Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A typical story. . .

It is a story that could be told in a hundred different places.  An LCMS parish is served by an old but beloved pastor for years upon years.  He was an easy going pastor who was most agreeable.  When family members from other churches showed up for church, they were welcomed at the altar rail even though they were not in fellowship with the Missouri Synod.  When the Synod passed resolutions about such things as closed communion, the good pastor assured the congregation that Synod was only advisory.  When people insisted that they could not believe the creation account of Genesis or all the miracles of Jesus, the good pastor assured them that many things in Scripture were picture language that were never meant to be take literally.  When people mentioned all the things their children were involved in, the good pastor was understanding and eventually reduced the number of catechism classes.  When children balked at learning the catechism, the good pastor emphasized knowing the gist of it more than the words themselves.  When people thought that it was not quite fair to exclude women from certain roles in worship or the parish structure, the good pastor was quick to give up parts of the service that normally belonged to him to women and to others who wanted to serve in such public roles.  When the good pastor retired, there were many good words spoken about him.

When the congregation studied the state of affairs in preparation for issuing a call to a new pastor, they realized that the numbers were not good.  Though many had found their good former pastor very agreeable, attendance and income had been declining over the years and the parish was not able to afford a man with much experience.  In the end, they came to the conclusion that the best option for the parish was to request a candidate from the seminary.

Soon after the candidate from the seminary arrived, people began to notice the difference.  The new pastor was clearly more, well, Lutheran, than the good pastor who had retired.  People who had once been routinely welcomed to the altar rail were questioned before they communed again and some were offended that people of different confessions were no longer welcome to commune.  The family members who belonged to the parish understood the reasons but found it hard to accept the change.  The new pastor encouraged the congregation to consider the positions of the Synod, not simply as curiosities or suggestions but as reflections of our doctrine and life walking together.  He taught with enthusiasm the truth of Scripture and affirmed without reservation what the Bible said.  People noticed this difference and though they liked his enthusiasm, they did not know what to make of his open support for the unchanging faith of the fathers or the confidence he had in the historicity of the Scripture.  The new pastor made the catechism the basic textbook of confirmation instruction and was, well, rather rigid about his attendance policy.  He added another year to the catechism classes and though the people liked the idea of their children learning more, they found it a strain on the family's schedules to accommodate the change (often it meant having to give up some the sports or music or other programs their children had been involved in).  Some were not so understanding when the new pastor eliminated lay readers (male and female) and took on most of the parts of the liturgy for himself -- after all, some of them had been serving in the worship service for years longer than this new pastor, fresh from seminary. 

Though new families arrived and joined the congregation and they were true believers, some older members began to wonder if this was the same congregation it had been.  Income was increasing with attendance and their were definitely more children around.  Still in all, they felt like something was not quite right.  Some of them longed for the days of their former pastor.  It was easier then.  Some of the more vocal folks began to be critical of the new pastor -- not openly of course but whispered concerns raised among like minded folks.  The new pastor had different ideas about Lutheranism.  He talked about having Holy Communion every Sunday and had begun chanting on special occasions and taught the Lutheran Confessions.  When he prayed he sounded like a prayer book.  Some of the whispers became more public and pointed.  The elders were approached and warned that many people were not happy with the way things were going.  It did not help that new pastor was not as friendly as the former pastor -- that he seemed to have less time or interest in small talk.  Before you know it, somebody had called the District President to say that things were not going well in the parish and maybe he ought to come and have a visit.

You know the story well.  It has happened many times in many places.  How the story ends depends.  It depends upon the persistence of the new pastor and his determination to remain there through the long haul and see it through.  It depends upon the willingness of those who were brought into the congregation to support the new pastor.  It depends upon the District President and how he handles it.  It depends upon how persistent the critics are and whether they will remain or leave.  It might have been my story or it could have been yours.  There is nothing more risky than a true believer, nothing more threatening to cultural Christianity than confessional Christianity, and nothing more challenging than a young and idealistic pastor.  But the ways of things are changing.  The go along and get along kind of Christianity is waning.  People are no longer attracted by Christianity Lite or Lutheranism Lite (fill in the blank with your own denomination).  We are approaching a pivotal moment when churches will have to decide if truth is worth believing, if creeds are worth confessing, if liturgy is worth praying, and it Scripture is worth trusting.  I hope and pray that we will have the nerve to stand up and stand out for the sake of Christ.  But the battles are one congregation and one pastor at a time.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

You brought up a very good reason why loose congregations which want to be hip with people often become faithless in the process. There are those in the LCMS who hate the very idea of uniformity of worship, traditional Lutheran values, and authority centralized by the Synod. If each church becomes its own authority on such matters, you wind up with a mixed bag of different ways of worship and disparate priorities. I think this has hurt the LCMS in many negative ways. Some LCMS churches have no use for the distinctives which used to unify the clergy and congregations together. Some have made the huge mistake of watering down the liturgy, and have embraced contemporary entertainment style worship. We reap what we sow. If it is not too late, we should return to our roots, even if the Synod shrinks in size. Soli Deo Gloria, JJF

Anonymous said...

Consider also how many LCMS congregations are using the SMP program to provide for themselves pastors who will perpetuate the agenda of the existing parish pastor.

Martin R. Noland said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful post. I enjoy your writing here at this blog, and read it every week. Your thinking on church and theology is right on, in my book! :)

I have been fortunate to receive calls to congregations whose predecessor pastors were absolutely faithful and in harmony with the national synod: St. John, Elgin, IL; Christ, Oak Park, IL; Trinity, Evansville, IN; and now Grace, San Mateo, CA. My predecessors at CHI were also the epitome of faithfulness.

Though serving such congregations, I have had lots of contacts and discussions with lay members of other congregations, and I remember a few of "the good pastor" types from my youth and young adults years. Your description of these lay members and pastors is spot on and fair.

I think the most common negative reaction I received among such lay members and pastors was to my absolute conviction of the truthfulness of the entire Scripture and the applicability of the entire New Testament to the church today. It was as if I was somehow weird, or strange, because I held firmly to Luther's view of Scripture. "We can't believe ALL of the Bible in these modern times" was the most common reaction. When I started explaining to these same people that the ancient/modern dichotomy does not apply to matters of philosophy or theology, but only to science, technology, and to a lesser degree to fields of social science, they looked at me like I was from outer space. (Theology has to be tested against prophetic and apostolic revelation; while the issues of philosophy are perennial.)

The other area where I found negative reaction among such lay members is the LCMS conviction regarding the Lutheran Confessions and their use. Clearly such people have never been introduced to the Confessions, to our LCMS founding history, nor to the demand of Scripture that we "confess with our lips" (Romans 10:9).

I think the younger generation of lay members and pastors are moving away from the older attitudes toward Scripture and Confessions, and are returning to the faith of our fathers. We can thank the faithful work of both our seminaries since Fall 1974 for this, and for the mercy of God that he has preserved for us the truth amidst the plurality and ideological confusion of the 21st century.

Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

Anonymous said...

Anonymous August 6, 2019 at 2:25 PM wrote about "using the SMP program to provide for themselves pastors who will perpetuate the agenda of the existing parish pastor".
If the existing Pastor's agenda was the Book of Concord, the Liturgy, the Small Catechism, Word and Sacraments and the living of your Various Vocations by the church membership (as I was taught in the SMP Program), there should be no problem for a Confessional Lutheran Church.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon. Kingsport, TN.

Pastor Rich Balvanz said...

Can you cite an example of this? I would like to know.

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Noland: "Clearly such people [lay members of other congregations with "the good pastor" types] have never been introduced to the Confessions, to our LCMS founding history, nor to the demand of Scripture that we "confess with our lips"

The first problem goes back to when confirmands are asked, "Do you also, as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?" without ever being told that confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is to be found in the Book of Concord of 1580, or that, according to most Synod congregational constitutions (like for my congregation), communicant members have agreed to subscribe to the Book of Concord. Those who claim confirmed communicants can subscribe to only a part of (or less than) the Book of Concord of 1580 are simply advocating open communion.

The second problem goes back to the revisionist (fairy tale) Missouri Saxon history that has been pawned off on pewsitting readers of various Synod books, magazine articles, a CCM opinion (13-2665), papers, blogs, and films for the last 50 (and, in some cases, 100) years, Forster's Zion book being the noteworthy exception.

The third problem is that the demand to "confess with our lips" has been overshadowed by Synodical flip-flopping, including in the last two decades, e.g., the "once-in-a-lifetime" hypocrisy on Yankee Stadium and Newtown syncretism, the BSA perverted memorandum of fabulous understanding, the hairsplitting between "taking part" and "partaking" of communion in apostate church bodies, and, most recently, the convention (and FC-5) about-face commending of an LC-C document on cremation that contradicts the stated position of the LCMS (as well as that of the WELS, ELS, and CLC).