss of 478,301,
almost half a million.

It is true the church is not about
numbers. what is really important
is doctrine true to the Bible and
Lutheran Confessions. However we
need to reverse this 40 year slide.

Trust in Synodical presidents is
probably misplaced, instead we need
to trust that Christ would lead us
to passionately witness our faith
in Him to others as we worship and
serve Him with joy and thanksgiving

Paul said...

Nothing was said about trusting Presidents, but much about trusting the efficacy the spoken nad visible words. Instead of giving 20 million to the managers of a mission fund raiser, we could simply appeal as the apsotle records in 2 Corinthians. Instread of spending only God know how much on "sola structura" and expensive regional meetings at fine hotels last year to promote the Blue Ribbon task force, we could simply have regional Koinoniz project meetings, stay in homes of fellow forgiven sinners, and enjoy hospitality of Lutheran congregations and thus keep expenses way down. Instead of looking at what American evangelicalism does to attract crowds, we could study what healthy and growing confessional, liturgical congregations are doing.

Anonymous said...

The only theologians who were
elected president of the LCMS who
had earned doctorate degrees
were Jacob Preus and Ralph Bohlmann
since 1960. Alvin Barry and Gerald
Kiesinick and Oliver Harms all had
honorary doctorate degrees and were
never recognized as excellent
theologians. It has been stated that
Matthew Harrison is working on an
earned doctorate degree.

The point is that being an good
theologian requires two parts:
Academic competence and a Pastoral
heart which seeks to do the will
of God.

PHW said...

I wish we would be honest with ourselves in the LCMS and admit that we're only a 1 million person church--when you take off the true losses, the whereabouts unknown, and the "too-lazy-to-transfers."

Dave Lambert said...

Thank you for an excellent overview of the current state of our Synod.