Monday, August 29, 2011

But in the heart of hearts, what church do you want to be?

My posts and the comments on Lutherans leaving Lutheranism has certainly aroused a great deal of interest and not a little passion.  In a series of private conversations with some who have left Lutheranism, I heard somethings that I found worthy of passing on to you.  This is a conglomerate of conversations and not just one Pastor speaking.  I beg your patience while I put together and unfold some of what was said.

This Lutheran Pastor left not because of he is enamored of another church body but because he became convinced that in her heart of hearts, Lutheranism did not want to be the Church of her confession.  He began his search for another church home only when he grew suspicious of the great talk but he saw that the congregations of Lutheranism had grown very comfortable with who they were and were not going to change -- despite all the talk of the Confessions.  As long as he felt that in their heart of hearts Lutherans wanted to be the Lutherans of their Confession and were moving in that direction, he was able to live with the inconsistencies.  But as time went on the inconsistencies became the norm and Lutheranism that looked, acted, and sounded like the Confessions became the exception.  This left him with a nagging question met more by his doubts and fears than any confidence in the Pastors and parishes (much less regional and national jurisdictions).

He was raised in Missouri.  It was his home.  He looked at the other versions of Lutheranism out there and found that Missouri was his best hope for a Lutheranism today that looked like the Lutheranism of its confessions.  The ELCA was already more comfortable with mainline Protestantism than Missouri -- sort of a dressed up form of American mainline Protestantism that honored the heritage but then departed from it whenever the culture or its own ecumenical designs suited it.  WELS was its own culture and its Lutheranism was a strange mix of pietism and orthodoxy.  It was too small to be Lutheran's guiding light.  The even smaller splinter groups offered little more than a miniature Lutheranism and would not be home unless he could bring his congregation with him.  So, he decided, it was Missouri or not Lutheran.

He had connected with some Pastors who shared the desire for a Lutheranism that was true to its Confessions.  The internet allowed him a fellowship that he would not have locally.  But in the end, this was not the fellowship he either wanted or desired.  He felt less and less at home in the winkel and district gatherings and, even though he cheered the election of Pres. Harrison, his doubts and fears did not ease up.  His own parish was small but open to his leading.  They were not in a place where they might expect great growth but they were making it.  It was a slow process and nearly all the folks were on board.  They were loving and kind and patience to him and he was prepared to stay there forever if the Lord willed it.  But a few circuits away a brother who had spent nearly 25 years building up an evangelical and catholic parish, rooted and shaped by the Confessions and parish practice consistent with that faith, was torn apart when the succeeding Pastor came in with another "agenda."  They seemed quick to jettison the very things that had once been the mark of their worship and life together in favor of a Lutheranism Evangelical [capital E] and not at all catholic.  It was not the music that bothered him but the way they shelved their Eucharistic piety in favor of one rooted in feelings, the way they forgot their Lutheran identity as the price to pay in order to grow and become a bigger fish in their small pond, and the ease at which they packed up the hymnals, took down the crucifix, and ditched the weekly Eucharist.  It was as if this situation spoke to him saying, "we will go where you want us to go but that is not who we really are..."  He began to fear that this was exactly what had happened in the parish he had served and it became impossible not to think of his own people saying "this is not who we really are..."

In the end, he became convinced that the parishes and Pastors who desired to be the Lutherans of their Confessions were the odd ducks and no matter how much their quacking, the rest of the flock was not going to head in that direction.  Lutheranism would tolerate its confessional identity and the practice that flowed from that identity but was not going to change.  "That is not who we really are...  "  As long as he believed that Lutherans wanted to be Lutheran and were heading in that direction, he could live with the inconsistencies.  When he became convinced that Lutherans were not heading back to their Confessions and back to a liturgical life, piety, and parish practice shaped by that vision of evangelical catholicity, he began looking for another church home.

In the end he is content in Rome -- not happy but content.  He would have preferred a Lutheranism thoroughly at ease with itself (at least as those Confessions identified it) but since he did not think that was to be, he accepted other inconsistencies in favor of the form of the mass and, with the new translation coming in Advent 2011, a church home moving in the direction he wanted Lutheranism to move.  Right or wrong, it was this that led him to look elsewhere and finally to leave...

For me, this story resonates well with my experience.  I cannot come to the same conclusion and I have no desire to leave Missouri but I sympathize with his point of view.  As a Lutheran who has stuck out in every place where I have been, I know the lonely feelings expressed above.  I feel the same tension.  I write this only to prod and push us as Lutherans not to ditch our Confessional identity, not to shelve our liturgical tradition in favor of what "works" and not to grow content in the more Americanized and Protestant emulation of the church that has marked our Lutheran brand for a couple of centuries.  In this I am a true believer hoping and praying that my church body is as well.

Lutheranism has lived within the tensions of its catholic expression and Protestant image, sometimes favoring one side more than the other, but the overall movement has definitely been toward the Protestant side (at times fundamentalist, often liberal, and usually evangelical).  I only hope that we can find our way home as a church body or I fear that the number of those leaving will continue to grow.  Each has made an individual decision but more, rather than less, have found the burning question "which Lutheran Church we want to be in our heart of hearts?"


Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

I hear. There are also people in the pews who are in the same situations.

Why would anyone stay Lutheran if they were really Evangelical? (There are plenty of choices for them out there.) Why is it Lutherans are comfortable with staying in Lutheran parishes, and becoming un-Lutheran? Evangelicals who discover they are really Lutheran don't stay in their Evangelical churches.

No answers, just "What does this mean?"

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Practice over right teaching, eh? To go to Rome because of this demonstrates that the (conglomerate) pastor in question never was Lutheran in the first place. Is good practice needed and desirable? No doubt. But to turn instead to false teachers whose practice is "better"? Someone didn't believe what they "confessed" in their ordination vows.

Anonymous said...

In the LCMS's recent history there
has been a back and forth political
battle for the soul of our Synod.
Due to this battle the average tenure
for a Synodical presidency is l0 yrs.
The result of this upheaval is great
confusion about our Lutheran identity
Harms...moderate conservative
Bohlmann..moderate conservative
Kieschnick..moderate conservative

Anonymous said...


The jury is still out, but Harrison
will probably get his 10 years in
office and then there will be another
change. In the meantime the pastors
and laity become pawns in a political
chess match for Lutheran identity.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

In my conversations, I complain that other bodies are weak on sin, are light on the impact of sin, and that they expect that we will see actual righteousness in our days. Thus, it makes sense that those who want to see things "done the right way" will go places where they see things done the right way... and ignore the horrible theology (and indeed, horrible practice) that pop up other places. It's an insulation, it is a moving away from the LCMS, where you see the warts, to another place where it is exciting and new and you can see such good... and you don't have to look at their warts yet.

To be honest, doesn't the same thing happen often with people who move between LCMS congregations - lay or pastor. We tire of our own warts, we think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and for a while we believe it. But wherever we go, the Church will still be filled with sinners who will be quick to follow the passions of their flesh, the desires of their heart -- for whatever sort of emotionalism their heart craves, be it Evangelical or Liturgical.

I understand - but I cannot follow them.

Lurker said...

"Practice over right teaching, eh?"

Not that I agree with those who leave but, geesh, what good is holding to the right teaching when your practice is screwed up? Is it any different than having right practice and not so solid teaching? Besides, if this teaching is in a book and not at work in the lives of people and a congregation, it is really teaching?

What those who have left complain about is not practice but teaching and practice informed by that teaching.

Again, I don't agree but I can see how inconsistent we are as Lutherans and how our souls are battling even now for the kind of Lutherans we will be -- Confessional in doctrine and practice or not?

William Tighe said...

If a non-Lutheram may be allowed to comment on such matters, this seems to me to be a very interesting, if also very small, Lutheran body:

Some years ago I had a long and pleasant e-mail correspondence with Pastor Rutowicz about the "classical" Swedish Lutheran understanding of episcopacy, "classical" meaning, before the significant Anglican influence on Swedish "high-church" thought and attitudes beginning abvout a century ago.

Anonymous said...

"Harms...moderate conservative
Bohlmann..moderate conservative
Kieschnick..moderate conservative
Harrison... ultra-conservative"

Your characterizations as moderately or ultra conservative are subjective and might depend upon the particular issue. I find it hard to consider any of them ultra conservative since none of them (yet) have cleaned house of the opposing point of view and, in this respect, the moderates were just as adept as the ultras in using the political devices for their purposes.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Respectfully I do not see how Rome is the answer to Lutherans not wanting to be the church of their confession. I have RC family and I hear similar complaints when a new Priest is installed in their parish; i.e., the organ gets ditched in favor of keyboard and drums, hymnals are set aside, they get a new 'creative' service every week etc. etc. If anything American Catholicism suffers as much from an identity crisis as Lutheranism, and you're just as likely to hear "that isn't who we really are' from your Catholic friends and family as a Lutheran. Don't get me wrong Pastor, I believe these are the answers you were given, but I don't see American catholicism at ease with itself but rather at odds with itself for many of the same reasons the Lutherans are. The jump from Lutheran to Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox to me seems like trading your problems for someone elses, and maybe in that there's some contentment. Again, I don't doubt the answers, but I find them puzzling compared to my experience. I do know the feeling of sticking out because everyone else is going in a different direction.

Anonymous said...

I have found the case for true "confessional" Lutheranism made here and other places very compelling and might be tempted to jump myself (Episcopalian to Lutheran)if there were any LCMS churches anywhere near me that seemed really Lutheran in practice. Instead, everything LCMS near me is so close to non-denominational bible churches, you could hardly tell the difference if it weren't for the LCMS logos on their websites.

Anonymous said...

Remains to be seen in which direction the RC goes after the implementation of the third edition of the Roman missal this Advent.

I also heard that the bishops have ordered a revamping of the musical settings for the mass.

Compared to the wackiness that occurred in the immediate aftermath of VII it sounds downright conservative.

Meanwhile, I am still struggling with the latent fundamentalism in some LCMS parishes, including my own.

I wish the pastor would kick the NIV out of the pews. I wish he would have distributed ashes on Ash Wednesday. And I wish on Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection, we would have had Holy Communion.

For sure, nuthin' is perfect out there. I will say this, when one finds a liturgy, Lutheran or Catholic, that is well planned and well celebrated, it is a thing of beauty.


Anonymous said...

How is the WELS both pietist and orthodox? I realize that the WELS was basically a pietist sect in days of yore, but I thought they were able to get rid of that. What are the manifestations of pietism and orthodoxy in the WELS?

Anonymous said...

Earlier Anonymous said, "Practice over right teaching, eh?"

Right, like the LCMS isn't full of false teaching. We can say that the LCMS holds to the Book of Concord all we want, but when we have so many churches that ignore what it says concerning doctrine and practice then I don't think we can say choosing another church body is purely choosing practice over teaching. As if poor doctrine wasn't leading to a lot of the problems in the LCMS.

boaz said...

A real Lutheran would grit his or her teeth through Hawaiian shirt wearing praise band led worship to hear a watered down law and gospel sermon before leaving for works righteoussness in Rome. How can any real Lutheran throw away the gospel for tradition or practice? It's the absence of the gospel that makes a practice bad according to our confessions. It makes no sense to leave Lutheranism for Rome because of practice, unless you already take a Roman view toward practice. Quit making excuses for these fake Lutherans.

Chris Jones said...

Quit making excuses for these fake Lutherans.

But who are the "fake Lutherans"? A congregation in which the Lord's Supper is not served on the Queen of Feasts is (in my opinion) the fakest of "fake Lutheran." Pastors and congregations who want to purvey generic American evangelicalism with an almost imperceptible Lutheran flavor are the fakest of fake Lutherans.

The whole point of Fr Peters's post is that what is on offer in entirely too many LCMS parishes is precisely "fake Lutheranism". If someone (clergy or lay) leaves for Rome (or somewhere else) because the LCMS provides them no opportunity to practice and participate in "real Lutheranism," then again I ask, who are the fake Lutherans?

I had rather pure blood with the Pope ...

BrotherBoris said...

The reason some people leave Lutheranism is very simple: they become convinced that there must be something wrong with Lutheranism at a very basic level because it does not seem to have any mechanism to correct itself. The only method it has of correcting ANYTHING is by pastoral teaching and parish consensus determined by congregational vote. And as amply demonstrated on this blog, even a Lutheran parish that establishes a fine evangelical catholic practice can have it completely swept away when a new pastor arrives. I eventually got the impression that Lutheranism was a wax nose, and could be molded any way the pastor saw fit. There is no accountability in Lutheranism. Where is the accountability for the pastor who refuses to celebrate the Eucharist at Easter, the Feast of feasts? Why does he get to decide that? Why does a voter's meeting get to decide that (in some places)? Article XXIV is clear that real Lutheran churches celebrate the Mass every Sunday. Why is that Article emasculated and always explained away? Why do the preferences of a mere pastor or a voter's meeting get to trump 2,000 years of catholic practice that the Lutheran Church claims to still uphold?

Why is there no accountability for such parishes and pastors? Why can you not have a bishop or a superintendent to enforce sound liturgical practice?

Anonymous said...

Preachin to the choir, Bro Boris!

boaz said...

Lutheranism is wrong because it lacks a pope. What tripe. The existence of the pope and his claims is what caused the greatest schisms in history, with the east, with Luther, and with the English. Rome enshrined its errors and is unable to walk back due to its claims about its authority.

And surely you've been to some catholic parishes? Have you found no errors even judging under Roman doctrine?

boaz said...

If the object of your faith when communing is a Roman bishop and his authority, then you can commune every day and it serves no good purpose. And ultimately, that is the object of faith in the Roman church.

the sacrament gives forgiveness and unified with Christ because it is joined with his word. again, a true lutheran would rather suffer through irreverence and loss of the sacrament and receive a speck of pure gospel than commune in a church that corrupts the word. You won't find true gospel in Rome, but you'll sometimes find it in an lcms church.

boaz said...

Why does a mere bishop of Rome get to rewrite st. Paul and bind the church to the error for hundreds of years, casting millions into despair or selfrigjteousness, denying them the truth and purity of the Gospel? What's the greater danger?

Chris Jones said...

Lutheranism is wrong because it lacks a pope. What tripe.

Brother Boris said nothing about a Pope. The Church that Boris belongs to now has no Pope, and no need of one.

What Brother Boris did say is that Lutheranism has no mechanism to correct itself. Can we really say that he is wrong about that? What good does it do for us to have a standard of faith and practice (the Book of Concord) if there is no accountability for pastors and congregations who do not conform to that standard?

It is telling that whenever anyone suggests that there ought to be some sort of accountability in Lutheranism, he is immediately accused of being a Papist. Are there really only two choices, either Papism or complete anarchy? I think that is a false dichotomy.

Instead of implying that Brother Boris is a Papist (which he certainly is not), how about answering his question: why is there no accountability for pastors and congregations which do not celebrate the Mass every Sunday as the Augustana calls for? Why is there no accountability for pastors who do not "examine and absolve" those who desire to receive the sacrament of the altar, as our Confessions call for?

Boris says that there is no mechanism for the Lutheran Church to correct itself, according to our own Confessions. He is right, isn't he? If he is wrong, then show us why he is wrong, on Lutheran terms. Don't obfuscate the issue with phony accusations of Popery.

boaz said...

I thought Boris was a papist; I heard he converted. I apologize if I'm mistaken.

There is a mechanism in all churches, but its not effective, I agree. In the LCMS, the DP doesn't do anything because it usually leads to no good or because he is weak. I could point you to a thousand blogs by Catholics making the same complaints about their bishops.

Congrats! you've just realized that sin exists in the church!

But the real problem is not practice; it's preaching. Too many Lutherans muddy the Gospel. They let it be infected with decision theology, works righteousness especially with missions, pietistic trust in ceremonies and human traditions, and crass institutionalism that judges God's favor by riches or membership.

The difference is in the LCMS those are mistakes. In Rome, that's the doctrine.

Pastor Jim Wagner said...

As an aside which will surely draw comment: given that there are approximately twice as many ELCA parishes as LCMS, my suspicion is that there are probably at least as many faithful, confessional ELCA parishes as there are LCMS. The percentages may not be as high, but in absolute numbers we are out there. Please do not assume that every ELCA parish is unconfessional -- especially when you are unsure of your neighbor in the LCMS!

BrotherBoris said...

Dear Boaz:

I am genuinely surprised you thought I was a Roman Catholic! I don't think a Roman model would cure what is wrong with American Lutheranism. What I was talking about was having a proper Liturgical Authority in the Lutheran Church, outside and beyond the level of the congregation. For instance in Germany, the Lutherans were organized into specific territorial churches, such as the Ev. Luth. Church of Brandenburg, or Hamburg, or Bavaria and so forth. Each territorial church (Landeskirche)had a Liturgy it was required to use by law. The voters couldn't change it. The Pastor couldn't change it either. It was one of the ways the Territorial Church was recognized: by how it worshiped. Each Territorial Church had a Superintendent who conducted parish visitations. The Superintendent looked for proof that Lutheran doctrine was being preached from the pulpit and Lutheran worship was being conducted according to the authorized Liturgy. Sweden was much the same way, except that it had one Lutheran Liturgy for the entire nation, and it had bishops who conducted the parish visitations. I don't understand why American Lutheranism cannot have some form of liturgical accountability like this. Such a system would not bring about perfection, but it would help a great deal in reigning in the craziness of so-called Contemporary Worship, "praise" bands and vile, home-made "liturgies" inflicted on the longsuffering Lutheran faithful by their clergy.

It would be a start. And there is a model for it in Lutheran history.
And it would not require a pope or even a bishop. Imagine that!

Anonymous said...

"What Brother Boris did say is that Lutheranism has no mechanism to correct itself."

Is this really true?

I mean, if district presidents or congregations have in place a mechanism and do not follow through on it, is that really the fault of the unused mechanism? Generally all problems boil down to people not doing what they need to do. It is easy to say there is no mechanism, but it may be something of a cop out.

Chris Jones said...


The lawyers have a technical term -- desuetude -- for laws that become inoperative because of long disuse. A case could be made that the LCMS's mechanism for self-correction has lapsed through desuetude.

Certainly when you compare the teaching and practice of many of our congregations with the sort of churchly practices envisaged in the Confessions and the early Kirchenordnungen, it is difficult to deny that many, many things once thought to be important have fallen into desuetude, and that there is no longer the will or practical possibility to enforce them.

Julie said...

Bro Boris said, "Why do the preferences of a mere pastor or a voter's meeting get to trump 2,000 years of catholic practice that the Lutheran Church claims to still uphold?" Perhaps even C.F.W. Walther (whose 200th birthday we remember this year) might cringe or roll over in his grave at what some pastors and voters assemblies carry out in his name. I sense the law of unintended consequences has been at work in the LCMS, and short of a critical mass of District Presidents committing to a confessional, evangelical-catholic view of the church, see little hope for our fellowship.

Anonymous said...

casting millions into despair

Um, not quite. There are Catholics who are very happy to be Catholic. I do hope you were engaging in hyperbole.

Some Lutherans head to Rome because it is a western form of catholicity. Also, the Orthodox have not called a general council in ages and are seen as having devolved into a group of national churches.

Terry Maher said...

I'm with boaz and one or another of the various "anonymous" around here. Geez Louise, any more of them and I'll start my comments "I'm Terry, and I'm a commenter".

Lemme tell ya, a new priest assigned by a bishop can change a parish for ill just as fast as a pastor called by a congregation. Happens all the time. People moan about liberal or weak bishops just like DPs, and ain't a one of those bishops were appointed by Hans Kueng. Authority hell. The RC bishops let an English translation stand for a generation that was so piss poor my second year Latin class with Sister Colleen in high school could have done better as a week-end project.

OMG there's sinners in the church. Amen Boaz. And who in the hell called me to put them out? Bloody right; I believe what is set forth in the Book of Concord, especially the Small Catechism, is a true and accurate statement of the faith of Christ revealed in Scripture. Just like I said when I professed when I joined. Not once ever have I been in an LCMS church where what happens seems totally right with that confession.

Whether or not that confession is manifest, at least it can be made. And to go somewhere else whose manifestations seem in better order, ignoring that they manifest a different confession, and that the one I confess cannot be made there, would show I didn'r really confess it at all but confessed liking nicely ordered manifestations.

Sorry for the late post, I work for a living and sometimes they like me to work at work.

Anonymous said...

Yep, the RC bishops let a lousy translation stand far too long. But it wasn't entirely their call. It was John Paul II that got the ball rolling to correct what he realized was a "piss poor job". At least it HAS been corrected.

On the other hand, my DP hasn't done a whole lot to correct the aberrations I find in my LCMS parish. Bad enough not have to Communion on Easter Sunday, but for a Synod that claims to stick with the "old ways" Ascension on Thursday came and went, completely unmentioned. Oh, the pastor gave it a nod on the following Sunday.

When I discovered that this congregation uses DSIII (at the early service, of course, the later one is the "blended" version) I thought eureka, this must be a place that maintains historic practice.

Not quite.


Pastor Peters said...

Lutherans have a mechanism, be it Circuit Counselor (Visitor), District President (Bishop, Superintendent), but, as with each mechanism, there has to be a willingness to use it. Missouri has wrestled with this because at the same time it holds to a congregationalism and congregational autonomy that makes it hard to influence errant congregations and Pastors. In effect, they can leave without much damage except to the loss of income to the District (Synod) and that also comes into balance. In order for this to work in anyplace, there must be men of integrity and good will who will speak the truth in love and exercise godly discipline to correct the erring. Perhaps in too much of the Church today, "Don't ask, don't tell" has been borrowed from the political solution applied to the military and the only cases that merit much attention are those that grab the news.

BishopBob said...

I am spoiled for just about any other LCSM congreation. I am a member of Zion Evangelical of Detroit, our Chief Slave is Mark Braden. We are scorned by virtually all other LCMS pastors & both seminars due to our stance for historical confessional Lutheranism expressed in the highest and purest liturgical format.

What I would have done as opposed to going Roman Catholic or "east" would be to simply start his own independent congregation & establish fellowship with other pastors of like confession. This way he can be TRUE to what he believes, confesses and teaches.