Sunday, November 20, 2011

Which river is harder to swim?

Notre Dame economist Daniel Hungerman believes that the Catholic Church has lost 3% of her members due to scandals, in addition to billions of dollars. (you can read the complete report here on pdf)

A single paragraph tells much of what Hungerman has researched and reported:

This paper considers substituting one charitable activity for another in the context of religious practice. I examine the impact of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal on both Catholic and non-Catholic religiosity. I find that the scandal led to a 2-million-member fall in the Catholic population that was compensated by an increase in non-Catholic participation and by an increase in non-affiliation. Back-of the- envelope calculations suggest the scandal generated over 3 billion dollars in donations to non-Catholic faiths. Those substituting out of Catholicism frequently chose highly dissimilar alternatives; for example, Baptist churches gained significantly from the scandal while the Episcopal Church did not. These results challenge several theories of religious participation and suggest that regulatory policies or other shocks specific to one religious group could have important spillover effects on other religious groups.
Others may comment on the report and whether or not its conclusions are valid but those who trade off sacramental faith and life for radical protestantism are not only Roman Catholics.  Not a few Lutherans have swum the Cumberland and shed the baggage of Real Presence, Infant Baptism, means of grace, Law and Gospel, etc.  And for the life of me, I cannot figure out why.

I am left with the unmistakable conclusion they were not very good Roman Catholics or Lutherans in the first place OR they just plain don't see or care about the radical difference.  In either case, it makes me mighty nervous.  I have often thought romantic thoughts about Orthodoxy but I would be an Orthodox Christian with  nostalgia and melancholy for Lutheran hymnody, liturgy, and theology.  I don't want to trade one thing for another.  It is part of what keeps me a Lutheran.  The romance of other traditions must deal with the solid marriage I have to Lutheran confession and practice (though I do lament that the Lutherans who confess and practice it are not always very Lutheran in their confession and practice).

I cannot imagine that these were well catechized and could leave without longing or emptiness for what they must leave behind to join a church like the Southern Baptists.  If they could leave it behind without regret then that signals a grave situation and crisis not only for Rome but for Wittenberg as well.  Some who comment on this Forum are relatively harsh on those who swim the Tiber or Bosporus but far more Lutherans swim the Cumberland than toward Rome or Constantinople.  If the findings of the good professor are found true, then, St. Louis, we have a problem!


Janis Williams said...

Be of good cheer, Fr. Peters.

There are Baptists who have crossed the Missouri, too. Maybe not as many as are swimming the Cumberland, but when you swim the Missouri, you're SURE why you got wet.

Anonymous said...

"All rivers lead to the same ocean." Sadly, I hear this entirely too often. I blame it on poor catechesis. As Lutherans, we should know and live our confession, BUT understand the differences between various denominations and the grave consequences that ensue from the rhetoric quoted above. Lord have mercy!

Terry Maher said...

Poor catechesis may be a factor in some cases, but it is not the basic factor. When there is a scandal, this or any other, it shakes the whole thing. Real Presence, Infant Baptism, means of grace, Law and Gospel and all seen part of the defective package, not just the immediate object of the scandal. This is so even absent a scandal but a disaffection for other reasons. And that is why they way more often than not choose dissimilar alternatives -- they want to get away from more than the immediate irritant, but the whole scene in which it happened.

Anonymous said...

Ding, ding, ding!

We have a winner!

Poor catechesis!

I could easily have gone back to the Baptist church after 10 years in the ELCA. They never really taught what they believed (probably because half the clergy don't believe) and the sermons were focused on everything but law and gospel. Those sermons could suck the life out of Richard Simmons. No freeing gospel and assurance of forgiveness there, just pep talks to encourage works. The reason I could have gone back to the baptist church is that I honestly felt that despite whatever errors they have (I wouldn't understand anyway), they at least will stand up and say loud and clear that the Bible is infallible. You won't hear that from the ELCA. The RC seem to think the pope is more infallible than than the Bible. Uh, can't go there. If the Bible isn't infallible then there is no reason to get up on Sunday. May as well buy a boat and spend the weekends on the lake. Only the innocent bitter sufferings of Christ for my sins and my redemption are enough to slap some compassion for others into me and get me up on Sunday morning and even put a check in the plate. A bunch of self righteous aging hipsters preaching social justice are not the people I am going to cough up 10% to hang with in what amounts to an expensive social club.

Anonymous said...

Many LCMS congregations take their cues from Willow Creek and completely ignore St. Louis. Regarding doctrine and practice, why bother remaining in a congregation that is "Lutheran in name only." If there is no other confessional LCMS congregation within driving distance and you still want to attend a church, then switching denominations is the only alternative.

In my experience, I have witnessed more people leave the Catholic church and the Lutheran church for a non-denominational seeker church than for any other denomination.

Years ago, a friend wanted me to visit her church. Although raised a Baptist, she joined "The Vineyard" primarily for the fellowship (and not because of doctrine). No one does "fellowship" better than the non-denominational churches. Most people don't seem to be bothered by the anti-intellectualism of the evangelical and non-denominational churches.

Testimonials were common during the Vineyard church services. One man approached the podium and stated that ever since he left the LCMS for the Vineyard, he "felt so free from the legalism" of his former denomination. How did the LCMS get such a "legalist" reputation?

What is the LCMS doing to combat stereotypes that are placed upon it. IF the "Church Growth Movement" has not resulted in membership growth within the LCMS, then what would the LCMS do next? Is it interested in continuing a failed program?

Terry Maher said...

How did the LCMS get such a legalist reputation? Geez, I dunno, maybe from stuff like people insisting on Communion every Sunday or you're not really fully Lutheran.

BrotherBoris said...

Dear Pastor Peters: Much of what you said resonated with me. I am indeed an Orthodox Christian with quite a bit of nostalgia for some things Lutheran: mainly Lutheran hymnody and pipe organs.

While I still appreciate the Common Service, I really don't miss it or long for it, because the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has replaced it for me.

If I had joined some liberal Protestant church that had a very watered down theology, I think I would miss the Lutheran theology very much. But because the Orthodox Church has a strong, vigorous theology centered on the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation and expressed and lived out in the Sacraments, I really don't miss the Lutheran theology either. The Orthodox theology has filled the void.

What I miss most about Lutheranism are the Advent hymns, esp. Wachtet auf, Macht hoch die Tuer, and Nun kommt der Heiden Heiland (among others) and a magnificent pipe organ to sing them with.

The Eastern Church has no season of Advent, although some Orthodox do use the term. We have a 40 day fast (kind of like a Winter Lent) before Christmas, but we only have two Sundays (the two Sundays preceding Christmas Day itself) as liturgical preparation. We don't have as thematic and structured preparation for Christmas as the Western Chuch does with its four Sundays of Advent, esp. if you use the historic lectionary and collects. Sometimes I do miss that.

But I always enjoy your blog and your insights! It reminds me especially of the many Lutherans I've known over the years who were kind, devout, and humble Christian people. I cherish their memories.

Anonymous said...

"How did the LCMS get such a legalist reputation? Geez, I dunno, maybe from stuff like people insisting on Communion every Sunday or you're not really fully Lutheran."

Nope. Are you a convert?

I have heard that after the Seminex fiasco the LCMS got a reputation for fundamentalism.

That's why some people head to Rome or the East.

Terry Maher said...

Ancient history to most to-day, pal. Likewise Vatican II for the RCs. For people younger than I am, and that's most of them, the way it is now is the "how it's always been".

Yes, I am a convert. Studied at one of the hotbeds of RC "renewal", liturgical and otherwise. Who were keenly aware of the developing crisis in LCMS, and hoping LCMS would pull its head out of its mediaeval, paternalistic, repressive rear. Everyone was cheering for Seminex. And, when that didn't happen, "mourned" that it chose to remain outside the mainstream of ecumenical Christianity. Except me.

My wife left LCMS over Seminex, that it ever could have arisen and the church did not take a stronger stand. My sister-in-law still talks about when "we split".

But you know what, the post wasn't about those who head to Rome or the East, but about the many more who don't, and head precisely to fundamental or evangelical churches and report in varying degrees the experience at The Vineyard mentioned in an earlier comment.

And that comes exactly from those who press for a "fundamentalism" of a liturgical kind. With most of us worshiping like Lutherans at Vatican II and the rest like Willow Creek, it's no wonder at all that many leave in either direction for the real thing rather than a derivative.

Anonymous said...


The Seminex crisis is ancient history. Most LCMS people under the age of 50 have never heard of it. 99% of LCMS laymen don't even think about the ELCA. Liberal theology is not an issue within the LCMS. The LCMS is split into Evangelical and Traditional camps. The infighting is done between those two camps.

The LCMS is fundamentalist? How can that be the case if the LCMS has never changed its doctrine. It has not drifted to the Left nor to the Right. In contrast, the ELCA has made radical changes. Could anyone living in the early 1970s ever have imagined that Seminex would evolve into the current ELCA?

Below is a link for your consideration. The author of the website is a member of the ELCA. I encourage you to take up any disagreements with him directly:

A bunch of self righteous aging hipsters preaching social justice, indeed!

Anonymous said...

I don't know of any kind of "liturgical" fundamentalism. All the LCMS churches I know have been liturgical and I wouldn't worship in any other kind.

I like receiving Word and Sacrament every Sunday. The "fundamentalism" I was referring to was in the aftermath of Seminex and resulted in LCMS pastors who insist on a literal reading of Genesis, word for word and resemble fundamentalist Protestants more than they do evangelical catholic Lutherans.

Converts to all denominations have their own biases, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

(I'm a different Anonymous who hasn't posted before in this thread. I'm responding to Pastor Peters' original post.)

I can't understand jumping ship, either. A friend of mine, a synodically trained teacher, left her Lutheran church for a non-denominational megachurch because they had a better youth program. She took me to church once. The praise band was great, but the sermon had no mention of Christ and very little of God. When I asked her about it, she said, "Yeah, this isn't the place to hear a Law and Gospel sermon. But they've got a great youth program!"

I didn't know what to say. How do you talk to someone who has no appreciation for the sacraments or proper teaching? For so many of our people, Protestant churches are all interchangeable. If a Lutheran teacher can think this way, then how much more true is it with our laypeople?

Anonymous said...

@Terry Maher: Insisting on Communion every Sunday? How about every other Sunday? It is up to the individual LCMS congregation to decide how often to offer Communion. No one is forcing anyone to take it. I would hope that no one in your congregation looks down on you for quietly refusing to take it every week.

An example of perceived "legalism" in the LCMS: I have seen the legalist accusation used against LCMSers regarding the LCMS stance on closed or clos(e) communion. Somehow the LCMS is perceived as being unfair, biased, or even "fundamentalist" for not allowing cousin Bob to commune. Cousin Bob is visiting from out of town but belongs to an ELCA or non-Lutheran denomination.

The official LCMS stance is closed or clos(e) communion. Some LCMS congregations practice closed communion; Others practice clos(e) communion; and still others practice open communion. I do wish there would be consistency across all LCMS congregations. (Personally, I think clos(e) communion is the best way to go.) I hope the LCMS can put this contentious issue to rest - and soon!

Dorothea said...

"Yeah, this isn't the place to hear a Law and Gospel sermon. But they've got a great youth program!"

Just read that statement a couple of times and let it sink in.

How exactly can the youth program be great for the youth if the youth never get the Law nor the Gospel?

Someone explain that to me.

Terry Maher said...

What is the difference between going somewhere that is not the place to hear a Law and Gospel sermon because they have a great youth programme and going somewhere that is not the place to hear a Law and Gospel sermon but they have a great liturgy and Communion?

No-one looks down on me for bupkis, Anonymous X. Not even not taking Communion in the hand. One other old guy doesn't either! Again, I'm not for this or that frequency, but making any of them a litmus test for true Lutheranism.

And Anonymous Whatever, get over yourself. That the reaction to Seminex included manifestations like insisting on a "literal" reading of Genesis (a reading that even Augustine himself showed is not even the literal reading) is not the arcane or insider knowledge of cradle LCMSers. The post was talking about people who leave FOR places where such a view is common. One of the other Anonymous, the one who supplied the link, got it right.

Anonymous said...

Some swim river and some cross creeks - Willow Creek. Sad.

Anonymous said...

How do you talk to someone who has no appreciation for the sacraments or proper teaching?

And how about congregations that put up and decorate Christmas trees before Advent has barely begun? A trivial matter? I think not. When we copy the secular culture we deprive ourselves and especially our kids of the meaning of the season of "waiting" for the Lord, in his first coming and at the end of time.

Lutherans used to be known for their beautiful observance of Advent.