‘Who cares?’ he says. ‘I don’t mind about all that. Particularly if people go to Rome, which is such a source of inspiration. I had an email from a very old friend, an Anglican priest who has decided to go to Rome. I wrote back saying: how wonderful! As long as you are following your vocation, you are following Christ. It’s just wonderful. What we need is for people to be disciples of Jesus Christ. I don’t really care whether it’s the Church of England or Rome or the Orthodox or Pentecostals or the Lutherans or Baptists. They are faithful disciples of Christ.’Well, of course, he cares but why does he refuse to acknowledge this and why does he shrug off the numbers of Anglican priests and laity embracing Rome? Could it be that this is the secret hope of all prelates and the folks in their camp? If they cannot change the minds of the people who are thorns in their sides, then at least being rid of them is some consolation. This is certainly the case of Justin Welby who has presided over a deepening rift between the UK, US, and Canada and Anglicans in Africa -- as well as the conservatives in those regions who have left or are contemplating leaving the official churches for schismatic groups (at least that is how Canterbury would define them). Life is easier without those who disagree muddying up your clarity with constant challenges to doctrine and practice.
Anglicanism was in trouble long before ABC Welby sighed in relief over those leaving for Rome and it will be in just as great a difficulty after all conservatives have left for one place or another. But at least in their smaller church they will not fight so much. At least that is the presumption.
Some in the ELCA and Missouri have the same kind of illusions -- let those who are not my people go where they want to go and even though the church that is left will be smaller, it will at least be less contentious. While this might be the common feeling of liberals or progressives, it cannot be the fall back position of the conservatives. We do care because we stand for the truth. It is not incidental to us when people leave for heterodox churches or to live in churches which either tolerate or espouse outright apostasy. We must care because we care about truth. Therefore, we cannot simply settle for harmony if it comes at the expense of people abandoning the truth for error.
Lutherans (at least the confessional kind) fight not for control or dominance or position or even for power. They (I should say "we") fight for the truth and against error. Let me speak personally here, it is not a matter of indifference to me if Lutherans from my parish leave to be come Baptists or Roman Catholics. It can never be framed as whether or not we are still playing on the same team or not because this is not about control, dominance, position, or power -- it is about truth and error. When Lutherans leave to become Baptists, it is not merely a matter of a membership list but baptism and the truth of St. Paul in explicating what baptism is and what happens to those baptized. In the same way, when Lutherans leave to be Roman Catholics it is not merely a matter of a membership list but justification and whether we or our works contribute anything at all to what Christ's work has done for us.
Conservative, confessional, and creedal Christians cannot be indifferent to those who leave. We contend not for numbers or for the win but for the truth. Honestly, it would be a great deal easier for Missouri to be smaller but more united in doctrine and practice but we cannot simply shrug our shoulders when people leave if this is about something bigger than control of an earthly institution or power to dominate. If it is about truth, then it must matter to us when people leave for error.
I am certain that Welby does care -- who would want to preside over an ever smaller church as your legacy! But it appears he is ready to let them go if they want to go and it does make his life easier. Funny thing, though, the same Anglicans fight to the death over property when people want to leave. In Missouri it never was or is about property since the congregation controls its own property and keeps it all when they leave. For us the fight is not about property but about truth against error, hope against illusion, and Scripture against opinion. That is both our strength and our weakness. It is our strength because truth does matter and it will endure. It is our weakness because we can appear to the world as a crazy purity cult that is aloof from the reality of people and their choices.
So if you are a confessional Lutheran, no matter how tempted you are, do not shrug your shoulders when people leave for places where error is tolerated or espoused. If you do, you are just like those who think it is no big deal and who secretly sigh with relief that things may be more peaceful now. Unless you read the Scriptures in never never land, Jesus insists that we will live at odds with the world and will have to fight a constant battle over fidelity to the Scriptures and the truth that endures forever. Unless you are not sure Jesus ever said anything of the kind. If that is the case, then perhaps unity is a smaller problem than apostasy.