Saturday, September 28, 2019

Effecting change. . .

I read an article on the Pope's selection of new cardinals (not the ones wearing baseball jerseys) and realized he had now appointed a clear majority of those cardinals eligible to serve as papal electors.  He appointed 66 of 124 under the age of 80.  Pope Benedict XVI appointed 42 and John Paul II appointed 16.  Francis has cemented his legacy by appointing those who mirror his own theological perspective and pastoral direction.  Of course, that is his prerogative but it is also the way you effect the state of things after you are gone.  It is not devious.  Every pope has done it.  But it is effective.

Those who lament the state of the church should pay attention.  The way we change the rudder of the church is through her ministers -- those who preach and teach the faith and who will recruit other pastors and eventually even become the teachers of pastors.  If you are in a church body suffering from a hapless drift toward modernity, take note.  The seeds of this drift were sealed long ago by those who were formed to be pastors and church leaders.  In the same way, those who wish to see this changed and a more profound theological orthodoxy in place must look also to the long view of who is recruited for the pastoral office and who trains them as the key to reversing the decline.

As I write this, my own church body suffers from worship wars, closed communion wars, change or die wars, and ecumenical wars.  We have serious divisions on these issues.  We have people who think that worship is mere style that is no mirror to substance or confession and congregations virtually indistinguishable from big box non-denominational churches on Sunday morning.  We have people who do not think that the source and summit of the life of the Church and the spiritual lives of God's people is Word and Sacrament within the Divine Service.  We have people who think that who comes to the Table is a local decision and does not have all that much to do with what people believe or not about anything except if they love Jesus.  We have people who are desperate to see the shape of the faith changed to be more accommodating to the world and confront less the obvious differences between orthodox Christian confession and the thoughts ideas, and values of the culture around us.  We have people who insist that formal fellowship does not need to be declared to be united in prayer, confession, work, and worship with Christians who believe, teach, and confess differently.  This is not new we all know this,

The change does not happen top down.  The change in the office of Synod President has some impact but it cannot be effective if other factors are working against him.  The change will not come through Synod Convention.  It is always good when our church body says to itself and the world around us that we hold these doctrinal positions and we order our practice faithfully but resolutions do not change what happens locally.  The most profound way to effect these changes is to send faithful men to the seminary to be taught by faithful professors and then to be called into congregations to preach and teach the orthodox faith to those in the pews who will impart it to their children at home and live it out in their daily lives.  This is the lasting way to effect good change (and to undermine such faithfulness, lest we forget and fail to do this).

My plea for all those who want to see their church move away from the secularized and cultural Christianity of modern times is to do just this.  Send faithful young men to the seminary where they will be taught faithfully and call them back into the congregation to preach and teach the practice orthodox Christianity and to keep doing this over and over again.  If you are in one of those groups organized to address the theological drift of your church body, pay attention.  Francis knows the score in Rome and how to effect a legacy of change that reflects himself -- it is by electing cardinals who will choose his successor, by appointing like minded bishops who will run seminaries and recruit priests of a like mind.  It is the way the faith has always been corrupted and the way it has always been reformed and restored.  If it is to happen among Lutherans, it will happen this way.  The right people in the top job is good and the clear record of the church from its assemblies is good but the best thing we can do to keep the church faithful is to recruit faithful young men, send them to faithful seminaries, and call them back into the congregations to preach and teach the renewal of the faith from the ground up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I am sure there are multiple threads that could be pulled out of this post, there are two dynamics related to the sending, training, and ordaining of orthodox pastors in the LCMS, which I often think about.

1. Our seminaries are structured like secular institutions of higher education, in that they have enrollment driven models of financial sustainability. This means that the sems have a vested interest in "recruiting" warm bodies and "retaining" students through to completion of their academic program. Thus two secular metrics, recruitment and retainment, become extremely important. This seems to be a type of conflict of interest. I have seen this dynamic first hand in multiple institutions (not synodical), and it quite naturally creates a tension related to certain standards for admission and performance. If you need to hit your numbers to "survive," fidelity to the institution's purpose for existence can recede to a lower priority. I am not making any specific claims here just observing how the current set up can create challenges regarding which candidates are accepted for training and how they perform throughout.

Another element of this model is that the students must typically take on significant debt to finance their training. Those that are lucky enough to get some support from a home congregation or other source still are likely in a precarious financial position. The financial concerns are also kind of a built in driver of tension. Men that might be well suited to the ministry are impeded by a lack of financial resources. Men that do go to sem are strapped mightily and may be tempted to press a wife into employment, forgo children, or otherwise tighten their family belt in ways that are truly problematic, simply to survive the 4 year training. Men that come out of this model have a massive temptation to anxiety due to their debt obligations. Imagine that as a level that a less than orthodox congregation can pull to influence a new pastor.

Now I do not know if the subsidies that were being advertised over the last 12-24 months were applicable to the first year students at either sem in this academic year, but it seems the even if they are the sems will only be flush with this kind of cash until the next downturn in giving (read recession). My point is as long as the sems remain enrollment driven, and the synod as a whole views a fundamental part of their role to be recruiters of candidates, there will be serious issues and a built in reason for congregations to assume they are not responsible for sending, including bearing the financial cost of that sending, boys and men off to be trained for the office.

2. Why do the professors and administrators of the seminaries certify men? They are the doctors of theology not the local or regional pastors under whose authority the candidate will serve. The "licensing" of pastors seems to be more in line with the sectarian views of the office of the holy ministry and the church. Congregations should be sending boys and men to be trained, and then the local pastors and DP should be examining the man before ordination to see what they were taught. Then if the man is orthodox he can be ordained. If someone can chime in I would love to know if the District Presidents still sign the documents for a new candidate before ordination. If so, it seems to be a vestige of the correct practice, which is now in dissonance with the LCMS approach.

Maybe the second point is a bit polemical, but it is not completely uninformed. The first I believe is much less disputable when looking at the sems, and even more pronounced in CUS and many parochial schools of the synod.