Wednesday, May 27, 2015

One issue conversions. . .

One issue conversions (or reasons for leaving one church and joining another) are seldom enough to satisfy the one leaving.  For a long time I have suggested that many of those who left the ELCA did not leave the ELCA but merely desired to leave behind the sexuality decisions of the 2009 CWA.  They were leaving in the hopes of placing one issue behind them.  Those who leave Lutheranism for Rome or Constantinople generally have an issue that becomes the trigger.  This last straw was the one thing they could no longer abide (I have heard many:  infant communion, size, history, a magisterium, frustration with democratic structures common to non-Roman communions, liturgical matters, etc...).  The truth is that Missouri was begun by a group of people who took the radical step of not leaving a church behind but a country and a culture to find a new home where they could be the church they could not be in Germany.  In every case, there have been mixed results.

The NALC has not become the huge magnet for disaffected ELCA types and there are questions still being resolved -- not in the least of which what does it mean to be in fellowship with the very church body they left in protest?!  The LCMC has become a hodge podge of strange and unusual -- things Lutheran and things Protestant and things Evangelical.  It is not so much a church body as a loose group of cooperating churches who function independently of one another.  Issues of fellowship are likewise as informal and loose within this group.

Those who have left for Rome or Constantinople have left with dreams only to find that any more is an exchange of one set of problems for another.  No one who says otherwise is being honest.  It is a matter of what problems you choose to live with and what problems force you to leave.  Some have quite willingly and cheerfully shaken the dust of their former Lutheranism from their feet -- running from more than running to a new church home.  Others have been much more circumspect (thinking here of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus who never really renounced his Lutheran identity and life but saw his conversion as the ordinary outcome of his Lutheran-ness).

One does not even have to think on a denominational scale to see this.  Splits over single issues seldom produce healthy churches in the short term.  It may be enough to force you to leave but a single issue is not enough to help you face the future with a positive identity and picture of what you are here to accomplish.  We have had folks who left the two congregations I have served but less than half of them ended up being regular attenders or people who fully embraced their new church homes.  Single issues and a move from rather than toward has resulted in very uneven fruits.  Even those who leave a liberal Christian denomination for one that unashamedly affirms Scripture's infallibility may not be prepared to embrace the liturgical, sacramental, and theological consequences of their move (I am thinking here of one family who left a denomination which no longer affirmed the truthfulness of Scripture but is still uncomfortable about the infant baptism they encountered in Lutheranism).

It is much easier to run from something than to run to it.  To a certain extent, many Christians are running from their own churches and church bodies -- even while they remain active members.  The clear and unbroken historical position on marriage, for example, becomes an issue people run from when a child, grandchild, or other relative or friend presents themselves with a same sex partner desiring to be married.  The clear and unbroken position on abortion, another example, becomes an issue when people have a child, grandchild, or other relative or friend who faces an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy or seems ill-equipped to care for a child.  People are always saying about their churches "Oh, I know our church teaches that but I don't believe it..."  Even congregations have chosen to de-emphasize aspects of their historic confession (say Lutherans who have outgrown the liturgy and worship like Evangelicals).

The truth is I think Lutheranism -- that is the faith confessed in the Lutheran Confessions and proclaimed by generations of orthodox teachers, preachers, pastors, and musicians -- is better than the actual Lutheran church bodies that claim that confession.  Most of us do.  So what do you do with that?  In my case, I agitate for my parish and my church body to take seriously their own Confessions and to exercise more discipline (personally and ecclesiastically) to let those Confessions inform and govern doctrine and practice.  It is an ongoing struggle but I think in the end it is a positive one.  I hope that I am not running away from something but running toward a positive affirmation of an evangelical and catholic faith that reformed and continues to reform the dogma and practice of our life on behalf of all Christians but within the specific sphere of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

I would be happy if all denominations did the same thing -- struggled with Scripture and the catholic tradition to make sure their own church body was as faithful as it could be.  In the end I think this is much better ecumenical model that overlooking differences or deciding that such differences are somehow or other no longer impediments to being one at the altar.  None of us gains anything by having those who discount or are embarrassed by our confessional identity lead us or engage other Christians on our behalf.

Lutherans have never said that the borders of the church are coterminous with any particular Lutheran denomination -- only that the faith expressed in our Concordia is the catholic and apostolic faith and not sectarian in any way.  I am regretfully prepared to accept that any Lutheran denomination will disappoint me but I am yet to be disappointed with the Lutheran faith as confessed in our Concordia.  For that reason it is less likely I will leave than those who have drawn a line in the sand and said no more.


Carl Vehse said...

"Those who leave Lutheranism for Rome or Constantinople generally have an issue that becomes the trigger. This last straw was the one thing they could no longer abide (I have heard many: infant communion, size, history, a magisterium, frustration with democratic structures common to non-Roman communions, liturgical matters, etc...)."

Except for the so-called frustration (e.g., Loehe's "amerikanische Poebelherrschaft") with the Lutheran understanding of church and ministry, the parenthetical issues are not things [ordained] deserters from Lutheranism could no longer abide, but things they could no longer live without—infant communion, [church body] size, [> 500 yr. visible church] history, a magisterium. As for the vague "liturgical matters," that would mostly depend on the liturgical practices those pastors employed in their local congregation(s).

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I believe we must focus on being Biblical first, and as Luther pointed to the Bible himself, we cannot be too entangled in denominational distinctions exclusively. Therefore, whether it is one gay marriage....or a host of other issues which conscience and scripture find unacceptable, we must be determined to leave a church untenable to our faith. This is not an option. It is a command for God's people to leave congregations which act in willful disobedience to plain scripture. We do not leave for insignificant reasons, however, people have left churches when individuals, either pastors or other leaders, have caused dysfunction, acted inappropriately, legalistically, or in a manner which does not reflect harmony and leadership.

Kirk Skeptic said...

as for agitating, there comes a point at which banging one's head against the wall is no longer worth the great feeling one gets when one stops.

Anonymous said...

I left Lutheranism (WELS) almost 25 years ago to become an Anglican. I had previously left the LCMS to join WELS when the LCMS began to tinker with worship, abandoning the TLH. I am a firm believer in the truth of the phrase Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, and I never could understand how the LCMS though they could change the words and form of the service without changing the theology. I could see that the WELS were on the verge of doing something similar at that time.

When I visited a Continuing Anglican parish, I was amazed at the liturgy, so much like that in TLH (TLH seems to have been derived largely from the Book of Common Prayer), and in particular, I was struck by the Prayer of Humble Access right before Communion. This took me back to my childhood, some 70 odd years ago now, in the (pre-united) Methodist Church, where this same prayer was a part of the Communion service. This was, no doubt, a result of Methodism's Anglican roots.

The God we worship does not change, not even a little bit, and there is no reason at all why our worship of Him should change. If it was right yesterday, it must still be right today. (If it was wrong yesterday, then by all means it must be made right today.)

I think that a major problem in the Church today is that people have lost the understanding of worship. Most do not go to church to worship, to give honor, praise, and glory to God, but rather to get something for themselves, to be enlightened and/or entertained. These last are not worship in the slightest. We need to teach people to worship, to worship truly, and make Sunday morning about God, not about themselves.

Continuing Anglican Priest

Janis Williams said...

We left the Baptist church for one basic issue: the Gospel. I'm not saying there is no Gospel preached in the Baptist church. I am not saying there are not now a number off other issues which became apparent in the process. If there is one issue to be considered "OK" or "satisfying" over which to jump ship, it is the Gospel. If you are in a church that does not give you Law that will expose your sin, and then give you the Gospel in all it's sweetness, you have a good reason to leave. If you are being fed false doctrine, run. Otherwise, most anythiing else causing conflict is a pecadillo.