Sunday, October 28, 2018

On the way to the Forum. . .

Most of my adult life has included an anticipatory wait for the latest from the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau'  Lutheran Forum and its supplement Forum.  A subscriber since 1972, it was one of those must read sources of information on the subjects of liturgy and worship, Lutheran unity, and, of course, As Missouri Turns.  No matter what side of those issues you were on, these publications were must read.  Before the advent of the information age, the internet, and a 24 hour news cycle, we were left pacing to see what was the latest from NYC or New Haven, MO.  We knew the names by heart -- Koenig, Neuhaus, Stone, Baily, Klein, etc...  We read while Missouri blew up, the AELC, ALC, and LCA came together, and the world marched on by caring little about either.

I have to admit that I developed a certain fondness even for articles with which I was prone to disagree.  When I lived for a year on Long Island and later as a Lutheran pastor between Albany and NYC for some 13 years, I met some of the names now chronicled through the annals of its history (Changing World, Changeless Christ).  There was a time when I would stop whatever I was doing to read the ALPB publication that came in the mail.  Not so much anymore.  In fact, days go buy before I bother to open the quarterly journal or peruse the newsletter.  The world has changed.  Lutheranism is far different than it was in 1972 or even a decade or two later.  The glory names of its history are either Roman Catholic or dead.  Its attempt to focus its mission more pan-Lutheran has left it without many subscribers -- LCMS or otherwise.  It is not the first to struggle along while others packed it in.

After reading the history, it is clear to me that some things the Forum folks got wrong -- dead wrong.  Missouri's stand for dead orthodoxy has left it as the last remaining hope for confessional Lutheranism in the USA (and, perhaps, beyond).  Missouri is not in great shape but at least it has not committed wholesale abandonment of its Lutheran-ness in pursuit of crawling in bed with every other dying mainline Christian denomination in America or embracing the latest GLBTQ position as its own.  In some respects, Neuhaus and others put their money on the wrong horse in the church wars of the 1960s-1980s.  The ordination of women has led to the ordination of GLBTQ clergy -- whether by accident or intention.  The skeptical view of Biblical history and its message has led to a distance between what is believed, confessed, and taught and the Scriptural witness.  The renewal of Lutheranism got derailed and the Preus' brothers cannot be blamed for the sham and shell that is much of Lutheranism in America today.  Bleeding people and red ink, Lutheranism bears little witness to the admiring story TIME magazine foretold of its future back in 1958.  The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau has fared no better.  I have as many readers per day on my meager blog as ALPB has subscribers and this is not as much a credit to me as it is a sign of the grand decline of the once great effort to equip LCMS pastors with practical help toward a resurgent Lutheran identity.

Richard Johnson is a credible editor and writer for the Forum Letter but he worships at an Episcopal congregation -- despite being many steps to the right of the current leadership of the ELCA.  Who would have thought that the ALPB would lead to this?  The editorship of the Lutheran Forum is still open when this is being written and there is probably no chance in hell that the editor would be LCMS -- nor that his affiliation might make any difference at all.  Lutheran ecumenism has been eclipsed by an ELCA that will marry nearly anyone but Missouri and Missouri whose brightest prospects for a marriage partner probably lie with Lutherans in Africa.  We have Lutherans in name who say they believe like Lutherans while acting like liberal Methodists and Episcopalians and we have Lutherans who worship like evangelicals but insist they still hold to the theory of what it means to be Lutheran.  We have Lutherans who have recovered their catholic liturgical identity and Lutherans who insist that whatever works to pack them in is best practice.  We have diversity which has become the goal of nearly every Lutheran group but Lutheranism is just as white as ever.  We have a great history of Lutheran education but most Lutheran colleges and universities see their Lutheran identity more as legacy and heritage than guiding force or influential identity for who they are and what they do.  We have a ton of Lutheran seminaries but not so many Lutheran seminarians.

In the end, I guess, I lament how so many things turned out.  I wish that Missouri had taken on the theological questions front and center instead of relying on by-law to deal with an expanding gulf between her profs and her people.  I wish that Missouri and the ALC had gotten together before Missouri was entering the fight for its soul and the ALC had already begun to ordain women.  I wish that the LCA was more prominent in the ELCA -- at least the old kind of LCA from the 1950s.  I wish that it were still possible to realign Lutheranism into people who wanted to be Lutheran and those who did not care about it all that much.  Missouri may have won the Battle for the Bible but at what cost?  The ecumenists got a Lutheran merger but at what cost?  Lutheran seminaries wanted to do more than train pastors but at what cost?  All around us Lutheranism is in decline because it either forgets its history to pursue relevance or it forgets its history to mimic the evangelicals or it forgets its history to be accepted by mainline churches.  The greatest shock of all is that many of those who once were thought to be Lutheranism's future leaders are Roman Catholics.

So, what else is new?  Could it have turned out worse?  I suppose.  But I would have rather tried simply to be Lutheran and seen all this failure than to have tried to be somebody else and failed -- which seems to be what most Lutherans have done.  Strange, isn't it, that where Lutheran is still vital is where Lutherans are still Lutheran?!?!  I wonder if there is a lesson there.  I wonder if the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau and its twin publications of Forum and Forum Letter are paying any attention.  I sure hope the Lutherans I know are.  If there is a future for us, it will not be because we minimize our Lutheran identity or trade it away for our 15 minutes of fame.  I think you can take that last bit of wisdom to the bank.


ErnestO said...

You so correctly stated: "If there is a future for us, it will not be because we minimize our Lutheran identity or trade it away for our 15 minutes of fame".

We of the LCMS may look like we are becoming the underdogs, but much like Jesus the Christ we are willing to look like losers in this world and thereby reaching the shores of eternal praise.

Anonymous said...

Recently, I have had an e-mail exchange with an old friend, now a retired ELCA bishop. I reminded him of some conversations he and I had in the very early 1970s when we were both in the LCA and there was talk of ordaining women. At that time, we were both strongly opposed to the idea on what I thought (and still think) were solid Biblical grounds. Today, he reminds me that he spoke against women's ordination at the time, but now, his experience tells him that he was in error. He says that they make great pastors, often better than men. He roundly resents the idea that the exodus from the pews is related to women pastors.

There are none so blind as those that refuse to see.

Anglican Priest

Pastor Peters said...

He says that they make great pastors, often better than men. He roundly resents the idea that the exodus from the pews is related to women pastors.

I am sure that he is probably correct, at least as far as we can see, but the point is not who would make great pastors but who the Lord has called and we dare not deviate from the Word of the Lord about who may be ordained. Ordination is not a meritocracy. It is the Lord's call, discerned by the Church, in His time.

As to whether the ordination of women is responsible for the exodus, I am not sure but I do know that the ordination of women never exists apart from deviation from the Word of God as the source and norm of doctrine and practice, from the catholic tradition, and without consequences that go well beyond the simple ordination of women and that this is surely responsible for the exodus.

Anonymous said...

Lutheranism in American has largely surrendered to the cultural
ideal of being successful. The ALC-LCA merger, ELCA fellowship
with 6 Protestant denominations, the ordination of women, the
Church Growth movement's emphasis on contemporary worship, the
concept of a mega church that has a big professional staff:
3 or 4 pastors, DCE, Youth minister, Music Director, Administrative
assistants in finance, evangelism,stewardship.

Bottom Line: The mantra Bigger is always Better has not been
helpful to our Lutheran identity.

Anonymous said...

For "mainline" and liberal churches, the exodus from the pews is related to congregations ordaining women. These congregations would later decide to embrace homosexuality based on the rationale that they already have women pastors.

I see most of the decline of the LCMS directly related to demographics.

Some LCMS laymen leave for other denominations in response to their congregations transforming into Evangelical megachurches. Why bother staying with the LCMS when you can attend a non-denominational congregation and get the same (Saddleback, Willow Creek, Fuller) theology?

David Gray said...

In 1930 no church of the Reformation permitted contraception, even in marriage. It hasn't been a good 90 years...

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the LCMS, Mr. and Mrs. ex-Evangelical! Glad to see you here.

We understand that the errors of Evangelical theology caused you to flee into the arms of confessional Lutheranism. In addition to contemporary worship, we offer bible and small group studies written by the latest pop-Evangelical authors only. Hymnals and books by Lutheran authors are for "old" people and are no longer used here. Our consultant said those would scare away the young people, and we want you to feel welcome here.

As you both are young ex-Evangelicals with small children, we have great news for you! As an LCMS pastor who recently attended an LCMS seminary, I am an expert in knowing what ex-Evangelicals want. Moreover, to keep my training up to date, I regularly attend seminars hosted by Fuller seminary and peruse materials published by Willow Creek. That makes me a confessional Lutheran who knows your needs. As a recent example of how hip and forward thinking confessional Lutherans are, our congregation is interested in either selling or donating the organ, which is no longer in use. All that tradition is too stuffy, wouldn't you agree?

We don't have Catechesis here. That is rigid and boring. It also appears too (Roman) Catholic. Instead, we offer a generic protestant "Introduction to Christianity" class, complete with witty video clips. If you would like to delve deeper into confessional Lutheranism, please be sure to check out the church library for the latest books by (Baptists) Beth Moore and Andy Stanley.

Sincerely yours,

Pastor Screwtape

Anonymous said...


Your caricature of the LCMS falls flat. We sang Methodist hymns in the bronze age, but with doctrinally incorrect lyrics changed. Think of how many traditional TLH hymns are by George Elvey. Contemporary hymns sung in LCMS churches, such as "The Lamb" or "In Christ Alone" are likewise vetted for doctrinal correctness. The overwhelming majority of LCMS churches own and use LSB. LCMS seminaries still teach Pieper's Dogmatics and do not view "Willow Creek/Saddleback/Fuller" as a doctrinal model any more than they do Rome or Constantinople. Never been to an LCMS church with no organ, but, for the sake of argument, some confessional Lutherans during the Reformation did personally hate the organ. So what? It has nothing to do with doctrine. All LCMS churches offer catechesis from the Small Catechism, and church libraries tend to be stocked with old LCMS Statistical Yearbooks, a copy of Chemnitz's "The Two Natures of Christ," various works from CPH over the years, etc.

What is your point, outside of misguided hyperbole?

Anonymous said...

The overwhelming majority of LCMS churches

Yes BUT the overwhelming majority of people attending LCMS congregations go to churches more likely to offer blended or completely contemporary services without much more than a hint of the hymnal. Besides, if they teach the popular evangelical authors, who is to say they are doctrinally orthodox anymore??

Anonymous said...

Anonymous poster from October 30, 2018 at 11:36 AM,

"LCMS seminaries still teach Pieper's Dogmatics and do not view "Willow Creek/Saddleback/Fuller" as a doctrinal model any more than they do Rome or Constantinople."

Correct. LCMS Pastor Screwtape never stated that the seminaries taught anything non-Lutheran in his posts. What LCMS pastors teach outside of the seminaries is a completely different matter......

Regarding the rest of your comments..... Well, ahem, no Pieper, but lots of Fuller-trained church consultants:

It is really not that hard to find LCMS districts promoting the church growth pop-Evangelical theology. We know how district presidents like to do "on the ground" mission work from the comfort of their plush offices. And yes, Pastor Screwtape will refer you to Pastor Maier's district in the link above. Many people really don't want a Kieschnick 2.0 leading the LCMS. We are familiar with Issues, Etc. Which existing KFUO podcast will be cancelled right after such a person is elected?

Everything in LCMS Pastor Screwtape's letter is happening in his growing LCMS congregation. In spite of all of the millions of dollars spent on church growth programs, what has the LCMS to show for it? If Pastor Screwtape's letter is hyperbole, then why is the LCMS continuing to shrink?

The main reason for the shrinkage may be demographics, but after spending millions of dollars on learning how to imitate the Evangelicals, the numbers still look bad. Between Congregations Matter, Five-Two, and Willow Creek Association congregations, how much of the LCMS membership does that comprise? 40%, 50%, or 60%? Where is the church growth audit? The laymen want their wasted offering plate money back.

"All LCMS churches offer catechesis from the Small Catechism, and church libraries tend to be stocked with old LCMS Statistical Yearbooks, a copy of Chemnitz's "The Two Natures of Christ," various works from CPH over the years, etc."

"All LCMS churches?" Can this be proven? The past two LCMS congregations of which I have been a member did not offer catechesis. There are older LCMS publications in the libraries, but the new publications being added are those recommended by Saddleback and Willow Creek. My LCMS congregation is a proud member of Willow Creek, and I recall studying the Purpose Driven Life in my LCMS small group.

I wish the LCMS would stop ignoring the needs of disaffected Evangelicals.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters, I am surprised to see that Rev. Dr. Terry Tieman is rostered but his organization, TCN, is not listed as an RSO. Do you know any reason why this is so? I just assumed the two would go together.

Pastor Peters said...

As to the question of TCN and is status as an RSO, you may want to contact Terry Tieman. I suspect that RSO status was neither something the LCMS wanted or TCN desired at this stage of the game.