Thursday, August 25, 2016

Living together without benefit of marriage. . .

Though you might think I am referencing the rampant cohabitation of those not married, my concern here is not with people but with Church and the churches that share the same name but not the same faith.  It is not merely true of Protestants whose liberal and conservative factions have their own leaders, their own publishers, their own colleges and universities, and even, perhaps, their own seminaries.  No, it is also true of Lutherans and of Roman Catholics.  We have cohabited as liberals and conservatives (for lack of a more precise definition) for some time but the days of this shacking up are numbered and it is not because of someone in power trying to force folks out.  It is because the inherent weaknesses of our cohabitation are becoming unbearable by both sides.

For Protestants this has resulted in, as one example, a Good News movement within Methodism.  Though the control of the national church structure is clearly in other hands, the more conservative forces have for some time organized for theology and mission.  It has happened in other churches as well but the Methodists provide a prime example.  The differences are not nuance but deep and profound in who Jesus was and is, what the Scriptures teach and confess, and what the Church is called to be.  The time is coming when Methodism will no longer be able to bridge the great divide of the conservative, more orthodox side (including those outside the US) and those intent upon transforming their church body into a mirror of the culture and values around it.

For Roman Catholics it has been somewhat hidden by the tribalism of Rome's ethnic construction.  The Irish are Roman Catholic.  Period.  And because they are Irish, the divide between the shapes of Irish Roman Catholicism is masked.  Though not for long.  Catholic tribalism has worked to preserve Rome as a unit in the last fifty years since the close of the second Vatican Council.  But while it has continued on paper as one church, the great divide between “Liberal” and “Conservative,” ad orientem and versus populum, Francis and Benedict, etc... has widened in North America and Europe.  Yes, the liberal Roman Catholics have their own publishing houses, colleges, religious orders and members of the hierarchy; the same for the  conservative Roman Catholics.

Under the appearance of unity, the reality of two churches under the same roof has become ever mor obvious. It is not merely cultural but theological and ontological.  On one side are those who believe the Church must adapt, inculturate, and change to survive and on the other are those who believe that such will be the death of the faith itself.  Now it appears to be less tenable to maintain this separate existence and perhaps we can credit Francis for bring this to the forefront.

Among Lutherans the same divide is becoming ever more untenable.  For us it has shown itself in the form of worship wars and mission differences.  Some among us believe that worship must adapt to technology, culture, and personal preference to provide an atmosphere amenable to those not yet of the Kingdom.  Others believe that the liturgy is its own culture and that the abandonment of our liturgical tradition and identity is a surrender of the faith itself.  In mission there are those who believe that the most important thing is to share Jesus and others who insist that in addition to speaking the Gospel we must actually plant congregations where the means of grace can feed and nourish those who believe.  In crass form, the argument has been framed between missional and maintenance.  But under the worship wars and the mission distinctions lie other more significant differences.  The public wars are really about the great divide between those who see the Church in militant posture against an ever more antagonistic world and those who believe the Church must be more friendly toward the world and make accommodation with the changes in culture and society.

Perhaps we Lutherans (here speaking of the LCMS) have been less successful in giving the overall appearance of unity since we do not have a papacy to provide symbolic unity but I think many who are on both sides of this debate are finding the twin poles increasingly difficult to manage under one  structure.  What we face may well be a different kind of realignment -- between those who wish to see our Synod as a confederation of semi-autonomous districts and those who do not believe the Church is a representative democracy.  Where this will pan out is hard to say.

In all of the examples, one key ingredient has been what happens in Seminary and the kind of clergy being provided for the churches.  Where the seminaries have come down on one side and provide candidates for ordination who stand solidly with their perspective, the church body has tilted to that side.  In the end, this is a battle of seminaries and a war waged one candidate and one ordination at a time.  Whether accurate or not, this is how the two seminaries of the LCMS have been painted.  It is the great divide between diocesan seminaries of Rome.  And it has surely been fostered in other churches by the direction taken by their own seminaries.

It is true that it is ever more difficult for the sides to be comfortable with each other, the jockeying for place and prominence does not serve the mission well, and the unifying factors are becoming weaker than the divisions.  We will see how Missouri, Rome, and the rest of the churches fare in maintaining their unity and sustaining the tense appearance of unanimity.  Some believe this is a boomer issue and the retirement of a generation of leaders and pastors will also shape the face of the churches.  I am not so inclined to believe it will all go away once this large contingent of leaders and pastors fades away.


Anonymous said...

Good point. Yes, the differences between Ft.Wayne and St.Louis seminaries in the LCMS are profound and evident. It generally shows in the graduates who affiliate with church growth and confessional Lutheranism. The District Presidents of the LCMS can speak to this, as they reflect this divide and have their favorite seminary, based on theology and practice. Too bad we don't work toward unity. Most of the pastors spawned at Ft.Wayne are confessional. Most of the pastors spawned at St.Louis are confessional, but many are not.

Cliff said...

Is this the beginning of "the seperation of the sheep and goats referred to in Matthews gospel?

John Joseph Flanagan said...

In theology and practice, the LCMS has some unity, but not totally. To expect total unity is delusional. Every person in our human species has an opinion. It is really quite normal.