Saturday, July 29, 2017

What shall we say?

It has happened about a dozen times in the past few months.  Some regarding locales far away from this parish and this state and others within a drive of an hour or two.  They come from Lutherans looking for a real Lutheran parish.  They were members of Grace and had to move due to employment.  Now they have a few choices from congregations that are Lutheran in name but not so much in practice or from congregation so tiny that the trade off of good doctrine and acceptable practice comes at the cost of music, programs, etc...

I repeat.  Grace Lutheran Church is NOT an exceptional parish in terms of overall Lutheran identity, doctrine, and practice.  We have the weekly Divine Service, sung liturgy, a very good choir, a very good parish musician, and a solidly entrenched tradition of faithful teaching and preaching.  That should not be exceptional.  It should be normal.  Every congregation who claims to be Lutheran should have the Divine Service (not with Holy Communion since the Divine Service implies Holy Communion), sung liturgy, a decent cantor or choir, capable organist, and solid Lutheran preaching and teaching.  It is not out of reach.  It is not easy but it is not impossible in nearly every location.  And one ought to be able to expect that this is reflective of solid programs of education (Sunday school for lack of a better name), catechesis for young and old, and Bible study (that deals with the meat of the Word and not simply how you feel about it).  This is NOT exceptional but normal for those who claim the Augsburg Confession and who claim the legacy of Lutheranism born from that faithful witness.

Yet. . . I continue to get complaints that when folks move they cannot find a Lutheran congregation that mirrors these values.  Either worship is a smorgasbord of tastes, styles, and preferences (of which the Divine Service may or may not be one) or it can be painful experience in which canned music or incapable parish musicians lead from one bench or another.  Either the doctrine is light and the Lutheran identity is tenuous or it may be reflected in anger and resentment against one or the other Synods (lacking a salutary and healthful spirit of truth that encourages, equips, and ennobles).   Either the congregation is so small there is no real Sunday school or catechesis going on or it is large enough to offer choices not worthy of a congregation who claims the Augsburg Confession (having turned Bible study into self-help groups).

My point is not to complain about the aberrations (okay, maybe it is) but to remind us that congregational expressions of Lutheran identity should be more the same than different.  I served a far smaller parish in upstate NY and we had a very faithful and gifted parish musician, a decent choir, sung Divine Service, weekly Eucharist, and a faithful and Lutheran catechetical and Biblical educational program.  These ought not to be the exceptions but the norm (no matter how small or how large the parish).  This is our Lutheran problem.  We have inconsistency that goes to the core of our identity.  How would it be if you visited an outlet of a restaurant chain and found that this logicality had changed the menu, the recipes, or theme to the point where you did not recognize it as an Olive Garden or Cheddars or Logans?  Yet this is what our people report to me (whether on vacation or if forced to find a new parish home due to move).  Brothers, it should not be so.

Our people are our parishes are suffering not because our creativity has failed but because our consistency has failed.  We do not know who we are.  Lutherans cannot survive if they are only one parish deep and wide.  I plead not for myself but for those who are in your neighborhoods and communities and who wonder where they will find a Lutheran congregation.


William Gleason said...

Even in the early 90s, when we lived for a year between calls in St. Louis, we had a difficult time finding an orthodox LCMS church. (And by "orthodox," I simply mean what you are saying in your article: a church with confessional Lutheran teaching, genuine and vibrant liturgy, and, I would add, a critical view toward all the trendy ecclesiastical and "liturgical" fads blowing in the cultural wind.) Right there in Zion on the Mississippi!

For a good 80% of those Sundays that year, I would take preaching engagements from St. Robert, Mo to Decatur, IL. You wouldn't believe the diversity of liturgies I was asked to lead. Many I could not do with a clear conscience, so I ended up telling them that I would only use a liturgy from whichever Lutheran hymnal they had.

One of my children wants to move to your neck of the woods (TN), and being concerned myself about their spiritual needs began looking at congregation websites. There is much to be concerned about. Praise God that He holds His Elect in the palm of His hand and no one, not even misguided LCMS folk, will snatch them out of His hand.

Anonymous said...

I think that the congregational nature of the LCMS is a significant part of the problem. Too much power is vested in the Voters, and the Elders, most of whom are not trained theologians at all and are easily swayed by the society around them. In the small town where I live, the larger of the two LCMS parishes has a pastor who is absolutely terrified of the leadership in his parish. He would never contradict them, for fear of his position, even when they are clearly in need of correction.

The general direction of society these days is toward chaos and turmoil. When we invite the laity to control the parish, we put that mind set in charge. The results are evident.


Carl Vehse said...

"In the small town where I live, the larger of the two LCMS parishes has a pastor who is absolutely terrified of the leadership in his parish. He would never contradict them, for fear of his position, even when they are clearly in need of correction."

The real problem is that the pastor will not carry our his duty as a pastor as he promised at his ordination or installation. And it's likely amplified by the fact that he will get little support from his Circuit Counselor (aka, Circuit Visitor) or from the District President who will typically side with a congregation that contributes to the District coffers. So much for the Harrison's Koinonia Project—the 'Obamacare' of the Missouri Synod.

Longing for an episcopal polity won't make a difference. The Missouri Saxon Lutherans remember that from the Martin Stephan debacle. That is why, for 166 years C.F.W. Walther's Die Stimme unserer Kirche in der Frage von Kirche und Amt has been the Missouri Synod's official understanding, under Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, of the doctrine of church and ministry.

Anonymous said...

It’s a Catch-22. The LC-MS is careful not to emulate top-down forms of Episcopalian or Presbyterian Church governance in preference to that of Congregational polity – all well and good unless the laity is under-catechized. Then you have the blind leading the blind or the blind telling seminary trained servants of the Word how to conduct Word and sacrament ministry. Lutherans are traditionally sensitive to the abuses of power by bishops and bureaucracies and stress the importance of laymen knowing sound doctrine and refuting innovation that invites error. So Bible literacy and learning Church history are of paramount importance for continuity and sustainability, without which a congregation or synod doesn’t stand a chance. The peer and cultural pressures to adapt to pop-Christianity are too great to withstand unless a congregation has been immersed in right teaching and Bible study. Increasingly, in the LC-MS, anyone who speaks out against contemporary worship, women elders, and open communion is ignored as an outlier, an odd-man out. The Divine Service, sung liturgy, a good choir and gifted musicians, capable organist, and solid Lutheran preaching and catechism are quickly becoming the exception as more Americanized Christianity pervades the parishes of those formerly confessional orthodox Lutheran churches. In the South there are two kinds of houses: Those with termites and those that are going to get termites. Can the same be said of confessional Lutheran congregations that will lose their identity and distinctives to new wave worship? Is it only a matter of time before people are forced to move to towns where they know the pastor and congregation are confessional to the core? I don’t know about you, but this sounds a bit like a variation on a theme of a dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World, and I don’t like it, notwithstanding Matthew 16:18.

Carl Vehse said...

"unless the laity is under-catechized"

But that can't happen because every LCMS pastor when he is ordained or installed, answers affirmatively when asked, "Will you faithfully instruct both young and old in the chief articles of Christian doctrine?"

And a LCMS congregation's constitution specifies that it subscribes without reservation to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord of 1580, and that the congregation's communicant members also subscribe to the congregation's confessional standard.

So how can the voters assembly members be under-catechized? Who's not reminding them, when they become communicant members of the LCMS congregation either at their confirmation or by transfer from another LCMS congregation, that they are confirming their confession to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church contained in the Book of Concord of 1580, which is the confessional standard of the LCMS congregation?

Who's falling down on their job or not pulling their confessional Lutheran load?

Anonymous said...

The 1950's were probably the last time that LCMS parishes had any
type of uniformity as far as the hymnal was concerned.

Anonymous said...

The LCMS and its various, disjointed, fragmented districts, pastors, district presidents, seminaries, and parishes is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you are going to get. Take your pick. There is no doctrinal nor practical unity. Practically speaking, everyone does their own thing with very few taking regard to our official confession of faith.