Sunday, January 4, 2015

Self-consciously Lutheran. . .

Friend Pr Will Weedon used the phrase first.  In a random thought on his blog he wrote: ...the LCMS structure as conceived by the founders of Synod only works if the members of congregations and the pastors of parishes are self-consciously LUTHERAN. . .  It is a genius phrase that certainly explains the conundrum we find ourselves in today.

Missouri has an odd structure by all accounts.  We are congregational but not congregationalist, we have a ministerium but we act as church as well, and we have no bishops but we do invest individuals with the episcopal authority to oversee doctrine and practice on all levels in our church.  We are somewhat anti-clergy and yet hold up the Office of the Pastor as the highest of all offices.  We are kind of democratic but refuse to allow democracy a place when it comes to what we believe, confess, and teach.  We are highly uniform in creed, confession, and (in theory) hymnals and agendas and yet free to allow congregations to structure themselves and order their work locally.  We are divided into districts but none of those districts are representative to the national Synod; quite the other way around, the districts are "synod in that place."  Sometimes we seem and, perhaps, we are a bundle of contradictions.  Yet they worked and will work if and when we are self-consciously Lutheran in doctrine and practice.

Therein lies the rub...   We are not at all sure or united in what that means.  Some see it in a minimalistic way that offends our Confessions and others see it in a hierarchical way that is equally offensive.  The structure works when we set aside liberty for the sake of witness and work in the name of Jesus.  So parishes set aside (voluntarily as a condition of membership) their right to call whomever and agree to call from the roster of our church pastors, teachers, and other rostered workers.  So parishes set aside (voluntarily as a condition of membership) their right to define the faith and agree to uphold and adhere to the confessional standard of the Synod (expressed constitutionally in article II but also in the doctrinal resolutions and stances agreed upon by Synod in convention over the years).  So parishes set aside their freedom to act individually (voluntarily as a condition of membership) to act in concert with their brothers and sisters throughout the Synod in the work of educating church workers, foreign missions, publishing orthodox educational, theological, and liturgical materials.

It does not work when we no longer have confidence in the means of grace, when we resent the willing and voluntary setting aside of liberties to work in concert, when we insist upon individual rights and privileges first, when we are jealous of turf and dollars, when we are suspicious of the motives of each other, when we act with a party spirit, when we act in solitude or individually to do what we have agreed to do together, and when we refuse the oversight, advice, and counsel of those whom we have elected to serve with this episcopal ministry for our sake, for the sake of one another, and for the greater good of the cause of Christ and His Gospel.

There is no shortage of people complaining about the state of the good ship Missouri and some of their
complaints are spot on (from all sides) but many of their complaints are just plain wrong.  The truth is that some of us do not want Missouri to work -- we have grown too comfortable with our insistence upon rights and privileges to restore the language of responsibility and accountability.  I believe that Missouri is the best hope for Lutheranism in America but I am not always sure we are up to the task.  I believe we can be, we should be, and we would be if we all picked up on and savored the opportunity to be self-consciously Lutheran in doctrine and practice.  It will not happen instantaneously nor will it happen easily but it is the best hope for Missouri so that we may be the best example of the Lutheran genius of evangelical catholicity for our time.  Pray, brothers and sisters, that we get it right. . . sooner rather than later.

..the LCMS structure as conceived by the founders of Synod only works if the members of congregations and the pastors of parishes are self-consciously LUTHERAN, that is, if they are willing to be corrected by and held accountable to the Symbolical Books in doctrine and in practice.


David Gray said...

I think Pastor Weedon is right but I don't think that is unique to Missouri or to Lutheranism. A lazy or indifferent congregation which is indifferent to doctrine and practice and fails to teach and catechize its youth will go bad one way or another over time.

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Peters: "Missouri has an odd structure by all accounts. We are congregational but not congregationalist..."

I'm glad to see such statements rather than extremist rantings (accompanied by Weedon's "Bingo" approval) like:

"Missouri's weakness has always been its congregationalistic structure and mentality -- more than anything else this has contributed to her divisions and problems and prevented resolution of those divisions and problems."

There’s a history behind the Missouri Synod’s congregational polity and the justified opposition to an episcopist polity, a history that goes back to the Saxon immigration to America and earlier. It is the ignorance or rejection of this history, and, indeed, the callous substitution of revisionist fairy tales and outright lies that in a real sense is responsible for the deterioriation in congregational doctrine and practice.

One of the biggest lies spread within the Missouri Synod is that the Synod’s polity and the congregational voters assembly were derived from American democracy and politics, and in a guilt-by-association, American Protestantism.

In his book, Government of the Missouri Synod (CPH, 1947), Carl S. Mundinger describes the history of the Missouri Synod polity and spends most of Chapter 7 refuting the lies about the alleged American democratic (congregationalistic) influence on Synod polity, noting, at one point:

“Any democratic political theories which the founders of the Missouri Synod might have entertained, they did not get from America, but from the same source from which they derived their theory and church polity, viz., from the writings of Martin Luther. Walther’s political democracy was not that of John Locke nor of Jean Jacques Rousseau.”

Carl Vehse said...

Comments on Weedon's Blog also noted that "as the members of congregations, the pastors of parishes, and LCMS synodocrats become less self-consciously LUTHERAN, that is, as they become less willing to be corrected by and held accountable to the Symbolical Books in doctrine and in practice, the LCMS structure as conceived by the founders of Synod is changed to accomodate that decrease in being self-consciously LUTHERAN."

"The synodocrats come with the changes in the LCMS structure to accomodate the decrease in being self-consciously LUTHERAN."

Paul said...

"Let us never forget, esteemed brothers, that the decision about the future of our church and the preservation of the Lutheran Confessions is made in the individual congregation. For there, in the church at a particular place, stands the altar around which the church gathers."

Sasse; "The Lutheran Understanding of the Consecration;" We Confess Anthology