Saturday, July 13, 2019

Because we can does not mean we should. . .

I for one am tired of those who pursue the extremes of faith and practice -- certainly within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod but also those who presume just about anything under the label Christian.  We live at the juncture of passivity and individuality.  Churches are loathe to challenge those who challenge the extremes of doctrine and life and individuals are loathe to hear the counsel of those charged with ecclesiastical supervision.  This is not strictly a Lutheran problem and no less than Rome and Constantinople struggle with the task of integrity of doctrine and practice.

The media, of course, loves those who push the edge.  The media is infatuated with the idea that the structure is some mean and terrible machine and that the only voice of truth comes from those who stand up to the machine.  Sometimes it is true.  To be sure, we need to hear those voices.  But most of the time those who deliberately live on the edges of faith and practice are there not as victims but as individuals who deliberately try to thwart doctrinal integrity and uniformity of practice.  They do not want friendly overseers but none at all.  They want all the privileges of belonging without any of the responsibilities.

In our Lutheran world, the word is adiaphora.  Whatever we want to do that others do not think we should be doing we get away with simply by laying down the get out of jail free card -- adiaphora!  We don't want to use the catechism?  We don't have to.  We don't want to use the hymnal?  We don't have to.  We don't want to use the liturgy?  We don't have to?  We don't want to use the lectionary?  We don't have to.  We don't want to wear vestments?  We don't have to.  We don't have to and nobody can make us, either!  We will tolerate the Synodical affiliation only so long as we find benefit in it but we will resist to the core the idea that we have to pay any attention whatsoever to that Synod when it comes to what we teach or practice.  That is how you hear it.

Uniformity has become a bad word in our day and our independence requires that those who speak it have their mouths washed out with soap.  So no matter what we say in convention (and countless are the resolutions pleading with congregations and pastors to hear and heed what we believe and what is good practice informed by that belief), we reserve the right to say "no, not now, maybe not ever."

In the end we have bylaw structures to attempt to deal with such recalcitrance and they are salutary but what ever happened to the idea of walking together?  I am not at all suggesting that we prevent those who would do more to stop but I am asking those who do less to step up to the plate and treat their brothers and sisters in Christ with some respect and consideration.  Must we be threatened into a unity which every age has suggested is not a burden but a blessing?  Must we hide our outlandish practices and strange opinions under the cover of adiaphora or freedom or an advisory church body in order to stick up our noses at those around us?

In the end, nobody forces anyone to be a member of Synod -- not a congregation or a pastor.  This is a choice parishes and pastors make freely but with that free choice come responsibilities that govern our freedom to say, think, or do whatever we want.  Just because such freedom is even permissible does mean that it is beneficial.  When we join, we lay aside some of our independence for the sake of our relationship.  We covenant together for good purpose.  I just wish we would all remember that from time to time instead of enjoying all the benefits while refusing all considerations to what it means to walk together.

I was reminded of a good quote a while ago:
A congregation which has of its own free will united with other churches in a synodical organization and has agreed to certain work together with other Christian congregations and through its representatives at synodical meetings decides upon the details of such work, is by the law of Christian love in duty bound to join its forces, if at all possible, to those of others in carrying out such resolutions for the promotion of the common interests of the Church of Christ. “If however, some willfully oppose it, “ as Luther says (he is speaking of the visitation of the churches), “and without good reason get their own way, as indeed, there are some uncontrollable heads who out of sheer malice will not join in a good cause, but rather delight in being different from other people and in opposing them, we must let them separate themselves from us as the chaff is separated from the threshing-floor…May God, the Father of all mercy, however, give unto us through Christ Jesus, His Son, the Spirit of unity and the power to do His will!” St. L. X, 1634.

A Christian pastor should arouse, and keep alive, the interest of his congregation for the work of the Church at large: mission-work at home and abroad, Bible distribution, establishing and maintaining institutions for the training of pastors and teachers and procuring boys of an outstanding Christian character and having the necessary mental and physical qualifications for these institutions, also establishing and maintaining institutions of charity (orphanages, homes for old people, hospitals, home-finding societies, etc.), circulating of church-papers, putting religious books into homes, and the like.

Uniformity in the order of service and the ministerial forms of churches belonging to the same body is very desirable, especially in these days, when many people move about from one place to another and travel and visit much; they can then not only readily take part in the service, but will also at once feel at home. Insistence on independence ceases to be a virtue when it tends to disorder and lack of cooperation. JHC Fritz, Pastoral Theology. Concordia Publishing House, 1932, p.323.
What may not be required is still beneficial and what may not be essential is still beneficial.  So often we forget about that.  If you want to do more, by all means but you should not strive for less.  This is not becoming to our calling nor reflective of our covenantal relationship as parishes and pastors walking together.  Before we through a bylaw or another convention resolution at it, it would be good for us all to think and pray about this.  I read it somewhere, maybe you did as well, that not all things possible are beneficial?


Anonymous said...

The President of The LCMS, Pastor Matthew Harrison, has conclusively proven through meticulous research that the Lutheran Confessions and their teaching about "adiaphora" never intended the "Tower of Babel" we have today in The LCMS when it comes to worship practices. The thought that in one city there would be a LCMS congregation using Lutheran Service Book and another "rocking out" like the big box non-denoms is utterly absurd. For example, in St. Louis, you have churches using the Divine Service reverently and then you have a congregation like "Pathfinder" doing...well, whatever it is that they do.

You can read Pastor Harrison's introduction to the Chemniz Branschweig Church Order for this:

Chris said...

Reap what you sow, Mo Synod. Your continued insistence on adiaphora has lead you to liturgical and theological anarchy and chaos. I can't help but laugh.

Carl Vehse said...

There's always Bylaw 2.15 for District Presidents who deliberately fail to provide ecclesiastical supervision of pastors and congregations engaged in Lufauxran doctrinal practices in violation of Article II and Article VI, according to Article XIII.

Oh, wait, I forgot. The Missouri Synod replaced ecclesiastical supervision with the Koinonia Project.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago, I was a new member of a WELS parish that was almost like the Quakers. When I ask why they omitted this, why they did not do that, etc. I had my first encounter with the word "adiaphora." Evidently, the LCMS today is finding out that what goes around comes around.

Continuing Anglican Priest

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

Generic praise band songs during a one hour service are one thing. I understand how much some people hate organ music. Too many people in my congregation would rather leave the LCMS than give up the praise band. As for me, a battle against guitars is not worth fighting - Especially when I would be outnumbered and subsequently ostracized by the local pop-Evangelical Lutheran Mob.

However, what happens when pop-Evangelical curricula begin to dominate small group, children's Sunday school, the adult Sunday bible studies, and even the Sunday sermon? In such LCMS congregations, where can anything that teaches "confessional Lutheran doctrine" be found? Where does an LCMS congregation that wants to attract and keep non-Lutherans draw the line to avoid losing its identity?

Anonymous said...

James... don't you see the connection between giving up classical Lutheran Divine Service style and substance and adopting non-Lutheran curriculum materials?

Anonymous said...

"To pastors who make their way through seminary and are approved by the church for call and ordination and then decide that the church's practice informed by hymnal and agenda are not their cup of tea I say, why did you seek to be a pastor in the first place?"

This is precisely the kind of pastor Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, is churning out these days under the "leadership" of Dale Meyer.

Anonymous said...

Note to "Carl Vehse" aka "Richard Stricker" a pastors son who is desperately frustrated...hey, Dick, we get it. You pint for the "glory days." You are a member of a LCMS congregation that is dying. You have no credibility on the Internet. Your grasp of Lutheran theology is fragile, to non-existent. You think that the "golden age" of LCMS Lutheranism was in the 1950s when your pops was a pastor. You embraced a bizarro-world conspiracy theory about your hero, Vehse, a man who ran away from his fellow Lutherans and returned to Germany.

Do you really want to spend your "golden years" of retirement presenting yourself as insufferable jerk on Lutheran forums, or at least, the ones that still allow you to post?

You are a most pathetic individual, Dick.

Pastor Paul T. McCain said...

The Lutheran Confessions nowhere can be used to justify the kind of "diversity" we see across The LCMS today when it comes to divergent worship practices. Unfortunately, only the most profound misinformed try to twist the Lutheran Confessions to justify their wholescale embrace of "Evangelical Style" while claiming they are maintaining "Lutheran Substance.