Thursday, November 19, 2015

Leading from behind. . .

The Lutherans who came from Saxony and who later became the Missouri Synod were not so sure about democracy.  Their were real and legitimate concerns about anarchy in a political structure in which people voted their desires (more than conscience, anyway).  I have always been a closet monarchist and hope for a benevolent and faithful royal but that does not seem like it will happen soon.  In the meantime we are left with a structure that seems intent upon exploiting its weakness -- leading from behind OR following the almighty poll.

Polls surely seem designed to produce leaders who do not lead at all but who follow the often fickle and shallow whims of the people.  It seems like we are consigned to elect the very people who do not know how to lead, how to make an unpopular decision, and how to act when there is no real consensus from the momentary snapshot of the people's desires.  Absent those willing to lead, we seem content to elect people who are good at deflecting the blame, procrastinating before urgent problems, and telling us what we think we want to hear.  You can apply that equally to Republicans as well as to Democrats.  But there is something silly about a political process in which candidates compete to do what we think we want them to do more quickly and efficiently than others.

As telling as this problem is for the political discourse and election process in America, it is also killing the Church.  The Church has been subjected to the same polling machine as politics.  We regularly find out that only a minority of Roman Catholics go to Mass, believe in priestly celibacy, reject the ordination of women, believe that the Gospel is the only way of salvation, etc...  Lutherans, not as large as Roman Catholics, are not overlooked in this.  We regularly hear how our people want this in worship or that, are not so sure where they stand on abortion, homosexuality, etc...  It is as if we are being fed the same hogwash as the political sphere in that the most effective leader finds out where the people are at, gets behind the people, and follows the whims of their thinking or feeling wherever they lead.

Pastors need to learn quickly that they are not there to follow the sheep but to shepherd them, to guide them, to lead them to the verdant pasture and still, quiet waters of the Lord's Word and Sacraments and to preach the whole counsel of God's Word and not what people desire hearing.  In season and out of season was the slogan from St. Paul.  Peach thou the Word and plant it home.  This happens not only in the pulpit but in the classroom, in catechesis and Bible study.  Our own church body is foundering not simply because our people are not so sure about the positions we once believed were right but also because they just don't know what we believe, confess, and teach.  Most of the great questions of the faith are deemed open questions in which anyone's and everyone's answer is equally valid or true, at least for this moment in time.

Some LCMS pastors are not so sure women should vote.  I am not so sure any of us should vote.  We say that we do not vote on matters of doctrine and faithful practice but we write enough resolutions and we pass enough motions and overtures to question that stand.  That I agree with it or vote for it does not make it true.  Voting is an exercise of choice that has become a birthright even to religious entities.  Even the Synod at Rome allowed the participants to vote on the statements that will become the outcome.  Can bishops out vote the Pope?  Can Lutheran pastors veto the Word of God?  Can conventions overturn the Will of God?

We have contentious moral issues that are shaped by serious and consistent theological statement -- abortion and same sex marriage come to mind.  We have contentious theological issues that are shaped by serious and consistent theological statement -- creation comes to mind.  WE have contentious liturgical issues that are shaped by serious and consistent theological statement -- contemporary worship and music come to mind.  The hidden fear behind all of this is that we cannot afford to get too far ahead of our people or they will reject our positions and us.  The greater fear ought to be that if we fail to teach, fail to hold the unchangeable faith, and fail to worship consistent with our confessional stand, we cease to be who we say we are.

There has always been in Lutheranism a hermeneutic of continuity.  We ended the Augsburg Confession with the bold statement that we have not departed from the Word of God or from catholic doctrine and practice.  That is the golden thread of Lutheranism.  But look around at the Lutherans today and we see all sorts of ways we have ignored the voice of Scripture and tradition to go our own way -- from the areas of sex to worship, from Scripture to science.  Yet we have justified this, at least in part, by insisting that we cannot afford to get ahead of our people.  I would say just the opposite.  We cannot afford to follow them when they choose to depart from Scripture and tradition either out of ignorance of the Truth or out of willful desire.

Nobody needs a President or Congress who will listen to the will of the people.  We have the technology to vote on everything that comes up and we can govern ourselves according to the whims of the moment.  Polls can pass for legislatures and we will get exactly what we want for ourselves.  No one needs a pastor who listens to the people and repeats back to them what they want to hear.  They can do that nicely without the inconvenience or expense of clergy.  America needs leaders who will lead us where we are not sure we want to go because it is the right thing to do.  Churches need pastors who will hold us to the Word of God and catholic doctrine and practice.  Without them, it is anarchy (everyone doing what is right in their own eyes).

Leading from behind is not leading at all -- not for parents who cater to their children's every whim or for politicians who shape their positions according to the latest poll or for pastors who exchange the Word of the Lord which endures forever for the latest wind of change.


Kirk Skeptic said...

All very well and good; but, when the livelihood of the pastor depends upon "the will of the people," it is understandable that he will be very careful in picking his battles and reducing his preaching to 10-12 minutes of "Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" rather than the Law congregants may so need to hear.

The worker-priest, on the other hand, can do as he pleases and flip-off those who don't want the Bible and Lutheran symbols interfering with their religion; in a denomination short of pastors, prolonged vacancies might provide the proper "teachable moment" for those congregations needing a lesson in pastor appreciation.

jwskud said...

"The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right."
Alexander Hamilton

It is always a useful practice (in politics) to remind people that we do NOT live in a democracy. We live in a constitutional republic, wherein the representatives are democratically elected. Big difference.

On to higher things: I find two big problems in the LCMS now, as you describe above, pastor. First, congregations that run their pastor out for preaching true doctrine and holding fast to the BOC. Second, pastors who run their congregants out by failing to uphold the doctrine they swore to uphold. This is happening with increasing frequency; see for a day-by-day example.

I must say, in both problems, I lay the blame on BOTH pastors and congregants...I came into the LCMS later in life and was never formally catechized/confirmed. As a result, it was 20+ years before I heard any mention of the Book of Concord beyond a passing reference in a "New Members" class. I had no idea faith was a gift from God (divine monergism). I never knew why we baptized babies.

The synod and pastors are failing us with regards to proper teaching and continued education! And those who went through confirmation decades ago have long since forgotten what they learned.

The blame is also on all of us lay folk, who are lazy and have no interest in doctrine. My personal interest wasn't ignited until the doctrine the LCMS espouses was challenged by a group of evangelicals a few years ago. Only then did I ask, "What does my church believe? Where do they get the beliefs from? And do I agree?" We have a treasure in the BOC and our doctrines, unique from any other church body, firmly grounded in scripture - and we should want to know it.

We all have lots of room for improvement here, but it must start with pastors passionately teaching proper doctrine and encouraging us to study!

Carl Vehse said...

jwskud: "I must say, in both problems, I lay the blame on BOTH pastors and congregants...I came into the LCMS later in life and was never formally catechized/confirmed."

The blame is the residual Stephanism/Loeheism in the Missouri Synod and its seminaries. It drips out on Lutheran blogs as well.

The Missouri Synod requires of its individual and congregational members an unconditional subscription to the Book of Concord of 1580 as a faithful and true exposition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from Holy Scriptures. And the constitutions of most member congregations require that their communicant members also hold the same unconditional subscription.

Instead of the current question, catechumens, on becoming communicant members of their congregation at their confirmation thus should be asked a similar clear and accurate question about their confession, e.g.:

“Do you hold the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and of practice; and do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as it is contained in the Book of Concord of 1580 as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, to wit: the three Ecumenical Creeds (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed), the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Primacy and Power of the Pope, the Large Catechism of Luther, the Small Catechism of Luther, and the Formula of Concord?"

While objections from the Lufauxran sects within the Missouri Synod might be expected, this suggestion to ask Lutherans to vow to be Lutheran has evoked loud caterwauling from some "confessional Lutherans."

jwskud said...

Great comment and I agree. How can we hold our pastors to their confession if we don't also hold it (and know it!). As Pastor Will Weedon puts it, we need the "quia" eye for the Lutheran guy (in our pastors), but as laity we need also be quia and not quatenus (or worse yet, totally ignorant).

Perhaps the difficulty lies in the length and complexity of the BOC? I know few Lutherans who ever crack it open, much less know its contents. I am currently reading through it in its entirety, having already studies the small and large catechisms. Again, as I've heard Weedon put it, "Melanchthon, in writing the Apology, got diarrhea of the pen," which makes reading parts of it quite laborious (I'm stuck in article III and have been for weeks!). Nevertheless, I'm reading it all slowly and carefully, because I think it's important. But perhaps a "reader's digest" version, even simpler than the "reader's edition," would help?

Carl Vehse said...

A helpful Lutheran reference is Christian Dogmatics: A Handbook of Doctrinal Theology for Pastors, Teachers, and Laymen (John Theodore Mueller, St. Louis, MO Concordia Publishing House, 1934). The site also has download options in various formats.

jwskud said...

Funny you should mention Mueller. I requested Pieper's original set of volumes for Christmas! Certainly not light reading (I've read some of one volume), but doctrinal purity for the ages. Thanks for the recommendation. I think this stuff is very important, so I figured I should go straight to the source. I'm sure I'll be struggling my way through these volumes for years to come, God willing.

You can actually find the Mueller version online in PDF format, if anyone is interested.